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25 More Holiday Movie Facts

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You'll probably be spending a lot of time with family over the next couple of weeks. When conversation turns to the treatment Great Aunt Ethel is trying for that nagging cyst that's been bothering her, here are a few bits of holiday movie trivia you can throw in to steer conversation back to the safe zone. (See our first installment of holiday movie facts here.)

The Santa Clause

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1. There’s a scene in The Santa Clause where Tim Allen makes a little joke about a number his ex-wife should call: 1-800-SPANK-ME. It should come as a surprise to no one that bored kids actually called this number. Parents were scandalized when they discovered they were paying for “hot, wild phone fun” at $2.50 to $4.99 a minute. Apparently one man’s 10-year-old daughter racked up more than $250 in phone bills. Disney removed the scene from post-1997 VHS copies; it has also been removed for television broadcast.

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

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2. Fake hair on the Grinch? Never. Every single hair on the suit Jim Carrey donned in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas was real yak hair, individually dyed and sewn onto a lycra spandex suit. It took four months to make.

3. More than 250 pieces of knitwear were hand-knitted for the movie by three L.A.-based knitters in just four months.

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas Cartoon

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4. Although Boris Karloff is credited as the singing voice behind “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” in the animated version of Dr. Seuss's story, that’s not the case. The memorable tune was actually sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, perhaps better known as the voice behind Tony the Tiger (and, my favorite, one of the singing busts in the Haunted Mansion at Disney parks). Ravenscroft was erroneously left off of the credits, however, and Dr. Seuss felt so bad about it that he personally called TV and entertainment columnists across the country to make sure they mentioned it, and also partnered with animator Chuck Jones to take out an ad in Variety thanking Thurl for his now-iconic work.

5. Neither movie was really faithful to Dr. Seuss' original representation of the Grinch, who was actually black and pink—not green.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol

Photo courtesy of Holiday Film Reviews

6. Mickey's Christmas Carol was the last time the voice of Donald Duck was provided by Clarence Nash, the original voice of Donald Duck.

7. The film also marked was the first time that Scrooge McDuck was voiced by Alan Young, who then went on to voice Scrooge for other Disney projects, including DuckTales. The 94-year-old Young actually still provides the voice for the billionaire duck, most recently for video games like DuckTales: Remastered and Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. You might also know Young as Wilbur from everybody's favorite talking horse sitcom, Mr. Ed.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

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8. Tim Burton originally pitched the Nightmare Before Christmas concept to Disney in 1983, with the idea that it would be a short, low-budget, stop-motion TV special like the Rankin/Bass classics. Disney passed.

9. Jack Skellington had more than 400 heads that animators could switch out to provide a convincing spectrum of emotions.

10. Vincent Price was slated to do the voice of Santa Claus, but when recording started, his wife had recently passed away. Price’s despondency came through in his voiceover, and a local actor was used instead.

11. There was an alternate “Scooby Doo” ending that was storyboarded but never shot where it was revealed that Oogie Boogie was really Dr. Finkelstein in disguise.

12. The reference “tender lumplings everywhere” in the song “This is Halloween” is a reference to composer Danny Elfman’s years with the band Oingo Boingo. They had a song called “Tender Lumplings.”

Home Alone

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13. My 8-year-old self was surely not alone in thinking that Kevin McCallister’s burglar booby traps were nothing short of genius. But were they really? Last year, Dr. Ryan St. Clair analyzed the actual physical harm that Kev’s creative weapons would have inflicted. The ones that could actually impair a dimwitted criminal: the iron to the face, the heated doorknob, the blowtorch to the scalp, and the paint can to the head. Check out his diagnoses here

14. Remember, if you will, the part in the movie where Kevin discovers a picture of his older brother’s girlfriend in his hidden stash of treasures and blurts, “Buzz, your girlfriend. Woof!” You don’t have to worry that this poor girl grew up to have all kinds of psychological problems based on the fact that millions of movie-goers laughed at her ugly mug. Director Chris Columbus was worried about this exact repercussion in the future, and dressed up a boy instead.

By the way, Woofmaker allows you to substitute any picture you want for Buzz’s girlfriend, then allows you to share it with your friends. Though they may not be your friends for very long if you’re using an unflattering photo of them. Not that I would do that.

Holiday Inn

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15. “White Christmas” was written especially for this movie—not, funnily enough, for White Christmas, which came 12 years later.

16. Although the song has become one of the most popular holiday songs ever, Bing himself was unimpressed with his performance. “A jackdaw with a cleft palate could have sung it successfully,” he once said.

17. Named by founder Kemmons Wilson, the name of the Holiday Inn hotel chain was, in fact, inspired by this movie.

18. Though it’s often cut when aired on TV, Holiday Inn includes a song and dance number with Bing Crosby in blackface

White Christmas

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19. You know the part in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where Clark references Bing Crosby tap dancing with Danny Kaye? This is the movie he’s talking about...

20. ...But it should have actually been Bing Crosby tap dancing with Fred Astaire. Astaire was slated to star with Der Bingle but dropped out after he read the script.

Babes in Toyland

21. The toy soldiers from 1961's Babes in Toyland also have a cameo in Mary Poppins, which was released three years later. Hint: They’re near the end.

Santa Claus: The Movie

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22. Producer Ilya Salkind thought Dudley Moore would make a great elf after remembering a scene in Arthur where Liza Minelli asks Moore’s character if he’s Santa’s Little Helper.

23. It’s been deemed one of the worst Christmas movies of all time by Alonso Duralde, author of Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas.

Jingle All the Way

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24. In 1998, a Detroit high school teacher named Brian Webster claimed that Jingle All the Way was a little too similar to a screenplay he had written called Could This Be Christmas? Though the court initially agreed with Mr. Webster, awarding $19 million, an appeal later overturned the decision.

25. Randy Kornfield wrote the screenplay for the movie after seeing his in-laws go to extreme lengths to obtain a Power Rangers toy for his son.

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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]