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9 Spooky Halloween Party Treats

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Trick-or-treaters don't eat homemade Halloween treats anymore, which is a shame for imaginative chefs. For those of you throwing a Halloween party, the sky is the limit for spooky, clever, and downright gruesome food and drinks. Try these out ahead of time, just in case your technique needs to be tweaked before the event.

1. Eyeball Martini

This is a regular martini with a very special olive garnish. The secret is small radishes, peeled to resemble eyeballs with veins and stuffed with olives. Be sure to leave the root trailing for the optic nerve! If you're not serving martinis, these look good on a vegetable tray.

2. Meathead

A simple meat and vegetable tray will "impress and distress" your guests when it's served as a meathead! Cold cuts are plastered to a plastic skull with gelatin, so they are easy to peel off and eat.

3. Stuffed Cockroaches

Make these stuffed cockroaches with pitted dates (for looks), walnuts (for crunch) and cream cheese (for goo). To get a larger picture than the one shown with the recipe, I searched for an image of "stuffed cockroaches", which I do not recommend, as most results are not Halloween recipes. But I found this picture at Almost Vegan in Paradise, where Alina Niemi used the same recipe with a vegan cream cheese alternative and added slivers of scallions for the antenna so they look perfect! Perfectly roachlike, that is. Check out her deviled egg eyeballs as well.

4. Jason Voorhees Jello Shots

From a blog that uses Jello shots as an art medium, here is an alcoholic treat from the Friday the 13th movie series. Jason Voorhees' ski mask is a Jello shot containing sweetened condensed milk for color, decorated with chocolate chips, chopped cherries, and red sorrel syrup.

5. Swamp Juice

This slightly green punch contains worms, fish, and aquatic "eggs" made of cooked tapioca pearls. I happen to like tapioca, but the appearance of these slimy balls can make any drink look gruesome, like these cocktails. Note the pearls can be colored, an idea which can lead to your own innovations.

6. Monster Toes

Monster Toes are made from cocktail franks with mustard nails and ketchup blood. They could also be passed off as monster fingers if your franks are long enough. A variation that might improve the appearance would be to insert almond slices for the fingernails.

7. The Morphing Martini

Not only does this drink drip fog like a mad scientist's formula, it also changes from blue to fuchsia as it cools. The secret is cabbage juice acting as a litmus test! Complete directions for making these can be found at Instructables. Better partying through chemistry!

8. Bleeding Brain Dessert

This molded gelatin brain recipe skipped the gray matter idea because people don't really want to eat gray food. The flavor is peach. It's still gruesome enough for Halloween because when you cut into it, raspberry pie filling spills out like blood from a injury.

9. Zombie Cake

Barbara Jo and Barbara May are known for their imaginative recipes. This Zombie Cake is a classic. They named him Orville. The eyes are cherries soaked in brandy, and the blood is raspberry jelly. See the process of making this confection at Do It Myself!

For more horrible yet delicious treats, see the posts Gruesome Halloween Party Food and Creepy Halloween Party Food.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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