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7 Silly Civic Wagers on Sports

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Does ketchup go well with octopus? Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is about to find out. Kilpatrick is expected to receive a shipment of Pittsburgh goodies, including Heinz ketchup, Primanti Brothers sandwiches and an octopus from Wholey's Fish Market after winning a bet with Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl on the outcome of the Stanley Cup finals.


No such wager on the NBA Finals was widely reported in the days leading up to Game 1 between the Celtics and Lakers, but there's still time for Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to announce a bet. Count legendary sportswriter Frank Deford among those who hope they don't. "It's like teams pouring the Gatorade on the coach," Deford told the Boston Globe before February's Super Bowl. "The first time it was funny, the second time, OK. And then it never ends. It's really time to end this."

Is it time for civic bets to be retired? Take a look back at some of the more absurd wagers from the past 25 years and decide for yourself. Future public officials, take note.

1. Super Bowl XVII: Washington Redskins vs. Miami Dolphins

If Virginia Gov. Charles Robb and Florida Gov. Bob Graham wanted to be lame, they might have wagered crates of apples and oranges, respectively, on the 1983 showdown between the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins. 300_honeybees.jpgInstead, they got creative. Robb put a Virginia pig named Josephine on the line, an ode to the Redskins' short and big-bellied offensive linemen, who were collectively referred to as the Hogs. Graham countered with 3,000 live Florida honeybees, a nod to the Dolphins' Killer B's defensive unit led by the likes of Bill Barnett, Bob Baumhower and Doug Betters.


Clearing space for running back John Riggins, the Hogs got the better of the B's in the game and the Redskins won 27-17. The delivery of the bees—Graham tripled his original offering and sent 9,000 total—was delayed until April by cold weather. In the meantime, Washington Post columnist Jack Eisen put in writing what many locals were probably wondering: "What f'hevvin's sake does Robb plan to do with a hive of bees, unless they're trained to sting only Republicans?" In fact, Roanoke, Va., city treasurer and beekeeper Gordon Peters housed the bees in a Super Bowl hive display in his "Honey-N-Hive Supply" store. Naturally, Virginia State Sen. Dudley "Buzz" Emick—his nickname predated the wager, believe it or not "“ aided in the delivery.

2. 1986 World Series: Boston Red Sox vs. New York Mets
If only Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn had the foresight to wager the rights to Bill Buckner in his bet with New York City Mayor Edward Koch. After the Mets capitalized on Buckner's infamous error to come back and win Game 6 and ray-knight.jpgthen went on to win Game 7, Flynn sent Koch victory crocks of Boston baked beans and New England clam chowder. Flynn also agreed to fly a New York flag above Boston City Hall for a week, though he refused to unfurl the "I Love the New York Mets: Don't Tread on Me" variety that Koch sent him. That's when this otherwise traditional bet got interesting.


Three days after it was raised, a group that called itself the Red Sox Revenge Squad stole the flag. The group told a Boston newspaper that it would hold the banner hostage until the Mets issued a formal apology "for the behavior of their security force and fans" after Red Sox secretary Jack Rogers was hit by a bottle following Game 7. It also demanded that Koch "dress up in a bunny outfit and scream to the people of New York, "˜Ray Knight (the Mets' third baseman and Series MVP) is my Cabbage Patch twin.'" A cheap imitation flag was raised following the theft and Koch refused to give in to the demands. He issued a warning to the thieves, saying he "salted" the flag with a mysterious substance that causes it and anyone holding it to dissolve in three weeks, "just like the tapes in Mission: Impossible." Koch also suggested that, if caught, the culprits should be placed in the Boston Common stocks. Flynn fired back through a spokesman: "I think New York City should be aware that the punitive treatment applied during the Pilgrim era has gone the way of Cotton Mather." Zing.

3. 1988 NBA Finals: Detroit Pistons vs. Los Angeles Lakers

When Walter Moore learned that Inglewood, Calif., Mayor Ed Vincent was offering up a copy of the Los Angeles Lakers' drug awareness video "˜Just Say No' as his half of their friendly wager, the Pontiac, Michigan mayor's blue-collar influence shined through. "At least he isn't offering sushi," said Moore, who offered two weeks' use of a sparkling new Pontiac Grand Prix and some Everlite bulbs (another Pontiac product) in exchange for the privilege to play the video "for the entire Pontiac City Council." Just say yes to watching the video, which features classic verses like this one:

I'm Kareem, the captain of the team,
I don't need drugs, I've got a higher thing,
My sky hook makes the team look good,
But there's a hook we gotta shake from the neighborhood.

Alas, Moore and the city of Pontiac missed out on Kurt Rambis' short-shorts, A.C. Green's killer shades, and James Worthy's amazing solo, as the Lakers prevailed in seven games. Vincent enjoyed his car, which he presumably drove to all of the local sushi bars while continuing to fight the war on drugs. "It's kinda nice," Vincent said. "Has some nice pistons."

4. 1993 World Series: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Philadelphia Phillies
A mayor has yet to wager his first born child on the outcome of a sporting event, but the Philadelphia Zoo did put up some of its extremely rare, yet-to-be-born white lion cubs against a pair of Tasmanian devils in a bet with the white-lion.jpgToronto Metro Zoo. Alan Tonks, a Toronto zoo representative, said the animals involved in the bet characterized each city's respective team. What better way to represent Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk and the rest of the Phillies than with an animal that treats its prey viciously and emits a foul odor when stressed, right? Toronto's zoo won the bet after the Blue Jays won the series in six games and the first white lion born in America was born in Philadelphia the following March. Tandi—the Zulu word for Joe Carter or Love, depending on who you ask—weighed 2 pounds, 6 ounces and became only the 15th white lion known in existence. Philadelphia made good on the bet by lending Tandi and her two sisters to the Toronto zoo the following summer.


As for the Tasmanian devils, they were to be a gift to Toronto from the Tasmanian government. But when the Australian Wildlife Protection Authority learned that the devils were part of a sports bet, they promptly canceled the shipment. "We don't export animals to be part of bets or publicity stunts," AWPA Director Paul Jewell said.

5. Super Bowl XXXIII: Atlanta Falcons vs. Denver Broncos
John Elway's second Super Bowl win and final career game in 1999 was preceded by several civic bets between cellucci.jpgofficials in Atlanta and Denver. Peanuts, buffalo steaks, Coca-Cola, an autographed football, Rocky Mountain oysters, custom-made golf balls, pecans and disposable cameras were all wagered, but they all paled in comparison to the bet between Denver Palm restaurant manager Scott Fickling and Atlanta Palm restaurant manager Willy Cellucci.


Cellucci (pictured) paid off the bet by dressing up in a Broncos cheerleader outfit and working as the maitre d' at Fickling's restaurant in Denver for three hours. Thankfully there's no visual evidence, but Fickling, who would've done the same thing at Cellucci's restaurant in Atlanta had the Falcons won, said the results weren't pretty. "Let's just say that Willy has a midriff issue," Fickling told the Denver Post. "We had the cheerleader outfit custom made—by Denver Tent and Awning Company."

6. 2002 Stanley Cup Finals: Carolina Hurricanes vs. Detroit Red Wings
Perhaps Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was too busy texting his ex-top aide to take the time to figure out that the Carolina Hurricanes play in Raleigh. Kilpatrick reportedly phoned the mayor in Charlotte—a three-hour drive from kwame.jpgRaleigh—to work out a wager before he realized his mistake. "Perhaps by the time the series is over, the Mayor of Detroit will know where the Hurricanes are based," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker told the press. When the two mayors finally connected, Kilpatrick (pictured) wagered a Michigan cherry tree and a 20-pound octopus, while Meeker put up a North Carolina oak tree.


The Red Wings won the series and Kilpatrick won his tree, but he likely earned little respect from the people of Raleigh. The eco-friendly bet, though, paved the way for future "green wagers." St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman will plant a tree in front of the Xcel Energy Center wearing a Colorado Avalanche jersey before the Republican National Convention in August, the payoff for losing a bet on a first-round NHL playoff series to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.

7. 2007 Grey Cup: Saskatchewan Roughriders vs. Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Any bet that involves the loser and winner doing anything outside in Saskatchewan in February is worthy of making this list. In case you've been living under a rock, the Saskatchewan Roughriders beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 23-19 in last year's Grey Cup to win the CFL championship. As a result, Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz had to stand on a street corner in downtown Regina, Saskatchewan, wearing a Saskatchewan jersey and holding a sign that proclaimed the Roughriders as the greatest team in Canada. Katz had previously worn the jersey to a council meeting and donated four sets of Roughriders season tickets to charity as part of the bet. Regina Mayor Pat Fiacco braved the cold and stood next to Katz for at least part of the frigid ordeal, answering questions about who is the better mayor and muttering something about taxes. Only in Canada.

Scott Allen is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com. Back in January, he wrote a detailed history of The Bud Bowl.
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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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.

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