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Love Potions: 6 Surprising Aphrodisiacs

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Everyone knows oysters' reputation for spurring loving-making—but how do you kindle randy feelings in your partner if you can't call down to room service for a tray of blue-tips? Over the centuries, desperate lovers have developed aphrodisiacs out of surprising ingredients, and scientists are now researching how they work.

1. Ginseng

Ginseng is so commonplace today, available in teas, juices, and even chewing gum, that many men may not realize that it has long served as a bedroom aid. Ginseng boosts the level of nitric oxide in the bloodstream, and that in turn helps blood flood into the penis to create that male lovemaking necessity, the erection. Viagra, by the way, works by precisely the same mechanism.

2. Toad Secretions

homer_toad.jpgDuring the mid-90s, four men died in New York after using "Love Stone," an aphrodisiac that's usually applied directly to the genitals. In these cases, however, the men decided to smoke the "stone," which wasn't a stone at all but a lump of ointment containing toad secretions. The toad juices harbored a hallucinogen known as bufotenine that may stir the libido in some way. But the toad juices also led to poisoning and cardiac arrest—not exactly the way you'd hope to end an amorous evening.

Toad was in the news again last month when another New York man died after ingesting a hard, brown substance containing toad venom.

3. Nutmeg

The common spice nutmeg inspires lab rats to (a-hem) rattle their cages. Wrote researchers: "It significantly increased the Mounting Frequency, Intromission Frequency, Intromission Latency and caused significant reduction in the Mounting Latency and Post Ejaculatory Interval. It also significantly increased Mounting Frequency with penile anaesthetization as well as Erections, Quick Flips, Long Flips and the aggregate of penile reflexes with penile stimulation." Scientists are unsure about how nutmeg works its magic, or whether the resulting rat-love is as good for the lady rat as it is for the male.

4. Deer Antler

Deer antler is an extremely popular aphrodisiac worldwide. Deer antlers are the only organs on any mammal that can regenerate itself, and the velvet that forms on the horns is collected on specialized velvet farms. New Zealand produces more antler velvet than any other nation.

In traditional Chinese medicine, the velvet is dried and sliced before being mixed with medicinal herbs; people make a soup from the preparation. In the West, cleverly named products like Velvita (not the processed cheese) contain velvet in powder or capsule form. Deer antler velvet seems to have bedroom benefits for both men and women. The antlers are rich in amino acids, hormones, and enzymes, and this cocktail enhances strength and endurance, in bed and elsewhere. Scientists hypothesize that the antlers may have many other benefits, such as reducing stress, helping bones heal, and treating ulcers.

5. Pumpkin Seeds

In China, Turkey, and Bulgaria, men eat pumpkin seeds to stay virile. The oil in the seeds helps keep the prostate healthy, and that's good for the love life. Two to three ounces per day, eaten raw, are supposed do the trick.

6. Beetles

beetle.jpgIn decades past, people get the aphrodisiac Spanish fly directly from the source, the beetle Lytta vesicatoria (pictured, courtesy of the Armed Forces Pest Management Board). It's not an easy thing to swallow, either, because the beetle secretes a substance called cantharidin so prickly that it has been used to remove tattoos. Inside the body, cantharidin irritates the urinary tract and may cause erections as it leaves the body, which enhances its reputation but comes at a price—the poison can cause extensive bleeding. In fact, cantharidin hastened the death of Simon Bolivar, the famed Bolivian revolutionary. Nowadays, you don't have to eat the beetles; Spanish fly, like everything else, is available on the internet. Though useless as an aphrodisiac, cantharidin has shown great promise in cancer treatments—so you wouldn't be wrong to say that lovers found a cure for cancer.

Chris Weber is an occasional contributor to mental_floss.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]