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15 Memorable mental_floss Moments of 2011

A lot of exciting things happened in the mental_floss universe in 2011. Here are the 15 we could remember.

1. We Helped Solve a Back to the Future Mystery

Back in August, we threw out a question for discussion:

"Is it ever explained why Marty hangs out with Doc Brown? He's just in Doc's house to start the movie and it's just implied that they're good friends." —Brett Savage

Back to the Future co-creator Bob Gale was kind enough to respond:

Okay, from the horse’s mouth (yes, I’m the horse — er, co-writer, co-creator): We never explained it in the movie. But the history of the characters that Bob Zemeckis and I created is this…

For years, Marty was told that Doc Brown was dangerous, a crackpot, a lunatic. So, being a red-blooded American teenage boy, age 13 or 14, he decided to find out just why this guy was so dangerous. Marty snuck into Doc’s lab, and was fascinated by all the cool stuff that was there. when Doc found him there, he was delighted to find that Marty thought he was cool and accepted him for what he was. Both of them were the black sheep in their respective environments. Doc gave Marty a part-time job to help with experiments, tend to the lab, tend to the dog, etc.

And that’s the origin of their relationship.
— Bob Gale

This was all very exciting, but someone over at Slate thought the whole thing was a (bizarre) hoax:

"No one on the Internet knows you're a dog, or whether you're really Bob Gale ... I've seen enough Internet hoaxes to say I'll wait for a picture of him holding a sign that says 'Yes, it's me' with today's newspaper before I buy it completely."

Our new best friend Bob Gale, with whom I'd emailed before posting his original comment to make sure he wasn't, in fact, a dog, was willing to oblige:

2. We Acquired an Office Eel

And in just a few short months, that office eel made the masthead:

Not sure how veteran office dog Leo felt about this. But Leo was the star of our New Year's card.

Watch this rivalry play out in 2012.

3. We Watched Ransom Riggs Become a Pretty Big Deal

Ransom Riggs had been writing for mental_floss since 2006, and we knew it was only a matter of time before he got too big and famous for us. This year, his debut YA novel, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, made the New York Times Best Seller List, and it sounds like Tim Burton might direct the Miss Peregrine movie. Ransom is also turning his popular Talking Pictures series into a book. We promise we'll guilt him into coming back and contributing an occasional photo essay or short film in 2012. For now, you can follow him on Twitter: @RansomRiggs.

4. We Made a Cameo on Curb Your Enthusiasm...

Sadly, Larry David didn't draw any swastikas inside us.

5. ...and Bored to Death...

6. ...and Nikki Sixx's Twitter Account

We're hoping to collaborate on something in 2012. Maybe a Christmas album.

7. We Gave My 2-Year-Old Daughter Her 15 Minutes (Well, 3:55) of Fame

Last January, I posted a clip of my two-year-old playing with her U.S. Presidents placemat alongside our "can you guess the president by his placemat portrait?" quiz. Gawker re-posted the video, and soon it showed up on the Yahoo! and AOL homepages and The NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.

A few weeks later, Charlotte appeared on Rachael Ray for Presidents' Day.

Here's her segment. She's recently turned her attention to counterfeiting.

8. We Joined Forces With Melissa & Doug

We're teaming up with educational toy giant Melissa & Doug for a mental_floss children's line. Coming soon!

9. We Filled Over 12,000 Orders This Holiday Season

A week before Christmas, the elves in our Ohio office announced that they'd filled 10,000 orders this holiday season. Co-founders Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur and e-commerce guru Renier Fee dispatched themselves to Cleveland with cake for a surprise "thank you for not going crazy during all this madness!" party.

So let's give it up for Amy, British Melanie, Cathy, Cheryl, Dana, Elizabeth, Kathy, Katie, Young Melanie, Mo, Paul, Marvelous Melanie and Toby, who ended up filling over 12,000 holiday orders. You guys deserve two cakes.

And I wish I could share a cake with all 12,000 of you who shopped in the mental_floss store these last couple months. This is one of those situations where the phrase "we couldn't have done it without you" is entirely appropriate.

10. We Were Named One of the (90) Best Twitter Accounts

The good people at BuzzFeed made a list of the Top 90 Best Twitter Accounts, and we made the cut. Thanks for all the retweets and #FollowFriday love! If your New Year's Resolution includes learning lots of random facts (or following more interesting people on Twitter), @mental_floss would be happy to have you.

11. We Partied With Flossers in Memphis, Indy, Columbus, Durham and Birmingham

The Mental Floss Trivia Show made several stops across the country in 2011. Rumors are swirling that we'll be on the road again in 2012. (I'm looking at you, Austin.)

12. We Put Out Our 10th Anniversary Book

Order yours today!

13. We Joined the Dennis Publishing Universe

Back in March, our little media empire became part of Dennis Publishing, making it possible to find funding for important endeavors. Such as...

14. We Made George Washington's Eggnog

15. We've Decided to Listen to Everyone

These are the three questions we're asked most often:

• When will you get a mobile version of the website?

• Why don't you guys publish the magazine monthly?

• Why aren't you releasing any apps?

All three of those things will be addressed at some point in 2012. We also hope to follow the eggnog recipes of several other historical figures this year. Thanks for the support, and for making it all the way to the bottom of our self-indulgent year-in-review!

