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39 Amazing Facts for National Trivia Day

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Getty Images

Here's a little-known fact: January 4th is National Trivia Day! Here are some fun facts to impress your neighbors.

1. In Japan, letting a sumo wrestler make your baby cry is considered good luck.

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2. The actor who was inside R2-D2 hated the guy who played C-3PO, calling him "the rudest man I've ever met."

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3. Sea otters hold hands when they sleep so they don't drift apart.

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4. In 1986, Apple launched a clothing line.

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5. Between 1900 and 1920, Tug of War was an Olympic event.

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6. The word "unfriend" appeared in print all the way back in 1659.

(See Also: 16 Words That Are Much Older Than They Seem)

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7. A baby can cost new parents 750 hours of sleep in the first year.

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8. The Code of Hammurabi decreed that bartenders who watered down beer would be executed.

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9. The American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-V handbook classifies caffeine withdrawal as a mental disorder.

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10. The Dole/Kemp website from 1996 is still up and running.

(See Also: 17 Ancient Abandoned Websites That Still Work)

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11. In 19th-century Britain, opium for babies was marketed under the name "Quietness."

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12. Google was originally named BackRub.

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13. The SarcMark was invented by Paul Sak to emphasize a sarcastic phrase, sentence or message.

(See also: 13 Little-Known Punctuation Marks We Should Be Using)
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14. Winston Churchill's mother was born in Brooklyn.

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15. In 1999, the U.S. government paid the Zapruder family $16 million for the film of JFK's assassination.

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16. Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

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17. Mary Todd Lincoln was once asked if Abe had any hobbies. Her reply: “Cats.”

(See Also: 24 Vintage Photos of Abe Lincoln Being Awesome)

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18. Brazil couldn't afford to send its athletes to the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. So they loaded their ship with coffee and sold it along the way.

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19. Before Stephen Hillenburg created SpongeBob SquarePants, he taught marine biology.

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20. New Mexico State's first graduating class in 1893 had only one student—and he was shot and killed before graduation.

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21. Before he played Cliff Clavin on Cheers, John Ratzenberger had small roles in The Empire Strikes Back, Superman, and Gandhi.

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22. Before choosing the name "Chiefs," ownership considered calling the team the Kansas City Mules.

(See Also: 25 Rejected Nicknames for Professional Sports Teams)
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23. George Washington insisted his continental army be permitted a quart of beer as part of their daily rations.

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24. When Canada's Northwest Territories considered renaming itself in the 1990s, one name that gained support was "Bob."

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25. The most shoplifted food item in the U.S. is candy.

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26. In Europe, it's cheese.

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27. Some cats are allergic to humans.

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28. There are roughly 70 ingredients in the McRib.

(See Also: 10 Things You Might Not Know About the McRib)

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29. President Nixon was speaking at Disney World when he famously declared, "I am not a crook."

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30. After OutKast sang “Shake it like a Polaroid picture,” Polaroid released a statement that said, “Shaking or waving can actually damage the image.”

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31. Nutella was invented during WWII, when an Italian pastry maker mixed hazelnuts into chocolate to extend his chocolate ration.

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32. The Pledge of Allegiance was written as part of a plan to sell flags to schools.

(See Also: Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance?)
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33. San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh played Screech's cousin on a 1996 episode of Saved by the Bell: The New Class.

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34. The light emitted by 200,000 galaxies makes our universe a shade of beige. Scientists call the color "cosmic latte."

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35. Bikini designer Louis Reard said a two-piece bathing suit couldn't be called a bikini "unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring."

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36. If your dog's feet smell like corn chips, you're not alone. The term "Frito Feet" was coined to describe the scent.

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37. Alaska is so big you could fit 75 New Jerseys in it.

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38. The Scots have a word for that panicky hesitation you get when introducing someone whose name you can't remember: tartle.

(See Also: 38 Wonderful Words With No English Equivalent)

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39. In a study by the Smell & Taste Research Foundation, the scent women found most arousing was Good & Plenty candy mixed with cucumber.

For more amazing facts follow @mental_floss on Twitter. Images courtesy of Getty Images and Thinkstock.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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