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The Quick 10: 10 Magic Kingdom Attractions and Their Secrets

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It was on this day in 1971 that Walt Disney World in Florida opened up to the public. It might not mean much to some of you, but I'm pretty grateful that it opened "“ I was born to a Disney-holic mom so I took many a family vacation to Florida just to spend a few days at Disney. In fact, my first trip was when I was not even a year old. That's a good 18 hours in the car (we never flew, oh no). Luckily, I'm an only child, so I had the whole backseat to myself all of those years. No fighting over someone crossing the invisible line that divided the backseat territory or anything like that. My parents spent a lot of time yelling at me to get my nose of out my books and pay attention to the scenery, but to no avail. To this day, I have no idea what Tennessee looks like (I'm kidding).

Anyway, to show my appreciation for the creation of Disney World, today's Q10 is trivia about the Magic Kingdom, which is the WDW park that actually opened on this date. The other parks that comprise Walt Disney World are EPCOT, which opened on October 1, 1982; Disney-MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios), which opened on May 1, 1989; and Disney's Animal Kingdom, which opened on April 22, 1998.

castle1. Cinderella Castle is what most people think of when they think of the Magic Kingdom. It's an amalgam of several different castles, but most sources cite Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria as the main inspiration. It's 189 feet tall, which is more than twice the size of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland (77 feet tall). I'm outing myself as a huge Disney geek here, but oh well: Disneyphiles like to stump one another by asking, "How many bricks were used to build Cinderella Castle?" But any self-respecting Disney buff knows the answer: None. The castle is only made to look brick. The castle is redecorated from time to time, and I was there for one of the most hideous transformations ever "“ in 1996, Imagineers made the castle look like a birthday cake to celebrate the 25th anniversary. It gave me a toothache just looking at it. Picture from Wikipedia user Ciccone39.

2. Walt was into the railroad, big-time. He even built a miniature steam railroad in his back yard. So, it makes sense that special attention was given to the Walt Disney World Railroad, the steam-powered railroad that takes you around the perimeter of the Magic Kingdom. There are four trains, named the Walter E. Disney, the Lily Belle (After Walt's wife), the Roger E. Broggie (he helped acquire the trains) and the Roy O. Disney (Walt's brother). It takes three people to run each train: the conductor, of course, the engineer, and a fireman.

3. Liberty Square is probably my favorite part of the Magic Kingdom "“ we'll get to why in a minute. It's small but packed full with details "“ if you look in the upstairs window of the House of Burgesses, you'll see lanterns that symbolize Paul Revere's "One if by land, two if by sea". The replica of the Liberty Bell was actually cast from the mold of the real Liberty Bell in Philly; it's the only other bell ever to be cast from that mold. There are 13 lanterns in the Liberty Tree, which represent the 13 colonies, and the Liberty Tree is an actual 100-year-old oak tree that has been grafted with a younger oak. I've read that there are buildings and architectural elements that represent each of the 13 colonies, but I can't vouch for that "“ I guess I'll have to pay more attention when I am there in three weeks!

4. Liberty Square is my favorite land because it's home to the Haunted Mansion.

I could make a whole post out of the Haunted Mansion (and perhaps I will, closer to Halloween), but I'll stick to this for now: Paul Frees, who is the voice of your Ghost Host at the Mansion, was also the voice of lots of other beloved characters: John Lennon and George Harrison in the Beatles cartoon, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Toucan Sam (also voiced at other times by Mel Blanc and Maurice LaMarche), and Boris Badenov from Rocky and Bullwinkle. I'm amazed at how people can make their voices sound so different.

If you've never experienced the ride, here you go:

5. Cinderella's Golden Carousel in Fantasyland was made by the most prestigious carousel company in the States "“ the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. But it wasn't made specifically for Disney. Nope, Walt bought it from the Olympic Park in New Jersey when it closed in 1967. There are 90 horses, all maintained by one woman who hand-paints each one with unique patterns and color schemes. If you snag the horse that has a golden bow on its tail, you're in luck "“ that's said to be the horse of Cinderella herself.

6. Out of the 289 dolls that you'll find on "it's a small world", only two of them are American "“ and you won't find either bedecked in red, white and blue. One is a cowboy and one is Inuit.

7. The Carousel of Progress is an attraction in Tomorrowland that is often overlooked because people are rushing to get to more exciting rides such as Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin. But it's a nice, relaxing attraction that features the voice of one of the best narrators of all time: Jean Shepherd. Who? He's the narrator of A Christmas Story (and author of the book it was based on). In the Carousel of Progress, he plays the dad. One of the grandmas is voiced by Judy Jetson (Janet Waldo) and Debi Derryberry, who voices the daughter, is also the voice of Jimmy Neutron.

8. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a crazy roller coaster trip through the Old West "“ and those artifacts you see scattered throughout the ride are real. Disney bought pieces such as a double-stamp ore crusher, an ore-hauling wagon and an old ball mill at auctions.

9. The Swiss Family Treehouse is another attraction that I think goes overlooked a lot. It's a super-detailed replica of the tree the Swiss Family Robinson lived in. To support its 60-foot height, the structure goes 42 feet below ground. The 330,000 leaves might look real, but they aren't "“ they are polyethylene. The whole thing weighs more than 200 tons.

toad10. Much to my chagrin, the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh replaced Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in 1999. But if you pay enough attention during the ride, you can still catch a glimpse of old Toadie "“ at the very beginning of the ride, you'll see some picture frames. Check them out "“ one of them is Mr. Toad handing off the deed to the attraction to Owl from Winnie the Pooh.

If you're more loyal to Disneyland in California, never fear: I did a Q10 on it in July, the anniversary of its opening.

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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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]