CLOSE
Original image

The Stories Behind Your Favorite Cereal Mascots

Original image

The Stories Behind Your Favorite Cereal Mascots
By Nick Hansen

nick-hansen.jpg
Everyone remembers the wonderful Saturday morning ritual of diving into multiple bowls of sugared cereal while watching hours of cartoons. (Some of us haven't moved on yet.) Cereal cartoons are one of the largest and most successful advertising trends in history. I still sympathize with the Trix Rabbit for not being able to enjoy a bowl of his fruit-shaped cereal. Here are the stories behind the characters that successfully motivated us to beg our parents to purchase their sugary products.

Horatio Crunch -- Cap'n Crunch

capn-crunch.jpg

One of the grossest things about cold cereal is when it gets too soggy and turns mushy. Captain Horatio P. Crunch was born in response to a survey kids that said they hated soggy cereal. Jay Ward (above) drew the captain and, according to his daughter, based the cartoon on himself. The honorable captain was charged with guarding the Crunch from the evil barefoot pirate Jean Le-Foote. The Captain has protected his cereal from the menace of sogginess so well that there was a movement to promote him to the rank of Admiral. If you look closely at the early commercials, they look familiar to other cartoons of the day. That's because Jay Ward also animated other popular TV shows like Rocky and Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right and George of the Jungle.

Can you see the resemblance?

Snap, Crackle and Pop -- Rice Krispies

rice-krispies.jpg
Rice Krispies had the distinction of being a cereal you could hear. A jingle for the noisy cereal inspired illustrator Vernon Grant to create the characters Snap, Crackle, and Pop:

"Listen to the fairy song of health, the merry chorus sung by Kellogg's® Rice Krispies® as they merrily snap, crackle, and pop in a bowl of milk. If you've never heard food talking, now is your chance."

Grant's flair for fantasy caused him to draw the three characters as gnomes. Snap was the first gnome and appeared in a few solo ads before his brothers came along. When they first started appearing in 1939 they fought against their rivals Soggy, Mushy and Toughy for the hearts (and bowls) of the children. Once the television ads began to be seen by a larger and younger audience, Kellogg's decided to modernize the three and make them more human-like. Snap, Crackle and Pop are now the longest-running cereal advertising campaign in history.

The Rabbit -- Trix

trix-cereal.jpg
Before he was animated, the Trix rabbit was a hand puppet. The original tagline for the cereal was "I'm a rabbit and rabbits are supposed to like carrots. But I hate carrots. I like Trix." Catchy, isn't it? General Mills knew that television was the best way to advertise to kids and they decided to spend 97 percent of their advertising budget on commercials. It paid off: the "Silly Rabbit" campaign was a hit. By 1976, General Mills was worried it was sending the wrong message to kids by having the rabbit always fall short of his aspiration. They decided to do the American thing and let the kids vote whether the rabbit should get a bowl. The Rabbit's campaign was so successful that more than 99 percent kids voted to let the rabbit have a bowl. The Rabbit has succeed in grabbing bites here and there, but he hasn't had a full bowl since 1980. And as you can see, it is probably a good thing because it seems to have some sort of weirdly stimulating effect on him.


Tony the Tiger -- Frosted Flakes

frosted-flakes.jpg
Cartoon spokescharacters were all the rage in the 1950s. The Kellogg Company wanted an animal to advertise its new Sugar Frosted Flakes to appeal to the younger generation while reassuring mothers that it was OK to let their kids eat a sugared cereal for breakfast. The Leo Burnett advertising agency came up with four different choices: Tony the Tiger, Katy the Kangaroo, Elmo the Elephant and Newt the Gnu. The agency could not decide between a kangaroo or a tiger, but the marsupial was sacked when the feline outsold her by huge margins. The tiger concept was so successful that Kellogg's sued Exxon Mobile for their use of a tiger in their advertisements.

When Tony first appeared on cereal boxes, advertising critic James D. Wolf said, "I am very fond of breakfast cereals, but a tiger fails to give me a hankering." Evidently he didn't realize how "great" Tony would become. If Tony's singing voice sounds familiar it's because his voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft also sang "You're a mean one Mr. Grinch" for the Grinch cartoon. [Stacy's Note: He also sang one of the 'Grim Grinning Ghosts' parts in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyworld.] Tony's son also had a short lived spinoff cereal called Frosted Rice.

Lucky -- Lucky Charms

lucky-charms.jpg
The concept of marshmallows in a bowl (or "marbits," as General Mills called them) was easily appealing to kids, but a much harder sell for parents. Lucky was spawned from a concept to base the marshmallows around a charm bracelet. Lucky was replaced for a time in the 1970's by Waldo the Wizard, but the leprechaun came back within a year. The marbits continued to evolve due to increased product sales every time a new one was added. Lucky's original charm bracelet included yellow moons and stars, but now are blue moons and shooting stars. Kids could not resist trying to catch Lucky to get his marshmallow-filled cereal. Fortunately, Lucky provided the secret"¦ go to the store and buy a box. Arthur Anderson supplied Lucky's voice for 29 years, but surprisingly he's not Irish.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
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!

Original image
iStock
Sponsor Content: BarkBox
arrow
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
Original image
iStock

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.

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES