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10 Creative Pub Crawls

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For those unfamiliar with the concept, the object of a “pub crawl” (also known as a “bar tour”) is to walk from bar to bar on a pre-established route—drinking as one goes—within a certain time frame, usually a single night. Proving that the truth is stranger than fiction, here are 10 of the most peculiar.

1. The Zombie Pub Crawl

Luckily, being intoxicated actively enhances one’s zombie impression. Every October, upwards of 5000 participants don grotesque makeup and shredded clothing and embark upon what has since become one of Minneapolis’ most recognizable rites of autumn. The city first hosted the undead event in 2005 which proved to be so successful that it’s since been copied by such cities as Chicago, New Orleans, and Copenhagen as an annual festivity.

2. Superhero Pub Crawls

Grab your tights! Caped-crusader-themed  bar tours are cropping up all over the map these days, from San Diego to Philadelphia and beyond. Here’s a brief highlight reel from one held in Portland, Oregon back in 2011 (which for some reason included more than a few people dressed like Bender Rodriguez).

3. The Glasgow “Sub-Crawl”

While most pub crawls take place on foot, those who choose to tackle this notorious British tradition are merely expected to ride the subway from station to station, stopping for a pint at each of their subterranean bars en route. The total comes to a whopping fifteen pints per person, so inexperienced drinkers might want to sit this one out.

4. The Running of the Santas

Billed as “the world’s naughtiest pub crawl,” setting out on Philadelphia’s annual Running of the Santas involves dressing like Kris Kringle (although elves, reindeer, and the occasional dreidel are also common sights), covering all the bars within a 2-block radius, and hoping you make it through the holiday season without any coal in your stocking.

5. The Monopoly Pub Crawl

This variation on the bar tour formula matches various landmarks in the classic board game to a selection of London’s most famous pubs. You can read a first-hand account of the journey here

6. The Seven-Legged Bar Crawl

Think drinking a copious amount of alcohol is too easy? Try doing it while physically tied at the legs to five of your friends. Born in the British city of Nottingham back in 1921, the concept involves a well-dressed team of seven chums, six of whom are bound together in the style of a typical three-legged race while the seventh acts as a “runner” who purchases the drinks and remains sober.

7. Pub Golf

In this barhopping sport that coincidentally involves no actual clubs, balls, or holes, “athletes” simply grab a drink from each of a large group of bars while wearing garish golf outfits. Intrigued? You can find one version of the rules here, or consult this nifty instructional video above.

8. The Snuggie Pub Crawl

Dubbed “snugglers,” these pub crawlers conquer their drinking routes clad in the infamous sleeved blankets as Tim Murphy of New York magazine explains.

9. Ye Parched Pirate Pub Crawl

International Talk Like A Pirate Day inspired this Alaskan bar tour wherein beer-toting buccaneer aficionados of the Anchorage metro area dress and speak like the seafaring scallywags.

10. Banana Bar Crawls

Just as the name suggests, fruit devotees are required to wear a banana suit or similar garment. Toronto, Dallas, and Charlotte have all transformed the concept into an annual celebration in recent years (and, in all three cases, “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” is a predictably-popular karaoke favorite). 

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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