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7 of America's Quirkiest Food Festivals

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A typical summer for the average American consists of a picnic or two, some time at the beach, and of course a carnival or a food festival—especially if you are from a small town. Usually the theme is based on that particular town's local produce or specialty, be it peaches, asparagus, gumbo or cheese curds. There are usually fireworks, parades, car shows, cook-offs, and maybe even a fashionable 10K race.

But some towns add a little spice, and yes, sometimes even a little (or big?) testicle. These are the quirkiest food festivals in America. So rev up your road trip engines, loosen your belt buckles, tuck a (paper) napkin in your collar and dig in!

1. Gizzard Festival: June 6-8, Potterville, MI
Let's kick things off with the Potterville Gizzard Festival, which is going on right now. Complete with all the traditional regalia of a fine food festival—a car show, a mud derby, some fireworks and a parade—there is also the annual gizzard eating contest at Joe's Potterville Inn. Not for the faint of stomach, contestants have to eat two pounds of gizzards as quickly as they can. Winners get bragging rights for the year, plus $100 in cold, hard cash. Whoever said one couldn't make a living eating chicken gizzards?

And what exactly is a chicken gizzard? A gizzard is a secondary stomach that can be found in both birds and reptiles. It aids in digestion by grinding food with ingested stones before returning the food to the primary stomach. Mmmm! Supposedly, it's a little like chewy chicken liver and, when lightly seasoned with a little salt and pepper, can be quite nice. If you live near Potterville and you're equal parts hungry and brave, grab a gizzard hat and head out there this weekend.

2. RC and MoonPie Festival: June 21, Bell Buckle, TN
You really can't get more Southern than a cold RC Cola and a freshly unwrapped MoonPie. Add a little BBQ into the mix and you have the Bell Buckle RC and MoonPie Festival. When a population of just over 400 swells to 15,000 for one weekend of the year you know it's gotta be good. And is it ever—they bake the world's largest MoonPie! Each year, the newly elected MoonPie King and Queen select a group of Knights for their round table. These Knights aid in the ceremonial cutting and distributing of free pieces of the world's largest MoonPie.


But the real draw of this festival is the "Synchronized Wading" extravaganza. Described as "dry humor on a wet stage," the Down Home Divas (led by First Lady Carla Webb) will perform "A Midsummer's Nightmare" this year. It will star Miss Moon Pie and feature special appearances by the Googoo cluster and a Coke. A cheeky twist on Shakespeare performed in a kiddie pool? Count me in! [Image courtesy of pulltight.]

3. Bologna: July 25-27, Yale, MI
Yale bologna is said to be some of the best in the world. A bit courser and more strongly seasoned than your typical Oscar Mayer slice, this bologna has been rumored to help people live to be 120 years old. (We couldn't find any 120-year-old bologna enthusiasts to confirm this.) Every year, in a single weekend, over a thousand pounds of bologna are served either fried in sandwiches, stuck between a bun as a hot dog or placed around a stick in ring form.

The Bologna Queen crown is quite prestigious in Yale. Contestants must declare their intention to run up to six weeks in advance and be willing to raise tens of thousands of dollars for charity. The lucky lady who captures this highly respected title receives a crown of ringed bologna and a King for her arm. And of course, there is the outhouse race where people build a crude loo on wheels to push around town as fast as they can. The only requirements? The inclusion of a Sears catalog and somebody riding inside—hopefully not because of one too many bologna sticks.

4. Testicle Festival: July 30-Aug 3, Rock Creek Lodge, MT
rockcreek.gifSorry kiddies, this one is not for you. Also known as the "Testy Festy" or the "Breasticle Festival," this four-day drunken jamboree is filled with wet t-shirt contests, pig wrestling, stripping, mooning, bull riding, and fried bull testicle consumption. Called "Rocky Mountain Oysters," bull testicles are considered delicious by a select group of fine diners. In a showcase of masculine virility, there is even a bull testicle eating contest. Matt Powers took the title last year after consuming over 40 bull testicles in four minutes. Mentioned in Playboy as one of the top things to do in the summer (as long as you're down with nudity and motorcycles), you should follow their advice and "come out and have a ball!"

5. Humongous Fungus: August 7-10, Crystal Falls, MI
In honor of the world's largest—and possibly oldest—living organism, the Amirillaria Bulbosa (aka "honey mushroom," which spans 38 acres under an Iron County forest and may be as old as 10,000 years), the good people of Crystal Falls, Michigan, throw a festival every year. People travel from all over the world to get a glimpse of this humongous fungus, but can be bitterly disappointed upon realization that it is almost completely underground. But their disappointment does not last long. At the festival there are fungus shirts, fungus burgers, fungus fudge, and fungus mushroom hats to assuage their grief.

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And did I mention the HUMONGOUS sausage and mushroom pizza they cook every year? Placed over a roasting pit in a humongous pizza-roasting pan by a humongous lumber truck crane, this pizza measures over 100 square feet! [Image courtesy of Kim Olson.] Other events include a mushroom cook-off, a strong man competition and a humongous picnic. Plus David Letterman once mentioned the famed Humungous Fungus on one of his top ten lists.

road-kill.jpg6. Roadkill Festival: Sept 27, Marlinton, WV
This is where it starts to get good. With taglines like "You kill it we grill it; featuring some of the highway's finest" and "Eating food is more fun when you know it was hit on the run," Marlinton, West Virginia, knows how to bring a little humor into a good food festival. Featuring any animal often—but in this case, not actually—roadkill, contestants cook up recipes using possum, beaver, raccoon, snake, deer or armadillo. Care to try some "Deer Smear Quesadillas" or "Bumper Bruised Barbequed Bear"? This is the place!


7. Turkey Testicle Festival: October 11, Byron, IL
It must be the rhyming, because I cannot think of any other reason why there are so many testicle festivals. This one, however, is a little more PG. Still only for the 21-and-over crowd (is it necessary to be plastered when consuming fried testicles?), the Turkey Testicle Festival consists of more savory activities like Karaoke, a performance by the Testilett dancers, and a fundraiser for charity that brought in over $25,000 last year.

Every year, over 275 lbs. of turkey testicles are consumed at Byron's Union Street Station. Now in its 30th year, this festival is facing an uphill battle to continue the tradition. Last year, an underage drinker got past security, and passed out in the bathroom, prompting a police investigation. Now the fate of this storied festival is up in the air. How storied? Well, there's a song dedicated to it.

Honorable Mentions

The Dam Festival in Eaton Rapids, Michigan. Just think of the possibilities"¦ "Where are you off to?" "I'm going to that Dam Festival."
The Hopps of Fun Beer Festival in Mackinaw City, Michigan. I just really liked the title.
The Pasty Festival in Calumet, Michigan. It's not that kind of pasty"¦but there is a poetry slam!
The Menudo Festival in San Fernando, California. Menudo is tripe, or cow's stomach. It's thought to cure a hangover, but I don't think I've ever met a hangover worth menudo.

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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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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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