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6 Unfamiliar Champions Who Appeared on Wheaties Boxes

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As the "Breakfast of Champions," Wheaties won't put just anyone on their iconic orange boxes. Most of the athletes to appear on the General Mills cereal's boxes since Lou Gehrig became the first in 1934 have been household names from a major sport. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Ken Griffey Jr. come to mind. But there have been a handful of exceptions to the rule. Here's a closer look at some of the less familiar names to hit the breakfast table on boxes of Wheaties over the years.

1. Denny Brauer, Angler

After he won Angler of the Year honors in 1998, Wheaties made Brauer the first fisherman to appear on the front of the box. PETA objected to Brauer's depiction and distributed postcards in protest that referred to fishermen as "cereal killers" and included the message, "Weenies: the Breakfast of Lip-Rippers." Wheaties issued the following statement in response: "We certainly respect their right to object and protest our decision, but we must disagree with PETA when they say that fishing is not a sport." According to the New York Post, nearly 75 percent of the boxes featuring Brauer were bought within the first week of their release. David Walker, the 1999 Angler of the Year, also appeared on a Wheaties box.

2. Myriam Bedard, Biathlete

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Representing Canada, Bedard won two gold medals in the biathlon at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, including the 7.5 km race on a pair of mismatched skis. Following her Olympic triumphs, she was the toast of the town in her native Quebec. In addition to landing on the front of a Wheaties box, Bedard appeared on various magazine covers and was named to the Order of Canada. She married fellow biathlete Jean Paquet in a highly publicized ceremony in Hawaii, but her life would later take a bizarre turn for the worse. Bedard divorced Paquet and was arrested in 2006 for allegedly abducting their 11-year-old daughter and bringing her to the United States, a violation of a child custody order. Bedard returned to Canada in 2007 and appealed the ruling earlier this month, arguing for an unconditional pardon that would wipe her criminal record clean.

3. George Murray, Wheelchair Racer

In 1961, 14-year-old George Murray was paralyzed in a hunting accident. Twenty-three years later, he appeared on the cover of a Wheaties box. Murray, a two-time Boston Marathon champion in the wheelchair division, was one of six athletes selected in Wheaties' first "Search for Champions" contest. A native of Maine, Murray won in Boston in 1978 and 1985 and was the first wheelchair racer to break the 4-minute mile barrier. Murray, who graduated from the University of South Florida with a physical education degree, was selected by a panel of judges from a pool of more than 6,000 entrants. The other winners in the contest were Jody Lynn Beerman (Ms. Indiana Basketball), Sammy Chagolla (Arizona high school wrestling champion), Leslie Deniz (discus thrower and Olympian), Mary T. Meagher (swimmer and three-time Olympic gold medalist), and Chris Spielman (high school linebacker). Spielman would go on to star in the NFL.

4. Peter Gagarin, Orienteer

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When Gagarin learned he was one of six winners in Wheaties' second "Search for Champions" contest, he told reporters that the honor fell "some place between mind-boggling and hokey." Gagarin was a five-time U.S. champion in orienteering, which involves using a map and compass to navigate unfamiliar terrain while competing against other teams. Gagarin hoped his appearance on boxes of Wheaties would bring some recognition to the sport, which originated as a military exercise in Scandinavia in the late 1800s. Gagarin recounts the tremendous backing he received from the orienteering community throughout the nomination process on his personal website. A panel of judges, including Hank Aaron, Walter Payton, and Peggy Fleming, selected the six winners, one of whom was a whitewater canoeist.

5. Marie Bartoletti, P.E. Teacher and Marathoner

wheaties-5In 2001, Wheaties sponsored a contest in search of an everyday champion from all 50 states, six of whom would be selected to appear on boxes of General Mills' new Wheaties Energy Crunch cereal. Bartoletti, a marathon runner, triathlete, P.E. teacher, and mother of two from Finleyville, Pa., won the contest, which required entrants to submit a 300-word essay. In addition to appearing on the front of the box "“- the five runners-up were relegated to the back -- she received $5,000 and General Mills donated $25,000 to the charity of her choice, the American Heart Association.


Some people's life goals might start and end with appearing on a Wheaties box, but not Bartoletti's. Three years after appearing on the box, she achieved her goal of participating in a marathon in all 50 states.

6. Eiji Oue, Conductor

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Just how does a conductor wind up on a box of Wheaties? Being appointed music director of the orchestra in the same city as the corporate headquarters of General Mills is a start. Oue appeared on 8,000 boxes distributed in Minneapolis, a small part of a $500,000 advertising campaign to coincide with the appointment of the little-known conductor to his new post after five years as director of the Erie (Pa.) Philharmonic. "I never used to have breakfast, but I guess I will now," Oue, a protégé of Leonard Bernstein, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Oue left the Minnesota Orchestra three years later to expand his career in Europe.

Who's Next?

Beginning in January, athletes "“- and perhaps musicians, too "“- will have another piece of real estate to strive for in the cereal aisle. Wheaties is introducing Wheaties FUEL, an offshoot of their traditional product engineered by nutritionist Dr. John Ivy in collaboration with five world-class athletes, including Peyton Manning, Albert Pujols, and Kevin Garnett. If you can't wait a few months to get your first taste, collector's edition boxes featuring the five athletes who helped engineer the product, are currently available online. As far as we can tell, no orienteers were involved in the development process.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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