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10 Sports Cut From The Olympics

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More than a century after being cut from the official roster, golf is making a triumphant return to the Summer Olympics in Rio. Rugby, too—which hasn't been on the program since 1924—is an Olympic sport again. The International Olympic Committee has slashed a number of sports over the years, not all of which have gotten a second chance at gold medal glory. Here are 10 of them.

1. TUG OF WAR

Unlike some of other discontinued Olympic sports, tug of war had a fair amount of staying power; it made the program for every Olympics between 1900 and 1920. The sport was played in pretty much the same way you remember it from your grade-school field days, but it was also a magnet for Olympic controversies.

The 1904 gold medal-winning American squad was ostensibly representing the Milwaukee Athletic Club, which was terrific until further research established that the team was actually composed of ringers recruited from Chicago. Scandal struck again at the 1908 Games when the American squad protested that the police boots worn by the British pullers from the Liverpool Police team were equipped with illegal cleats for extra traction. When the protest failed, the American pullers left the Games in a huff. All told, the British teams grabbed five medals to the Americans' three before the sport fell off the program following the 1920 Games.

2. CRICKET

Cricket made both its Olympic debut and swan song at the second modern Games, held in 1900 in Paris. (Organizers originally wanted to have a cricket tournament at the 1896 Games, but the event didn't draw enough entries.) Things got off to a rough start when the Belgian and Dutch teams withdrew from the field prior to the start of play, leaving just a British touring team, the Devon and Somerset Wanderers, to take on the French Athletic Club Union's squad. The teams apparently weren't even aware they were playing in the Olympics; they thought the two-day match was just a part of the World's Fair Paris was hosting at the time.

According to one contemporary report, the teams squared off in a cycling arena fit for 20,000 spectators but had only a dozen soldiers as an audience. The English side won the match and received silver medals and miniature Eiffel Towers for their trouble; the French team got bronze medals.

Everyone returned home without knowing they had been Olympians, and it wasn't until the IOC sat down to make a comprehensive record of the Games in 1912 that the two squads received official recognition as gold and silver medalists in cricket. The sport never returned to the Games.

3. BASQUE PELOTA

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The Paris Games of 1900 saw more than one sport make its sole Olympic appearance (at least officially). Basque pelota, a sport with ancient roots in which teams of two players use a curved basket to fling a ball against a wall in a racquetball-like game, made the Olympic program for Paris. Unfortunately, like cricket, participation was a bit of a downer; only two teams showed up. The duo from Spain, where the sport enjoys great popularity, beat a French pair in the sole Olympic Basque pelota match to claim the gold medals. The final score of the match is lost to history.

4. CROQUET

Like cricket and Basque pelota, croquet only saw action at the 1900 Paris Games before fading into Olympic oblivion. The host Frenchmen made the most of the opportunity, though; they claimed all seven medals awarded in the sport. Records are sketchy, but it would seem that across the three events, nine of the 10 competitors were French, which probably facilitated their dominance.

5. ROQUE

By Unknown - Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Give yourself 50 bonus points if you know what roque is. The sport is a croquet variant played with short mallets on a hard rolled-sand court with a wall off of which players can bank the balls. The sport's official rules tout it as "the most scientific outdoor sport in existence," but it didn't hold up so well at the Olympics. Roque debuted at the 1904 Games in St. Louis, Americans swept the medals, and the sport promptly disappeared.

6. JEU DE PAUME

Jeu de paume, or "real tennis," is a tennis precursor that was originally played without racquets—players hit the ball with their hands. By the 1908 Games in London, the sport had evolved to the point where small racquets played a key role, but the largely indoor variant remained separate from what we think of as tennis, which was also played at the Games under the name "lawn tennis."

American railroad scion Jay Gould II claimed the gold, and Charles Sands, who won the gold in golf in 1900, competed but lost in the first round. "Real tennis" made a brief reappearance as a demonstration sport at the 1924 Games before fading away.

7. LACROSSE

Despite lacrosse's relative popularity in the English-speaking world, it never really caught on as an Olympic sport. It made the program in the 1904 and 1908 Games, and since only five teams combined entered the event over the two Games, every team that played won a medal. Canada won both golds and a bronze (they sent two teams in 1904), while American and British teams claimed the two silvers, respectively. Lacrosse was a demonstration sport at the 1928, 1932, and 1948 Games, but it never regained its medal status (though lacrosse players and enthusiasts are working hard to change that).

8. RACKETS

If you haven't noticed a pattern yet, it's worth pointing out that if you hosted an early set of Games, you could pretty much railroad whatever sport you wanted to onto the program to help your countrymen get medals. The rackets competition at the 1908 Games in London was no exception; every single entrant was British. The sport itself is very similar to squash, which originated as an offshoot of rackets in the 19th century, and remains popular in the UK. The seven-man all-British field included John Jacob Astor V of the famed Astor family; he won a gold in doubles and a bronze in singles competition.

9. POLO

Apparently the Olympics could never quite figure out how to handle polo, as it popped on and off the program throughout the first 40 years of the modern Games. Polo was a medal sport at five different Games, with competitions appearing in 1900, 1908, 1920, 1924, and 1936. Only the British team competed in all of these Games and won a total of six medals, including three gold.

10. WATER MOTORSPORTS

Motorboat racing first appeared as a demonstration sport at the 1900 Games, and in 1908 it received full medal status. Captains in three classes were set to race five laps around an eight-nautical-mile course in the only Olympic event to ever involve motors. However, the English weather didn't feel like complying and whipped up a ferocious gale. Two boats entered each class, but due to the terrible weather, boats started to fill with water, ran aground, suffered engine problems, and had to quit. As a result, only one boat finished each race, meaning that the only Olympic water motorsports medals ever handed out were gold. The British boat Gyrinus won two of the races.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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