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8 Fairy Tales And Their Not-So-Happy Endings

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by Stacy Conradt, Laurel Mills & John Green

Those Disney endings where the prince and the princess end up blissfully married? Yeah, they don't really happen in the original stories. To make sure kids go home happy, not horrified, Disney usually has to alter the endings. Read on for the original endings to a couple of Disney classics (and some more obscure tales).

1. Cinderella

Don't break out your violins for this gal just yet. All that cruelty poor Cinderella endured at the hands of her overbearing stepmother might have been well deserved. In the oldest versions of the story, the slightly more sinister Cinderella actually kills her first stepmother so her father will marry the housekeeper instead. Guess she wasn't banking on the housekeeper's six daughters moving in or that never-ending chore list.

2. Sleeping Beauty

In the original version of the tale, it's not the kiss of a handsome prince that wakes Sleeping Beauty, but the nudging of her newborn twins. That's right. While unconscious, the princess is impregnated by a monarch and wakes up to find out she's a mom twice over. Then, in true Ricki Lake form, Sleeping Beauty's "baby's daddy" triumphantly returns and promises to send for her and the kids later, conveniently forgetting to mention that he's married. When the trio is eventually brought to the palace, his wife tries to kill them all, but is thwarted by the king. In the end, Sleeping Beauty gets to marry the guy who violated her, and they all live happily ever after.

3. Snow White

At the end of the original German version penned by the brothers Grimm, the wicked queen is fatally punished for trying to kill Snow White. It's the method she is punished by that is so strange "“ she is made to dance wearing a pair of red-hot iron shoes until she falls over dead.

4. The Little Mermaid

You're likely familiar with the Disney version of the Little Mermaid story, in which Ariel and her sassy crab friend, Sebastian, overcome the wicked sea witch, and Ariel swims off to marry the man of her dreams. In Hans Christian Andersen's original tale, however, the title character can only come on land to be with the handsome prince if she drinks a potion that makes it feel like she is walking on knives at all times. She does, and you would expect her selfless act to end with the two of them getting married. Nope. The prince marries a different woman, and the Little Mermaid throws herself into the sea, where her body dissolves into sea foam.

Now here are four more fairy tales you might not be familiar with, but you might have trouble forgetting.

1. The King Who Wished to Marry His Daughter
What It's Like: Cinderella, with an incestuous twist

The King's wife dies and he swears he will never marry again unless he finds a woman who fits perfectly into his dead Queen's clothes. Guess what? His daughter does! So he insists on marrying her. Ew. Understandably, she has a problem with this and tries to figure out how to avoid wedding dear old dad. She says she won't marry him until she gets a trunk that locks from outside and inside and can travel over land and sea. He gets it, but she says she has to make sure the chest works. To prove it, he locks her inside and floats her in the sea. Her plan works: she just keeps floating until she reaches another shore. So she escapes marrying her dad, but ends up working as a scullery maid in another land"¦ from here you can follow the Cinderella story. She meets a prince, leaves her shoe behind, he goes around trying to see who it belongs to. The End.

2. The Lost Childen
What It's Like: Hansel & Gretel meets Saw 2

This French fairy tale starts out just like Hansel & Gretel. A brother and sister get lost in the woods and find themselves trapped in cages, getting plumped up to be eaten. Only it's not a wicked witch, it's the Devil and his wife. The Devil makes a sawhorse for the little boy to bleed to death on (seriously!) and then goes for a walk, telling the girl to get her brother situated on the sawhorse before he returned. The siblings pretend to be confused and ask the Devil's wife to demonstrate how the boy should lay on the sawhorse; when she shows them they tie her to it and slit her throat. They steal all of the Devil's money and escape in his carriage. He chases after them once he discovers what they've done, but he dies in the process. Yikes.

3. The Juniper Tree
What It's Like: Every stepchild's worst nightmare

Cannibalism, murder, decapitation"¦ freakiness abounds left and right in this weird Grimm story. A widower gets remarried, but the second wife loathes the son he had with his first wife because she wants her daughter to inherit the family riches. So she offers the little boy an apple from inside a chest. When he leans over to get it, she slams the lid down on him and chops his head off. Note: if you're trying to convince your child to eat more fruits and veggies, do not tell them this story. Well, the woman doesn't want anyone to know that she killed the boy, so she puts his head back on and wraps a handkerchief around his neck to hide the fact that it's no longer attached. Her daughter ends up knocking his head off and getting blamed for his death. To hide what happened, they chop up the body and make him into pudding, which they feed to his poor father. Eventually the boy is reincarnated as a bird and he drops a stone on his stepmother's head, which kills her and brings him back to life.

4. Penta of the Chopped-off Hands
What It's Like: Um...you tell us

These old fairy tales sure do enjoy a healthy dose of incest. In this Italian tale, the king's wife dies and he falls in love with Penta ... his sister. She tries to make him fall out of love with her by chopping off her hands. The king is pretty upset by this; he has her locked in a chest and thrown out to sea. A fisherman tries to save her, but Penta is so beautiful that his jealous wife has her thrown back out to sea. Luckily, Penta is rescued by a king (who isn't her brother). They get married and have a baby, but the baby is born while the king is away at sea. Penta tries to send the king the good news of the baby, but the jealous fisherman's wife intercepts the message and changes it to say that Penta gave birth to a puppy. A puppy?! The evil wife then constructs another fake message, this time from the king to his servants, and says that Penta and her baby should be burned alive. OK, long story short: the king figures out what the jealous wife is up to and has her burned. Penta and the king live happily ever after. I can't really figure out what the moral of this tale is. Chopping hands off? Giving birth to a dog? Help me out here, people.

OK, there must be a ton of other creepy fairy tales out there that you would never read to your kids to lull them off to a peaceful slumber. Let's hear them!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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