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16 Christmas Party Beverages, Cocktails, and Jello Shots

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On the weekend before Christmas, you may be off work and ready to celebrate with friends before the whole family gets together. A Christmas party only takes people and maybe some food and refreshments (although a good game or two is nice as well), but along with your Christmas treats and snacks and drinks, you should have at least one visually-stimulating recipe that will truly impress your guests with your ingenuity and style. With that in mind, here are some eye-popping holiday beverages you can whip up, including cocktails, punches, non-alcoholic drinks, and jello shots. However, many of these have intense Christmas flavors, so you should offer some plainer alternatives as well. Follow the yellow links for the complete recipes.

There are many ways to incorporate the taste of peppermint candy canes into drinks.

1. The Candy Cane

The cocktail called the Candy Cane consists of white chocolate liqueur and peppermint schnapps. Make the visual effect grand with a rim of crushed candy canes!

2. Candy Cane Spritzers

Why should adults have all the cocktail fun? Candy Cane Spritzers are fancy holiday drinks with no alcohol that kids will love. And it's not too sweet. The flavor and color comes from pomegranate juice; the canes are just for garnish.

3. Candy Cane Punch

Candy Cane Punch is an easy, non-alcoholic party punch that gets its Christmas flavor from the use of peppermint ice cream. But miniature candy canes for garnish add an extra touch.

4. Candy Cane Milkshake

This looks amazing -and fattening. But no! This Candy Cane Milkshake has only 205 calories, because it contains no ice cream or candy. It does, however, taste like a candy cane, thanks to peppermint extract and low-calorie sweetener. A perfect non-alcoholic treat that won't blow your diet.

5. Candy Cane Swirl

I promise that there are drinks that aren't candy cane flavored coming up! The Candy Cane Swirl gets its kick from vodka, peppermint schnapps, and white creme de cacao. But there are mixers as well.

6. Santa Shot

The Santa Shot has both the look and the taste of Christmas, which is good, because you'll want to limit the number that you serve. There are no mixers, just layers of grenadine, green creme de menthe, and red peppermint schnapps.

7. Cranberry Margarita

If limes and strawberries make great margaritas, you know the traditional holiday flavor of tart cranberries would, too. This Cranberry Margarita also has a touch of orange from orange liqueur, which should taste like my mother's traditional homemade cranberry-and-fresh-orange sauce.

8. Jingle Jangle Holiday Punch

Jingle Jangle Holiday Punch contains your favorite fresh berries, both crushed in the mixture and again whole as an eye-pleasing garnish in the individual servings. Oh, it also has vodka, wine and Grand Marnier in it.

9. Mistletoe Mojito

The Mistletoe Mojito is a mojito spiced up with the flavor of pomegranate. If you don't already associate pomegranate with Christmas, maybe you should start! Mint, lime, and pomegranate have the perfect colors.

10. Boozehopper

The Boozehopper is basically a grasshopper with chocolate. Doesn't that sound delicious, especially for Thin Mint fans! The garnish is a rim of crushed chocolate-mint cookies, with another cookie floating on top of the drink.

11. Gingerbread Apple Cocktail

The Gingerbread Apple Cocktail gets its taste from ginger liqueur and apple cider, and vodka adds the kick. The rim is crushed gingersnaps held on with honey!

12. The Grinch

The Grinch cocktail has more of the Christmas look than the flavor. Just make sure your melon liqueur is the right color! The cherry garnish represents the Grinch's shrunken heart.

There are those who might argue that Jello shots aren't beverages. Instead of arguing, let's just enjoy some ways to make your Jello shots more Christmas-y. The folks at your party don't care.

13. Blue Christmas Jello Shots

The liquor is subtle in these Blue Christmas Jello Shots, containing champagne and blue Curacao instead of vodka. Marshmallows and blue candy canes complete the look.

14. Caramel Apple Jello Shots

Caramel Apple Jello Shots are apple slices containing a homemade gelatin mixture with coconut milk, caramel hot chocolate mix, and butterscotch schnapps. The combined effect is that of a caramel apple -with alcohol.

15. Jingle Bell Rock Jello Shots

But if you want to make Jello shots in Christmas colors, here's your recipe. Jingle Bell Rock Jello Shots are layered with cranberry juice and vodka for red, apple flavor for the green, and condensed milk and peppermint schnapps for the white.

16. Candy Cane Jello Shots

Oh yes, here's one more candy cane recipe! Candy Cane Jello Shots are a culinary/mixology work of art. It takes time, as the red and white gelatin layers must be carefully poured and chilled one at a time, then sliced and cut into shapes. The flavor comes from peppermint schnapps.

Bonus: Christmas Ice Cubes

Then again, some people want to drink nothing but Sprite or champagne or water, in which case you can dress up your clear drinks with Christmas Ice Cubes. Making them is just a matter of finding the nice decorative yet edible ingredients to freeze inside filtered water. Lovely!

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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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