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How Did You Know? - {day 3}

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Play for your chance to WIN a $100 shopping spree in our store!

If you didn't hear, we're back with a totally redesigned, and retooled Trivia Hunt!

Over the last 14 months, How Did You Know? has undergone many changes, but none as big as this month's. We've listened to your comments and criticism, both negative and positive, and have rethought not only the prizes, but the very way the challenges are presented. Don't worry, we still have all your favorite challenges, like One of These Things is not Like the Others, Name that Movie, and our killer camouflage puzzles, but starting this month, we're adding a real scavenger hunt element to the challenges. As comments have been turned off for the length of the 5-day hunt, be sure to let us know via e-mail what you think of the retool.
As always, it pays to play whether you're the first in with all the correct answers or not. In addition to the $100 shopping spree first-prize, we're also giving away a $50 shopping spree in our store to one random winner who has all the right answers but isn't the first to e-mail them in. Random winners sometimes submit all the correct answers/logic a full 48 hours after the closing bell, so don't worry if you're late or can't submit your final answers at 8 pm ET next Monday.

Have fun with it, and, as always, don't hesitate to work in teams and e-mail all your friends for help. Many, if not most of our past HDYK winners have been teams, not individuals. Our current champion is Natt Supab. Read all about her here.

If you're new to the 5-day trivia hunt, be sure to see the rules and regulations page here. If you missed Day 1, that can be found right here. Day 2 is this-a-way. Now on to our third challenge.

Because you've all been working so hard the past two days, digging up all those clues and answers, we thought we'd go easy on you today with a relatively easy challenge: Name That Planet. On each of the following pages, there is a clue to be found to help you name some of the planets in our solar system. In total, we're looking for the names of four planets. And remember: be sure to send your clue words to us, as well, when you send in all your work next Monday at 8 ET.

Ready to play? Click on through to the challenge.

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Click here to begin.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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SECTIONS
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