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Beyond Battleship: 3 More Board Game Movies in the Works

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Whether Battleship is a super success or super failure, a thundering battalion of movies based on board games is marching toward a theater near you. At the very least, I thought you should be prepared.

1. Candy Land

Once upon a time, a toy company desperately wanted to make a movie about a journey through a land of candy based on a board game featuring a journey through a land of candy.

Absolutely no one got excited about this. So they hired screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, the duo behind Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. This writing team envisioned an epic tale in a vast and foreboding world of butterscotch waterfalls and licorice trees. As Berger told Entertainment Weekly, they saw Candy Land as “Lord of The Rings, but set in a world of candy.” And while the “WTF?” quotient of that statement could break even the most sturdily made “WTF?”-ometer, I was looking forward to Gollum hunting after his “precious” Ring Pop.

Still, America was not on board. After years in development hell, Universal, which held the rights, actually paid $5 million to get rid of Candy Land.

Then came the sweet, sugar-coated magic. Sony picked up the reins and suddenly Adam Sandler was attached to star. Sandler brought along buddy Robert Smigel (creator of the Ambiguously Gay Duo and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog) to write the screenplay. Expect gay-panic jokes, an endless supply of farting gum drops, a running gag with someone getting repeated hit in the groin with a giant lollypop, and family fun for all!

2. Ouija Board: The Movie

Remember how I said Universal had to pay to not make Candy Land? Well, back in 2008, just a year after the success of Hasbro’s Transformers movie, Universal struck a deal with Hasbro to make five movies based on Hasbro board games and toys: Ouija, Stretch Armstrong, Clue, Candy Land and Battleship. Four years later, Universal only made one movie and wanted to dump the rest (the fact this happened so close to Battleship’s release is more than a tad foreboding). To get out of the deal, Universal had to pay Hasbro a reported $5 million for each movie not made. That’s pretty desperate. And yet, some projects have survived.

Ouija Board started as a $100 million supernatural, haunted house affair with director McG (Charlie’s Angels) at the helm. Michael Bay came on board as a producer to, well, Bay-ify it, presumably. The production hired writer David Berenbaum, who wrote the Eddie Murphy vehicle The Haunted Mansion, to draft a screenplay.

With Universal abandoning them like an unwanted puppy, the fate of Ouija Board looked grim even for a movie about dead people.

But like a temperamental lover with wild mood swings, Universal suddenly changed its mind and wanted Ouija back (even after paying millions to make it go away). The romance rekindled, Universal made but one request of Ouija: cut the $100 million budget.

To $5 million.

To put that in perspective, that’s about the same budget as a Lifetime Movie of the Week. $5 mil would barely cover Michael Bay’s Axe Body Spray budget.

On that budget, expect Ouija Board: The Movie to be two hours of people playing with a Ouija Board in real time, getting in fights about someone moving the piece on purpose, taking frequent bathroom breaks, and spending the last hour watching Jersey Shore reruns because it’s scientifically impossible to wrench any more than fifteen minutes of fun out of playing with a Ouija Board.

3. Monopoly

Of the upcoming board game movies, Monopoly takes the cake for the most ambitious. The man who wants to bring Monopoly to life is none other than Oscar-nominated super director Ridley Scott. Yes, the man behind Alien and Blade Runner wants to bring you the game with the thimble…but with gravitas.

Originally, screenwriters and producers saw Monopoly as the story of a man transported to a candy-colored world filled with rainbow-colored money. Then Scott stepped in and said, “Nope, this is going to be about the financial crisis.” Yes, a family fun board game movie about the sub-prime mortgage meltdown.

How deep would the film delve into the housing crisis? “Completely," Scott said. "It’s a blood bath. It was really bad behavior. It’s [going to be] a comedy.”

A very funny blood bath. So far, so good.

To be fair, the themes perfectly intertwine. Monopoly is all about buying up as many toy properties as you can with pretend money. The economic housing market implosion was all about people buying up as many real properties they could, like they were buying toys, using pretend money they didn’t have. And though Universal has passed on Monopoly, Scott is committed.

“I wanted to just make a movie about the idea of greed," he told ComingSoon.net. "I told them you know your game can turn your sweetest, dearest aunt into a demon – a nightmare of greed. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

So the director of two of the darkest sci-fi movies of all time wants to transform a silly board game into a dark, “bloody” satire on the greed and avarice behind the housing debacle? Actually, I totally want to see this.
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There’s also a new Clue movie in the works. Are there any board games you'd like to see on the big screen?

Cole Gamble explores the possibility of getting his own film project, Jenga!, on Twitter @ColeGamble.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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