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12 Unusual Mid-Century Pageant Queens

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It is a centuries-old tradition for communities to pick a pretty girl to be the “queen” of their seasonal festivals. This was most often seen in the selection of a May Day Queen. The practice evolved into the beauty pageants that we’re all familiar with. In the mid-20th century, businesses and communities began to see the huge commercial possibilities of holding a contest where pretty girls would compete just for the honor of representing their product or main export. Thus there became a beauty pageant and crown for almost every saleable thing imaginable. Below are listed just a few. 

Images via Pinterest unless otherwise noted.

1. Sausage Queen

Ridiculously Interesting

In 1955, the Zion Meat Company declared Geene Courtney the Sausage Queen of their National Hot Dog Week. Miss Courtney, who once appeared as a bathing beauty in a Three Stooges short, is reported to have been a staunch Catholic who refused to pose nude for Salvador Dali. Because a girl has to keep her dignity.  

2. Apple Festival Queen

Although I can’t identify this particular Apple Festival Queen from the Festival’s comprehensive list, I can tell you she was part of the long tradition of Jackson, Ohio Apple Festival Queens dating back to 1937 (interrupted only for WWII). The Festival still produces sweet crisp apples and queens today. 

3. Peanut Queen

The Alabama National Peanut Festival began in 1938 (featuring key speaker George Washington Carver, of course.)  This photo was taken a year later, showing 1939 Peanut Queen Dot McArthur in a peanut swimsuit, presenting a prize to one lucky winner. 

4. Miss American Vampire

Before Johnny Depp and Tim Burton got their goth-and-glam all over it, Dark Shadows was a bizarre 1960s and '70s spooky soap opera. In a tie-in with the show, a Miss American Vampire contest was held. Above is regional winner Christine Domaniecki of Belleville, NJ. The guy crowning her was the original Barnabas, Jonathan Frid. The national winner—selected by a panel of judges that included Regis Philbin—was Sacheen Littlefeather, best known as the Native American woman who refused an Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando.  

5. Pumpkin Queen

Pumpkin Show

The Circleville Ohio Pumpkin Show began in 1903 when the city’s mayor decorated his office-front with a few jack-o-lanterns and corn shucks. It has grown considerably since then, and has crowned a Pumpkin Queen every year since 1933 (minus of course, the years of WWII.) Above, pictured becoming truly united with the spirit of pumpkinhood, is the adorable 1972 Pumpkin Queen Kathy Uland. 

6. Miss Polish Job 

The Muller Brothers Automotive on Sunset Blvd was a 4 acre paradise for cars. The goal of this service station was to fill any automotive need a man (yeah, probably a man) might have. Opened in 1920, by the time LIFE Magazine came to document Muller’s 3,000,000th car wash, there was no limit to what this piece of car heaven could provide. You could buy your car, get new tires, lube jobs, gas, carwash, and, as the lovely lady above testifies, a magnificent polish job. Miss Polish Job was one of many beauty queens Muller’s boasted, including Miss Infra-Red Paint Job, Miss Auto Accessory, and Miss Lube Rack.  

7. National Uranium Queen

This is the National Uranium Queen of 1956, Brook Robin. Precious little information could be found about Miss Robin and her radioactive achievement, which we sincerely hope has nothing to do with over-exposure and internal irradiation. At least uranium isn’t absorbed through exposed skin.

8. Donut Queen

Kris Nodland beat out 250 hopeful girls across America to be crowned Donut Queen of 1951. Here she poses with the Gingerbread Donut Boy to announce the opening of the 14th Annual National Donut Week, April 7 - 14, 1951. National Donut Day is still a holiday in America, claiming to have pre-WWII roots when women would bring donuts and coffee to wounded soldiers. 

9. Miss Idaho Potato

Miss Idaho Potato,1935. Again, little information is known about this photo. Teach your daughters to be skeptical if anyone wants to celebrate their beauty by stripping them down and burying them in large potatoes. 

10. Miss Sweater Girl

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The Miss Sweater Girl contest was sponsored by Wool Bureau and the Knitted Outerwear Foundation. Here we see Miss Jeanne Davis of Alabama being crowned Sweater Girl of 1952. A cute little junior miss was also crowned, and five years later a Mr. Sweater (“The Man We’d Most Like To Buy A Sweater For”) would be added. Otherwise it would just be a bosom-and-bullet-bra competition, which didn’t fit the family image of the sponsors. 

11. International Posture Queen

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If people think your profession doesn’t quite deserve the word “medical” in front of it yet, they you may be a chiropractor in the 1950s. So spread word of your legitimacy by bringing on the pretty girls with the well-aligned spines. Besides being pretty, girls who wanted to wear the Posture Queen crown would have to stand on scales, one under each foot. The goal was to have the same amount of weight distributed on each foot, proving perfect posture. Here we see the well-balanced Diane Stopky, the 1957 International Posture Queen. That girl has coccygeal vertebrae that just won’t quit! 

12. The Blueberry Queen

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The name of this 1955 Blueberry Queen is lost to history. But the name of the photographer is Hal Mathewson. He can be remembered either as a brilliant absurdist, or as the man who thought a naked woman in a hotel bathtub filled with food would make people want to eat that food.

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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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