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Super Bowl I Tickets Cost $12 and Still Didn't Sell Out

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According to the Wall Street Journal, tickets for Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey next February will top out at $2,600. That's a huge jump from the previous Super Bowl, when the most expensive tickets cost $1,250. The NFL has come a long way since the first Super Bowl in 1967, when the league charged $6, $10, and $12*—and couldn't even sell out the game.

The week before the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the New York Times wasn't sold on this Super Bowl business, especially the decision to not broadcast the game live in Los Angeles:

"With all the hoopla, however, some critics have questioned whether this is the Dream Game to end all dream games. With tickets ranging from $6 behind the end zone to $12 top, the Super Bowl is a nightmare to many fans. For every buff willing to shell out at those Broadway prices, there appear to be two fans bemoaning the TV blackout and threatening to stay home anyway."

NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle admitted the prices may have been too steep. "If we had to do it all over again," he told the Times the day before the game, "we probably would scale the seats lower." To get around the blackout—the game was shown in LA on tape-delay at midnight and again at 3pm Monday—a local radio station provided instructions for getting the live TV signal from San Diego. These instructions included a broomstick and five wire coat-hangers.

Super Bowl I was the only Super Bowl that didn't sell out. Fans and corporations will surely snatch up this season's $2,600 tickets, too. And as the Journal reports, indoor suites, which come with 30 tickets, are going for $500,000 and up.

If you choose to watch at home, you'll be in good company. According to Nielsen, 108 million people watched the Baltimore Ravens defeat the San Francisco 49ers and hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy back in February. And probably none of them required a broomstick or five wire coat-hangers.

* Adjusted for inflation, that's about $42, $70, and $84 today.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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