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Creatively Speaking: Monty Hall

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Most people know Monty Hall from his brilliant game show, Let's Make a Deal. Others know him because of the famous math puzzle/paradox known as The Monty Hall Problem (definitely worth a click over and reading about if you're a math geek). But you might also know Monty as the emcee of shows like Beat the Clock and Split Second. Trivia buffs might know him as one of only two game show hosts with stars on both Hollywood and Canada's respective Walks of Fame. (Can you name the other?) Or you may know Monty as the father of Broadway star/actress Joanna Gleason, who won a Tony for Into the Woods (I also loved her in Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors). You may also know Monty from his guest appearance on shows such as Love Boat, The Odd Couple, The Wonder Years, Hollywood Squares, That 70s Show, or Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

However you know Monty Hall, I'm sure you never had the experience of getting this up close and personal with him. So click on through for my in-depth interview with him about his life and Let's Make a Deal, as well as some more fun Let's Make a Deal clips.

DI: First let me say that Let's Make a Deal was one of my favorite game shows when I was growing up and I still love watching it today on GSN. I frequently lament the lack of good humor and fun in today's programming, as I'm sure many of us do. And while I want to ask you a pantload of questions about Let's Make a Deal, let's go back a little first. Certainly you had a life before the show. Tell us a little about your upbringing, where you're from, where you went to school, what you majored in, etcetera.

MH: I was born in Winnipeg and got my Bachelors of Science from the University of Manitoba, where I studied chemistry and zoology. I couldn't get into medical school after completing my undergraduate degree. But I'd always starred in the school musicals and plays, so I went into radio broadcasting. I hosted some shows and wrote others. In Toronto I had a successful show on where listeners had to guess a mystery person by writing in through the mail. Each night I'd give another clue until someone got it. We got a lot of mail for that show. I also created shows for Colgate Palmolive. When TV came along, I thought I'd get in on the ground floor and be a big star in Canada but I couldn't find work. So in 1955 I moved to New York City to try my luck there.

DI: Eventually you made your way out to Hollywood and sold your first television game show, Your First Impression. How did that one work?

MH: There were 3 panelists and five celebrity photos. One of the celebrities was in a booth, revealed to audience, but not to the panelists. Their job was to figure out which celebrity was on the show by playing a free association game. They'd say things like, "˜It bothers me when________' or "˜I never forget the first time I _____________.' Eventually a pattern would start to evolve and they'd figure it out. Then they'd have to show their logic, how they figured it out. "˜So-and-so would never say something like that,' and so forth.

DI: The second show you sold was Let's Make a Deal, which you emceed, of course. Your producing partner was Steve Hatos. How did you two come up with the idea for the show?

MH: We were kicking around ideas. I told Steve about a show I'd done in Canada where I'd walk into the audience and ask them for crazy things, which was a big hit. I'd say, 'If you have a hard boiled egg on you, I'll give you $100,' and so forth. It was the last 7 minutes of my show in Canada. Steve liked the idea and he said he wanted to do a show about the Lady and a Tiger. You have your choice of two tents, if you pick the right tent, you get the lady; pick the wrong tent, you get the tiger. So that became the basis for the three doors. And then we started talking about buying and selling and trading. So we brought a rubber chicken for the zonk, a few envelopes for the curtains or doors and started playing the game around town whenever we could. And everywhere we went and played it, it was a hit. People loved to trade for the unknown. We did it for a senator; we did it for a Latter-day Saints quilting bee for 9 ladies at 8 o'clock in the morning in the West Valley; we did it at a supermarket -- and everywhere it was a smash.

DI: So you pitched it to which network first?

MH: First we went to ABC and invited an audience to come in. And a few hundred people showed up. When the show was over, we got a standing ovation. I'm feeling like a million bucks and walk in the back room where my partner is waiting and my agent and the studio execs and they've all got glum faces. I said, "˜What's the matter?' My partner said, "˜The studio doesn't like the show.' I said, "˜Are you kidding?! They're still standing out there.' He said, "˜Yeah, yeah, but they don't know what we're going to do on the second day.' I said, "˜You do the same thing with variations! What kind of question is that?! What do all shows do the second day!' I was so upset, we went across to the Carriage House and I had two martinis"¦ and I don't drink.

