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Original image
Arlan Arthur via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Seven Strange and Wonderful Dishes

Original image
Arlan Arthur via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Nothing succeeds like excess! The earlier mental_floss article Food Challenges for the Super Hungry, Super Competitive or Super Cheap celebrated foods that are excessive in size. Now we turn to foods that are excessive because of what they are made of. People love to tinker with food. If you like two kinds of food, why not put them together? Just because they don't normally appear at all similar is no reason to shy away from combining them! Or you find one taste that you love, you can go completely overboard with it. And you can take something normal and traditional and stand it on its head to suit your own tastes.

1. The Luther Burger

One of the specialties served at Mulligan's, a bar in Decatur, Georgia is the Luther Vandross Burger. This may have been conceived by the late Luther Vandross, or just named in honor of him. It's a bacon cheeseburger served between two Krispy Kreme donuts. Several restaurants now carry the "donut burger". Some recipes specify the Luther Burger must include a full pound of beef, as in the homemade versions shown here. (update: Tim left a comment telling us Mulligan's is no longer in business. If there's a resturant near you serving these, let us know!)

2. McDonalds Pizza

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Along the theme of two great tastes that taste great together, Pimp My Snack used McDonalds cheeseburgersasa topping for pizza! They didn't stop there. This pizza also has McDonalds fries and a package of bacon. With cheese on top.

More surprising edibles, after the jump.

3. Deep Fried Balls of Butter

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Paula Deen of The Food Network is known for her Southern fried recipes featuring delicious butter. Last spring she featured a recipe for Fried Butter Balls on her show in an episode titled Everything's Better With Butter. The concoction came from one of her fans, who was invited to be on the show. The whole thing was presented as somewhat of a joke. The recipe caused horror among her fans and on sites across the internet, but she tried it herself before sharing, so it must be pretty good.

4. Bacon Cheese Baconburger

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They say bacon will improve the flavor of anything. Witness the bacon cheeseburger, popular at every fast food outlet you can think of. The Bacon Cheese Baconburger takes this concept one step beyond. In addition to the bacon and the cheese, note that the hamburger patty itself is made of ground bacon! There's a complete subgenre of recipes where you add bacon to... anything! Such as apple pie, candy, or a martini.

5. M&Ms Donut

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Just as some think anything is better with bacon on it, others know that you can improve existing foods by putting candy on it, or in it. This was the thinking behind the DQ Blizzard, which added chopped cookies or candy to softserve ice cream. Now Dunkin' Donuts is trying their hand at it, with the introduction of the M&M Donut. Yes, a donut with miniature M&Ms on top! Homer Simpson will be in hog heaven. In a partnership deal with Mars (owners of M&Ms), Dunkin' Donuts is also offering Milky Way hot chocolate, available through March.

6. Meat Cake

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You expect cake at a wedding, but one fellow didn't get excited about the idea of a sweet groom's cake. What he really wanted was meat, and his chef friend at Black Widow Bakery was up for the challenge. The result was a perfectly presentable groom's cake made of ground beef! After you read the cake story, don't miss the amusing FAQs.

7. Meatloaf Cake

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The very opposite is a cake that looks like meatloaf, but inside is a delicious chocolate cake with raspberry frosting! This is part of a collection of Food That Looks Like What It Isn't, where the hot dogs and spaghetti are sweet, and the waffles are made of turkey or crabmeat.

Do you have any favorite recipes that would fit with these- odd combinations, extreme indulgence, or homemade recipes that make people cringe? Tell us about it!

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