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Why Is Pink Lemonade Pink?

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Reader Michael Lefebvre asked us on Twitter: "What is the origin of Pink Lemonade?"

The pink drink first appeared in the United States around the mid-1800s, primarily at circuses and carnivals and then at street stands in New York City. The drink's origins and inventor are heavily disputed though, and a handful of men have been credited with its creation. Of those, here are the best origin stories we could dig up from circus history:

• Henry E. “Bunk Allen” Allott ran away from home to join the circus at the age of 15 and worked a concession stand. He claims his creation was a total accident and that, while he was preparing a batch of regular lemonade, he bumped a table and knocked several pounds of red cinnamon candies into the mix. He had customers waiting and didn't want to take the time to make a new batch, so he gave out the pink stuff, and it became a hit. Allot died at the age of 40 and reportedly refused a visit from a priest on his deathbed, declaring that, “When I’m planted I want everybody to have a drink on me.”

• W.H.A. Tobey also claims to have made the first batch of pink lemonade by accident.

In the 1860s, he was working with Forepaugh’s circus. When they toured in the Southwest one summer, water was so scarce they couldn't even sell lemonade. One afternoon, Tobey went to check on the horses and found that a red blanket had fallen into their drinking water barrel. The colors ran and the water turned a dark pink color. The horses refused to drink it, so Tobey brought it to the lemonade man and suggested they sell a colored beverage. That night they started selling it and people loved it so much they made it at every stop from then on.

• William Henry Griffith makes a very similar claim, though it happened a decade later: He had a batch of lemonade ready for sale, when a performer's red tights blew off a clothesline and gave the drink a tint.

• An accident with red clothing also figures into Pete Conklin's story. Conklin was running a concession stand at Jere Mabie’s Big Show in the late 1850s when his lemonade ran out in the middle of a rush of customers. He didn't have any more water on hand, so he ran to the performers' dressing tent. He grabbed a tub that someone was wringing out a pair of red tights in and rushed back to the stand. He didn't notice until he started on another batch that the water was pink. There wasn't much else he could do, so he poured it into cups and started selling it as "strawberry lemonade,” making double his usual sales that day.

Another Answer

Red #40.

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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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Opening Ceremony
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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:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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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]

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