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11 Literary Fart Jokes

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Bathroom humor has a proud literary tradition, with breaking wind having been a particularly popular scatological topic for millennia. Throughout history, the chance to make an occasional fart joke has often proven irresistible, even to such influential authors as Aristophanes, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain. Here are 11 references to uproarious cheese cutting made by some of the most esteemed writers of all time. 

1. The First Joke Ever Recorded (1900 BC)

Who says girls don’t fart? According to University of Wolverhampton professor Paul McDonald, this ancient Sumerian one-liner is the oldest known joke in recorded history: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”

2. Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno (14th Century CE)

This 14th-century masterpiece chronicles a fictional journey purportedly made by Dante himself through the circles of hell. At one point at the close of chapter XXI, he witnesses a demon mobilizing his troops by using “his ass as a trumpet.”

3. William Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors (1594)

In Act 3, the bard writes “A man may break a word with you, sir; and words are but wind; Ay, and break it in your face, so he break it not behind.” (According to some, Shakespearean fart jokes are more common than one might expect.)

4. Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (14th Century CE)

While in the company of a parish clerk named Absalom in one verse, Nicholas, an impoverished student, inadvertently “let fly a fart as loud as it had been a thunder-clap, and well nigh blinded Absalom, poor chap.”

5. Jonathan Swift’s "The Benefit of Farting" (1722)

In this notorious essay, the author of Gulliver’s Travels proves to be quite the flatulence connoisseur, writing “I take it there are five or six different species of fart.” These are “the sonorous and full-toned or rousing fart,” “the double fart,” “the soft fizzing fart,” “the wet fart,” and “the sullen wind-bound fart.” (You can read the full pamphlet here.) 

6. Mark Twain’s 1601 (1880)

Never one to shy away from irreverent humor, Samuel Clemens’ one-act show is set during a private gathering of Queen Elizabeth’s court wherein somebody unexpectedly rips one, prompting the Queen to ask about its source. Lady Alice (a woman in attendance) quickly declares “Nay tis not I [who has] brought forth this rich o’emastering [sic] fog, this fragrant gloom, so pray you seek ye further.”

7. Aristophanes’ The Clouds (423 BCE)

At one point in the play, a simple-minded character named Strepsiades gives Socrates (yes, that Socrates) a bit too much information about his bowel movements: “I get colic, then the stew sets to rumbling like thunder and finally bursts forth with a terrific noise. ”

8. James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922)

The novel’s protagonist, advertising canvasser Leopold Bloom, is described in a particularly unflattering scene as sitting “asquat the cuckstool… seated calm above his own rising smell.”

9. 1001 Arabian Night’s Tales (1709)

In "The Tale of Abu Hassan," the title character flees his homeland out of raw embarrassment after farting at his own wedding. To hear an excellent reading of the narrative (complete with unnervingly-realistic sound effects), check this out:

10. John Aubrey’s Brief Lives (17th Century CE)

Abu Hassan wasn’t the only literary figure to embark on a lengthy exodus after a humiliating spurt of flatulence. In this semi-biographical text, Aubrey relays the following story about the seventeenth Earl of Oxford (1550-1604): “This Earl… [bowing] to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed  that he went to travel for seven years. On his return the Queen welcomed him home and said ‘My Lord, I had forgotten the fart.’”

11. J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye (1951)

Listening contemptuously to a “phony” minister’s self-aggrandizing sermon, Holden Caulfield’s scorn is temporarily interrupted when “this guy sitting in the row in front of me, Edgar Marsalla, laid this terrific fart. It was a very crude thing to do, in the chapel and all, but it was also quite amusing. Old Marsalla. He damn near blew the roof off.”

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]