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Sex! Drugs! Racism! 8 Controversial Candies

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Chewing bubblegum, eating a chocolate bar, and sucking on a lollipop are among the many innocent joys of childhood. But if you found one of these controversial sweets in your kid's Trick or Treat bag, it might leave a sour taste in your mouth.

1. Candy Cigarettes

Candy cigarettes and their tobacco big brothers have a shared history in the United States. Just as real cigarettes became commonplace in the early 20th century, candy cigarettes, also called “candy sticks,” were introduced to the market—first as chalky, hard candy, and later as bubblegum. Both the real deal and the confectionery version also hit a peak in popularity during the 1950s and '60s, and have seen a steady decline in sales ever since. During this time there was never any illusion of the candy's intentions, as many boxes mimicked the design of the real packs, used parody names like Marboro and Lucky Spike, and some even had red-dyed tips to make them look like they were lit. But with brands promoted by everyone from Popeye to Superman to Mr. Spock, there's no question they were marketed for children.

As the real dangers of smoking became apparent, the influence candy cigarettes could have on kids became a point of concern. But do candy sticks lead to cancer sticks?

As it turns out, yeah, they might. A 2007 study conducted by the University of Rochester shows that, of nearly 26,000 adults surveyed, 22% of smokers said they had regularly played with candy cigarettes as kids, but only 14% of non-smokers had. Knowing this, maybe the many attempts to ban candy smokes in the U.S. over the years haven't been misguided.

Candy sticks were actually banned at one time, but only briefly, in North Dakota from 1953 to 1967. This might come as a surprise to those of you who thought they were banned right now. The Food and Drug Administration's 2009 Family Smoking and Prevention Control Act was misinterpreted by many media outlets who then erroneously reported that the act included a ban on candy cigarettes. In fact, the ban really just affected tobacco cigarettes that had candy (or fruit) flavorings.

But just because they're legal, doesn't mean you're going to find them on too many store shelves. Most retailers don't want to deal with the backlash from the public, so they don't bother carrying them. However, if you still want to get your faux fix, a quick Google search brings up plenty of online retailers with a variety of brands and flavors still available today.

2. Chronic Candy

If parents were up in arms over candy that looks like cigarettes, imagine how upset they were over candy that tastes like marijuana.


Available since the mid-90s, brands like Chronic Candy and Hemp Candy are made using perfectly legal hemp oil, which gives the dark green lollipops their distinct flavor, but doesn't get you high. Everyone from parents, police, church leaders, and even a specialized group, The Coalition Against Chronic Candy, have been working towards the elimination of these controversial suckers by political means and by educating merchants on the impact of carrying the sweets. They say the candy is not only sending the message that marijuana is acceptable, but that kids who acquire a taste for weed by sucking the lollipops could be predisposed to trying the real thing later in life. Their efforts have not been helped by the fact that Chronic Candy and other brands have had popular celebrity endorsers like Paris Hilton, Cheech Marin, and Snoop Dogg promoting their products.

Thus far, the candy has not been banned nationwide, but cities like Chicago have stopped sales, often before they even started. Of course as with anything today, you can always buy marijuana suckers online.

3. Craque Candy

Freida Orange of Brooklyn makes candy.  Really good candy, apparently, because her friends say it's as addictive as crack cocaine.  So when she decided to go into business, she played off the description and came up with the name "craque candy."  Her bite-sized nuggets of peanut butter, chocolate, and powdered sugar look like little rocks and, to complete the allusion, she packages samples in single-serving plastic baggies.  


When she first opened her online shop, many in her hometown railed against her product, saying that it's making light of a very serious problem. It hasn't stopped Frieda from selling her candy and it hasn't stopped Martha Stewart from putting craque's "Witchcraque" blend on a list of “11 Scary-Good Halloween Treats.”

