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Ben & Jerry's

11 Ben & Jerry’s Flavors Inspired by Pop Culture

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Ben & Jerry's

For almost as long as Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have been dreaming up intriguing ice cream flavor combinations from their home base in Burlington, Vermont, they’ve been forging unique collaborations with icons of pop culture. The world-renowned ice cream pioneers recently introduced their newest partner in flavor-making: Ron Burgundy.

In conjunction with San Diego’s classiest newscaster’s return to the big screen in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Ben & Jerry’s is releasing Scotchy Scotch Scotch, butterscotch ice cream with a butterscotch swirl. Yeah, it’s kind of a big deal. (In a press release announcing the new flavor, Burgundy noted that “I hope Ben and Jerry consider my other suggestions: malt liquor marshmallow, well liquor bourbon peanut butter, and cheap white wine sherbet.”)

Burgundy and Anchorman are, of course, not the only cultural figures (fictional or otherwise) to be paid tribute in frozen dairy dessert form. Here are 11 other delicious Ben & Jerry’s collaborations.


Today, rock-and-roll-themed flavors are a hallmark of the Ben & Jerry’s brand. But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, it wasn’t until nine years after the company’s founding that such a product debuted. In 1987, two “Deadheads” from Portland, Maine gave Ben and Jerry the idea to debut a flavor in honor of Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia. And Cherry Garcia—cherry ice cream with cherries and fudge flakes—was born. (It’s still one of the brand’s most popular flavors.)


In 1996, Ben & Jerry’s debuted a line of sorbets, which were made with pure spring water and organic fruits and flavorings. The pints were fat-free, lactose-free, and cholesterol-free—but they weren’t without a sense of humor. Leading the original sorbet lineup was Doonesberry, named for the popular Doonesbury comic strip.


Ben and Jerry paid tribute to fellow Vermonters Phish with what would become one of their most beloved and best-selling creations: Phish Food. Released in early 1997, a percentage of the product’s proceeds were donated toward the environmental restoration of Lake Champlain. The chocolate ice cream with gooey marshmallow, caramel swirls, and fish-shaped fudge pieces comes in a frozen yogurt variety, too.


It takes a serious set of, umm, gall to launch an ice cream with this moniker, based on a famous Saturday Night Live bit with Alec Baldwin. While fans of the sketch comedy show got a chuckle out of the name, advocacy group One Million Moms—and, by extension, grocery store owners—weren’t laughing when the flavor was introduced in 2011. Many chains refused to carry the scandalously named treat, making it hard to come by and, as such, short-lived. Baldwin joked about the controversy when he hosted SNL in September 2011, saying that those offended by the name could try the company’s newest flavor: “Go Fudge Yourself.” 


“I'm not afraid to say it. Dessert has a well-known liberal agenda,” television host Stephen Colbert noted in a statement to announce the release of his very own ice cream in February of 2007. “What I hope to do with this ice cream is bring some balance back to the freezer case.” The flavor—vanilla ice cream with fudge-covered pieces of waffle cone and bits of caramel—has been selling strongly ever since, with proceeds going to several education-based charities. 


Not to be outdone, fellow funnyman Jimmy Fallon released Late Night Snack in March 2011, a salty-sweet Fair Trade combo of vanilla ice cream, salted caramel swirl, and chocolate-covered potato chips. Yes, chocolate-covered potato chips. The collaboration came about in response to “Ladysmith Snack Mambazo,” an original song written and performed by Fallon and The Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon


In conjunction with the series finale of 30 Rock, Fallon’s former co-star, Tina Fey (or at least her on-screen alter ego) received a sweet tribute: Liz Lemon Greek Frozen Yogurt, a sweet and sour lemon-flavored frozen yogurt with a blueberry lavender swirl. Part of the proceeds went to Jumpstart, an early education organization helping to instill a love of reading in kids in low-income neighborhoods, a cause of which Fey has been a longtime supporter.


More than two years after Seinfeld made its television bow, Ben & Jerry’s celebrated the series’ holiday for the rest of us with this brown sugar and cinnamon ice cream swirled with chunks of gingerbread cookie and ginger caramel. The flavor—which flavor developer Rob Douglas declared “kicks fruitcakes’ ass!”—was in freezers for one year only.


Ben and Jerry’s ode to Britain’s most famous comedy troupe—a coffee liqueur-flavored ice cream with chocolate chunks and chocolate cookie crumbs—made its debut in 2006 and silly-walked off shelves three years later.


In 2008, Elton John performed his first-ever concert in Vermont. So Ben & Jerry’s, naturally, commemorated the event with a limited-batch flavor: Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road, which the company described as “an outrageous symphony of decadent chocolate ice cream, peanut butter cookie dough, butter brickle, and white chocolate chunks.” Proceeds from the treat, which was made available in Vermont scoop shops for one week only, benefitted the Elton John AIDS Foundation.


Wavy Gravy—a caramel-cashew-Brazil nut concoction with roasted almonds and a chocolate hazelnut fudge swirl—spent a decade in grocery store freezers before it was discontinued in 2003. Named for the charismatic activist and entertainer who helped to organize Woodstock, proceeds from the pints went to Camp Winnarainbow, Gravy’s summer getaway for underprivileged kids. “I got dumped,” Gravy told Vanity Fair in 2011 of his flavor’s demise. “Poor Ben and Jerry were mortified. They were purchased by this big Dutch corporation called Unilever. And I was dumped for not being cost-effective. Mrs. Gravy said, ‘I knew you weren’t cost-effective all along.’”

All images courtesy of Ben & Jerry's.

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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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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]