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Lauren Tamaki

A Brief History of Gin—and 12 Kinds You Should Try

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Lauren Tamaki

Today is International Gin and Tonic Day! Why not celebrate with one (or two, or three...) G&Ts made with these delicious gins?

No matter how sick you get, your doctor probably won’t prescribe a glass of gin. But that wasn’t always the case. During the Renaissance, the juniper-flavored spirit was thought to “cure” everything from gout to the Black Death. (It didn’t, but guzzling gin beat fighting the plague sober.)

During the late 17th century, British gin stopped being an ineffective medicine and became a cheap way to get blotto. Nicknamed “mother’s ruin,” gin was responsible for putting a good portion of the population of London in a permanent stupor. After a few decades of this decay, gin’s reputation became similar to heroin’s today.

Strangely, after centuries of dubious medical claims, gin restored its honor thanks to its therapeutic value. As the British Empire expanded into tropical areas, malaria became an epidemic. Quinine, derived from the bark of the cinchona tree, combated the disease, but it had a critical weakness: Its overwhelming bitterness made it tough to stomach.

Luckily, chemists perfected a carbonated tonic that made the quinine more palatable. Colonists soon realized that a slug of gin could liven up this concoction, and gin and tonic became everyone’s favorite medical cocktail. As these travelers returned home, they brought their new drink with them, and Londoners once again embraced gin as something other than the tool of the devil.

You could hardly blame them. Herbal, clean, and refreshing, gin is the perfect pour for a summer night. So for your health’s sake, why not toss back a gin and tonic?

After extensive testing, the mental_floss staff has narrowed down its top 12 picks to cure what ails you:

TANQUERAY NO. TEN

Bright orange flavors boast lots of complexity. Each sip is engaging, like a great novel that pours at 94.6 proof. $37

BERKSHIRE MOUNTAIN GREYLOCK

Tons of juniper and pine are backed by explosions of citrus juice. Snoop would be proud.$29

NOLET’S SILVER DRY

A floral, evergreen scent gives way to a rich note of raspberry and licorice. The clean flavor makes the perfect gin rickey. $49

FEW AMERICAN

Toasted grain aromas reminiscent of a white whiskey dovetail with a subtle butteriness to make a sublime mixer. $39

ST. GEORGE DRY RYE

With big hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, this is gin’s aggressive answer to your grandma’s Christmas cake. $35

BOMBAY SAPPHIRE EAST

Thai lemongrass and Vietnamese peppercorns give this old favorite a far cleaner, more delicious Asian flair than our failed experiment with a pad thai infusion did. $23

DRY FLY WASHINGTON DRY

This tangy, fruity offering packs just enough spice that it practically begs to be used in a jazzed up Tom Collins. $30

BLUECOAT AMERICAN DRY

Really stick it to King George III by cracking open this citrus-heavy Philadelphia-distilled treat. $30

RIVER ROSE

Iowa isn't a noted gin hotbed, but after tasting the local rose and cucumbers used in this one, we're thinking maybe it should be. $28

CAORUNN SMALL BATCH

This Scottish gin packs such huge, delicious floral flavors that you might think someone slipped a tulip into your martini as a delightful prank. $24

TREATY OAK WATERLOO

We were all kind of hoping that a Texas-made gin would taste like barbecue. Instead, we got something even better:  a crisp, clean gin with lots of lavender. $23

DEATH'S DOOR

The Wisconsin brains behind this one traded traditional gin's heavy juniper flavor for spicier licorice tones, and it paid off in a big way. $26

As hard as we tried to track down every worthy gin, we're sure we missed a few great ones. What's your favorite bolt for a martini or a gin and tonic?

Portions of this article originally appeared last year.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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
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fun
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.

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