Original image
Erin McCarthy

11 Defunct Franchise Names Washington’s Football Team Can Use

Original image
Erin McCarthy

With the furor over the Washington Redskins’ offensive name growing louder, it’s looking more likely that despite owner Daniel Snyder’s adamant denials, the team will eventually end up with a new mascot. But what will that mascot be?

Fans in our nation’s capital are no doubt a bit nervous about ending up with a new nickname that’s inoffensive but embarrassingly lame. (And understandably so, given that their last trip down the renaming path ended in them having to cheer for the Washington Wizards.) Finding a less offensive mascot doesn’t have to be a harrowing task, though. Just appropriate one of these incredible names that another professional team has abandoned for some reason.

1. The Jawz

Long Island’s Roller Hockey International team went belly-up after only playing the 1996 season, so its amazing shark mascot is up for grabs. In fact, if you’re a team looking for a mascot with some '90s-nostalgia flair, the defunct Roller Hockey International is a good place to look, as it was also home to the New Jersey Rockin Rollers and the Calgary Rad’z. (All these gratuitous z’s let you know that this league was edgy and every bit as wild as the roller hockey community portrayed in the 1994 documentary D2: The Mighty Ducks.) 

2. The Lizard Kings

Jacksonville’s Lizard Kings stuck around the East Coast Hockey League from 1995 until 2000, and since then, no professional sports franchise has had the guts to step up and fill the void of Jim-Morrison-inspired mascots. Do it, Dan Snyder. The jersey sales to stoned teenagers alone will cover most of your 2014 payroll.

3. The Drybugs

Piedmont, WV and Westernport, MD shared the Drybugs for the 1918 season in baseball’s Blue Ridge League. When the league disbanded on June 16 due to a shortage of players brought on by World War I, the mighty Drybugs mascot became available for any team with enough vision to take it.

4. The Patroons

Albany’s representative in the Continental Basketball Association was backed by a mascot that would strike fear in the heart of any opponent:  a Dutch landholder with rights to a tract of colonial North America. Pretty fierce, right? Although the team kicked the bucket in 2009, its legacy lives on—George Karl coached the squad in the late '80s, while Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks and Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle both suited up for the team in 1987.

5. The Triangles

Dayton’s entry into the embryonic NFL didn’t need an intimidating name. Instead, it took its moniker from its home stadium, Triangle Park, and let its play on the field do all the talking. Unfortunately, the team’s play didn’t say much, as the team sputtered to a 18-51-8 record before folding after the 1929 season. Still, there’s something to be said for the kind of calm self-assurance that leads a team to use a shape as its mascot.

6. The Olympians

What? Washington has never hosted the Olympics? Neither had Indianapolis, and that didn’t stop the city’s NBA team from claiming this mascot for four seasons during the early 1950s.

7. The Apostles

In 1884, the Apostles took the field for baseball’s doomed Union Association. The team may not have lasted, but the St. Paul Apostles is as tremendous as team names come. Just think of the tasteful puns the headline writers at could make with an NFL team called the Apostles. 

8. The Darts 

The old North American Soccer League may have lost millions of dollars before folding in 1984, but it was blessed with an embarrassment of awesome team name riches. Major League Soccer has revived some of the best, like the San Jose Earthquakes and Portland Timbers, but other great names like the Tea Men, the Rowdies, the Roughnecks, the Manic, and Washington’s own Darts are all just looking for a new home.

9. The Haymakers

We know, we know. Teams don’t want violent mascots. But according to our office’s lone slang dictionary, “haymaker” didn’t come to mean a powerful punch until around 1910. When baseball’s Troy Haymakers took the field in 1871 and 1872, they weren’t threatening to strike their opponents—they were simply boasting about their skill at growing and harvesting hay. U.S. farmers produce over 100 million tons of hay each year—that’s a giant built-in fan base for any team brave enough to take the plunge.

10. The Why Nots

For one glorious summer in 1917, the town of Minot, North Dakota was home to a minor league baseball team called the Why Nots. We admire the game-for-anything spirit of this name and think it’s due for a comeback.

11. The Prancers

Forget Blitzen. Whenever anyone—or anyone associated with Peoria, Illinois’s 1982 International Hockey League startup—lists Santa’s toughest reindeer, Prancer is inevitably at the top of the list. It’s difficult to imagine what motivated the team to change its name to the Rivermen just two years into its existence.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Library of Congress
10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
Original image
Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.


One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.


WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.


Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.


Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”


The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.


Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.


Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.


The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.


Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.