DI: Hilarious. So then you took it to NBC?

MH: Exactly. We did the same thing again a few weeks later and got the same reaction. Another standing ovation. And again the execs said, "˜What do you do the second day?' We were in shock. Two different audiences, same reaction, and nothing.

DI: But you had a savior this time in Bob Aaron, one of the NBC executives, right?

That's right. He went back to New York and pushed and pushed and pushed. So we finally shot the pilot in April 1963. And again, no one would pick it up. No one would touch it. Then, months passed, and in October or so they decided to replace a show that wasn't doing well with our show and asked us to get it ready by Jan 1st. When we finally got our chance, we were an immediate hit

DI: I guess you figured out what to do for the second episode.

For 4,700 episodes.

DI: So let's talk about the show. Who came up with the fantastic idea that the contestants would dress up?

The contestants themselves. You see, in the beginning, people came dressed in suits and dresses just like on any other show. But when they realized I was picking people in the audience at random, one woman came with a sign that said, "˜Roses are red violets are blue, I came here to deal with you.' And I picked her. Well, the next week, everyone had a sign. Then they started wearing costumes and NBC said, "˜What are you going to do about this mob scene outside? It looks like Halloween out there.' I thought it was very pictorial. I said, "˜We're on television and that makes a good picture. It's a different kind of an audience out there! It's colorful. It's new. It's fun. Why not? Let them do what they want!' Would you believe we had to fight off NBC's protests?

DI: After learning that you had to pay for the cars you gave away, sure, I'd believe anything. That seemed like such easy, free advertising for the car companies. Tell our readers how it worked.

MH: Every new car we gave away we bought at wholesale. They didn't give them to us for advertising. If a car was $5,000, they'd take 500 off the price every time we mentioned it on the show. If it was a nighttime show, they'd take $2,000 off the price of the car. But it was never free.

DI: What were some of the challenges you faced doing the show?

MH: There was no script. You're running up and down the aisle thinking about the deal, the ramifications, the permutations, what if he says no, what if he says yes, what if he goes for this door or that. All that is going through your mind while you're conversing with the contestant. You have to know where the prizes are. You have to know what the deal is. You know what you're going to do, depending on what they chose, you improvise from there. It's a murderous show for an emcee to do. Sometimes a door or curtain would accidentally open before it was supposed to, while I was making a deal. And we'd have to pay for those mistakes.

DI: On and off, you were with Let's Make a Deal for 27 years. Ever get hurt?

MH: I sure did. I had to learn to hold the mic in a certain way to fend them off. They used to jump at me. They wanted to kiss me. People jumped on me wearing a box and the corner would hit me under the nose. Some had football helmets on that would hit me in the head. It was dangerous. One time I got pushed down the stairs into the seats.

DI: After all those episodes, you must have perfected the art of figuring out what motivated people to trade in what they had.

MH: It was something we talked about all the time. We eve had a research team from the psychology dept at Yale that tried to figure out what motivated a person to make the trade. It's not greed. At the end of the show when I get two people to go for the big deal, if a contestant had already won a TV set during the show, they'll give it up to go for the big deal if they already have a new TV set at home. Others have a philosophy like: this is my chance to make a killing. Where else are they going to get a chance to do that? I'm going for it. One time, a woman came on show from out of town. She won herself $200 and I was ready to get her to the next part of the deal but she quit. That was it for her. After the show, I asked her why. She said, "˜My husband is sick. I took a bus to town. I took another bus to the studio to get to the show. I stood in line. They picked me for the floor. I got called. I made $200, which to me is precious; I'm not going to give it up. I want to go home with my $200.' To her $200 was everything; to another $1,400 is nothing. He wants to go for broke.

DI: You must have enjoyed meeting all those people over the years.

MH: For me, the best part was the contestants reactions when the door opened to reveal a) a great prize or b) a zonk. That was the basis for the entire show: Would you give up what you have and go for the unknown. That was it. And I enjoyed every minute of it. The audience and contestants were always new and I loved their reactions.

Browse through past Creatively Speaking posts here >>
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.