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The 50-Year History of Lucky Charms, in 65 Marbits

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Lucky Charms Facebook

It all began with a bowl of Cheerios and a couple of circus peanuts. Those were the base ingredients that John Holahan, vice president of General Mills, opted to experiment with when he and his team were given six months to create a new brand of cereal that would be a hit with kids.

Holahan’s research took him to the grocery store, which is where the oat cereal-plus-sugar combo occurred to him. It may not seem like a revolutionary recipe by today’s breakfast cereal standards, but it was back then: Lucky Charms became the first marshmallow cereal.

As the true breakfast of champions celebrates its 50th birthday, we’re looking back at all the marshmallow bits—“marbits” to the initiated—that have appeared in boxes of Lucky Charms over the years.

1. – 4. GREEN CLOVERS, PINK HEARTS, ORANGE STARS, AND YELLOW MOONS

Photo courtesy Lucky Charms / Facebook

Lucky Charms’ original lineup of four marbits didn’t change for more than a decade, though the cereal itself did. When the brand fell short of its original sales expectations, the solution seemed simple: more sugar. In 1967, the oat bits got a sugar coating, and sales quickly improved.

5. BLUE DIAMONDS

Photo courtesy FoodBeast.com

In 1975, General Mills decided to add a fifth marbit—a blue diamond—to the lineup. It was removed 20 years later.

6. PURPLE HORSESHOES

Photo courtesy Lucky Charms / Facebook

Many of Lucky Charms’ marbits are defined by the powers they offer to the brand’s mascot, Lucky the Leprechaun. The purple horseshoe, which was added in 1983, gives Lucky the power to speed things up.

7. – 8. SWIRLED CHARMS

Photo courtesy Mr. Breakfast

The colors got all mixed up—literally—in 1984, when a factory mishap led to several batches of swirled marbits. In 1986, they introduced a swirled whale, who turned out to be no heavyweight when it came to sales; he was quickly discontinued. The penchant for swirls continued into the new millennium when swirled marshmallow charms made a comeback in 2009.

9. RED BALLOONS

Photo courtesy Lucky Charms / Facebook

When Lucky the Leprechaun celebrated his 25th anniversary in 1989, he was feted with a red balloon marbit, which remains in the permanent lineup.

10. – 11. HOLIDAY CHARMS

Photo courtesy X-Entertainment.com

Lucky Charms’ 1989 holiday edition was simple enough: all red and green marbits in various holiday-themed shapes.

12. GREEN TREES

Photo courtesy FoodBeast.com

Lucky Charms took an eco-friendly approach to a limited-edition box in 1991: Eat enough of their new green tree marshmallows, mail in a couple of UPCs, and get your very own live tree.

13. RAINBOWS

Photo courtesy Lucky Charms / Facebook

The pink, yellow, and blue rainbow marbits that made their debut in 1992 supposedly gave Lucky the power of teleportation.

14. POTS OF GOLD

Photo courtesy Shifting Pixels

A pot of gold is the goal of every leprechaun, and Lucky finally got his—a yellow and orange combo piece—in 1994.

15. BLUE MOONS

Photo courtesy Lucky Charms / Facebook

We can’t say definitively whether blue moon marbits do indeed give Lucky the power of invisibility, but their arrival—in 1995—caused the yellow moon marbits to disappear.

16. GREEN HATS

Photo courtesy Lucky Charms / Facebook

In 1996, a light green hat emblazoned with a dark green clover replaced the plain old green clover (one of the brand’s original four marbits). The green clover was gone, but it wasn’t forgotten; it made a comeback in 2004.

17. – 22. OLYMPIC MARSHMALLOWS

Photo courtesy Mr. Breakfast

In conjunction with the 1996 Summer Games, Lucky Charms launched an Olympic Edition of the cereal, which featured six new marbits: red, white and blue stars; a gold medallion with a yellow star in the center; a red, white, and blue rainbow; and a yellow and green torch.

