Original image

8 Obscure Twists on Monopoly

Original image

In the nearly 75 years since it was first released by Parker Brothers, Monopoly has inspired hundreds of spinoffs. Most of them are licensed by Hasbro, but there are also plenty of eccentric and unauthorized variants, like many of the ones below.

1. BibleOpoly

BibleOpoly, "A Biblical Game of Fun and Faith," takes the rules of the original Monopoly game and kicks the piety up to 11. Instead of building houses, you build a church; instead of going to Jail, you go to Meditation; all the properties are replaced by Biblical cities; the four railroads are replaced by four Abysses; the Chance and Community Chest cards are replaced by Faith and Contingency cards; some of the cards require you to recite Bible verses or else lose a turn. If you land on a city where another player is building a church, you don't pay rent, but instead must make an offering. And, of course, there is no "GO" space. Rather, an "In the Beginning."

The description of the game on the publisher's website sounds like something straight out of the Flanders home: "In BIBLEOPOLY, you can't win by destroying your opponents. You will only win by assisting the fellow players." At first, this seems a bit counterintuitive, since players are racing to build a church in one of their cities. But in order to get a Cornerstone, the first piece of a church, you have to do Community Service by voluntarily sitting out for three turns. Creative, eh?

2. HomoNoPolis

HomoNoPolisIn case you can't tell from the name, this Dutch edition is Monopoly gone gay. Dubbed "The Most Gayotic Game," HomoNoPolis is played on a pink triangular board. Using game pieces that resemble Amsterdam's street lights, players hop along spaces representing the city's gay bars and clubs"¦or, at least, the ones that were around in the mid-90s. When another player winds up in a club that you own, you want to charge them as much as possible, so you can purchase Barkeepers and "Back Rooms."

The game is deliberately campy, down to the pink die. The most risqué part of HomoNoPolis is the "SM Cellar," replacing the Jail. As for the name, "Homo polis" means "gay city." But what about the "no" in the middle? According to one board game website, this is a reference to a local in-joke that Amsterdam is a town, not a city. So the name is meant to be both a pun on the word "monopoly" and a portmanteau defining Amsterdam as the "gay non-city."

3. Anti-Monopoly

Anti-MonopolyBoard game enthusiasts hate it when people try to play by their own rules. But in Anti-Monopoly, that's part of the point. Designed by economics professor Ralph Anspach, in this game, players are evenly divided into Competitors and Monopolists. To win, you have to be the richest Competitor after all the Monopolists have been bankrupted, or vice versa. Depending on which type of player you are, you have to observe different requirements. For example, landing on the northeast corner space sends Monopolists to Prison and Competitors to Price War. While in their respective equivalents of Jail, Competitors can keep collecting rent, while Monopolists cannot.

Technically, this game is Anti-Monopoly II; the first game to be called Anti-Monopoly led to ten-year legal battle between Anspach and General Mills, which owned the rights to the Monopoly name at the time. The professor lost twice in the lower courts, and appealed both times, eventually bringing the infringement battle before the Supreme Court. After the SCOTUS ruled in Anspach's favor, in 1984, Anti-Monopoly sold half a million copies. However, the game was deemed to be too confusing, so Anspach revised the rules and published Anti-Monopoly II. He then went on to write a book about the legal battle and the history of Monopoly.

4. Ghettopoly

GhettopolyThis is probably the best-known version of Monopoly on this list. Sold by Urban Outfitters starting in 2003, Ghettopoly transformed the normal Monopoly board into a stereotypical ghetto, with guns, basketballs and marijuana leaves among the game tokens. The game's imagery outraged African-American leaders, who objected to the game's "Hustle" and "Ghetto Stash" cards, which said things like "You have been elected Pimp of the Year. Pay each playa $50."

The threat of a boycott campaign, led by the NAACP and black clergymen nationwide, convinced Urban Outfitters to stop selling the game. Inventor David Chang maintained that he wasn't spreading stereotypes, but was instead making fun of them. For a short while afterwards, Chang sold the game himself, along with a sequel, Redneckopoly. However, after Hasbro successfully sued Chang for infringement, he was barred from making any more games with the suffix "-opoly," including his planned sequels, "Hoodopoly," "Thugopoly" and "Hiphopopoly."

5. Franklin Mint Collector's Edition Monopoly (and others)

Franklin Mint Monopoly PiecesIf you have enough money to build a real hotel in Atlantic City, this might be the Monopoly for you. Inside the elegant wooden box, you'll find a luxurious board, the center of which is lined with fine green felt. Say goodbye to mixing up your 10s and 20s during cleanup "“ the board sits atop a money drawer, which is also lined with felt and can be pulled open via a golden circular handle sporting Mr. Monopoly's famous mug. You can also forget about keeping the bank's property cards in a stack "“ how plebian! In this game, the banker uses a bound real-estate portfolio.

But wait, there's more "“ the houses are all dipped in silver, and the game pieces and hotels are plated in 24 karat gold. The Community Chest and Chance cards are likewise decorated with gold foil. Not surprisingly, the design of the fake money you play with is unique, but you might as well be playing with real money. The Franklin Mint edition costs $595 (or "3 easy monthly payments of $198.33," according to the Franklin Mint site). That's not including the optional $90 glass cover plate. When the game was first released in the 80s, the Mint also sold a $300 stand and special Monopoly chairs for $100 apiece. Over 100,000 sets were sold.

And as far as exclusive Monopoly boards go, that's on the low end. Details are scant, but some board game fansites also tell of one-of-a-kind sets, made with things like leather and rubies, costing as little as $25,000 or as much as $100,000.

6. Petropolis

PetropolisThis Monopoly variant, designed by the late French aristocrat Arnaud de Rosnay, finds its niche in the global oil trade. The original rule book has pictures of sheikhs and lists 30 oil tycoons to whom Rosnay sent special deluxe editions. Starting from the Geneva Airport space in the center of the board, players travel counterclockwise outwards and then back in, hopping from country to country and continent to continent.

All the money bears the slogan, "In oil we trust," and instead of houses and hotels, players erect oil rigs and drilling platforms. The Chance-like cards are called Telex Cards, and they naturally deal with the sort of problems oil barons must face on a regular basis, like "The radar of your private jet is out of order. You miss a turn." And, of course, the Jail-equivalent is the Tribunal of The Hague.

7. HMOnopoly

As you might expect, HMOnopoly is all about health care, and instead of buying properties and building residences, players vie "to become the dominant provider of health care services." Sounds like fun, right? This Monopoly variant is free online; that is, you can't play it online, but at this website, you can print out segments of the game board and paste them over your normal Monopoly board.

There are some slight rule tweaks, including the ability of the players/HMOs to attempt a Hostile Takeover of their opponents' Health Care Facilities. If you land on a Facility owned by another player, or on the Hostile Takeover space (which replaces "Go To Jail"), you can attempt a Takeover and roll the dice. Rolling doubles lets you take money from the other players, but if you roll double sixes, you can take all of their money. That's harsh.

8. War-opoly

No discussion of Monopoly trivia would be complete without a mention of War-opoly, which mental_floss discussed in more detail in this article from the magazine's November-December 2007 edition. In brief, British soldiers used Monopoly to escape from German POW camps. How? The British secret service sent Monopoly boxes in Red Cross care packages with items like a magnetic compass and a metal file disguised as game tokens. Also included were silk maps of the region surrounding the prisoner camp and real local currency to aid in the captured troops' escape. Get Out of Jail Free, indeed.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]