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6 Food Challenges for the Super Competitive (or Super Hungry)

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Here are a few places where you can get your meal for free "“ if you're up to the challenge of wolfing down ten percent of your body weight in one sitting.

1. The Beer Barrel Belly Buster

Denny's Beer Barrel Pub (Clearfield, Pennsylvania)

If you scoff at the idea of a quarter pounder, maybe Denny's 15-pounder will wipe the smile off of your face. The 20-inch patty comes on a 17-inch bun and includes two onions, a whole head of lettuce, 25 slices of cheese, three tomatoes and lots of mayo, mustard, relish and ketchup. If you and a friend can get the whole thing down in three hours or less, you'll get the $30 burger for free.


Apparently that wasn't enough for Denny, though. Just last year, he introduced the 123-pound burger. That's not a typo. One hundred and twenty-three pounds. It'll set you back $379, but you get 80 pounds of meat, a pound of lettuce, ketchup, relish, mustard and mayo, 160 slices of cheese, five onions, 12 tomatoes, two pounds of banana peppers, 33 pickles and, of course, a 30-pound bun. [Image courtesy of Offroaders.com.]

2. 12-Egg Omelets

Beth's Café (Seattle, Washington)

beth-12eggs.jpgLooking for a hearty breakfast (and skyrocketing cholesterol)? Look no further than Beth's Café in Seattle. They serve omelets in two sizes there "“ six eggs for the light eater, 12 eggs for the truly hungry. The omelets come with all-you-can-eat hashbrowns, too. (Note: no prize at this place, just an impressive bullet point to add to your eating resume.)


[Photo courtesy of the Official Wedding Website of Jeff & Lisa.]

3. The Texas King

The Big Texan Steak Ranch (Amarillo, Texas)

bigtexan.jpgThe Texas King is a whopping 72 ounces of steak. That's four pounds. It will set you back $72, unless you can finish the entire meal "“ which includes the steak, a buttered roll, shrimp cocktail, a salad, beans and a potato "“ in which case it's on the house. More than 7,000 people have succeeded at the challenge since it started in 1960. Frank Pastore, pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, finished the entire meal in nine and a half minutes in 1987, which is the record. It wasn't his first finish, though, just the fastest "“ he had completed the challenge six times prior to that.

4. Belly Buster Challenge

Pizza Party (Santa Clara, California)

pizza-party.jpgThere are some pretty stringent rules to enter the Belly Buster Challenge (a 20" pizza). Here's a sampling:


"¢ One person must eat ONE BELLY BUSTER pizza made with cheese and two toppings in one hour or less
"¢ Entire pizza must be eaten including the crust
"¢ You may consume water or any other beverage
"¢ We will supply water, you pay for any other drinks
"¢ No dipping the pizza in the beverage
"¢ You must keep the pizza down until all the pizza is consumed
"¢ Management is the sole judge of completion of the challenge
"¢ If you can't keep it down YOU CLEAN IT UP
"¢ You may not win more than once

But the reward is great: for eating a whole 20" pizza in less than an hour, you get your entry fee back (half the price of the pizza), a t-shirt, a picture immortalizing your efforts on the wall at the restaurant, a certificate and a free extra large pizza every month for the next year.

You can read about one man's 37-minute triumph over the Belly Buster (and two of his friends) here. You can also watch video of it here. Alas, champion competitive eater Joey Chestnut doesn't live too far from Santa Clara and came in to break the record again. His time? A mere 15 minutes.

5. Monster Burritos

Pinata's Mexican Grill (Bethpage, New York)

monsterburritos.jpgYeah, two burritos doesn't really sound like they would be too much of a challenge to eat, even given a time limit. But when the burritos are three pounds each, the story kind of changes. Pinata's has a Wall of Shame for those who fail in their attempt and a Wall of Fame for those who succeed. From what I can tell, only two pictures reside on the Wall of Fame, and those two pictures feature competitive eaters "Krazy Kevin" Lipsitz and Don "Moses" Lerman.

6. Cold Sweat Ice Cream

Sunni Sky's (Angier, North Carolina)

ColdSweat.jpgSpicy ice cream? Yep. So spicy, in fact, customers have to sign a waiver before they even taste it. It's mixed with three types of pepper and two types of hot sauce. One of the first customers to try it had to go to the bathroom pretty much immediately and throw up. He's had it several times since then and hopes to go for the record "“ 14 ounces in one sitting.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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iStock

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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