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Octopuses, Beef & Other Items Hockey Fans Throw on the Ice

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With the Stanley Cup playoffs in full swing, let's examine some of the various objects fans have hurled onto the ice.

1. Octopuses

On April 15, 1952, Red Wings fans and brothers Pete and Jerry Cusimano threw an octopus on the ice at Detroit's Olympia Stadium. The eight tentacles on the octopus were symbolic of the eight wins needed to win the Stanley Cup at the time, when the league consisted of six teams and the playoff format was two best-of-seven series. The Red Wings swept the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens to win the Cup and a Detroit hockey tradition was born.

2. Hats

Starting in the first half of the 20th century, hat companies would give away fedoras to players who scored three goals in a game. According to a spokesman for the Hockey Hall of Fame, NHL fans started throwing hats on the ice to celebrate hat tricks in the 1970s.

3. Rubber Snakes

The most recent addition to this list was inspired by a hilarious internet campaign earlier this month. A Toronto Maple Leafs blogger launched the movement when he suggested, via Twitter, that Phoenix Coyotes blogger Travis Hair throw a rattlesnake onto the ice during Game 1 of the Coyotes' first-round playoff series against Detroit. Before long, #ThrowTheSnake was the top trending topic in Canada and Hair was reaching out to the team's marketing department about organizing a non-disruptive way to capitalize on the excitement. Hair suggested that fans be permitted to throw rubber snakes after warm-ups and before the Zamboni cleared the ice, but team officials wanted none of it. Anyone who threw a snake, they said, would be ejected. No matter, after the Coyotes' Keith Yandle scored to tie the game during the first period of Game 1, a rubber snake hit the ice."¨

4. Rats

On October 8, 1995, Florida Panthers winger Scott Mellanby was waiting in the dressing room at Miami Arena, ready to take the ice for the third-year franchise's home opener, when he spotted a rat moving across the floor. Perhaps acting on instinct, Mellanby unleashed a slap shot that killed the intruder, which was memorialized with the inscription R.I.P. RAT 1 on the wall above where it died. That night, Mellanby scored two goals in the Panthers' 4-3 win and Florida goalie John Vanbiesbrouck dubbed the feat a rat trick during the postgame press conference. A fan threw a plastic rat on the ice after a goal during one of the Panthers' next home games, and the custom eventually caught on. As the Panthers' wins continued to pile up, so too did the fake rodents.

During the Panthers' 1996 playoff run, a local supermarket baked rat-shaped cakes and Dan Marino's bar introduced a new drink, the Rat Shooter. Plastic rat reinforcements had to be shipped in to South Florida after the Panthers advanced to the Stanley Cup finals against the Colorado Avalanche. Avs fans, who tossed rat traps on the ice during games in Denver, had the last laugh, as Colorado swept the series. The NHL introduced a new rule during the offseason that called for referees to issue the home team a bench minor penalty if fans ignored the public address announcer's warning and continued to throw objects onto the ice after a goal.

5. Alberta Beef

The first two slabs of Alberta beef landed on the ice at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena prior to the start of Game 2 of the 2006 first round Stanley Cup playoff series between the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers and the top-seeded Red Wings. "They threw the beef in Detroit, and we won," Oilers winger Georges Laraque told reporters after Edmonton won Game 2 to even the series. "I think it's an awesome idea. Edmonton has better fans than Detroit. What better way to rub it in their faces than by throwing a big Alberta steak onto the ice. It gets people revved up. We can associate it with winning and start a whole new tradition!"


Tossing Alberta beef—the perfect antidote to Detroit's octopus—onto the ice was Edmonton DJ Gary McLachlan's idea, and it didn't take long for the bizarre ritual to become associated with winning. The Oilers dispatched the Red Wings in six games and, with the beef raining down, advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. While attending Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., McLachlan was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for throwing a slab of beef onto the ice during the national anthem. "I hope they understand it was all in good fun," McLachlan said. "We weren't out to hurt anybody. I am hanging up the meat hook." The Oilers lost the series in seven games.

6. Leopard Shark

San Jose Sharks fans and cousins Ken Conroy and Mike Gaboury hatched a plan to mimic Detroit's octopus-throwing tradition by throwing a shark onto the ice when San Jose played the Red Wings in the first round of the 1994 playoffs. While the idea didn't materialize into action during that series, the duo vowed to make it happen the next time San Jose and Detroit met in the playoffs.

Flash forward to 2006. Conroy purchased Game 4 tickets in the lower bowl online and a pair of 4-foot leopard sharks from a San Francisco fishing pier. Conroy and his son used an elaborate process documented here to secure one of the sharks to Gaboury's back and the trio headed to the game. Gaboury, who wore a trench coat to help conceal the bulge the shark created, waited until the lights dimmed during pregame introductions to unwrap the shark and slide it under his seat. After the Sharks scored late in the first period, he handed the shark to Conroy, who moved to the aisle and prepared for the toss of his life. "I took about three steps and I just heaved it (with two hands) and it slides out to the blue line near the middle of the ice," said Conroy, who was escorted out of the arena by security. ""¦This thing was created to mock the Red Wings fans and it just grew into a challenge and adventure that could not be denied. It couldn't be passed up. We knew we just had to do it. It was just for fun."

7. Fish

On Jan. 6, 1973, Cornell upset top-ranked Harvard in a game that is remembered most, according to the Cornell Daily Sun, for the dead chicken that a Harvard fan tossed at Cornell goalie Dave Elenbaas. Big Red fans responded to the gesture, which mocked Cornell's agriculture college, by pelting Harvard players with fish before the start of the second period and tying a live chicken to Harvard's net during the schools' next meeting. Nearly 40 years later, the intense rivalry and Cornell's fish-throwing tradition persists.

8. Paper Airplanes

Not surprisingly, throwing objects on the ice predates even Detroit's famed octopus tradition. In 1944, Earl "The Iceman" Davis, who supervised a cleanup crew of 12 at Chicago Stadium, was featured in a national wire story on fan behavior at hockey games. "Hockey fans are the craziest people, of that I'm sure," Davis said. "They do not seem to know it's dangerous to throw things—that a player could break his leg on the junk they toss—and that we are breaking our backs picking it up. One night we scooped up 300 or 400 pennies, several dimes and nickels and a couple of quarters."

The biggest source of trash, however, was "paper airplanes made with painstaking care from programs by guys in the far, smoke-bound reaches of the upper gallery." These fans were known for picking a spot on the ice and betting who could sail their paper planes closest to the mark. In the same article, Blackhawks president Bill Tobin recalled the time that a fan in Montreal threw an alarm clock on the ice. "Thought it was time we woke up, I guess," he said.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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iStock
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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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iStock

The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”

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