23. – 26. TWISTED MARBITS

In 1997, four classic shapes—moons, balloons, horseshoes, and hearts—got dual color makeovers.

27. PINK HOT AIR BALLOONS

Pink hot air balloons also made their first appearance in 1997.

28. SHOOTING STARS.

Photo courtesy Lucky Charms / Facebook

After more than 30 years of dutiful deliciousness, another Lucky Charms original—the orange star—was retired in 1998. It was replaced by a fancier orange shooting star, which is easy to distinguish because of the white trail it leaves behind. Double shooting stars made a brief appearance in 2005.

29. – 36. TRIP AROUND THE WORLD MARBITS

In 1998, Lucky Charms took a Trip Around the World with a special edition box that paid tribute to some of the world’s great landmarks with eight new shapes: Gold Pyramids, Blue Eiffel Towers, Orange Golden Gate Bridges, Purple Liberty Bells, Green and Yellow Torches, Pink and White Leaning Towers of Pisa, Red and White Big Ben Clocks, and Green and White Alps.

37. – 44. RUDOLPH AND FRIENDS.

Photo courtesy General Mills History

In 1999, another limited-edition box—Winter Lucky Charms—introduced eight new marbits to the world: Red and White Candy Canes; Blue Icicles; Purple Ice Skates; Green Trees; Brown and Red Rudolphs; Yellow Stockings; White and Gray Snowmen; and Orange Mittens.

45. MAN IN THE MOON

Photo courtesy Mr. Breakfast

In 1999, General Mills introduced a limited edition Man in the Moon marbit.

46. RACECARS

Marshmallow racecars zoomed onto the breakfast table in 1999.

47. SPARKLING RAINBOWS

Multi-colored sugar was the shimmery element in the Sparkling Rainbows cereal that was sold between 1999 and 2000.

48. – 54. WINTER LUCKY CHARMS

Photo courtesy Mr. Breakfast

In 2001, the cold weather brought seven more new holiday-themed marbits: Christmas trees; snowmen; ornaments; candy canes; wreaths; presents; and stockings.

55. CRYSTAL BALLS

Photo courtesy Lucky Charms / Facebook

Between 2001 and 2006, two different versions of a Crystal Ball marbit were introduced. In both cases, adding milk to the bowl revealed something about the future. In 2001, it was the whereabouts of Lucky’s hideout. In 2006, just ask your cereal a question and it would answer: ?, Y, or N.

56. – 57. MAGICAL STARS AND HIDDEN KEYS

Photo courtesy Behance.net

The Crystal Ball trick worked with Magical Stars, too: add milk to your bowl of cereal and a star would appear in the middle of the orange moon marbits. The same technique was used again in 2003 and 2005 for special Hidden Key marbits.

58. CHOCOLATE CHARMS

Photo courtesy Target.com

It took more than 40 years, but Lucky Charms changed its cereal recipe for the first time in 2005, when it introduced Chocolate Lucky Charms.

59. BERRY CHARMS

Photo courtesy Mr. Breakfast

Chocolate Lucky Charms proved so popular that the company tweaked the recipe yet again in 2006 when it introduced Berry Lucky Charms.

60. – 63. SPOOKY MARBITS

Photo courtesy Mr. Breakfast

Lucky Charms took a turn toward the macabre in 2006 when a Halloween-themed edition unveiled four new marbits: Brown Bats; Blue Ghosts; Green and Pink Cauldrons; and Yellow Spell Books.

64. YELLOW HOURGLASSES

Photo courtesy Modern Male Homemaker

In June 2008, a Yellow Hourglass—which helps Lucky control time—became General Mills’ first new permanent marbit to be added to the lineup in more than a decade.

65. 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Photo courtesy Lucky Charms / Facebook

Attention Target shoppers: In honor of Lucky Charms’ 50th anniversary, you can currently purchase a retro-inspired limited edition box, which is full of green clovers. We have it on good authority (if you consider mentalfloss.com Editor-in-Chief Jason English good authority) that “even the milk turns green. Like magic.”

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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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