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6 Obscure Sports To Try This Summer

Summer is here, which means it's time to start playing outside as much as possible. Are you tired of all the old summer standby sports, though? Sure, baseball and volleyball are fun, but sometimes you want something just a little, well, weirder. This summer, take a chance on one of these obscure sports.

1. Bossaball
Surprisingly originating in Belgium and not a Nickelodeon back lot, bossaball finally answers the question of why no one ever thought to make hybrid of volleyball, gymnastics, soccer, and the Brazilian fight-dancing capoeira and then played said hybrid on an inflatable court outfitted with integrated trampolines. Basically, the sport is played much like volleyball, except contact can be made with any part of the body, each side can touch the ball eight times before knocking it back over the net, and serves can be made via kick. Also, one player on each side is the "attacker" and bounces on the aforementioned trampoline, which enables him to fly up for huge spikes with his hands or feet. Like in volleyball, teams get one point for making the ball drop on the opponent's side of the court, but this score jumps to three points if the ball lands on the trampoline. Sound confusing? Check it out for yourself (this video's shot indoors, but it's also common to see the court blown up on beaches):

2. Ga-ga
According to Wikipedia, ga-ga is a dodgeball variant that probably originated in Israel. Much like a good mixed martial arts bout, it's contested in an octagonal ring surrounded by walls known as a ga-ga pit, and, again, much like a good MMA bout, it's popular at summer camps. Basically, the game is played in much the same way as the dodgeball with which you're probably familiar, but with a few key differences. Players don't catch the ball; instead they smack it open-handed and let it careen around the octagonal pit. To start the game, players bounce the ball three times, repeating "ga" with each bounce then running towards it to try to make the first kill. Additionally, they're aiming for a lower area on their targets; players are only out if they get hit at or below the knee. Leaving the pit or touching the ball twice without it hitting the wall or another person earns a quick DQ. Here's a look at a game:

3. Underwater Hockey
The NHL's popularity is waning, so maybe they should catch up with the times and replace their icy old rinks with pools. As the name implies, underwater hockey (also known as octopush) is like ice hockey in a pool. A lead puck is dropped to the bottom of the pool, and teams of six players in masks, snorkels, and fins maneuver it towards goals at opposite ends of the "rink" using small sticks. Unlike ice hockey, underwater hockey's a non-contact game, though, so don't' expect any brutal checks into the pool's wall.

Englishmen Alan Blake invented the sport in 1954, and its popularity has since spread worldwide. This video from Singapore gives a pretty good idea of what it's all about:

4. Mountain Unicycling
Unicycling is great and all, but isn't it just a little too easy? You can barely turn your head without seeing someone who scoffs at bicycles in favor of going everywhere on a single wheel. Such would seem to be the logic behind mountain unicycling. The name is in no way misleading; it's a sport in which riders climb and descend hilly trails on their unicycles. These intrepid souls ride specially designed unicycles that have cushier seats, fat mountain bike tires, stronger frames, and longer cranks. Proponents say that it's not as dangerous as it looks; since unicycles don't have multiple gears, they don't fly down hills as quickly as mountain bikes and are easy to bail off of in a pinch. The enthusiasts in this video say they enjoy the sports because it's more difficult and technical than mountain biking on sophisticated modern bikes, although even with their experience, you'll see them take some pretty tough spills:

5. Wife Carrying
There's no more auspicious beginning for a sport than to start out as a joke, and wife carrying has somehow made the leap from laughable oddity to legitimate sport since its inception in Finland. Originally designed as a play on the legend of men courting women by grabbing them and running off with them, wife carrying is a form of racing in which a man totes his wife (or other female partner) through an obstacle course as quickly as possible. For all the silliness of the endeavor, the rules are fairly technical. The couples pass through a 253.5-meter course complete with a water obstacle and two dry obstacles, and any husband dropping his wife is docked 15 seconds. The wife must weigh at least 49 kilograms, otherwise she is given a weighted sack to make up the difference. If you can make it to Sonkajarvi, Finland by July 4, you can still compete in this year's world championships. The sport still has a sense of humor; first prize is the wife's weight in beer. Or check out the video first; this style of knees-over-the-shoulder positioning is known as an "Estonian carry."

6. Pesapallo
Wife-carrying isn't the only odd summer sport the Finnish people enjoy, though; they also have their own variation of baseball known as pesapallo. The game, which was developed by Lauri Pihkala in the early 20th century, is ostensibly similar to baseball, although watching it would be totally disorienting for fans of America's pastime. For starters, the bases don't form the familiar diamond; instead, first base is where third base would be in American baseball. Second base is roughly where it would be in American baseball, and third base is then located on roughly the same line as pesapallo's first base, but deeper in left field, which means that running the bases requires zig-zagging all over the field of play. Furthermore, there's no pitcher's mound. Instead, the pitcher stands to the opposite side of the plate from the hitter and tosses the ball up in the air; the hitter then swings as the ball descends. The pitch is a strike if it goes a meter above the batter's head, then lands on the plate without being hit. Catching a flyball doesn't score an out for the defense, and if a batter doesn't like the ball he hits on his first or second strike, he doesn't have to run and can keep batting.

Despite all these differences, though, it's easy to tell the game is a cousin of baseball, and it looks like a lot of fun:

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.

Original image
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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iStock
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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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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.

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