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The Voices Behind 6 Classic Cereal Mascots

Their faces aren't as famous as those on the boxes, but odds are you’ve heard each of these beloved cereal mascots' voices somewhere else.

1. Paul Frees

Paul Frees was one of the most sought-after voiceover actors in his time. He recorded Boris Badenov in “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” but he’s probably more well-known for his commercial work: he was the voice of Toucan Sam, Boo Berry and the Pillsbury Doughboy.

http://youtu.be/ZF_Dhgisbys

It wasn’t until his retirement from voiceover work in film – including multiple roles in the movie Spartacus – that Frees focused on commercials. He recorded the voice for Toucan Sam, the Froot Loops mascot, in his home studio in Northern California. He took up the part after Kellogg’s decided to give the character a more distinguished tone; Mel Blanc was out, and Frees was in. Voice actor Maurice LaMarche, a prolific voice artist with numerous credits (notably, Brain of Pinky and the Brain) stepped in to voice Toucan Sam after Frees died in 1986.

http://youtu.be/PVHvrsoy9P0

To this day, Frees’ voice serves as the “Ghost Host” for both Haunted Mansion rides in Disney’s theme parks.

http://youtu.be/6CyeDKLoqQs

2. Thurl Ravenscroft

Thurl Ravenscroft may have only had one voice, but it was so deep and lyrical that popular culture owes him thanks for some of its most iconic successes. A singing Ravenscroft featured prominently in Chuck Jones’ animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Disney’s Cinderella, The Jungle Book and Mary Poppins.

However, the role he’s most well known for is as Tony the Tiger, the ultra confident feline on the front of every box of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. He held the role from 1952 until his death in 2005, and claimed to have created Tony’s famous catchphrase, “They’re great!” Another notable feature of Tony’s voice is that it is Ravencroft’s actual speaking voice. These days, former WCW Wrestling and radio announcer Lee Marshall does his best Ravenscroft impression for Frosted Flakes commercials.

http://youtu.be/2LHS4xhzaZs

And just like Frees, Ravenscroft's voice can still be heard at Disney World and Disneyland, as one of the singing busts in the “Haunted Mansion” and one of the singing pirates on the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride.

http://youtu.be/7TFUAq_VAQA

3. Daws Butler

A voice actor from the golden age of radio, Butler became a sensation for his Huckleberry Hound, whose familiar drawl was inspired by a slow-talking veterinarian from his wife’s North Carolina hometown. But this founding father of voice acting also brought to life two of the most beloved cereal mascots of all time – as the iconic Cap’n Crunch, and the voice of Quisp the alien.

http://youtu.be/uZSjFtdKcCU

You probably also know Daws Butler as Quick-Draw McGraw and Snagglepuss. Late in his career, Butler mentored up-and-coming voice talents like Tony Pope (the voice of Goofy) and Nancy Cartwright (the woman behind Bart Simpson). Butler wore the Captain’s hat behind the mic until his death in 1988.

4. Larry Kenney

Larry Kenney is well-known in animation circles for being the booming voice of Lion-O in the original and revival versions of “Thundercats,” as well as Gen. George S. Patton on Don Imus’ morning radio show. Those aren't the best-loved characters on his resume, though: Kenney provides the voices for Sonny (who’s “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs”) and Count Chocula.

http://youtu.be/Y1CBftRW0F8

Cereal commercials were Kenney’s first foray into voice acting; he’d been a disc jockey from the age of 15, moving stations and picking up small commercial work along the way when he won two voice competitions – for the role of Sonny in 1977, and again for the Count in 1978. He's been doing the voices for both ever since. Fellow “Thundercats” cast member Bob McFadden – the voice of Snarf, Slythe and Lynx-O – played Franken Berry until McFadden’s death in 2000.

http://youtu.be/7YZCFsBw94o

5. Arnold Stang

This character actor of stage and screen also didn’t have much range outside of his normal speaking voice, but it was so interesting and unusual that it earned him a string of roles in radio, television and film.

http://youtu.be/8zeadIBxq4c

You probably remember Stang as Hanna-Barbera’s Top Cat, but his claim to fame in the cereal aisle was providing the voice of Buzz Bee, the bumbling little guy who hawked Honey Nut Cheerios for General Mills. The character wasn’t created until the 1980s, but he provided the voice for the popular cartoon insect until his passing in 2009. These days, Billy West (of Futurama, Doug, and too many more to mention here) does the voice of the Buzz.

6. Arthur Anderson

Anderson got his big break in Orson Welles’ acclaimed Mercury Theater in his controversial and highly acclaimed stage interpretation of “Julius Caesar,” which was set in Italy and Germany at the rise of the Nazi and Fascist movements. After his time with Welles’ bunch, he moved primarily into voiceover work and in 1963, General Mills hired him to provide the voice of Lucky the Leprechaun for their Lucky Charms cereal commercials.

http://youtu.be/Lc3rcodUuKg

Anderson played Lucky until his retirement in 1992, when voice actor Doug Preis (who has provided voices for cartoons such as Thundercats and Doug) took over the role. Anderson’s stories of working with the highly eccentric Welles served as the basis for Zac Efron’s character in Richard Linklater’s film, Me and Orson Welles.

Danny Gallagher is a freelance writer, humorist, reporter and cereal archeologist. He can be found on the webFacebook and Twitter.

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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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iStock
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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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