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Food Challenges for the Super Hungry, Super Competitive or Super Cheap

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I recently read a story on Neatorama about a restaurant that's making customers sign a waiver before eating anything doused in their signature hot sauce made with savina peppers. It's similar to the challenge at Buffalo Wild Wings "“ a customer who wants to try "The "Blazin' Challenge" has to sign a waiver and must finish 12 of the hottest wings offered in less than six minutes.

This made me think about other restaurants that offer their patrons a prize for finishing a certain helping of food. I hesitate to post these, because as soon as my husband sees the list he will take it as a personal challenge. Nevertheless, below are a few places where you can get your meal for free "“ if you're up to the challenge of horking down ten percent of your body weight in half an hour.

The Beer Barrel Belly Buster
Denny's Beer Barrel Pub
Clearfield, Pennsylvania

If you scoff at the idea of a quarter pounder, maybe Denny's 15-pounder will wipe the smile off of your face. The 20-inch patty comes on a 17-inch bun and includes two onions, a whole head of lettuce, 25 slices of cheese, three tomatoes and lots of mayo, mustard, relish and ketchup. If you and a friend can get the whole thing down in three hours or less, you'll get the $30 burger for free.

Apparently that wasn't enough for Denny, though. Just last year, he introduced the 123-pound burger. That's not a typo. One hundred and twenty-three pounds. It'll set you back $379, but you get 80 pounds of meat, a pound of lettuce, ketchup, relish, mustard and mayo, 160 slices of cheese, five onions, 12 tomatoes, two pounds of banana peppers, 33 pickles and, of course, a 30-pound bun. [Image courtesy of Offroaders.com.]

12-Egg Omelets
Beth's Café
Seattle, Washington

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Looking for a hearty breakfast (and skyrocketing cholesterol)? Look no further than Beth's Café in Seattle. They serve omelets in two sizes there "“ six eggs for the light eater, 12 eggs for the truly hungry. The omelets come with all-you-can-eat hashbrowns, too. (Note: no prize at this place, just an impressive bullet point to add to your eating resume.) [Photo courtesy of the Official Wedding Website of Jeff & Lisa.]

The Texas King
The Big Texan Steak Ranch
Amarillo, Texas

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The Texas King is a whopping 72 ounces of steak. That's four pounds. It will set you back $72, unless you can finish the entire meal "“ which includes the steak, a buttered roll, shrimp cocktail, a salad, beans and a potato "“ in which case it's on the house. More than 7,000 people have succeeded at the challenge since it started in 1960. Frank Pastore, pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, finished the entire meal in nine and a half minutes in 1987, which is the record so far. It wasn't his first finish, though, just the fastest "“ he had completed the challenge six times prior to that.

Here's a video of someone attempting:

Continue reading...

Belly Buster Challenge
Pizza Party (formerly Pizza & Pipes)
Santa Clara, California

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There are some pretty stringent rules to enter the Belly Buster Challenge (a 20" pizza). Here's a sampling:

"¢ One person must eat ONE BELLY BUSTER pizza made with cheese and two toppings in one hour or less
"¢ Entire pizza must be eaten including the crust
"¢ You may consume water or any other beverage
"¢ We will supply water, you pay for any other drinks
"¢ No dipping the pizza in the beverage
"¢ You must keep the pizza down until all the pizza is consumed
"¢ Management is the sole judge of completion of the challenge
"¢ If you can't keep it down YOU CLEAN IT UP
"¢ You may not win more than once

But the reward is great: for eating a whole 20" pizza in less than an hour, you get your entry fee back (half the price of the pizza), a t-shirt, a picture immortalizing your efforts on the wall at the restaurant, a certificate and a free extra large pizza every month for the next year.

You can read about one man's 37-minute triumph over the Belly Buster (and two of his friends) here. You can also watch video of it here. Alas, champion competitive eater Joey Chestnut doesn't live too far from Santa Clara and came in to break the record again. His time? A mere 15 minutes.

Monster Burritos
Pinata's Mexican Grill
Bethpage, New York

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Yeah, two burritos doesn't really sound like they would be too much of a challenge to eat, even given a time limit. But when the burritos are three pounds each, the story kind of changes. Pinata's has a Wall of Shame for those who fail in their attempt and a Wall of Fame for those who succeed. From what I can tell, only two pictures reside on the Wall of Fame, and those two pictures are apparently of competitive eaters "“ "Krazy Kevin" Lipsitz and Don "Moses" Lerman.

Finally, here's one that doesn't offer you a prize for finishing, but sounds pretty interesting anyway:

Cold Sweat Ice Cream
Sunni Sky's
Angier, North Carolina

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Spicy ice cream? Yep. So spicy, in fact, customers have to sign a waiver before they even taste it. It's mixed with three types of pepper and two types of hot sauce. One of the first customers to try it had to go to the bathroom pretty much immediately and throw up. He's had it several times since then and hopes to go for the record "“ 14 ounces in one sitting.

And here's a fun video of a morning show DJ attempting to eat a cup of Cold Sweat. Warning: there is an emergency trip to the bathroom involved at the end.

Do you know of any other extreme eating challenges? Ever been a part of one?

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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