CLOSE
Original image
The new game of badminton, circa 1874. Getty

The Original Names of 10 Sports

Original image
The new game of badminton, circa 1874. Getty

If history hadn't changed, we would be watching Gabrielle Reece dominate mintonette, Tony Hawk would be a leader in the world of sidewalk surfing, and Forrest Gump would have been an amazing wiff waff player. Check out the names of 10 sports before they became what we know them as today.

1. KITTEN BALL

The sport we know as softball today was named kitten ball when it came onto the scene in 1895. Between that time and 1926, it was also referred to as "diamond ball," "mush ball" and "pumpkin ball." The phrase "softball" was coined in 1926 by Walter Hakanson of the Denver YMCA.

2. BATTLEDORE AND SHUTTLECOCK

Circa 1871. Getty

It’s not exactly fair to say that this is what badminton was once called—it might be more appropriate to say this game evolved into badminton. Battledore and shuttlecock was an old game quite similar to badminton, minus the net. The players simply tried to keep the shuttlecock in the air as long as possible by batting it around with racquets (known as battledores).

3. MINTONETTE

Speaking of badminton, that game is the reason today's volleyball was originally called mintonette. Because much of the game play was similar to badminton (players keep an object bouncing back and forth across a net), its creator, William G. Morgan, the director of a Massachusetts YMCA, simply named it something similar to the existing sport. The name changed when a player suggested the ball volleyed over the net like cannon fire, and eventually the new term stuck.

4. SPHAIRISTIKE

Tennis has been around in some form or another for centuries, but in December 1873, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield invented "Sphairistike," or lawn tennis, to amuse his garden party guests. It’s more similar to the modern game of tennis than any of the older versions. Those older versions are sometimes called "real tennis" to differentiate them from the game the Williams sisters play—William Shakespeare mentioned real tennis in Henry V.

5. PADDLE RACKETS

When Joe Sobek invented racquetball in 1950, he didn’t call it that. He named his creation "paddle rackets," and even founded the National Paddle Rackets Association in 1952. As it gained popularity, professional tennis player Bob McInerney began calling it racquetball and the name slowly took over.

6. PAILLE MAILLE

The earliest published occurrence of the word "croquet" is 1856. Prior to that, the Queen of Hearts' favorite game was called "paille maille" (or any number of variations such as pall mall and pelemele). Some early descriptions of paille maille suggest that at one point, it was played over a large area of land (such as in golf) before it evolved to the short lawn version we know today.

7. SIDEWALK SURFING

You can probably figure out that skateboarding is just surfing on land. The sport is thought to have originated when California surfers were looking for a replacement for surfing when the waves were unfit to ride.

8. WHIFF-WAFF OR GOSSIMA

It's said the British upper class developed the game in the 1880s, using books to knock a golf ball back and forth across a center barrier. It may have been called whiff-waff then, but when a marketer caught his own whiff of the game and started selling real paddles and balls, it became known as gossima.

9. SHOVELBOARD

Long before it was considered a leisure activity for bar rats or the elderly, shuffleboard was a royal game. Henry VIII in particular loved "shovillaborde," a.k.a. shovelboard, and he refused to let commoners play the kingly sport.

10. KICK BASEBALL

If you’re familiar with the rules of kickball, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that kickball was invented by a playground supervisor to teach kids the rules of baseball. Over the years (and in different regions) it has also been known as soccer-base or soccer-baseball.

A version of this story originally ran in 2011.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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!

Original image
Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
arrow
science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
Original image
Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
SECTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES