CLOSE
Original image
ESPHS

10 Fun Facts About Tastykakes

Original image
ESPHS

Sure, Hostess may have copyrighted the tagline “The Original,” but the Tasty Baking Company has got five years on the company that introduced the Twinkie. Today, Philadelphia’s preeminent purveyor of pre-packaged sweet things is celebrating its 100th birthday. Here are 10 things you might not know about Tastykakes.

1. THE COMPANY IS BASED IN PHILADELPHIA FOR LEGAL REASONS.

Thinkstock

Tasty Baking Co. co-founders Philip J. Baur and Herbert C. Morris came from Pittsburgh and Cleveland, respectively. The two connected over a shared love of high-quality baked goods, with Baur coming from a family of bakers and Morris being an egg salesman. At the time they founded the company, Baur’s family was in the process of selling their popular bakery, with a stipulation that no family member could open up a bakery within 100 miles of Pittsburgh. So the pair headed to the City of Brotherly Love.

2. MORRIS’ WIFE CAME UP WITH THE NAME.

After taste-testing a few of their recipes, Morris’ wife commented on how “tasty” they were. And with that, the company’s name was born.

3. HIGH-QUALITY INGREDIENTS ARE NO JOKE.

Thinkstock

From the beginning, Tasty Baking Co. sought to set itself apart by using only the finest ingredients in their products, including farm-fresh eggs, Grade A creamery butter, real milk, cocoa, hand-sifted flour and sugar, and all-natural flavorings. That tradition continues today; Tastykake sources its ingredients from around the world, including sugar cane and cocoa from Africa’s Ivory Coast, vanilla from Madagascar, Indonesian cinnamon, nutmeg from the East and West Indies, and banana puree from Ecuador.

4. AUTOMATED WRAPPING DIDN’T HAPPEN UNTIL 1956.

For more than four decades, Tastykakes were individually wrapped by hand. In 1956, the company managed to improve productivity with a few state-of-the-art additions to its plant. The introduction of spiral metal chutes, powered conveyor belts, and auxiliary equipment cut the baking cycle down from 12 hours to 45 minutes. And the installation of a Battle Creek wrapping machine meant that the final packaging could be automated.

5. TASTYKAKE LOVES SPORTS.

Getty Images

Though their products are now available throughout much of the country, Tastykakes are still a Philadelphia icon. And they’ve proven this time and time again by sponsoring several of the area’s professional sports teams. Hall of Fame baseball announcer Harry Kalas would often talk about the box of Tastykakes that had arrived at his booth between innings. At a memorial service for fans following his passing in 2009, attendees were treated to complimentary Tastykakes. Philadelphia Flyers players are often treated to a box of Tastykakes for scoring a goal, making “He shoots, he scores for a case of Tastykake!” a frequent announcement during games. The company also owns the naming rights to local sports radio station 610 WIP’s studio, a.k.a. Tastykake Studios.

6. BETTY WHITE LOVES TASTYKAKES.

Getty Images

Betty White is one of several Tastykake spokespeople to appear in a commercial for the company over the years. Dick Clark, Joe E. Brown, Shari Lewis (and her puppets) are a few others.

7. CHOCOLATE-COVERED PRETZELS HAPPENED BECAUSE OF A DECLINING TEEN POPULATION.

Thinkstock

In 1981, the company’s research showed that the number of teens living in the Mid-Atlantic states—their target demographic and distribution area—was on the decline. So the company decided to shift gears and launch a few new products with adults in mind. The more grown-up menu included chocolate-covered pretzels, Danish pastries, muffins, and single-sized snacks.

8. TWO THOUSAND TASTYKAKES ARE THROWN FROM THE TOP OF AN OLD PRISON EVERY YEAR.

ESPHS

Each year on Bastille Day, a local cabaret group known as The Bearded Ladies gather around the tower of the prison-turned-landmark Eastern State Penitentiary and throw 2000 packs of snack cakes down at the adoring crowd (led by Marie Antoinette, as she tells the world to “Let them eat Tastykake!”)

9. BROOKLYN LOVES TASTYKAKES, TOO.

In the song “Brooklyn Zoo,” Ol’ Dirty Bastard states: “As I create, rhymes good as a Tastykake.”

10. PEANUT BUTTER KANDY KAKES ARE THE BEST!

Mike's Candy Wrappers 

That’s not just a personal opinion; Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes are the company’s best-selling product. They bake 500,000 of them per day. Compare that to 439,000 Butterscotch Krimpets or 217,000 Chocolate Cupcakes. Wow. (And yum!)

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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
Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
arrow
science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
Original image
Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
SECTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES