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Ten Terrific or Terrifying Treats for Halloween

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All year long, we try to make food that is appetizing and pleasing to the eye. Then for Halloween, we reverse that and serve food that is ugly, scary, or otherwise appropriate for the holiday. While most of these treats are more cute than scary, they are all exceedingly fitting for a Halloween meal or party.

1. Tentacle Pot Pie

Meagan Reardon of Not Martha disguised pot pies as slithering monsters! Use your favorite pie recipe and dishes that can be baked, and her step-by-step crust instructions. Could this technique be used for fruit pies? I think it would be worth a try!

2. Apple Monsters

These cute Apple Monsters are all mouth! The teeth are almond slivers, and the eyes are miniature marshmallows with icing pupils.

3. Marshmallow Ghosts

Marshmallow Ghosts are simply marshmallows of different sizes and quantities skewered and dipped in a white chocolate coating. The faces are made of nuts, and the decorations were made with skewers dipped in food coloring. You don't have to make them up ahead of time, because making them would be a great activity for your party!

4. Frankenstein Finger Cookies

Gross but delicious. Frankenstein Finger Cookies are made with green dough decorated with almond fingernails and coconut hair. The bloody dip is red gel cake icing.

5. Eerie Edible Eyeballs

Britta Peterson's eyeball recipe was linked here years ago, but she has since updated and simplified it. The main ingredients are marshmallow cream and cream cheese, flavored with pineapple juice, and held together with gelatin. If you can get your guests to try the first one, they won't last long!

6. Mummy Meatloaf

Is the Mummy Meatloaf adorable or frightening? Not that it matters, as long as the kids will eat it! A meatloaf recipe is offered, but you can use your own. Wide flat noodles make the mummy wrap; if you can't find the proper size, trimmed lasagna noodles will work. The eyes are olives!

7. Pumpkin Juice

Harry Potter and his friends enjoy drinking pumpkin juice, and you can buy it bottled. But how much more fun is it to make your own? It's not necessarily a Halloween recipe, but tastes like autumn (apple and pumpkin pie, that is) and goes well with any fall or winter holiday.

8. Skull Truffles

The Skull Truffle project at Make involves making your own skull molds out of silicone. It's a wonderful guide for those who want to do that, but the relevant effect is a walnut half covered in pink candy melt to look like an exposed brain. You can buy skull molds, or if you are in a hurry, you can skip to step 15, the part about making little brains out of walnuts.

9. Frankenstein Marshmallow Pops

Sweet treats on a stick are great for keeping dirty fingers off the food and the food off the kids! Meaghan Mountford of The Decorated Cookie shows you step-by-step how to make your own frightening Frankenstein Marshmallow Pops for a ghoulishly glorious Halloween treat! Any recipe that calls for "candy eyes" is alright by me. Can you get those at the corner market? Also try her Zombie Marshmallow Pops and other Halloween confections.

10. Blood Slide Candy

You rarely see candy cigarettes for sale anymore because someone got the idea that it's not a good idea to give children candy that resembles something they should never, ever ingest. Therefore, I think it would be best to reserve these biohazard candies for adults only. Andrea Newberry was inspired by the TV show Dexter to adapt a lollipop recipe into edible medical slides containing blood samples! Yes, these are homemade, and she has complete instructions for making them.

Bonus: Fake Blood

What you use fake blood for is up to you. That said, most of the recipes at Halloween Web are basically edible. I wouldn't try using the dishwashing liquid recipe in projects that involve someone's mouth, but the rest are alright. Before using any of these on a dinner table, you might want to try a taste test.

See also: 9 Spooky Halloween Party Treats, Creepy Halloween Party Food, and Gruesome Halloween Party Food.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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iStock

The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”

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