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Candy Warehouse

11 of the Best-Loved Regional Candies

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Candy Warehouse

Some regional candies, like Almond Roca from the Pacific Northwest, become widely available all over the country. But some never break out of their region. Most of these candies are available beyond their state of origin, but you have to hunt to find them. What sweet treat is your home state known for?

1. Big Hunk

These candy bars are slabs of nougat embedded with roasted peanuts, made by Annabelle Candy Company in Hayward, California. The company also makes the lesser known Abba-Zaba, which are white taffy bars surrounding a peanut butter center. Both candies enjoy a cult following in California, although they can be hard to find in other parts of the country.

2. Goo Goo Cluster

Wikimedia Commons

The Goo Goo Cluster is a southern treat made of caramel, marshmallow and peanuts, all covered with chocolate. They had their 100th birthday in 2012, and are available all over the state of Tennessee.

3. Cherry Mash

Wikimedia Commons

This midwestern favorite, made since 1876 in St. Joseph, Missouri, has a chocolate and crushed peanut exterior, and a cherry nougat center. The company's website has a crowd-sourced map of places where you can buy the candy. It's widely available in the midwest, and only occasionally found elsewhere.

4. The Idaho Spud

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The Idaho Spud is dark chocolate coated with coconut, and a chocolate marshmallow center. Idaho Candy Company has been making them for 95 years.

5. Red Coconut Balls

Courtesy of Hawaii Candy

These confections have been made on the Hawaiian island of Oahu since the 1930s. They look like some kind of insane bite-sized macaroon. The company, Hawaii Candy, also makes a line of mochi candy, including a peanut butter variety. We're a little alarmed by that one.

6. Candy Sunshine

This candy is a recent attempt to recreate a discontinued Wisconsin favorite called Candy Raisins, which were apparently devoid of raisins. They're little yellow-orange gumdrops, and we can't seem to find a clear description of their taste. Honey? Violets? Ginger? We're almost curious enough to order a bag from the company's website.

7. Peanut Chews

Courtesy of Candy Warehouse

These chewy candies are a Philadelphia tradition, first made to serve as soldiers' rations during World War I. They're chewy molasses and peanut rectangles, coated with chocolate. We recommend the dark chocolate variety. The makers of Peanut Chews, Goldenberg Candy Company, was purchased by Just Born in 2003, the same company that makes Mike and Ike and Hot Tamales.

8. Aplets & Cotlets

Courtesy of Liberty Orchards

Aplets & Cotlets are a fruity version of Turkish Delight—nuts in jellied apple and apricot juice, coated lightly with powdered sugar. They originated at Liberty Orchards in Washington state. They're difficult to find in stores outside the West Coast, but it's possible to buy them online. Some people prefer the Cotlets because they're tangier.

9. Melty Bar

This candy is another Wisconsin favorite made in the town of Oshkosh. It's chocolate with chocolate on top—whipped chocolate surrounded by a milk chocolate exterior. Did we say chocolate enough times? The company's website calls it "The aristocrat of candy bars."

10. Nut Goodie

Wikimedia Commons

These treats hail from Minnesota. When it was first marketed in 1912, it cost 5 cents. It has a maple center with chocolate and peanuts on the outside. Yes, please.

11. Sponge Candy

Courtesy of All That Chocolate

Sponge Candy has a crunchy, quickly dissolving center that tastes like molasses. The outside is coated with chocolate. Sponge Candy is made in New York, and is too delicate to be shipped in warmer months. Unlike the rest of the candies on the list, this is not a name brand candy, but it is a regional favorite nevertheless.

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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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© Nintendo
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.