So We Made Some Changes to the Site

Not sure if anyone noticed, but we've made some changes around here. Figured we'd at least get a letter or two.

I kid! Since we rolled out the new site on Friday, we've been flooded with emails and comments. Most were constructive and polite. Some were constructive and hostile. And a select few I wouldn't be allowed to reprint. If I haven't responded to your email yet it's because I can't type very fast.

You made some very good points. Let's go over the common threads:

Where's the Morning Links/Brain Game/Daily Morning Quiz?

In the next few days, you'll see a box in the right-hand column on the homepage called Daily Floss. Inside will be links to the latest Morning Cup of Links, Brain Game, and 5 Questions. They'll also appear in the list of headlines on the homepage.

What's this link to "The Knowledge Feed" in the navigation?

That'll lead to a page kinda like this, except The Knowledge Feed will give you the first few sentences of each story in reverse chronological order. More like the old "Blogs" page.

How do you decide what goes in "Buzzing"?

When stories from our archives become popular on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, or Reddit, they'll be featured here. They could be recent stories that have fallen off the homepage or classics from our greatest hits album.

Let's say my power goes out for a week. I'll need to conserve my phone battery for emergencies, so I can't get my daily dose of mental_floss. When the lights come back on and I want to go back and read everything I missed, how will I do that?

There are no generators where you live? You don't have a second phone solely for _flossing? OK, you'll be able to keep hitting that "Load More" button for forever and keep seeing older posts. This will work in the homepage or in The Knowledge Feed.

Wait, what's going on with that "Load More" bar? It's not loading anything more on my phone.

If this isn't working for you, could you leave a comment with your browser/operating system/device? Also: An actual mobile version is launching soon, if you like mobile versions of things.

Change it back.

Give it a chance!

Why did you cut off your RSS feed?

Sorry about that. It was not intentional. We'll fix.

I just took a quiz and the average score was 760%. What equation are you math wizards using?

x = I have no idea what's happening. It's on the list.

Why isn't the 5 Question quiz on one page, like it always was?

That's something else we're trying to fix. It's not as easy a fix as I thought it would be (apologies to the people I told "it's an easy fix!"), but it's also on the list.

Who is this "we"? You and I were in Computer Science 1 together and you are not a programmer.

John and Marty are working around the clock to address everything we're talking about here, plus a host of behind-the-scenes issues. I wish there were three Johns and three Martys. Maybe some of them could get some sleep then.

Did you get angry emails the last time you redesigned the site?

Yes we did. And the time before that.

Why is there a picture of your daughters up there?

Because I'm not very photogenic. Charlotte and Katie have a new brother or sister on the way next month. When he or she arrives I'm going to disappear for a while. The site won't miss a beat, but we needed to work out the kinks before that happens. Thanks for your patience and your emails. I really think you'll grow to like this mentalfloss.com.

If your issue wasn't touched on here, leave a comment, send me a note (jason@mentalfloss.com), or tweet @EnglishJason.

Oh, and there's a quirk with the timestamp function, so I'll go ahead and publish the Brain Game and Morning Links right now. They'll be there when you wake up.

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Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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iStock
A New App Interprets Sign Language for the Amazon Echo
iStock
iStock

The convenience of the Amazon Echo smart speaker only goes so far. Without any sort of visual interface, the voice-activated home assistant isn't very useful for deaf people—Alexa only understands three languages, none of which are American Sign Language. But Fast Company reports that one programmer has invented an ingenious system that allows the Echo to communicate visually.

Abhishek Singh's new artificial intelligence app acts as an interpreter between deaf people and Alexa. For it to work, users must sign at a web cam that's connected to a computer. The app translates the ASL signs from the webcam into text and reads it aloud for Alexa to hear. When Alexa talks back, the app generates a text version of the response for the user to read.

Singh had to teach his system ASL himself by signing various words at his web cam repeatedly. Working within the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, the AI program eventually collected enough data to recognize the meaning of certain gestures automatically.

While Amazon does have two smart home devices with screens—the Echo Show and Echo Spot—for now, Singh's app is one of the best options out there for signers using voice assistants that don't have visual components. He plans to make the code open-source and share his full methodology in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Watch his demo in the video below.

[h/t Fast Company]

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