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The 15 Best Miniature Golf Courses

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I have always been terrible at miniature golf because I have a bad habit of hitting way too hard. When I was really young, I even smacked my dad in the forehead with a club as he bent over behind me to tell me to swing softer. Despite my absolute lack of putting skill, I love the game. And I’m not the only one; the sport is so popular that it has even earned its own holiday, today, September 21. In celebration of National Miniature Golf Day, let’s take a look at the best mini golf courses in America.


Image courtesy of Flickr user popofafatticus.

Roller Coaster Golf?

The best-known wacky golf course, and arguably the most unique course in the world, is Illinois’ Par-King. The course started out as a distraction for the families of golfers on the next door driving range and quickly took on a life of its own with such strange attractions as a Sears Tower, a moving clown and a roller coaster for your ball, as seen in the video below:

While you don't hear as much about Colorado's Lilli Putt Miniature Golf, it actually has an even more impressive ball contraption than Par-King's. Check out the video of this crazy ball coaster:

The Nation’s Oldest Course


Image courtesy of Flickr user M.V. Jantzen.

If Rube-Goldberg-machines-turned roller coasters aren’t your thing and you prefer your courses free of distractions, try the Mini Golf Course at East Potomac. It is one of three main contenders for the title of oldest miniature golf courses in the country and its recognition on the National Register for Historic Places gives it more credibility than the competition. Opened in 1930, the course is fairly simple, but it’s nice to know that you’re retracing the sport’s roots as you walk through this piece of living history.

It’s a Pirate’s Course For Me


Pirate's Cove image courtesy of Flickr user Vcalzone.

Yo Ho Ho and a bundle of clubs. If you’re already considering what to do for next year’s Talk Like A Pirate Day, consider some golfing adventures on the high seas at Pirate Island in New Jersey, the Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf parks located throughout the country or Maryland’s Jolly Roger. Pirate Island offers 18 riveting holes that include things like talking pirates, waterfalls, caves and pirate ships. The Pirate’s Cove Adventure parks offer similar attractions (sans animatronic pirates) and bills itself as “the original adventure golf” park. The Jolly Roger is a full amusement park that happens to offer miniature golf along with go-karts, roller coasters and bumper cars. Interestingly, although the whole park is pirate themed, the first course in the park only featured jungle décor and the pirate-themed course wasn’t added until recently.

Mayday! Mayday!

If you like tropical islands, but hate resident pirates, perhaps you should head to Mayday Golf in Myrtle Beach, where the storyline involves an airplane crash on an island that just happens to have a miniature golf course…because the first thing that you should worry about after a plane crash is playing mini golf, not starting a fire, signaling for help or searching for food or water.

Cosmic Golfing


Glowing Greens image courtesy of Flickr user stumptownpanda.

If you’ve ever gone cosmic bowling, you know just how awesome a black light and some fluorescent paint can make an otherwise ordinary game. That’s the theory behind Putting Edge Fun Center, Putz and Glo and Glowing Greens, a few of the many golfing arenas organized around black light-reactive golfing. Putting Edge has locations scattered throughout America and Canada and features a variety of themes and challenges at each location. At Putz and Glo in South Dakota, you can not only enjoy glow-in-the-dark golfing with a rock and roll theme, but you can also partake in a trippy maze and gemstone panning. Oregon’s Glowing Greens is not only black light responsive, but it also features 3D elements that can only be viewed with special glasses. No word on how the glasses affect game play, but supposedly the back nine holes of the eighteen hole course are too spooky for small children, so plan your games accordingly.

The Case of the Haunted Green

If the scary theme of Glowing Greens sounds good to you, but you’re in Illinois instead of Oregon, consider visiting Haunted Trails, which features horror movie favorites including mummies, ghosts, vampires and more.

When you want something truly creepy though, head to Ahlgrim’s Acres, a mini golf course located in the basement of an Illinois funeral home. You get a free round of golf with every funeral package, which is even more disturbing when you consider the macabre theme of the course that features mausoleums, cemeteries and a guillotine.

Pray Before You Stroke


Image courtesy of The  Putting Penguin.

Depending on how clear your conscience is, the biblically-themed courses at Kentucky’s Lexington Ice Center may prove to be even more terrifying than any of the morbid courses above. There are three courses, broken up by Old Testament, New Testament and miracles. If you aren’t too big into the bible, you still may want to stop by, though—The Travel Channel has rated this as one of the best mini golf destinations in America.

Worldly Travel Experiences


Image courtesy of Flickr user Matt.Ohara.

While traveling the course of biblical stories can be fun, it hardly compares to the magic of a trip around the world. For this mind-enriching experience, head over to New York’s Around The World in 18 Holes. Each hole represents a different nation, including France, China and the good ol’ US of A. This course was also rated as one of the top in the nation by The Travel Channel, so it’s a great option for those looking for a cheap way to travel the world.

Looking for A Challenge?

Speaking of courses that are worth a vacation, if you are an avid miniature golfer, TopGolf may just be the best option for you. The company owns six courses, three in the UK and three in the US, each of which are exceptionally challenging. The mini golf courses are best described as “extreme,” as they feature many water hazards, sand traps and other obstacles to test your skills. Personally, this is one green I’d never consider visiting. I lose my ball enough on a regular course, I certainly don’t need to try my hand at a course designed to challenge the pros.

It seems almost every city has at least one mini golf course, so many of you are sure to have stories and tips. What’s your favorite course and do you have any funny mini golfing stories worth mentioning?

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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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