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10 Artworks Made from Matchsticks

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Matchsticks are like tiny little pieces of building materials that inspire model makers to bend them to the artist's will. Some amazing and imaginative pieces are born from such inspiration, and they're not all architectural sculptures. Let's look at some of the many ways creative folks use matchsticks.  

1. Wieslaw Laszkeiwick's Matchstick Church

Photograph by Piotr Stasuik.

Polish artist Wieslaw Laszkeiwick began building models out of matchsticks when he was a child. His most ambitious piece to date is this model of the Church of St. Nicholas in Zamosc, built as a gift to Pope Benedict XVI. Half a million matchsticks were selected, carved just so, placed, and varnished to complete the church. There is even a light inside to illuminate the stained glass windows! See more pictures of the project. 

2. Shaikh Salimbhai's Taj Mahal

Photograph by Sam Panthaky/AFP.

Shaikh Salimbhai devoted a year and 19 days to building a scale replica of the Taj Mahal out of matchsticks. He used 75,000 or so matchsticks to complete the project. The attention to detail is incredible! The finished product was unveiled in Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat, India.

3. Jay Wilson's Matchstick and Toothpick Elks

Photograph by Steve Payne.

Toronto artist and professor Jay Wilson uses matchsticks and toothpicks together to create all kinds of sculptures and artworks. In recent years, he has produced a series of framed motivational works featuring elk with antlers, some in color with the use of crayons. See more of Wilson's elks, including closeups of the details.

4. Jack Hall's Ukulele

Jack Hall was known as "The Matchstick Man." He made all kinds of playable musical instruments by gluing matchsticks together. The ukulele he completed in 1984 was composed of over 10,000 matchsticks, which got Hall an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. He would carefully shape matchsticks into the needed curves by soaking them until they were soft and shaping them with weights while they dried. Hall also made a ukulele case out of matchboxes!   

5. Prison Weapons

This group of weapons was confiscated from an unnamed prison inmate in Monmouthshire, Wales. They caused quite a bit of consternation among prison officials, even after it was determined that they were all constructed of matchsticks! Geekier eyes recognized the weapons as recreations of weapons found in the Final Fantasy video game universe. As weapons used to threaten, they are definitely contraband. But among Final Fantasy aficionados, they are well-done works of art, and even more so considering the dearth of materials and the secrecy in which they were constructed.

6. Roman Yerokhin's Matchstick Furniture

You might think these furniture pieces are made of or covered with a distinctive weave of rattan or other material, but no -these patterns are made with burnt matchsticks! When Roman Yerokhin was growing up in the Soviet Union, art supplies were scarce. His mother and father, both artists, wanted to make their plain Soviet-era furniture into something more personal and eye-catching, so they saved every match they burned, and even burned boxes of matches when they needed more materials. Each burnt match was laid out carefully on a cardboard backing for stability and then attached to furniture pieces. Yerokhin's apartment is filled with furniture and art pieces that he or his family have decorated in matchsticks.

7. Claire Fontaine Blazing Matchstick Map

Matchsticks are almost like tiny logs, perfect to make architectural miniatures, but they are made to burn. French art collective Claire Fontaine created a map of the United States using 50,000 matches with their flammable heads intact. The work was titled America (Burnt/Unburnt). The installation at Queen's Nails Gallery in San Francisco was set on fire last month -a stunt that Claire Fontaine had done previously with a matchstick map of France- but this time it didn't end as planned. The gallery caught on fire, and firefighters were called to put it out. No one was injured, and the fire damage was minimal -although there was a lot of smoke. See more pictures of the project

8. Stanislav Aristov's Burning Matchstick Art

Done on a smaller scale, art created from burning matchsticks can be lovely. Russian artist and photographer Stanislav Aristov combines photographic elements of burnt matchsticks, flame, and the smoke produced to create images of ethereal living creatures. Aristove has images of insects, fish, mammals, reptiles, and more, but in these works, they are all "fire flies!"

9. Yurko Gutsulyak's Matchstick Calendar

With a matchstick calendar designed by Yurko Gutsulyak, you can literally burn the days behind you. Each page is a month, and each day is made of a paper match, which can be detached and used as you see fit after the day is gone. This particular calendar, which may have been one-of-a-kind, was for 2008.

10. Mark Colling's Titanic

Mark Colling of Llanelli, Wales, has been building boats out of matchsticks since 1998. His first model of the Titanic was 6 feet long, but that wasn't titanic enough. He then started on a 19-foot-long scale replica of the doomed ocean liner. The project, completed in late 2006, used 3.5 million matchsticks! See details, from the crow's nest to the deck chairs, in this gallery.  

For more artworks and sculptures made from matchsticks, see our previous posts: 10 Amazing Matchstick Sculptures, Amazing Sculptures Made With Matchsticks, and The Matchstick Model Monastery 16 Years In The Making.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]