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The Secret Lives of Game Show Hosts

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They've got gleaming, flawless teeth, hair that could withstand hurricane-force winds and emotions that run high when giving away a case of Turtle Wax. But scratch just below the surface of a classic game show host, and you may be surprised at what you find.

Regis Philbin

When you think of "Regis Philbin" and "game show," the first thing that probably comes to mind is Who Wants to be a Millionaire. But Reeg's first venture into the world of consolation prizes was a short-lived 1975 show called The Neighbors. The premise was loosely based on The Newlywed Game; the panel consisted of five women (because females are the only ones who gossip, apparently) who lived in the same neighborhood. Two of the women were contestants and had to guess which one was the subject of the juicy secrets dished by the remaining three. The Neighbors lasted approximately as long as Regis' hepcat singing career, which his former boss, Joey Bishop, praised as "giving hope to lots of people who can't sing."

Wink Martindale

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Wink Martindale's face is as memorable as his name; he's hosted some 19 different game shows over the years, including Gambit, Tic-Tac-Dough and Debt. Winston Martindale was only 17 years old when he got his first job "“ a disc jockey for WHBQ in Memphis, Tennessee. Wink was the morning man at the radio station, and the evening DJ had a program that featured what was then called "race music:" R&B and dance songs played by African-American artists. One day in 1956 Sam Phillips of Sun Records arrived at WHBQ with a single called "Heartbreak Hotel" by a white artist who sounded black, and after hearing it Wink invited the singer, Elvis Presley, to appear on his local TV show called Teenage Dance Party. That June 16, 1956, interview marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship between the King of Rock and Roll and the game show legend.

Bob Eubanks

gs3Bob Eubanks looks like he was born standing behind a podium, but he was so nervous while filming the premiere episode of The Newlywed Game in 1966 that he went 30 minutes without blinking (or so it seemed, according to producer Chuck Barris.) As a teen, Eubanks was an avid roller-skater and he won several National Championships in preparation for the rumored upcoming Olympic Trials. When roller skating wasn't added to the Olympic roster of sports after all, he and a friend formed a partnership and opened a small string of teenage dance clubs in the L.A. area. He also worked as a DJ, which is how he got interested in concert promotion. In 1964 the Beatles wanted to play the Hollywood Bowl, but the major local promoter was unwilling to pay the band's requested $25,000 fee. Eubanks borrowed the money against his house and presented the Fab Four live on August 23, 1964, in a show that would appear 13 years later as the number one album The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl. (By the way, Bob denied it for years, but a Newlywed Game contestant really did give that notorious answer to the question "Where is the most unusual place you've ever made whoopee?")

Peter Tomarken

gs4Peter Tomarken hosted several short-lived game shows, but the one that had staying power was Press Your Luck. Game show enthusiasts may remember that Tomarken was the stunned man behind the podium when laid-off ice cream truck driver Michael Larson went on an unprecedented winning streak that required a two-part episode. Tomarken was also a licensed pilot and in his spare time used his own plane to volunteer for Angel Flight West, a non-profit organization that provided free non-emergency air transport for children and adults with serious medical needs or other compelling conditions. Sadly, on the morning of March 13, 2006, while en route to pick up a cancer patient in San Diego, Tomarken's Beechcraft Bonanza A36 crashed into the Santa Monica Bay, killing both him and his wife.

Jack Narz

gsNarzJack Narz's hosting career almost ended as quickly as it began. Eight months after Dotto debuted in January 1958 it was revealed that the show was "fixed" and Narz became embroiled in the famous Quiz Show Scandal of 1959. Luckily, a polygraph test proved that Narz was innocent of all charges, and two years later he continued a career that included games shows such as Beat the Clock and Concentration. Narz, whose brother Tom Kennedy is also a veteran game show host, was a fighter pilot during World War II and won a Distinguished Flying Cross for missions in the China-Burma theater. After the war he enrolled in broadcasting school and landed several jobs doing voice work for radio commercials. One of his TV gigs was as the off-camera announcer in the two-part pilot episode of The Adventures of Superman. Narz was paid $150 for saying "Join us every week for the adventures of Superman!", and then received a royalty check for $1.98 for the rest of his life any time that episode was aired.

Colin Emm

gsdawsonThe smoochy host of Family Feud was named Colin Emm when he was born in Gosport, England. He left home at 14, lied about his age, and joined the Merchant Marines. He went onstage during an open mic night and discovered a love of performing. He adopted the stage name Richard Dawson and was hired to be the opening act for a stage show starring actress Diana Dors, who was known as the British Marilyn Monroe. The two fell in love, married in 1959 and eventually had two sons. The coupled moved to Hollywood in 1962 because Diana was interested in pursuing a film career. She quickly grew restless, however, and left Richard two years later to return to England and start a relationship with a younger man. She gave him full custody of the boys, Mark and Gary, whom he doted on, and he continued to send her flowers on her birthday every year for the rest of her life. In 1981 the Johnson family competed on an episode of Family Feud, and Dawson took an interest in 24-year-old Gretchen. They were married in 1991 and have a daughter, Shannon Nicole.

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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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