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11 Athletes Who Had Their Own Cereals

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Plenty of athletes have adorned boxes of Wheaties. But only the best can take it a step further and market a brand of cereal dedicated entirely to themselves. Several athletes have used a limited edition cereal line to raise money for their favorite charities or boost their profiles -- here are 11 of the stars that managed to work their way onto the breakfast table

1. Flutie Flakes

Buffalo Bills quarterback Doug Flutie released his brand of corn flakes cereal in 1998 to raise money for autism awareness in honor of his son, who is autistic. The cereal ended up being a hit, selling more than 3 million boxes (Flutie eventually branched out into other foods, including a fruit snack called Flutie's Fruities). But the Flakes were also the center of controversy when then-Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson used them to celebrate a playoff win over Flutie and the Buffalo Bills. Celebrating in the locker room, Johnson slammed a box of the cereal on the ground and let his players dance and stomp on the flakes. Flutie objected, saying it was akin to stomping on his son and got Johnson to publicly apologize.

2. Votto’s

This season, Cincinnati Reds fans will be able to share breakfast with team star – and 2010 National League MVP – Joey Votto, thanks to his new cereal, Votto’s. The cereal is being sold at Krogers stores in the Cincinnati area. And the flavor? “It’s basically Cheerios,” said Votto at one promotional appearance, according to a report.

3. Fastball Flakes

With an eye towards breaking Flutie’s sales record, Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander also announced this spring that he’ll be launching his own line of cereal. Verlander based the cereal on Frosted Flakes (his favorite cereal) and actually requested that the cereal be unhealthy because he likes to eat junk food before his starts. Despite his request, the cereal is fat-free.

4. Ochocinco’s

The toasted oat cereal honoring then-Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco (formerly Chad Johnson) isn’t much remembered for its taste or nutritional value. Instead, the legacy of Ochocinco’s will be its accidental endorsement of a phone sex line. A phone number printed on the box was supposed to send shoppers to the main line of Feed The Children, the charity benefiting from the cereal sales. But manufacturers put the wrong prefix on the number and instead printed the bawdy number. When news of the accident broke, Ochocinco took to Twitter to say he was “bummed” about the mixup and asked “of all numbers why that one!!!”

5. Eckso’s

Eckso’s were not named after Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley, but instead journeyman David Eckstein. Having won a World Series with the Angels and a second with the St. Louis Cardinals, Eckstein was a fan favorite for his scrappy play. That led to his cereal line in 2005 -- a brand of honey nut toasted oat O’s similar to Votto’s and Ochocinco’s.

6. Tommy Gun Flakes

After wandering around the NFL for years and playing in the Arena Football League and XFL, Tommy Maddox resurfaced with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2001. He led the Steelers to the playoffs that year, amassing a 10-5-1 record. After that season, he was also rewarded with the launch of Tommy Gun Flakes, a play on his nickname "Tommy Gun." Maddox had a disappointing 2002 season and was soon replaced by Ben Roethlisberger, but unopened boxes of his cereal can still be found online.

7. TO’s

Before he and Ochocinco teamed up for a season in Cincinnati, Terrell Owens actually mirrored him by launching his own cereal brand. The TO’s brand came out when TO joined the Buffalo Bills in the 2009 season and features a rather cryptic picture of TO flexing his bicep around a blown-up piece of cereal.

8. Warner’s Crunch Time

While with the St. Louis Rams, Kurt Warner was a part of the Greatest Show on Turf, winning two MVP awards and a Super Bowl. His rise from the Arena Football League and ascension from backup to starting star also made him a hit with fans. To capitalize, Warner put his face on a frosted corn flakes cereal called “Warner’s Crunch Time,” with proceeds going to Camp Barnabas, a Missouri camp for disabled children.

9. Buckeye HerOes

Coming off a successful 10-2 season in which they shared the Big Ten championship and won the Fiesta Bowl, the Ohio State Buckeyes expanded their already massive brand with the cereal Buckeye HerOes. Other universities had tried the cereal gimmick before, but OSU dwarfed their efforts by producing 75,000 boxes. School officials said they couldn’t get the cereal to be in the shape of the school’s traditional block O, so instead they had to go with the traditional round O. The school has also branded several other food items from pasta to hot sauce, so it's possible for a fan to plan an entire meal around the Buckeyes.

10. Ed's End Zone O's

A three-time Super Bowl winner, wide receiver Ed McCaffrey had most of his success when paired with John Elway on the Denver Broncos. While with the team, he also released his cereal brand: Ed’s End Zone O’s, as well as putting his face on a line of gourmet mustards and a horseradish sauce. Elway would also come out with a cereal line: John Elway's Comeback Crunch.

11. Lynn Swann’s Super 88

Named after his jersey number, Lynn Swann’s Super 88 cereal was released to honor the former Steelers star on his induction to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2001. The proceeds from the cereal went to the Big Brothers and Big Sisters charities, as well as to fund scholarships to the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Why the ballet scholarships? Swann used to study dance.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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