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8 Things Disney Parks Have Banned

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by Alvin Ward

Disneyland may be the Happiest Place on Earth, but don't think that means you can just waltz in and do whatever you want. In fact, Mickey Mouse's theme parks have banned quite a few things over the years. Here are just a few of the things on which the Mouse has dropped his hammer.

1. Long Hair

Until the late 1960s, men could either have flowing locks or enjoy Adventureland, but they definitely couldn't do both. According to Snopes, if a long-haired fellow tried to buy a ticket, a cast member would discreetly and politely inform the man that his hairdo didn't jive with the park's unwritten dress code before escorting him from the park.

2. Facial Hair

It's tough to find a picture of Walt Disney without a mustache, but for decades it was even tougher to find a Disney employee who had a 'stache of his own. Starting in 1957, workers at Disney parks were not allowed to have long hair, grow beards, or wear mustaches. (The underlying logic was that park patrons wouldn't want to buy a $9 soda from some filthy bearded hippie or mustachioed Snidely Whiplash type.)

In 2000, Disney was having trouble drumming up enough manpower to staff its parks, so it relaxed the facial hair ban. Employees were finally allowed to grow mustaches, provided they kept them trimmed and groomed. Beards didn't fare so well, though; they stayed on the forbidden list.

3. Blake Lively

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How could anyone not like the cute-as-a-button star of Gossip Girl? Disneyland apparently wasn't always amused with Lively's pre-fame antics. According to Lively, when she was six, she and her older brother used the old put-hairspray-on-a-friend's-readmission-hand-stamp-to-transfer-the-stamp-to-their-own-skin trick. It would have been the perfect crime, except security nabbed the Lively kids right as they went through the park's turnstiles and slapped the pair with a one-year ban.

4. Florida State Football Recruits

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In June 2007, four Florida State football recruits met up for a little bit of fun. Instead of engaging in any of the myriad nefarious acts a group of 18-year-old males are known to favor, the players decided to go to Disney World, which seemed like the very last place in the world they could get into any trouble. Wrong. Park officials approached the men, all of whom were African-American, while they hung out in Downtown Disney and ejected them from the park for violating its anti-loitering rules. Security also hit the players with a lifetime ban from the park in a move that many Disney critics claimed smacked of racial profiling.

5. Costumes

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You may want to dress up like Jack Sparrow for a day of riding Pirates of the Caribbean, but if you're older than nine, forget it. Disney bans any costumes and masks on anyone who's ten or older. Also listed on Disney's park dress code: "Makeup that could be construed as part of a costume." So go easy on the eye shadow—the fashion police might decide you're shooting for a 19th-century harlot look and give you the heave-ho.

Similarly, the dress code bans "clothing that accentuates or draws attention to private areas," a well meaning, if oddly phrased, choice. Here's hoping Disney starts handing out unisex burlap smocks at the park gates to avoid any potentially accentuated private areas. [Image courtesy of reader Christopher Schwarz.]

6. Gallows

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In early 2008, upstart English punk band Gallows was all set to open for Social Distortion at a gig at the House of Blues at Disneyland. The bill seemed like a good way to get exposure for a band that was starting to catch on stateside—or it did until Disney officials actually stopped to listen to Gallows' debut record, Orchestra of Wolves. Once Disney brass heard Gallows' tunes, they nixed the show due to the band's occasionally offensive lyrical content.

While it seems odd to get upset at a punk band for being abrasive, Disney's move wasn't unprecedented. Just a few months earlier, the company had banned the metal band Machine Head from performing at the House of Blues for similar reasons.

7. Kids

Kids banned by Disney? You bet. In January 2008, Disney announced that children under the age of 10 would no longer be allowed to dine at Victoria & Albert's, the ritziest restaurant at Disney World's Grand Floridian Spa and Resort. The move made news, but Disney officials claimed that the AAA five-diamond-rated restaurant didn't attract that many children in the first place. In addition to being pricey, Victoria & Albert's only offered a fixed-price menu with kid-unfriendly offerings like caviar, so the restaurant only catered to a handful of young diners each year.

8. Segways

GOB Bluth is going to be in quite a bind if he ever tries to ride his Segway into Disneyland. The company bans Segways from its parks, ostensibly because it's tough to balance safety issues with the potential for having a fleet of two-wheeled vehicles rolling around the grounds.

The trouble here, though, is that a lot of disabled people use Segways in lieu of wheelchairs. These folks were understandably peeved that they couldn't visit the parks using their preferred mode of transportation, and several of them filed lawsuits. So far it's been tough for the Segway riders to get Disney to budge; earlier this fall, a federal judge threw out a class action lawsuit brought against Disney by Segway devotees. The ruling left an opening for further legal action, though, so this court battle may not be over yet.

Readers have brought up two other things that might not be welcome in Disney parks: Nikita Khrushchev and bubble gum. Alvin has added those stories...

Nikita Khrushchev?

Disneyland as a battleground for the Cold War? Believe it or not, that's exactly what it became in 1959. That year, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev spent 11 days visiting the United States. He spent one day of the trip in Los Angeles, and the fierce orator wanted to see Disneyland. However, the LAPD and the rest of Khrushchev's security detail were worried about his safety during such a trip, so they nixed the idea.

Khrushchev accepted the news with characteristic poise, which is to say he exploded. He ranted, "And I say, I would very much like to go and see Disneyland. But then, we cannot guarantee your security, they say. Then what must I do? Commit suicide? What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there or something? Or have gangsters taken hold of the place that can destroy me?"

Gum?

Want to chomp on some gum while you're standing in line at a Disney park? You'll have to bring it with you from home. In an effort to keep chewed gum from being stuck all over the parks, none of the shops in any Disney theme park sells gum. Supposedly this innovation came from Walt Disney himself, who wanted to make sure that his guests could enjoy their visits without getting gum stuck to their shoes.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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