4. Sloche Gummi Spiders

Sloche, a brand of Canadian candy made by Couche-Tard, is known for its provocative packaging. For example, a bag of gummi frogs features an illustration of a Biology class dissection, complete with pins holding holding down the amphibian's legs. And Sloche's cotton candy, called “Hair Balls,” is sold in a tub with a sickly cat on the front. But to Laurraine LeBlanc, the gummi spider packaging went a bit too far. The bag showed a picture of a snarling black man with a big gold tooth, gold earrings, and a black spider on his head, with the legs dangling in his face like dreadlocks. LeBlanc felt the image perpetuated the stereotype that black men were all violent gang members—and The Quebec Human Rights Commission agreed, ruling against the company, who insisted the packaging was just for fun.


In the end, Couche-Tard pulled the offending candy from shelves, and donated $18,000 to Youth In Motion, a Canadian group that mentors young people. And for her efforts in the fight against racism, LeBlanc was awarded a 2006 Anne-Greenup Prize by the Immigration and Cultural Communities Minister of Quebec.

5. Road Kill Gummis

In the summer of 2004, Trolli, then a division of Kraft Foods, introduced their new gummi candies called, Road Kill. The brightly colored, fruit-flavored pieces of rubbery gelatin were in the shape of animals like squirrels, chickens, and snakes that had been flattened by a car, complete with tire tracks down their backs. By March 2005, the New Jersey branch of PETA had issued a complaint that the candy encouraged kids to be cruel to animals. The group had planned to start a letter-writing campaign, petition drives, and call for a general boycott of Kraft if it didn't take the offensive candy off the market, but the company complied with barely a second thought.


Kraft, who was deep in negotiations with Wrigley to buy out the Trolli candy division, really didn't need a controversy to mess things up. So they quickly pulled the cartoonish dead animals from the shelves and issued an apology. Wrigley bought Trolli and other confectionery brands from Kraft in June of that year for $1.46 billion.

6. Maoam Candy

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes a lime-colored bean licking a pair of smiling cherries is just...well, we're not quite sure what that is. Neither did the UK's Simon Simpkins, who raised quite a ruckus when he found packages of Maoam candies at his local sweet shop with the bizarre, offending images. The illustrations featured a character called “Maoam Man” who is, in the words of Mr. Simpkins, “locked in what appears to be a carnal encounter” with fruits such as lemons, cherries, strawberries, and oranges, with “a particularly lurid expression on his face.” Despite his complaints, Haribo, the candymaker, declined to change the packaging, because Maoam Man was “very popular with fans, both young and old.” It seems a safe bet he was pretty popular with lemons, cherries, strawberries, and oranges, too.

7. Big League Chew

Since its introduction in 1980, Big League Chew has been a constant on both Little League fields and parental hit lists. This shredded bubble gum, designed and packaged to look like the same tobacco major leaguers chew, was the brainchild of two ballplayers, Rob Nelson and Jim Bouton, who remembered packing their cheeks with bubblegum as kids to mimic their favorite players' plugs. Over the years, parents have tried to get BLC banned because they worry it could lead to the real deal. And, according to some researchers, like Harvard's Gregory Connolly, a public health professor, they may not be too far off base.

“With Big League Chew, you get all the sensory cues with using chewing tobacco," said Connolly. To him, “the natural next step” is to replace sugar with the much more addictive drug nicotine. But all the complaints and professional opinions haven't stopped kids from buying the gum—over 450 million pouches have been sold over the past 30 years.

8. Eskimos Candy

To some Inuit people of Canada, being called an “Eskimo” is very offensive. So imagine her surprise when, in 2009, Inuit Seeka Lee Veevee Parsons was vacationing in New Zealand and saw a package of Cadbury's Eskimo Candies in just about every store she entered. The popular marshmallow treats are shaped like people dressed in stereotypical fur-lined hoods, which Canterbury University's Dr. Nicole Gombay, who studies Intuit culture, compares to “putting an African in a mud hut with a grass skirt and a bone in his hand.” Despite the offensive image, the candy has been around since 1955 and is still quite popular today—Kiwis eat nearly 20 million pieces annually. So while Cadbury said they could appreciate Parsons' complaint, they had no intention of changing the name or the shape. Even Parsons' own uncle, David Veevee, said about New Zealanders, “They just don't know any better,” and he also admitted, “It's just a candy, after all.”
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Do you know of any other controversial candies that we missed? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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