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The Quick 10: 10 Bizarre Video Games

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Everyone knows the video game classics "“ you can't go wrong with Mario, Zelda, or Donkey Kong. But there are some games out there that make you really wonder what the publisher was thinking when they green-lighted the idea. Although, to be fair, a couple of plumbers wandering around in a fantasy world jumping down pipes and talking to human toadstools doesn't sound very profitable either"¦ At any rate, here are 10 video games I thought were particularly strange.

1. Grey's Anatomy: The Video Game. IGN sums this up perfectly and eloquently with one word: Seriously? It's apparently a collection of mini-games that includes such thrillers as ripping up photographs, flicking away doubts and, yes, surgery (that part might actually be pretty cool). Seems slightly unnecessary.

ninjabread2. Ninjabread Man. The name totally made me laugh, but the game is definitely"¦ half-baked, if you will? Yes, you're a gingerbread man with throwing stars and a machete, which is sweet. But according to all of the reviews, the gameplay is terrible, the graphics are abysmal, and the bugs are rampant. But still"¦ it's a murderous pastry! How often does that happen?? Oh, wait"¦

3. Bible Buffet. This was for the NES circa 1993. And don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with games that reference religion. But I don't really understand the food reference. Evil food is out to get you, and you're armed only with utensils to ward them off (and nary a spork in the bunch). And according to the reviews, the most religious reference you'll get in this game is the title, so color me ultra confused.

4. Speaking of weird food-based games"¦ BurgerTime. The entire premise of the game is to build sandwiches while avoiding tyrannical eggs, pickles, and hot dogs (cleverly named Mr. Egg, Mr. Pickle, and Mr. Hot Dog). Despite the incredibly strange premise, this sucker is ridiculously addicting. Between this and Marble Madness, I lost a good chunk of my childhood to the NES. I can hear the music in my head right now. And I think you should too.

5. Captain Novolin. Diabetics, unite! We all know there's brand placement in video games, but this SNES game is ridiculous. The eponymous hero is diabetic and he's trying to rescue the mayor of the town, but aliens keep trying to thwart him by turning themselves into cake and cookies. He replenishes his life meter by eating healthy meals to keep his blood sugar at safe levels. It was sponsored by Novo Nordisk, the makers of Novolin insulin. Sounds like"¦ fun"¦?

journey6. Journey Escape. Yes. As in the band Journey. As in Steve Perry. As in Atari. You had to get each band member through a throng of obsessed fangirls and intrusive paparazzi. Every time a band member was held up by an obstacle, money came out of the bank account. Zero money = dead Journey. I think you'll agree that the likenesses are amazing, no? You can read more about it here and even play it if you want to download an emulator. If anyone does, please let us know how awesome it is.

7. Desert Bus. This was only one piece of a 1995 Sega game that actually never got released, but it's too weird to not mention. As part of Penn and Teller's Smoke and Mirrors game, players had to pilot a bus through the desert from Tucson to Vegas. You have no passengers, and you can only go a maximum of 45 mph. And it's real time. Even worse, the bus veers to the right just enough so that enterprising players can't just tape the button down and go do something else for eight hours. If you do veer off the road, your bus gets towed back to Tucson"¦ also in real time. The scenery never changes. And if you make it to Vegas, all you have to look forward to is the return trip. You will score exactly one point if you make the one-way trip.

8. Custer's Revenge. Wow. This one is really bad. You're not even going to believe me. You're General Custer, clad in nothing but a hat, boots and a bandana. That's it. And you're, um, visibly excited. For the whole game. Your goal is to dodge arrows and cannonballs so you can have sex with (rape, according to some women's rights group) a naked Native American woman named Revenge. Despite the horrible and offensive plot line, the graphics are so pixel-y and, well, 1982, that it's not like you're getting much reality out of it. If you're looking for a pixel-y "˜80s game to provide that kind of entertainment, you'd be better off with Leisure Suit Larry.

9. Baby Boomer. I'm willing to bet this NES game was made solely based on the "clever" title. You use the duck hunt gun to shoot things in the path of a baby who is crawling along relentlessly toward his doom. Levels include both heaven and hell. You have to protect a baby in heaven? How is that even fair?

10. Mr. Gimmick! This one sounds like many sleepless nights to me "“ if it doesn't induce nightmares in a child, I don't know what will. A little girl receives a new doll for her birthday (a gimmick doll, apparently) and loves it so much that she starts to neglect her other toys. So, naturally, her other toys kidnap her and suck her into an alternate toy-only universe. I'm a little freaked just thinking about it. If there are porcelain dolls involved, just count me out.

I know you guys have played some doozies over the years. Share them in the comments! And have a lovely weekend.

Admittedly, these are Nintendo-heavy because that's my area of expertise. But be sure to share your weird games from any format "“ Sega, X-Box, heck, let's even go back to DOS. I know there must be some strange DOS games out there.
Have a Q10 request? I'm on Twitter and I'm all ears! Err... all keys. Something.

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