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7 Floors of Hell

12 Haunted Tours Worth Traveling For

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7 Floors of Hell

We are entering the premier weekend for haunted house tours. In the past couple of decades, the haunted tour has grown into a multimillion-dollar business, with attractions in every city and small town. Some are worth traveling for, as you'll see in this list. It is not an exhaustive list, but may give you an idea of what's available to scare the living daylights out of you this Halloween. Be aware that many of the attraction websites have auto play sound. Happy haunting!

1. The Darkness

Photograph from The Darkness at Facebook.

The Darkness in St. Louis, Missouri, has evolved over twenty years into a megaplex of haunted attractions. In addition to The Darkness, you can tour Terror Visions 3D, Creepyworld, and The Haunting of Lemp Brewery. The attractions are gathered together under the name Scarefest. The Darkness is an indoor self-guided maze that takes about a half hour to get through -unless you run away scared!

2. The Asylum

Photograph from The Asylum at Facebook.

The Asylum in Denver, Colorado, is one of four related haunted attractions. Its sister haunts are 13th Floor, Undead Haunted House, and Primitive Fear: the Apocalypse, all in Denver. The Asylum is a tour down into "Gordon Cottingham's Hospital for the Mentally Insane." Inside, you'll find "spiders, rats, snakes, and the endless screams of the tortured souls.”

3. The Haunted Prison Experience

Photograph from The Haunted Prison Experience at Facebook.

The Haunted Prison Experience takes place at the defunct Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. The prison opened in 1896 to house young offenders. Over its 94-year history, the institution held 154,000 incarcerated men, many who died there, sometimes by murder, sometimes by suicide. The prison was closed in 1990, and later became the setting for the movie The Shawshank Redemption. You can see for yourself how spooky the empty facility is, only populated by the spirits that roam the halls -both actors and real spirits.

4. 13th Floor

13th Floor is open in Phoenix, Arizona. In many buildings, the management skips labeling the 13th floor and floors go from 12 to 14, due to the superstition about the number 13 being unlucky. The legend is that these buildings actually do have a 13th floor, but it inaccessible because the souls of the dead live there. And that's the theme of this haunted attraction in Phoenix. A second attraction, Zombieland, has been added, so that the tour now encompasses 60,000 square feet of space.

5. House of Shock

The House of Shock in New Orleans, Louisiana, has been scaring folks for 21 years. More than just a haunted house, it has a bar and restaurant, a place to sit and watch the ghouls go by, a concert stage, and a complete outdoor Halloween festival! This is all very handy for friends and family members to scared to tour the House of Shock. The video shows the stage show presented before the tour begins.

6. Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Waverly Hills in Louisville, Kentucky, is open for haunted house tours. This is not an attraction from an entertainment company, but an actual hospital with a haunted history. Waverly Hills Sanatorium has been a tuberculosis hospital, a nursing home, a failed religious monument, and a paranormal investigation site. Now the Waverly Hills Historical Society invites you to relive the misery of the past by touring the entire first floor of the haunted hospital.

7. Haunted Overload

Photograph from Haunted Overload at Facebook.

The Haunted Overload at Demeritt Hill Farm in Lee, New Hampshire, is a combination indoor-outdoor tour with props that loom monstrously tall over the visitors. There are scary shows scheduled at night with actors (rain or shine), non-scary shows with lights but no actors, and casual tours during the day in which you can take your time strolling through. They recommend that you buy show tickets in advance. If you arrive without a ticket, the show may be sold out, and even if not it's an extra $5! The attraction is all-new for 2013 -see a video of the construction that began last summer. 

8. The Dungeon of Horrors

Photograph by Flickr user Sideonecincy.

The Dungeon of Horrors is the name of the special Halloween haunted tours of the West Virginia State Penitentiary. The prison held inmates from 1866 until it was closed in 1995. The facility was famous for overcrowding, poor conditions, and inmate abuse. It was the site of many executions, both by hanging and by electric chair, plus numerous murders. In addition to the Halloween tours, you can also book a Ghost Adventures Tour, in which your group can stay from midnight until 6AM -if you dare.

9. 7 Floors of Hell

Photograph from 7 Floors of Hell at Facebook.

7 Floors of Hell in Cleveland, Ohio, was named after an urban legend: a tale of a haunted house attraction that no one survived to exit! Rodney Geffert heard the story and made the attraction real, although his visitors do survive to visit another day. The "7 Floors" are seven different attractions: Blackout, The Cemetery, insane Asylum, The Crypt, Psycho Circus in 3D, The Butcher Shop, and The House of Nightmares. You can buy tickets to your choice of three haunted houses, or a general ticket to visit all seven.

10. Terror Behind the Walls

Photograph from the Collection of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site.

Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is supposed to be one of the most haunted places in America. Open 142 years, the prison was a place of madness, torture, and suicide, as well as murder and the despair of prisoners who served time until they died of natural causes. Every Halloween, you can take the Terror Behind the Walls tour, which has the spookiness of the historic prison plus the added scariness of actors and special effects. There are six attractions inside, from state-of-the-art 3D illusions to the experience of solitary confinement in the dungeon.

11. USS Nightmare

Photograph from USS Nightmare at Facebook.

USS Nightmare in Newport, Kentucky (just across the river from Cincinnati) promises to scare the ship out of you! It's a haunted steamboat on the Ohio River. The 20-minute tour takes you through two levels of an old river dredge with lights and actors. The tour focuses on historic ghosts who once inhabited the boat.

12. Field of Screams

The Field of Screams in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is a haunted hayride that takes you to several haunted houses, but the hayride itself is terrifying, with ghouls and goblins inhabiting the haunted cornfields.

What haunted attractions would you recommend?

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”