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8 Weird Theme Parks We'd Be Willing to Wait in Line For

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Amusement parks aren't all fun and games. Some are strange, some are boring. But those are exactly the ones we've been hunting for.

1. The Ocean Dome

Located in Miyazaki, Japan, Ocean Dome is the world's largest indoor water park. It features a massive (460x278 feet) heated fresh-water "ocean" bedded by 600 tons of polished marble chips and filled with 13,500 tons of water, all surrounded by a three-story promenade of shops. The Dome also has its own rainforest and a volcano that erupts hourly. The whole park is covered by a retractable roof that lets the sun shine in on Japanese tanners. Sounds great, right? A place that lets Japanese urbanites get a taste of the great outdoors. Not quite. The Ocean Dome is less than 1000 feet from a real beach.

2. Grutas Park

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"Josef Stalin" and "amusement" aren't two words you normally associate with each other; but amusing or not, Lithuania's Grutas Park recreates life under the reign of the Man of Steel.

Grutas, a short drive south of the Lithuanian capital, features a zoo and a playground and a recreated gulag with guard towers and an electrified fence (you know, the same kind that Stalin imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians in back in the day).

The real draw, though, is the 1.2-mile-long sculpture exposition, which is home to 82 Communist-era sculptures that were dismantled following the restoration of Lithuanian independence. Most of the sculptures were tossed into storehouses, people's yards and anywhere else there was room. Poor handling and storage damaged some of them, while others fell prey to scrap metal pickers. In 1998, Viliumas Malinauskas, a mushroom tycoon and former heavyweight wrestler, answered an open call from the Ministry of Culture to create a space that would preserve and display the statues. Municipalities and private citizens, desperate to dump the hunks of metal and the memories of Stalin on someone else, sent Malinauskas statues en masse. Where the petting zoo came into things, I have no idea.

3. The Nintendo Amusement Park

Why would the website for a video game theme park proclaim that there's "nothing digital"¦nothing projected"¦nothing virtual" about it? That sounds about as much fun as feeding the ducks at the gulag. What gives?

Well, the Nintendo Amusement Park has little to do with the Nintendo Corporation, less to do with video games, and isn't even really a park. It's a single "user-controlled interactive ride" (read: obstacle course) that "players" navigate using a mechanically powered harness to give them a sense of being inside a video game. If you ever wondered what a real-world Mario would look like, grab a chubby, mustachioed friend and watch as he bounces from platform to platform while strapped to a crane.

The ride is only a prototype right now, and its creators, who are just "borrowing" the Nintendo name and aesthetic, are still seeking venture capital and a contact at either Nintendo or Disney to develop a partnership.

4. BonBon-Land

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BonBon-Land is an amusement park in Denmark based on a line of Danish candy. It's sort of like Pennsylvania's Hershey Park, except most of the rides involve toilet humor and the giant anthropomorphic candy people have been replaced by topless anthropomorphic hippos.

A day at BonBon-Land treats candy-loving Danes to rides like The Crazy Turtle, The Horse Dropping and Hundeprutterutchebane. That last one, which loosely translates to "Dog Fart Switchback," is a roller coaster that takes riders on an exciting journey around giant mounds of dog poo, while speakers around the track blare fart sounds the whole while. [Image courtesy of ThemeParkReview.com.]

5. Diggerland

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Dog poo not your thing, but you still want to get down and dirty? Then head on down to one of four Diggerland locations in jolly ol' England, where you can "ride in, and drive, different types of construction machinery, including Dumper Trucks, Mini Diggers and Giant Diggers."

When they're done playing with heavy machinery, park visitors can take in a show put on by the Dancing Diggers, a stunt team that performs inside a front-end loader. [Image courtesy of midsurreylink.org.]

6. Suoi Tien Park

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Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, was a prince that gave up his material possessions, became an ascetic and sought Enlightenment through meditation. But just look at those tubby Buddha statues; there's something about the guy that screams "snow cones and water slides."

Suoi Tien Park is a Buddhist-themed amusement park in Vietnam that injects a little fun into the daily grind of unenlightened life. There are thrills like race cars, water slides and roller coasters. There are chills like the "bat cave with innumerable bats" and an air bike suspended over a crocodile farm ("which cause fearful feeling for tourist"). And then there's the serious side of the park, a Pirates of the Caribbean-style journey through 12 animatronics Hells. [Image courtesy of henrybechtold.freewebspace.com.]

7. Dracula Land

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We're cheating a little on this one, since it doesn't actually exist, and probably won't for some time. What an idea, though: A Disney-style theme park revolving around the life and times of Vlad the Impaler, Romanian folk hero and inspiration for Count Dracula. A few years ago, the Romanians drew up plans for Dracula Land and Tourism Minister Agathon Dan made big promises like underground tunnels, live bats, thousands of gallons of fake blood, millions of dollars a year in revenue and 3,000 jobs for a nearby village. But alas, foreign investors weren't impressed the Romanians couldn't finance the park by themselves.

Romania has since dropped plans to build the massive park in Transylvania. Funding was one issue, but the stake in its heart was the risk of environmental damage. The proposed site of the park is an old-growth forest that's home to 400-year-old oak trees. But Dracula Land may rise from the grave yet. Recently, there's been talk of building closer to Bucharest, or near the site of Vlad's real castle (pictured).

8. Dickens World

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Brutal dictatorships. The torments of Hell. Dog poop. Yessir, we've covered some pretty un-amusing stuff in this list. But what could be further from fun than the literary work of Mr. Charles Dickens?

If you want to experience poverty in 19th century London for yourself but don't have a time machine, then Dickens World is for you. It features the Great Expectations Boat Ride, the Haunted House of Ebenezer Scrooge and a Victorian School Room. Fun! Just stay away from that street urchin, kids, he looks like he might have a touch of cholera.

Matt Soniak is our newest intern. (Well, he's tied.) You can learn lots more about him here, or read his own blog here.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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