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The mental_floss Guide to the U.S. Open

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Golf's U.S. Open plays out this week, just in time for the customary final round on Father's Day. In honor of the Open's teeing off at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, we dug through the championship's history to find some crucial details (and trivial moments, too).

How old is the tournament?
The Newport Country Club of Rhode Island hosted the first U.S. Open in 1895 with far less fanfare than the modern tournament receives. Instead of a mad scramble to make the elite field, the competition only had 11 entrants, each of whom played a nine-hole course four times in a single day. The U.S. Open wasn't even the main draw on the course that week; spectators and golfers were much more preoccupied with the first playing of U.S. Amateur Championship at the club, which made the Open something of an afterthought. At the end of play, Englishman Horace Rawlins claimed the title and pocketed $150 and a gold medal for his stellar performance. (He also made a compelling case for home-course advantage in golf; by day the young champ was the assistant pro at"¦you guessed it, the Newport Country Club.) The Open's been played ever since with two exceptions: a two-year break for World War I and a four-year gap during World War II.

So Americans dominated right off the bat, right?
Hardly. Although the tournament was called the U.S. Open, winning was strictly a British affair in its early days. From 1895 to 1910, British golfers won every year, including four wins by Scottish immigrant Willie Anderson. Americans didn't claim their own Open until 1911 when Philadelphia's John J. McDermott bested the field by three strokes. McDermott, who was only 19 years old at the time of his victory, still holds the record for youngest Open champ. Just as impressively, he successfully defended his title the following year at the Country Club of Buffalo.

Why is it called the U.S. Open?
Technically, the tournament is open to all comers rather than restricted to a certain group of golfers. Both amateurs john-daly.jpgand professionals can compete in the event, so in theory, any golfer in the world is eligible for the field. Thus, it's an "open" tournament. Of course, you can't just show up with your bag and shoes on Thursday morning and expect to tee off with Tiger. Golfers have to either qualify for the championship or gain an invitation through a qualifying exemption, which are given to past champions, recent champions of other major championships, top-ranked professionals, and other elite groups.


Amateurs with handicaps of 1.4 or less can play in the U.S. Open if they make it through the qualifying process, which includes a local qualifying round and a sectional qualifying round. Golfers who manage to qualify in this way had better behave themselves, though. The USGA's website ominously warns that golfers are "subject to rejection at any time (including during the Championship) by the USGA. The reason for rejection may include unbecoming conduct." If John Daly's been sliding by, though, it's probably tough to get the boot.

What's the roughest time anyone's had at the Open?
It would be hard to beat J.D. Tucker in the futility department. He took the course for the 1898 Open at the Myopia Hunt Club in S. Hamilton, MA, and proceeded to shoot a 157 in his opening round. During his second round the same day, he carved 57 strokes off of his score, but that only got him to a not-so-competitive 100. He then withdrew from the tournament.

For a single hole, though, Ray Ainsley gave Tucker a run for his money. At the 1938 Open at Cherry Hills in Englewood, Colorado, Ainsley hit into a creek on the 16th hole of his second round. Rather than take a penalty, Ainsley thought he'd try to hit the ball out of the water. When his first attempt was unsuccessful, he tried again. And again. And again. When the ball finally found its way onto dry land and into the cup, Ainsley had racked up a 19-stroke hole, a record that still stands. That should make you feel better the next time you have to suck it up and take a drop.

Who was the unlikeliest champion?
shia.jpgThat honor probably belongs to Francis Ouimet, the former caddy who took the 1913 U.S. Open at the course he used to patrol, the Country Club of Brookline, MA. Although he was an amateur facing stiff competition from celebrated British pros like Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, Ouimet managed to squeak out a victory following an 18-hole playoff. Fittingly, Ouimet's caddy made him look old; 10-year-old friend Eddie Lowery skipped school to man the bag for Ouimet throughout the tournament. The national press hung on young Ouimet's gutsy performance against his British rivals, and the stunning win is credited with helping to popularize golf in the U.S. Sounds like a Disney movie, doesn't it? It is; the story was adapted in 2005 as The Greatest Game Ever Played starring Shia LeBeouf as Ouimet.

Why doesn't Bobby Jones have five U.S. Open titles?
Amateur golfer Bobby Jones was undoubtedly one of the best golfers of all time, and he had the hardware to back it up: four U.S. Open wins, another three wins in the British Open, and six more wins between the U.S. Amateur and the British Amateur. He might have had a fifth U.S. Open title if he hadn't been so honest, though. At the 1925 U.S. Open, he was getting set to hit an iron shot out of the rough when he felt his club move the ball ever so slightly. No one else seemed to have seen this movement, but Jones called a penalty on himself. After officials were unable to confirm that the ball had actually moved, they allowed Jones to make his own ruling on whether or not he should be penalized. Jones said he was certain the ball had moved and penalized himself. The decision cost him the outright title, and he then lost a playoff to Willie Macfarlane. Spectators praised Jones for being so conscientious, but he would have none of it. He flatly replied, "You might as well praise me for not robbing banks."

Who was the unhealthiest champ?
angel.jpgAnyone who watched Angel Cabrera win last year's U.S. Open while chain-smoking between shots might be surprised to learn the tobacco-loving Argentine doesn't hold this distinction. Olin Dutra's win at the 1934 U.S. Open was as much a medical marvel as it was an athletic achievement after Dutra got sick on his way to the tournament. He wasn't just a little ill; he was suffering from a case of amoebic dysentery that caused him to lose 15 pounds before the tournament began. For the first two rounds, Dutra played well enough to lurk just eight strokes back on the leaderboard. The third round was disastrous, though. The dysentery acted up, and Dutra dropped to 18th place. In the final round, though, he roared back despite feeling ill and being forced to subsist on sugar cubes. By shooting a final-round 72, Dutra passed Bobby Cruickshank and Gene Sarazen to win his only U.S. Open crown by just one stroke.

Honorable mention in this category has to go to Ken Venturi, who won the 1964 U.S Open at the Congressional Country Club in Bethestda, Maryland. The sweltering sun got to Venturi in his final round, and he nearly collapsed from heat exhaustion. He eventually completed his victory under the watchful eye of a doctor.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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