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11 TV Characters That Made Cameos on Other Shows

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Throwing a fictional universe's characters together into one film (here's looking at you, The Avengers and Man of Steel: Superman Vs. Batman!) is a popular new trend in movies, but TV crossovers have been happening for decades. Here are 11 TV crossovers in animated and live-action television. 

1. Jay Sherman (The Critic) on The Simpsons

In 1995, The Simpsons aired an episode called “A Star Is Burns,” which featured Jay Sherman from the then-new animated TV series The Critic. In the episode, Springfield puts on a film festival and calls Jay Sherman to be one of its jurors.

While both shows were on Fox, The Simpsons was more popular, and the network used its popularity to try to boost The Critic’s dwindling ratings. Simpsons creator Matt Groening was so upset with Fox and The Critic’s executive producer James L. Brooks—who is also an executive producer for The Simpsons—about the crossover that he took his name off the episode. While the crossover didn’t hurt The Simpsons’ reputation, The Critic didn’t find new viewers, so it was canceled a few months after the episode aired.

2. Steve Urkel (Family Matters) on Full House

In the early '90s, the television character Steve Urkel from ABC's Family Matters turned into a pop culture phenomenon—the character spawned a breakfast cereal, a pull-string doll, and other merchandise. Urkel also appeared on other television shows—including Step by Step, Meego (on CBS), and, most notably, Full House.

In a season four episode of Full House called "Stephanie Gets Framed," the Tanner household was turned upside-down when Urkel paid his cousin Julie a visit—and helped Stephanie deal with her unease about wearing new glasses.

3. Cosmo Kramer (Seinfeld) on Mad About You

In the first season of Mad About You, Paul and Jamie write a living will after they both become obsessed with death. Jamie learns that Paul still owns his old bachelor pad, which he has been subletting to Kramer from Seinfeld. Paul ends up giving his old apartment to Kramer and we figure out why Kramer never pays rent.

4. Belcher Family (Bob’s Burgers) on Archer

Although the characters Bob Belcher from Bob’s Burgers and Sterling Archer from Archer have very little in common—one is a hardworking family man, while the other is an sex-obsessed superspy—they are both voiced by actor H. Jon Benjamin.

Archer creator Adam Reed is a big fan of Bob’s Burgers, so when the season four premiere of Archer involved the titular character having amnesia, Reed saw the perfect opportunity to do a crossover. In the episode, Archer has the false identity “Bob” and is working at a hamburger restaurant with a new family. The Belcher family was drawn in the Archer style of animation, and H. Jon Benjamin gave Archer Bob Belcher's voice.

5. Abed (Community) on Cougar Town

One of Community character Abed’s favorite TV shows is the comedy Cougar Town. In season two of Community, Abed tells Jeff Winger that the producers of Cougar Town invited him on a set visit of their TV show. He accepts and in Cougar Town’s second season finale, you can see Abed in the background trying to act natural as a background extra.

6. Travis and Laurie (Cougar Town) on Community

During Community’s second season finale, Travis and Laurie can be seen celebrating when Greendale Community College wins the paintball competition with rival school City College.

7. Fresh Prince (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) on Blossom

In the season two Blossom episode “I’m with the Band," Blossom and Six go on a band trip and stay, unsupervised, in a hotel room. Six learns that the Fresh Prince is staying in the same hotel, so they both try to find him. They almost give up—and then, Blossom randomly meets the Fresh Prince in a hotel elevator. As proof of their meeting, the Fresh Prince gives Blossom his funky, fresh hat.

8. Ally McBeal Meets The Practice

Ally McBeal and The Practice were two David E. Kelly TV shows about lawyers from Boston that premiered in 1997. Ally McBeal was a comedy on Fox and The Practice was a drama on ABC.

The crossover, which happened on April 27, 1998, started with the Ally McBeal episode “The Inmates,” aired first. It featured an axe murder that proved to be too much for the law firm of Cage, Fish, and Associates to handle—so they asked for help from a more experienced group of lawyers, The Practice's Robert Donnell and Associates.

Immediately after Ally McBeal aired on Fox, the story continued on The Practice on ABC with the episode “Axe Murderer.” The crossover continued a few weeks later in Ally McBeal’s season finale episode, “These Days Are Gone.”

9. Caroline (Caroline In The City) on Friends

During the height of NBC’s Must-See TV Thursday night programming, the peacock network sometimes used gimmicks to generate more viewership for the weaker portions of the four TV sitcom block. In 1994, NBC introduced “Blackout Thursday,” where three of the four sitcoms experienced a citywide blackout. The following year, on November 2, 1995, NBC introduced “Star-Crossed Thursday,” where characters from each Must-See TV sitcom would appear in a different show.

In the episode, “The One with the Baby on the Bus,” Chandler and Joey are babysitting Ross’s newborn son Ben, while Caroline Duffy mistakes them for a gay couple when Chandler and Joey try to hit on her.

10. Ross (Friends) on The Single Guy

Also a part of Star-Crossed Thursday was The Single Guy episode “Neighbors,” in which Jonathan meets Janeane’s friend Ross at a dinner party. Jonathan and Ross hit it off and the pair later goes to the theater to watch Leonard Nimoy in Hamlet. Both think the other man is gay.

11. Chandler (Friends) on Caroline in the City

The final part of Star-Crossed Thursday was the episode “Caroline and the Folks." Chandler hits on Annie in a video store, as he tries to impress her with his knowledge of art-house films.
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Which other crossovers do you remember?

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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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Stephen Missal
New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]