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Food
Hate Red M&M's? You Need a Candy Color-Sorting Machine
iStock
iStock

You don’t have to be a demanding rock star to live a life without brown M&M's or purple Skittles—all you need is some engineering know-how and a little bit of free time.

Mechanical engineering student Willem Pennings created a machine that can take small pieces of candy—like M&M's, Skittles, Reese’s Pieces, etc.—and sort them by color into individual piles. All Pennings needs to do is pour the candy into the top funnel; from there, the machine separates the candy—around two pieces per second—and dispenses all of it into smaller bowls at the bottom designated for each variety.

The color identification is performed with an RGB sensor that takes “optical measurements” of candy pieces of equal dimensions. There are limitations, though, as Pennings revealed in a Reddit Q&A: “I wouldn't be able to use this machine for peanut M&M's, since the sizes vary so much.”

The entire building process lasted from May through December 2016, and included the actual conceptualization, 3D printing (which was outsourced), and construction. The entire project was detailed on Pennings’s website and Reddit's DIY page.

With all of the motors, circuitry, and hardware that went into it, Pennings’s machine is likely too ambitious of a task for the average candy aficionado. So until a machine like this hits the open market, you're probably stuck buying bags of single-colored M&M’s in bulk online or sorting all of the candy out yourself the old fashioned way.

To see Pennings’s machine in action, check out the video below:

[h/t Refinery 29]

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Pop Culture
The Strange Hidden Link Between Silent Hill and Kindergarten Cop
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

by Ryan Lambie

At first glance, Kindergarten Cop and Silent Hill don't seem to have much in common—aside from both being products of the 1990s. At the beginning of the decade came Kindergarten Cop, the hit comedy directed by Ivan Reitman and starring larger-than-life action star Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the decade’s end came Silent Hill, Konami’s best-selling survival horror game that sent shivers down PlayStation owners’ spines.

As pop culture artifacts go, they’re as different as oil and water. Yet eagle-eyed players may have noticed a strange hidden link between the video game and the goofy family comedy.

In Silent Hill, you control Harry Mason, a father hunting for his daughter Cheryl in the eerily deserted town of the title. Needless to say, the things Mason uncovers are strange and very, very gruesome. Early on in the game, Harry stumbles on a school—Midwich Elementary School, to be precise—which might spark a hint of déjà vu as soon as you approach its stone steps. The building’s double doors and distinctive archway appear to have been taken directly from Kindergarten Cop’s Astoria Elementary School.

Could it be a coincidence?

Well, further clues can be found as you venture inside. As well as encountering creepy gray children and other horrors, you’ll notice that its walls are decorated with numerous posters. Some of those posters—including a particularly distinctive one with a dog on it—also decorated the halls of the school in Kindergarten Cop.

Do a bit more hunting, and you’ll eventually find a medicine cabinet clearly modeled on one glimpsed in the movie. Most creepily of all, you’ll even encounter a yellow school bus that looks remarkably similar to the one in the film (though this one has clearly seen better days).

Silent Hill's references to the movie are subtle—certainly subtle enough for them to pass the majority of players by—but far too numerous to be a coincidence. When word of the link between game and film began to emerge in 2012, some even joked that Konami’s Silent Hill was a sequel to Kindergarten Cop. So what’s really going on?

When Silent Hill was in early development back in 1996, director Keiichiro Toyama set out to make a game that was infused with influences from some of his favorite American films and TV shows. “What I am a fan of is occult stuff and UFO stories and so on; that and I had watched a lot of David Lynch films," he told Polygon in 2013. "So it was really a matter of me taking what was on my shelves and taking the more horror-oriented aspects of what I found.”

A scene from 'Silent Hill'
Divine Tokyoska, Flickr

In an interview with IGN much further back, in 2001, a member of Silent Hill’s staff also stated, “We draw our influences from all over—fiction, movies, manga, new and old.”

So while Kindergarten Cop is perhaps the most outlandish movie reference in Silent Hill, it’s by no means the only one. Cafe5to2, another prominent location in the game, is taken straight from Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

Elsewhere, you might spot a newspaper headline which references The Silence Of The Lambs (“Bill Skins Fifth”). Look carefully, and you'll also find nods to such films as The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and 12 Monkeys.

Similarly, the town’s streets are all named after respected sci-fi and horror novelists, with Robert Bloch, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson among the most obvious. Oh, and Midwich, the name of the school? That’s taken from the classic 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, twice adapted for the screen as The Village Of The Damned in 1960 and 1995.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Kindergarten Cop'
Universal Pictures

The reference to Kindergarten Cop could, therefore, have been a sly joke on the part of Silent Hill’s creators—because what could be stranger than modeling something in a horror game on a family-friendly comedy? But there could be an even more innocent explanation: that Kindergarten Cop spends so long inside an ordinary American school simply gave Toyama and his team plenty of material to reference when building their game.

Whatever the reasons, the Kindergarten Cop reference ranks highly among the most strange and unexpected film connections in the history of the video game medium. Incidentally, the original movie's exteriors used a real school, John Jacob Astor Elementary in Astoria, Oregon. According to a 1991 article in People Magazine, the school's 400 fourth grade students were paid $35 per day to appear in Kindergarten Cop as extras.

It’s worth pointing out that the school is far less scary a place than the video game location it unwittingly inspired, and to the best of our knowledge, doesn't have an undercover cop named John Kimble serving as a teacher there, either.

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