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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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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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