Original image

Get a Cluedo: The Wonderful Story of Everyone's Favorite Mystery Game

Original image

A few days ago, I was in the grocery store when I came across a board game promising endless hours of family fun called "Cluedo." To my surprise, the game parked at the endcap was the British version of Clue. You might remember Clue as the game that made murder an innocent pastime (not unlike Risk did with Napoleonic world domination and unabashed despotism), that gave rise to phrases like "in drawing room with the rope," and that spawned one of the Greatest Movies of All Time. 

Most stunning of all, I learned that Clue is not an American invention. Along with cricket, irony and the efficient subjugation of many different peoples, the legendary mystery board game is something that the Brits gave us! Here's the full story:

The Retired Clerk with a Pencil in the Study.

Cluedo was invented way back in the 1940s by a retired solicitor's clerk named Anthony Pratt. His idea was simply to create a murder mystery game that unfolded in an old mansion, with players adopting British aristocrat stereotypes. Colonel Mustard, for example, was a certain type of English military man who'd spent time in India; Professor Plum was the absent-minded professor and Miss Scarlett was the sexy femme fatale. It was a precisely British sort of game, inspired by the genteel detective stories written by the likes of Agatha Christie. Of course, the original version did have some major differences.  

cluedoWhen the game was first patented in 1948, the game was called "Murder at Tudor Close." There were also ten characters instead of six, and a few extra weapons like an axe, a shillelagh (a type of traditional Irish truncheon), a bomb, a hypodermic syringe, poison and a poker. The players and gamepieces were whittled down to make the play a little quicker. As for the strange name, Cluedo was a pun on another popular board game, Ludo. But because game makers thought the word joke wouldn't fly in the US, they shortened it to Clue. A few other things didn't survive the transatlantic journey: In the American version, Dr. Black became Mr. John Boddy, the Reverend Green became just Mr. Green, a greed-obsessed mobster-type, and because a "spanner" doesn't make a ton of sense to Americans, it's known here as a wrench.

Clue Goes International

Once the game became popular "“ and it did, reaching more than 50 countries, selling hundreds of millions of copies. In fact, Clue is one of the few board games to surpass $1 billion in sales. Of course, that means game makers had to figure out ways to make it translate into other languages and cultures (many of the cast underwent career changes as well as sex changes to help with the transition). That said, the game is played the same and is generally called Cluedo in countries outside of North America, except in Brazil, where it's called Detetivo.

Meet the new Clue

It was a sad day that Hasbro decided to update Clue. The new Clue offers a whole new cast of characters, new weapons, and even a new mansion (once it was discovered that people didn't really know what a "conservatory" is anymore). While the colonels are professors are gone, the new version includes a a whole cast of tabloid stereotypes: a starlet, a former child actress, a football star turned sports announcer and an overnight billionaire who made his money in video games amongst others. The weapons are updated as well, with a bottle of pills (for poisoning not kicks), a trophy, and a barbell; all of which make us long for the original version even more. 

Essential Trivia you need to memorize before your next Clue Party

Here are just a few things everyone needs to know about Clue: 

* Anthony Pratt, Clue's inventor, allegedly sold his stake in the game in 1953 to fund his career as a concert pianist.

* According to the BBC, Clue is a popular musical in the States. I'm not entirely sure where they've gotten their information on the "popular" part, but Clue is indeed a musical, generally of the high school and community theatre variety. The musical features songs like "She Hasn't Got a Clue," "Once a Widow," and "Seduction Deduction" and premiered off-Broadway in 1997, to somewhat scathing reviews. 

simpsons_clue_3* There are 12 licensed versions of Clue currently published by its makers, Hasbro, including a Harry Potter version and a Simpsons version. And there were many other special editions in the past, including Scooby Doo, Alfred Hitchcock, Dungeons & Dragons, Disney's Haunted Mansion and Disney's Tower of Terror, and Franklin Mint (presumably, this is played with collectible plates of American presidents and kittens). 

* The character of the Singing Telegram girl in the movie Clue was played by Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go's. Wiedlin also played Joan of Arc in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Alien Communications Officer Trillya in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Just one of those things is enough to render a mere mortal awesome.

* In addition to movies, several TV game shows, and a musical, Clue also inspired series of books for young readers, which were published by Scholastic in the 1990s. There were 18 books in total, with names like The Clue in the Shadows, The Revenge of the Mummy, The Secret Secret Passage and The Case of the Invisible Cat. Each one is broken down into a series of mini-mystery chapters, in which the eternally unlucky Mr. Boddy is always getting bumped off, leaving the reader to have to figure out the mystery.

Got any Clue/Cluedo/Detetivo memories you'd like to share? Any particularly memorable games that you've played "“ maybe even the legendary PikaClue?

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
Original image

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]