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13 Weird and Wonderful Gingerbread Houses

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Traditional alpine chalets, woodland cottages, and Victorian mansions made of gingerbread are impressive, to say the least. I know from experience that they are not easy to make. Yet some folks go the extra mile to make their gingerbread constructions stand out from the crowd by building them bigger, adding clever details, or redesigning them altogether. Some of these aren't even houses!

1. Robotzilla Gingerbread House

Instructables member boston09 entered their gingerbread competition last year with a gingerbread cottage featuring icing icicles and gumdrop shrubbery, plus one extra detail to make it stand out -the house is about to be attacked by a giant gingerbread robot!

2. Modern Architecture

Last year, the Creative Room in Vancouver invited architectural firms to submit gingerbread houses for a competition. Eleven houses were entered, and the finished buildings were auctioned off for charity. The modern design pictured is an entry from Nick Milkovich Architects, Inc. called the Sugar Shack.

3. NYC Landmarks

In 2008 Benita Larsson made gingerbread recreations of New York City landmarks -the Statue of Liberty and the Chrysler Building! The process of putting these together is documented in pictures.

4. Winchester Mystery Gingerbread House

Pam Sheridan won a gingerbread house contest in 1990 with this gingerbread replica of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. The confection is still on display there twenty years later. Image by Flickr user Sarah Nuehring.

5. Gingerbread Fenway Park

This recreation of Fenway Park made of gingerbread won top honors at the 2008 Boston Christmas Festival Gingerbread House Competition. The entry from Legal Sea Foods took four pastry chefs (David Topian, Angela Ernst, Brian Harper, and Zailda Smith) two weeks to construct. Get a closer look here. Surprisingly, it wasn't the first Fenway Park to be made of gingerbread that year.

6. Frank Lloyd Wright's Gingerbread House

It looks a lot like the Robie house in Chicago that Frank Lloyd Wright designed, but this version from Hurty Elbow is made of graham crackers. Close enough!

7. Sustainable Green Gingerbread Houses

The Terry* Project hosted a competition in 2007 called Bake for a Change that challenged bakers and designers to come up with gingerbread houses that would be environmentally-friendly if they were full-size homes. This entry from AdinaBob has its green features explained right on the picture. See all the entries in this post.

8. Dine-in Gingerbread House

When the prize is publicity, bigger is always better. Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls, Ontario has a life size gingerbread house built every year! Every inch is edible, and families can make reservations to eat inside -but then you have to order off the menu instead of munching on the walls. Reservation fees go to charity. The gingerbread dining room will only be up until January 9th.

9. Bigger than Life-size

The Mohegan Sun Casino and Resort in Connecticut builds a giant gingerbread house every year. This year Executive Pastry Chef Lynn Mansel and her team are constructing a 28-foot tall marvel to outdo any they have made before. Their gingerbread house pictured here is from 2005.

10. Abandoned Building Site

Andrew Salomone created this gingerbread scene last year to draw attention to the many building projects in Ireland that were abandoned due to the global recession. It was displayed at an art show titled everything is as it seems to be in Cork City.

11. The White House

An annual gingerbread replica of the White House is a Washington tradition. The White House pastry chef works on the plans for months ahead of time to get the details right -and yes, the details change from year to year even if the building design itself doesn't. In 2009, Michelle Obama's vegetable garden was front and left-of-center in the finished display, which can be seen in the State Dining Room during the holiday season.

12. Gingerbread Trailer

This photograph, usually labeled "redneck gingerbread house", has been around so long (at least eight years) that no one knows who the creator is. The same is true for a somewhat more recent version which has modern details like a satellite dish.

13. Neiman Marcus

You can buy your own giant gingerbread house from (who else but) Neiman Marcus. It only costs 15,000 -although it doesn't specify what currency that is. If you have to ask, you obviously cannot afford it.

If you think you might try your hand at making a gingerbread house from scratch, you may want to read some tips and tricks for the first-time gingerbread house maker. If it falls apart, you can always eat the rubble!

See also: 11 Clever and Creative Gingerbread Structures

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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© Nintendo
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.