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8 Fun Facts About Gummies

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The candy world was crushed this week—the king of the gummi bear has died.

On October 15, Haribo owner Hans Riegel of Bonn, Germany, passed away at age 90, leaving behind a candy-coated, fruity-flavored empire of gold-bears, frogs, rattle snakes, assorted fruits, and soda bottles (happy and fizzy!). He didn't start the Haribo company—his dad, also Hans Riegel, did, in 1920. Nor did he conceive the first gummi bear, which his father actually made out of licorice and called “dancing bears” in the early years of the Haribo company. But the prodigal son inherited the business after World War II and introduced the iconic bear-shaped, gelatin-based treat as we know it in the late 1960s.

Gummy candy is enjoyed all over the world in different shapes, sizes, and flavors. Some would argue the chewy, flavorful, gelatinous snacks are addicting—so much so that Haribo boasts if all the gummi bears they produce in one year were lined up head to toe, it would create a chain that would circle the planet four times.

Here are 8 more sweet facts about gummy candy. (Warning, we cannot guarantee that you won't want to immediately run to the nearest grocer and purchase mass quantities of gummies after reading.)

1. Made with Love

The Haribo recipe for gummies is a closely guarded secret, but a simple web search will unearth dozens of alternate recipes for homemade gummy treats. The base for most gummy candy is gelatin, which needs to be heated and combined with flavor, coloring and sugar (or some kind of sweetening agent). Once prepared, the mix is poured into moulds shaped like teddy bears, or whatever else the heart desires, and left to harden, often in the freezer.

2. Nuts for Sweets

The elder Hans Riegel started an autumn tradition in the 1930s whereby children could come to his factory bearing acorns and chestnuts that would be exchanged for some sweets. Today the event is held in late October/early November at Haribo’s Bonn HQ, and the collected nuts go to feed animals in wildlife sanctuaries. Folks stand in line for hours with giant bags of acorns and/or chestnuts and go home with boxes of free Haribo treats. Ten kilos of chestnuts or 5 kilos of acorns will land you a bag of goldbären (a.k.a. gold-bears).  

3. Worming their way in.

America didn't get a taste of gummi bears until 1982, when Haribo opened up its American factory in Baltimore. But Trolli, another German confectioner, finding huge successes in the American market, introduced a gummy “worm” a year earlier—a candy designed to both intrigue kids and gross out their parents. While bears are generally considered the classic, worms themselves are a wildly popular gummy standard.

4. Gummies get weird

There's a very good reason Haribo's “Arsch mit Ohren” (translation: a German insult meaning “ass with ears”) was a limited edition. There's also a good reason Trolli's “Road Kill” gummies weren't so well received. The company was forced to stop making gummies in the shape of flattened critters with tire marks in 2005, after the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals argued it encouraged children to be cruel to animals. Meanwhile, across the world, a Japanese restaurant offers life-sized gummy models of customers.

5. Gummies, they do a body good.

Well, technically they don’t usually have much fat, if any at all, and the gelatin does contain some protein. But one can’t exactly argue that traditional gummies and their often high sugar content are “good” for you. But researchers have made some strides for the sake of gummy lovers the world over. Take gummy vitamins, for instance. To make vitamins more palatable (and fun!), several vitamin brands like One A Day, Vitafusion and Nature Made make gummy versions of their nutritional supplements. And now some researchers have been testing the effects of adding cavity-fighting xylitol to the candies.

6. Gummies go big.

The Guinness Book of World Records lists the largest gummy bear in recorded history as an 81-pound, 3-ounce gummy bear that stood two feet tall and two feet wide. A Sunday school class teamed up with a restaurant in San Antonio, Texas in 2011 to create the sugary behemoth. Other notable gargantuan gummies include a three-pound, two-foot, 4,000-calorie gummy worm sold online.

7. Gummy explosion

A Washington, D.C. science teacher’s experiment went viral in 2008, in the video of a red gummi bear meeting his maker in a prolonged fiery explosion inside a test tube filled with hot potassium chlorate. KClO3 is a strong oxidizing agent often used as a disinfectant and in fireworks and explosives. Gummi bears contain lots of sucrose, which is a substance easily oxidized. Mix ‘em together and heat it all up and you get a dazzling dance recital from a flaming piece of candy.    

8. Drunken gummies.

A popular, highly unsanctioned, alternate adult use of gummy candy—bears seem to be most often used—is to soak them in vodka for a prescribed amount of time, after which time they become a happy hour treat. The gummies absorb the alcohol and pack a little extra punch. Find out how to make them here.

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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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