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Dr. Ruth's Game of Good Sex and Other Absurd Celebrity Video Games

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Making a good video game is incredibly difficult. It requires loads of talent, creativity, hard work and time. In contrast, making a bad video game is rather easy. Hand the task off to an intern or, barring that, a hyper 6-year-old, then kick back, drink a half rack of Hamm’s and watch Gossip Girl.

Selling that bad video game, on the other hand, is tough. But it’s nothing a fat endorsement check to a celebrity won’t cure.

1. Steven Seagal is the Final Option

The title of this game is probably the most accurate phrase ever uttered. No matter what life throws at you, Steven Seagal should only be the Final Option in all circumstances. Seagal’s problem solving method relies exclusively on broken necks and crotch punching, which isn’t appropriate for all of life’s tribulations. After all, leaving a pile of spine-severed Gap employees seems a bit extreme just to return a cable knit sweater.


Back in 1993, video game developer TecMagik announced work on a Steven Seagal video game, touting their project as the first celebrity licensed video game. Plus the game would use the images of live actors as digitized sprites, ala Mortal Kombat, for that extra bit of realism. Strangely enough, their licensed action star doesn’t actually appear in the game besides the title screen. He's played by a look-a-like because TecMagik admitted the resolution of their “real life” graphics was so low you couldn’t tell the difference. In fact, the resolution is so low, they could have had Danny DeVito stand in and you wouldn’t know the difference. Actually, the way Steven looks these days you might not know the difference in real life either.

Despite the lack of his physical presence in the game, Seagal involved himself heavily in the production, shaping the game’s story. And what’s that story? Something about saving a woman’s son by walking through a munitions factory and murdering every lab technician and maintenance worker in your way.

That's right, as Steven Seagal you bring swift, yet merciless, death to civilians and wage slaves who patiently wait for you to judo chop them into oblivion. That company must have the most overworked HR department.

Even though Tecmagik crafted 18 levels of Steven Seagal is The Final Option, the game never saw release. Plenty of people seem to have played the unfinished game. You could blame the game’s failure on the economics of the game industry at the time or over-estimating the draw of the ever-puffying (or-as I call it-“The Puffening”) actor. However, I like to think Tecmagik simply couldn’t release the game because, due to undiluted badassery, once you inserted the cartridge, the game would throat punch your Super Nintendo until it exploded.

2. Dr. Ruth's Game of Good Sex

Slap on your Swatches and Snap Bracelets because we’re going back to 1986, the year Geraldo opened Capone’s vault (and found nothing but moonshine), Tom Cruise taught us all about the need for speed ,and a pushy little German lady kept telling the world how to have sex.


If you owned a Commodore 64, you had the opportunity to play Dr. Ruth's Game of Good Sex—perhaps the closest thing to sex avid Commodore 64 users ever achieved. And how saucy did Dr. Ruth’s game get? How about “multiple choice” saucy? Yep, the game with the provocative title (by 80’s standards) proved nothing more than a sex quiz. More people have learned about sex by taking a trip to the farm.

3. Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City

“Be Like Mike”: it was the mantra for a generation, whether you watched basketball or not. Everyone wanted to be like Michael Jordan. So naturally a video game allowing you to do exactly that must be a no-brainer. And thus EA’s Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City synthesized exactly what it’s like to “be like Mike” by letting you hurl flaming basketballs at zombies.


Huh?


Any Michael Jordan game could have offered up the ability to smash the glass and hang in the air longer than Baron Harkonnen (Dune reference, you’re welcome). However, the overachievers at EA thought it would make a much more interesting challenge to craft a Michael Jordan game that had very little to do with basketball. Besides murder by basketball, the only basketball-type activity in the game is every now and then a basketball hoop appears and Mike must take a quick break from bludgeoning the undead (or anyone trying to take your picture, really) for a slam dunk.

The combination of a basketball legend with a barely tangentially related to basketball concept made for an offering gamers found easy to refuse. Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City made the Top 10 list of Worst Games in the ever charitable Nintendo Power. Did I forget to mention the zombies have basketballs for heads?

4. Home Improvement

Kids, the most important part of making video games is not the graphics, the game play design or controls. No, all you need for a great game is a licensing deal. And it really doesn’t matter what license you get. Make a Pet Rock game or a 60 Minutes game (Morley Safer and Andy Rooney fight inside a dumpster to the death) or, in this case, Home Improvement. How do you transform a domestic comedy into a fun video game? Have Tim Allen chase dinosaurs with a nail gun. Wait, what? Look kid, it doesn’t have to make sense because making video games is hard and shut up and buy the game. The only one who found anything funny about this version of Home Improvement was Tim Allen, chuckling to himself as he cashed the licensing check.

5. Chuck Norris Kung Fu Superkicks

This game proves that Chuck Norris can’t even take a walk without get hailed by a tickertape parade of blood and broken teeth. Chuck Norris walks toward a distant monastery while incredibly ill-informed thugs try to stand in his way. Said thugs almost spontaneously explode into pink mist. Or at least, they should in a Chuck Norris game. But it turns out Chuck Norris Kung Fu Superkicks is so hard only Chuck Norris could beat it.


The reason for the heightened difficulty was the game actually did something a little revolutionary for the year 1983: it featured fighting combos. Almost a decade before Mortal Kombat, Chuck Norris Kung Fu Superkicks asked gamers to memorize complex joystick warping, button mashing sequences on their Atari 2600. And since Chuck Norris was little more than a loose collection of pixels on the screen, you never knew if you’d landed a combo with success. Of course, none of this matters if you’re Chuck Norris. When Chuck Norris loses in a video game, it’s the game that dies.

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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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Library of Congress
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10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.

Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

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BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
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WORLD WAR 1
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THE PRESIDENTS
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