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Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc.

10 Delicious Facts about Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard

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Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc.

When the shiny, happy ice cream makers at Ben & Jerry’s decide to discontinue your favorite flavor, there are two things you can do: whine about it, or pay tribute to your preferred pint at the company’s Flavor Graveyard.

What began as an online-only ode to the Waterbury, Vermont-based company’s dearly departed pints (a.k.a. “the depinted”) in 1995 has become a real, live tourist attraction. Set peacefully on a hill behind the Ben & Jerry’s Factory, a visit to the Flavor Graveyard can be done independently of a factory tour (though the daily 30-minute tours do conclude with a tasting). We recently had the chance to pay our respects to the brand’s retired slate of pints, and learned 10 fun facts along the way.

1. THE FLAVOR GRAVEYARD OPENED IN 1997

Two years after the Flavor Graveyard made its digital debut, the sweet-toothed cemetery opened to the public. Its first official residents came during a mass burial of four flavors: Dastardly Mash (1979-1991), Economic Crunch (1987-1987), Ethan Almond (1988-1988), and Tuskegee Chunk (1989-1990). Today, it’s estimated that as many as 300,000 people visit the Flavor Graveyard each year.

2. 31 FLAVORS ARE CURRENTLY “BURIED” HERE

Don’t bother trying to dig up what might be the last known pint of your favorite flavor, as there’s nothing actually buried at the site itself—unless, according to a company spokesperson, you count “warm memories and cold reality.” Turtle Soup, Crème Brulee, and Fossil Fuel are its most recently interred flavors.

3. ETHAN ALMOND IS THE YOUNGEST RESIDENT

When it comes to short-lived flavors, Ethan Almond has its fellow residents beat. The flavor—vanilla ice cream with chocolate-covered almonds—was never even sold as a pint. It was a bulk flavor, created specifically for the opening of Burlington, Vermont’s Ethan Allen Homestead Museum in 1987.

4. PEANUTS! POPCORN! AND CHOCOLATE COMFORT DIDN’T LAST LONG EITHER

Though both of these flavors did make it to grocery store shelves—Chocolate Comfort in 1999 and Peanuts! Popcorn! in 2000—both were laid to rest less than a year after their release.

5. THE HEADSTONES ARE MADE OF RESIN, FOR NOW

Though all of the graveyard’s headstones were initially made of resin, granite is taking over as the company’s material of choice. And they’re slowly replacing all of the original headstones at a rate of “a few” per year, according to a company spokesperson.

6. EACH FLAVOR GETS A CLEVER LITTLE EPITAPH

It’s the job of one of Ben & Jerry’s in-house copywriters to pay tribute to the growing list of retired flavors with a few poetic lines on the flavor’s passing. Sugar Plum, for example: "It swirled in our heads, it danced in our dreams, it proved not to be though, the best of ice creams."

7. WAVY GRAVY AND RAINFOREST CRUNCH ARE SORELY MISSED

Though they’ve recently revamped their website, ice cream lovers jonesing for a particular retired flavor were previously able to make their voices heard by casting a vote for the pints they most wanted to see resurrected. Two of the biggest vote-getters? Wavy Gravy and Rainforest Crunch.

8. WHITE RUSSIAN IS A ZOMBIE

After a decade of strong sales, Ben & Jerry’s reluctantly had to retire White Russian in 1996, but not because it wasn’t popular. The cost of the Kahlua-like flavoring that was used in its production became too prohibitive. But the customers spoke and White Russian was eventually resurrected, but only in Scoop Shops (sorry grocery store customers).

9. HOLY CANNOLI FOUND AN AFTERLIFE, TOO

Though Holy Cannoli spent only a year on shelves, the public outcry following its retirement was loud enough that the company’s flavor-makers decided to revisit the idea, but tweak its recipe. In 2012, they released a new take on the flavor—simply called Cannoli—as a limited batch, noting on their Facebook page, “We made a cannoli flavor with ricotta before and it bombed. It was called Holy Cannoli. This is a new take on it and we think it tastes better than Holy Cannoli did. We hope you do too!” (Maybe it was the pistachios.)

10. ECONOMIC CRUNCH LIVED UP TO ITS NAME

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The day after the stock market crash of November 6, 1987, Ben & Jerry’s sent a truck to Wall Street and began handing out free scoops of Economic Crunch ice cream to brokers and investment bankers. The truck was parked illegally, which didn’t please the NYPD. But the company was determined to finish the job: Each time the driver was asked to move, he’d drive around the block, park in the same space again, and continue scooping.

All images courtesy of Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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