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10 Kind-of-Violent Board Games from the 1960s

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We didn’t have video games like Mortal Kombat or Grand Theft Auto back in the 1960s, but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t get our whacks in during play time. We just used board games and our friends and family members as real-life targets for our beat-downs. I think the moral of the story is that no matter what the era and how limited the technology, kids just plain love to smash and blow up things. How many of these games do you remember?

1. Swack

The object here was to remove a piece of plastic cheese without the spring-loaded mousetrap snapping shut on your fingers. The winner was the player with the most cheese and all his fingers intact.

2. Booby Trap

This was another remove-a-piece-without-triggering-the-thingy game. Usually your fingers didn’t get caught when the Booby Trap snapped, but those little pieces ejected with some impressive velocity. It was all good clean fun until someone caught one in the eye.

3. Bash

Players took turns slicing away at the column of round and square plastic disks that separated the head from the feet. The objective was to knock the pieces out one at a time to eventually make the head and feet meet. If you knocked the whole stack over, you were out. But no one really cared about the official rules—it was more fun just to see how far you make all the pieces fly at once. Once you got bored with picking up and re-stacking the disks, you could always just use that plastic hammer to play “one lump or two?” with your unsuspecting younger siblings…

4. Kaboom

Board Game Geek

This game by Ideal involved placing a balloon on the inflator gizmo and slowly inflating it, one pump at a time. Again, very few kids I knew actually played this game according to the official rules; it always became a contest of just experimenting with the pump to see how loud of a “pop!” you could make with the balloon.

5. Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots

Back in the day when Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots were all the rage, if you complained to a parent that your thumbs or wrists hurt after playing a game for hours on end, you’d get a shrug and an “it’s your own darned fault” chastisement. In more recent years, concerned moms have consulted the pediatrician about their children’s finger pains so frequently that “Texting Tendontitis” and “Blackberry Thumb” eventually became bona fide medical diagnoses.

6. Fang Bang

Balloon HQ

This odd little game came with scary face masks for each player to wear, presumably for the dual purpose of intimidating your opponents while also protecting you from losing an eye while everyone flailed about with these plastic snake-headed balloons. Allow me to clarify—each player inflated an elongated balloon, affixed the serpent head on the end, and that became his “weapon.” The snake’s tongue was abrasive enough to pop a balloon if it struck just so. Sort of like a lightsaber fight with the added bonus of bursting balloons.

7. Slap Trap

Talk about a broken finger waiting to happen: The object of this game was to successfully retrieve a specific “beetle bug” from the platter before the big ol’ bully in charge of the domed cover slammed it down in an attempt to hoard all the bugs in order to earn points.

8. Dynamite Shack

Apparently even in the 1960s the word “dynamite” in the title of a kids’ game prompted a safety disclaimer on the box to reassure parents that no actual explosives were included with the game tokens. This game was an exercise in manual dexterity—you had to don oversized plastic thumbs and use them to pick up tiny plastic bundles of dynamite and deposit them in the tiny chimney. The object was to drop in all of your dynamite before the roof of the shack blew off.

9. Cold Feet

I know my Dad would laugh in a good-natured “Aw, you got me!” fashion if he got squirted in the face with water during a friendly board game—NOT!  And I know my Mom would’ve made us play this outside so we didn’t get water all over the ... (fill in the blank). So, anyway, that’s why my parents never bought us kids a board game that featured a water gun as its centerpiece.

10. Bang Box

Anyone else beginning to wonder if some executive in the balloon industry held a lot of stock in Ideal and Milton-Bradley? Bang Box is yet another balloon-based game, in which small, inflated balloons are stuffed inside a plastic container perforated with random holes, much like a magician’s box. Players must hammer a prescribed number of plastic nails into the holes of their choice in the hope that they don’t burst any of the enclosed balloons. One “pop!” and you’re out.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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