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Kate Erbland

19 Awesome Little Details in Special Edition LEGO Sets

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Kate Erbland

Over the years, LEGO bricks have evolved into one of the most finely detailed toys. Here are some little accessories we appreciate in today's sets.

1. Back to the Future DeLorean Set – OUTATIME License Plate

LEGO

The LEGO version of Dr. Emmett Brown’s time-traveling DeLorean changes into three different versions of the classic car (to match its appropriate incarnation in each of the Back to the Future movies)—but it’s the little details that really make this thing fly. Take, for instance, its tiny “OUTATIME” license plate. (Buy at Amazon.)

2. Star Wars Boba Fett – Dented Helmet

BrickPicker

All those Star Wars LEGO sets include plenty of charming minifigs, but few are as detailed as the current incarnation of bounty hunter Boba Fett. As of 2010, ol’ Fett is so highly detailed that his get-up not only includes a spunky cape, but a tiny helmet made to exactly mirror the bumps, dents, and scrapes of the real thing. Go ahead, compare them—this is definitely the minifig you’re looking for. (Buy at Amazon.)

3. Super Heroes Iron Man – Blue Attachments

LEGO

Despite their many advancements in plastic technology, LEGO bricks can’t fly (yet). So when it comes to portraying characters that can, they need to take some liberties to approximate the experience. When it comes to Iron Man, that means attaching tiny blue LEGO bits to his hands and feet to mimic his repulsor blasts. (Buy at Amazon.)

4. The Riddler – Money

LEGO

Tiny “paper” items in any LEGO set will also charm, and the Riddler’s stacks of cash are no different. After all, he did just rob a bank in this Batman set. (Buy at Amazon.)

5. Ariel – Treasure Chest with Sheet Music

LEGO

Even The Little Mermaid needs to remember some of her favorite jams, and that’s why one of Ariel’s playsets includes a tiny piece of sheet music. Is it “A Part of Your World”? “Under the Sea”? Who can read tiny LEGO print? (Buy at Amazon.)

6. Cinderella – Invitation to the Ball


LEGO

Sure, the Disney Princess needs a bunch of things in order to get to the Prince’s ball—from her dream carriage to a perfect dress to those all-important shoes—but you know what she really needs? An actual invitation! (Buy at Amazon.)

7. William Shakespeare – Quill

LEGO

This Shakespeare is part of the line for The Lego Movie. Look at his little sheet of paper and tiny quill! (Buy at Amazon.)

8. The Lord of the Rings – The Ring

LEGO

You can’t make a Lord of the Rings set without including the ring itself, but the LEGO version is a gaudy, slightly blinding take on the circular prize. No wonder people went on ill-fated adventures for this thing. (Buy at Amazon.)

9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Pizza

LEGO

What is a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle without his half-shell, fighting skills, and skewed DNA? Basically just a guy who is really into pizza, so of course this TMNT set includes some delightfully rendered whole pizza pies. (Buy at Amazon.)

10. The Lone Ranger – Red’s Leg

LEGO

Last year’s big screen take on the storied mythos of The Lone Ranger included plenty of new spins on old material, including the introduction of Red, a character with a literally magical peg leg. Her special appendage has been rendered into tiny plastic. (Buy at Amazon.)

11. Spongebob Squarepants – Krabby Patty

LEGO

The Krusty Krab’s delicious Krabby Patties are Spongebob’s love and livelihood. Delicious, soggy, and fishy as all get out, now you too can have them in LEGO form. (Buy at Amazon.)

12. Super Heroes Loki – The Cosmic Cube

LEGO

Little Loki comes complete with horned helmet and imposing staff, but even better, he comes with his very own Cosmic Cube. Aw, universal domination! (Buy at Amazon.)

13. The Hobbit – Spiderwebs

LEGO

This entire special set is built around icky Mirkwood spiders, and the team that designed it for LEGO certainly went all out when it came to filling in details—even if that meant reaching beyond standard interlocking bricks. These are tiny spiderweb bags that hold whole minifigs. (Buy at Amazon.)

14. Star Wars – TIE Fighter

Amazon

While it comes as little surprise that LEGO's extensive Star Wars collection features a giant version of the Death Star (no, seriously giant—this thing weighs 30 pounds unassembled), what really charms about the set is its attention to the smaller things—like the inclusion of a tiny TIE Fighter that requires its own assembly. (Buy at Amazon.)

15. Leaning Tower of Pisa – Lean!

LEGO

No, creating a LEGO version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa that doesn’t lean would not make much sense, but this LEGO Architecture version of the Italian landmark is so cleverly crafted that it’s easy to overlook the leaning mechanism (until you go to measure angles and whatnot). That’s amore! (Buy at Amazon.)

16. Toy Story – Zurg’s Cape

Amazon

Zurg’s cape is just a slice of fabric, but one that eerily approximates the villain’s get-up with weirdly perfect detail. (Buy at Amazon.)

17. Harry Potter – Food Trolley

Amazon

When it comes to the wizarding world of Harry Potter, there are plenty of options for darling features to put into plastic. The Hogwarts Express may not come with Chocolate Frogs, but it does include that perennial LEGO favorite—chicken legs. (Buy at Amazon.)

18. Indiana Jones – Hat and Whip

Amazon

Indy’s style (and safety) suffers without the inclusion of his hat and his whip, and LEGO delivers both in tiny plastic form. Pre-curled, Dr. Jones’ whip appears to be ever-ready when it comes to both defense (snakes) and grabbing hold of important things to pull himself out of sticky situations (honestly, probably also snakes). (Buy at Amazon.)

19. Pirates of the Caribbean – Figurehead

Amazon

The sea-faring lady known as the Black Pearl comes kitted out with all sorts of fun accessories (Black sails! Tiny maps! Cannons!), but there’s something special about the inclusion of a well-made and well-scaled figurehead to cap the entire thing off. (Buy at Amazon.)

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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