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The Quick 10: Unusual Flavors of 10 Familiar Candies

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Here's something you may not know about me: I'm a sucker for limited-edition candy. Most of the time I can pass through checkout lines with ease, not even batting an eyelash at the rows of M&Ms and Kit-Kats. As soon as you stamp "Limited Edition" on the wrapper and give it a quirky flavor, though, I'm like a three-year-old with a serious sugar jones. I'm not above throwing tantrums, people.

You can imagine, then, that Halloween is a wonderful and dangerous time for me (as if I needed another reason to adore Halloween). Today's post is inspired by not one, but two limited-edition, Halloween-inspired Dots I spied on the shelves at the grocery store this weekend. Read on for those and eight more limited-edition candies with flavors a little left of center.

dots1. Candy Corn Dots. I'm not sure why I picked these up in the first place, because I'm not particularly fond of Candy Corn. Oh, I'll eat it, but after about five pieces I regret it. The Dots were no exception. Just like Candy Corn, though, I continued to consume the Dots even after I was tired of eating them. I can't explain why. It just happens.
2. Blood Orange Dots. I saw these after I saw the Candy Corn Dots, and I suppose I should have been skeptical, but instead I was elated "“ Blood Orange! That's a pretty sophisticated flavor for candy. And they're black, so you get the added bonus of giraffe tongue. These were delightful. And there was only one box on the shelf, so I'm glad I snatched them up. The picture of the Dots is from Sugar-Hi, whom I will have to agree to disagree with about the Candy Corn Dots.

3. Strawberried Peanut Butter M&Ms. I haven't had these, but maybe you have "“ they were a promotion for Transformers: Rise of the Fallen and I believe they are still in stores. Candy Addict wasn't terribly impressed with them, but other reviewers and commenters have raved, comparing the taste to a PB&J or even strawberry milk, in one instance.

4. Reese's Peanut Butter and Banana Crème. Peanut Butter and Banana"¦ hmm. If that rings a bell, it might be your Elvis Alarm going off: the King loved fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. What better way to celebrate the Man From Memphis' 30th deathiversary by commemorating his love of junk food in a handy little bite-sized form? I'm not going to lie; they were pretty good. And although they were terrible for you, you can take heart in the fact that Elvis sometimes liked the additions of honey and bacon on his PB&Bs, so by only adding the banana, Hershey was really being fairly health-conscious. Or something.

5. You may have noticed that Hershey's Kisses has really been experimenting the last few years, but none of the flavors are really that outrageous: Hot Cocoa, Mint Truffle, Cherry Cordial, Coconut. No big deal. But if you look a little deeper into the Kiss Repertoire "“ the Asian market "“ you'll find Green Tea Kisses. Green tea-flavored items are also called "matcha" and they're not uncommon in Asia and Europe.

6. Kit Kat has also hopped on the Matcha bandwagon, but there's an even-stranger flavor lurking around in certain markets: Red Bean Kit Kats. Yep. Cybele over at CandyBlog reviewed it (and Kit Kat Fruit Parfait as well) and said it wasn't too bad "“ kind of earthy, like beets or kidney beans "“ and that the pumpkin-flavored Kit Kats were much worse. I'm going to take her word on that one, I think.

wine7. But wait, there's more from the test kitchen at Kit Kat: Wine. Esurientes, where the picture comes from, sampled the grapey confection and was underwhelmed at first, but then tried them first thing in the morning when no other tastes were lingering in her mouth and discovered them to taste quite alcoholic. I like wine, and I like chocolate, but I'm not entirely sure I want them all mashed together in a Kit Kat. Nor do I want Soy Sauce-flavored Kit Kats"¦ although I might be able to get behind Sweet Potato Kit Kats.
8. You know how Mythbusters did the whole Mentos-and-soda experiment? Now you can replicate it in your stomach with cola-flavored Mentos. OK, without the big geyser, probably. But that's definitely not the only out-of-the-ordinary flavor over at Mentos "“ other flavors have included raisin (ew) and black currant, along with other usual fruity suspects (strawberry, apple, peach, etc.).

9. Twix Java wasn't in stores long, and when it the limited quantity ran out it left a void in the sweet tooths of many angry candy and caffeine addicts"¦ including, fittingly, Candy Addict. Similarly, the loss of Twix Cookies-n-Cream in the "˜90s sparked some die-hard fans to create petitions to bring the creation back "“ the one I linked to is only one of many!

10. At first glance, Skittles hasn't gone too far outside of the box (or the bag, as it were). Skittles Smoothies, Skittles Tropical, Skittles Wild Berry "“ they're all vaguely fruity flavors. But then there's Skittles Liquorice and Skittles Unlimited. Skittles Liquorice, as you can probably tell by the spelling, is a European sensation that gives the candies various anise tastes, including black liquorice, mint, spice and vanilla. Canada's Skittles Unlimited "“ released at the same time as the U.S.'s Carnival Skittles "“ included fairy floss, jam doughnut, toffee apple and popcorn. Oh, and if you completely loathe the very idea of Chocolate Skittles (S'mores, Brownie and pudding flavors, among others), you're not alone: has a very funny post about what an evil mixture they are.

I know I've probably just barely scratched the surface of all of the limited edition and strangely-flavored candies out there, so if I missed your favorite, share it in the comments! And if anyone has had some of those really strange Kit Kat flavors, give us your review.

Stacy Conradt is on Twitter.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”