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The Quick 10: 10 Smurfy Smurfs Facts

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Here at the Quick 10, we're taking a break from our regularly-scheduled Halloween posts to bring you this public service announcement: it was 51 years ago this week that The Smurfs were first introduced to our pop culture vernacular. I thought it seemed like a pretty worthy reason to break the spooky string of posts, and anyway, I bet at least one of you _flossers spent a Halloween or two slathering yourself in blue paint to portray one of the sapphire shorties (you'll let us know if you did, right?).

PEYO1. The Smurfs were invented as a result of a silly conversation over dinner. Pierre Culliford, a Belgian artist known as Peyo, was dining with a friend when he had one of those momentary lapses of vocabulary that we all experience from time to time "“ he couldn't remember the word for "salt" and asked his friend to pass the "schtroumpf." Mocking him, his friend responded with, "Here's the schtroumpf. When you are done schtroumpfing, schtroumpf it back." This sparked an idea, and "les Schtroumpfs" were born in comic strip form shortly thereafter. This, of course, was translated to "The Smurfs" when they hit the American market.

2. The cartoon series was created when an NBC executive spied his daughter playing with a plush Smurf doll. After observing how much she loved the doll, he decided that the Schtroumpfs might be a good fit for his Saturday morning cartoon-fest. It was; it aired for nine seasons.

3. The Smurfs are specifically "three apples" tall.

phrygian4. The white hat the Smurfs all wear have been around for ages and are called Phrygian caps. They're often considered symbols of liberty and were once found on the tops of Liberty Poles. You can see one on the seal of the United States Senate as well.
5. Because the Smurfs shared all of their possessions, some people thought this was a barely veiled attempt to brainwash children into Communist ways. Of course, some people also thought the Phrygian hats meant that the Smurfs were a sect of the Ku Klux Klan, and others claimed the Smurfs were neo-Nazis promoting an Aryan race because of the lone, blonde female in the group. In fact, none of those things were true. Peyo's son has stated that the Smurfs had no political undertones at all, and the only messages his father wished to impart were those of friendship and love.

6. Karenna Gore's Secret Service code name was Smurfette, which she has apparently regretted ever since. In 1997, she said, "Ever since I was put on the spot and told 'two syllables' and 'It has to start with an S,' I have been cringing in the back seat when identified as 'Smurfette'."

purple7. The answer to the age-old question "What color does a Smurf turn when it's choking?" is purple. At least we can assume it's purple, based on the episode where a Smurf decides to hold his breath.
8. The Smurfs showed up at a bunch of Kings Entertainment amusement parks in the mid '80s. King's Island near Cincinnati had a boat ride that took people through the Smurf village, King's Dominion had Smurf Mountain, Great America had a little roller coaster called The Blue Streak, and Carowinds had a children's play area called Smurf Island. Since then, they have all been replaced with different rides.

9. There are some Smurfs from the original comics that never made it to the cartoon. These include Alchemist Smurf, Timid Smurf, Enamored Smurf, Finance Smurf (whoo-hoo! How fun for kids!), Mango Smurf, Lumberjack Smurf, Pastrycook Smurf, Submariner Smurf and Navigator Smurf.

SMURF Party
10. The World Record for People Dressed as Smurfs (I can't shake the feeling that the plural should be Smurves. I know. So wrong.) was set just this year in Swansea, Wales. More than 2,500 people crammed into a nightclub dressed in blue and white and weren't allowed to have any natural skin showing in order to count toward the record. The previous record had been set just a year earlier, with 1,253 Smurfs gathered in Castleblayney, Ireland.

Oh, and I've had this stuck in my head ever since I got the idea for this post, so in hopes that passing it along will get it out of my brain, here you go:

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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