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The Story Behind "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" (Also: Lost Verses!)

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Did you know that “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” was written by a guy who had almost no interest in the sport? In fact, after he came up with the idea for the song, it took Jack Norworth over thirty years to get around to taking in his first major league game.

At the turn of the last century, Norworth was a vaudeville entertainer, best known for his spirited hoofing and blackface routines. He also dabbled in songwriting. The story goes that in the summer of 1908, he was riding the New York subway when he saw a sign: “Baseball Today at the Polo Grounds!” The ad for the New York Giants home game got him thinking. Was there a better example of a nationally shared experience than a ball game? Always on the lookout for commercial ideas, he scribbled down a verse and a chorus with the title “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” (his original handwritten lyrics are now on display in the Baseball Hall of Fame).

Norworth took the words to composer Albert Von Tilzer, his collaborator on hits such as “Meet Me In Apple Blossom Time” and “Honey Boy.” Von Tilzer wasn’t much of a baseball fan either, but he recognized a potential hit and in less than an hour, dashed off a jaunty melody that fit the lyric like a well-oiled glove.

The first recording of “Ball Game,” by Edward Meeker, was a huge success. Sheet music and piano rolls of the song flew out of music stores. While there had been other baseball songs - “The Baseball Polka,” “It’s Great at a Baseball Game” and the similarly titled “Take Your Girl To The Ball Game” – they were only bloop singles. “Take Me Out” was a home run.

What really knocked the song out of the park, of course, was its almost instant ubiquity at baseball stadiums across the country.

Not all of the song was heard though.

Lost Verses

Norworth and Von Tilzer had begun with a lengthy verse:

“Katie Casey was baseball mad,
Had the fever and had it bad.
Just to root for the home town crew,
Ev'ry sou [common slang at the time for low-denomination coin]
Katie blew. . .”

It’s interesting that the songwriters chose a woman as the subject of the verse, as baseball was traditionally a man’s sport. But as the verse progresses, the set-up unfolds with the gal telling her fella to forget the movie show because she wants to go to a ball game.

"On a Saturday her young beau
Called to see if she'd like to go
To see a show, but Miss Kate said "No,
I'll tell you what you can do."

In time, fans would forget the verses in favor of the catchy refrain. That didn’t stop Norworth from writing new verses in 1927, trading Katie Casey for another Irish girl named Nelly Kelly, and plugging the popular beach resort Coney Island. Again, those words sat on the bench at games.

One of Norworth’s plugs had a huge effect, though. Decades before product placement kickbacks became the norm, Norworth did a favor for Fritz and Louis Rueckheim, who manufactured a popular mixture of caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts called Cracker Jack. The mention in the lyric immortalized it as the snack of choice at ball games (though in the health conscious 21st century, it is falling out favor).

Seventh-Inning Staple

By the 1950s, the song was the anthem of baseball’s seventh-inning stretch. It had also appeared in movies such as A Night At The Opera, The Naughty Nineties and the Frank Sinatra-Gene Kelly vehicle, Take Me Out To The Ball Game, as well as a famous episode of I Love Lucy, featuring Harpo Marx.

In 1971, legendary Chicago sportscaster Harry Caray lent his boundless enthusiasm and marginal musical talent to the song, establishing a sing-a-long tradition at both White Sox and Cubs games for three decades.

In 1994, the song got another boost with a sultry version by Carly Simon that was featured in Baseball, the award-winning Ken Burns documentary series. In 1996, the Goo Goo Dolls cut a rocked-out version of the song that continues to be featured on ESPN broadcasts of baseball games.

In 2008, a book called Baseball’s Greatest Hit: 100 Years of Take Me Out To The Ball Game detailed the history of the song.
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Albert Von Tilzer died in 1956, Jack Norworth in 1959 (the year before, upon the song’s 50th anniversary, he was honored by the Los Angeles Dodgers with “Jack Norworth Day”). “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” now forty-three years in the public domain, can be performed royalty-free - another reason why it continues to thrive at America’s stadiums, and probably will for as long as umpires cry, “Play ball!”

Of the song’s enduring appeal, the great sportswriter Harold Rosenthal once said: “Of the several hundred songs written for or about the National Game, ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’ looms above them all - like Stan Musial coming to bat in the ninth inning. It was so good that the song is probably familiar to 999 out of every 1,000 persons in the United States.”

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]