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10 Reasons Why the Quidditch World Cup is the Best College Sporting Event

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There are a lot of college sporting events out there—tournaments, championships, bowl games"¦ But the best intercollegiate sporting event is the Quidditch World Cup. That's right: the Quidditch World Cup. The annual event at Middlebury College in Vermont brings the magic of the event featured in The Goblet of Fire to the muggle world. This year's QWC was this past Sunday, October 25.

Why is the Quidditch World Cup the best intercollegiate sporting event?

1. Nerdy jersey numbers

The QWC is probably the only intercollegiate athletic event where you'll find players sporting numbers such as 007, π, â„®, ½, and √81, or Roman numerals. Princeton University boasted a roster full of nerdy numbers last year; this year, Texas A&M had some of the nerdiest numbers on the field.

2. Home tents

03_Tents

Baseball has dugouts, football has benches, and quidditch has"¦ tents. Behind the playing fields at the QWC stands a huddle of maroon and gray tents that act as the schools' homes away from home during the all-day event.

3. Coed violence

01_Violence

Football, hockey, and rugby all have violence, and intramural sports are usually coed, but few intercollegiate events feature both violence and coed teams. At the QWC, teams are required to have at least two females on the field at all times. And since the sport mixes broomsticks, dodgeballs, and the capture of a cross country runner, it gets violent pretty quickly. This year, a Green Mountain College player was taken off the field on a stretcher.

4. Comedian announcers

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The QWC's announcers have been described as "brilliant" by The (Montreal) Gazette. Rumor has it the announcers are members of Middlebury's improv group, and their witty banter keeps fans and players alike chuckling throughout the day. The QWC is surely the only intercollegiate sporting event—heck, probably the only sporting event at all—whose commentary alone could be recorded and sold as a comedy album.

5. Novel-born

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Quidditch and its championship event, the World Cup, are the only sport and championship (that I've ever heard of, at least) that were born in a novel. Millions of people had heard of quidditch and the Quidditch World Cup by way of the Harry Potter books and movies years before the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association (IQA) was ever formed. Now, thanks to the enormous popularity of the J.K. Rowling series, quidditch is one of the fastest growing collegiate sports. (The competition doubled in size from last year to this year, with 21 teams and 300 players competing on Sunday.)

6. Campus-wide playing field

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For the IQA version of Rowling's sport, the snitch (a small, flying golden ball in the books) is a student—usually a cross country runner—dressed from head-to-toe in gold and yellow, with a tail (a soccer sock with a tennis ball in the foot). The snitch is "released" at the beginning of each game and can go, well, pretty much anywhere on campus. The seekers are also given free reign of the campus to capture the snitch, though the other players are confined to the field. Snitches have been known to ride bikes and unicycles, leapfrog each other (there are usually 2 to 4 simultaneous games at the QWC), relax in the stands, and even climb bell towers.

7. Ridiculously high scores

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We've all seen college basketball games with scores that edge into the 100s, but quidditch takes the cake in terms of high scores and score disparities. Since goals are worth 10 points and capturing the snitch (which ends the game) is worth 30 points, it's not unusual for teams at the QWC to reach 80, 100, or 150 points in a 20-minute game. On Sunday, Chestnut Hill College trounced Moravian College 190 to 10 and Middlebury College, the hosts and reigning champs, beat Texas A&M 120 to 10.

8. Capes and brooms

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How many sporting events feature players who look like they're dressed for Halloween? Sure, some kids dress up as athletes for Halloween, but those are costumes based on sports uniforms, not sports uniforms based on costumes. In quidditch, though, capes and brooms are mandatory. Capes often bear the players' numbers and are secured onto the players in more creative ways each year to ensure they're not ripped off during the game. Each player must have a broom between his or her legs at all times; goals and snitch captures don't count if the player is off-broom.

9. Student-run

09_Students

The IQA is a student-run organization (with the exception of Alex Benepe, chief commissioner, who graduated this past spring) based at Middlebury College, and Sunday's QWC was student-run as well. The QWC commissioners are all students, as are the announcers, scorekeepers, referees, merch salespeople, and half-time performers. Sometimes they're recruited right from the stands!

10. Entire championship in one day

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Most intercollegiate sports championships spread their qualifying rounds out over a number of days, with the final championship event on its own day. Intercollegiate quidditch packs it all into one high-intensity day, starting with pool play (4 games at a time) in the morning and bracket play in the afternoon.

This year's pools:
A. North: McGill University, St. Lawrence University, University of Vermont, Green Mountain College
B. Penn: Moravian College, Chestnut Hill College, Lafayette College, Villanova University
C. Frequent Flier Miles: Middlebury College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Louisiana State University, Texas A&M University
D. Ive's Pond Diaspora: Syracuse University, Ive's Pond QC, Vassar College, University of Pittsburgh
E. Boston / Ivies: University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Harvard University, Emerson College, Boston University (Yale University dropped out at the last minute.)

The photos above are from both the 2008 and 2009 Quidditch World Cups. For more photos and information about the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association and the Quidditch World Cup, check out the IQA web site, the IQA Facebook page, and the 2009 QWC Facebook event page.

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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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