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11 Surprising Facts About Archie Comics

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Youtube // SiteNumberFive

Ever think while reading Archie comics, "I wonder how Archie dies"? No? Well too bad, because you're going to find out. In issue #36 of "Life With Archie," a series that looks into Archie's future, post-high school days, the character will be killed off. Archie Comics CEO Jon Goldwater tells CNN, "Archie dies as he lived—heroically. He dies saving the life of a friend."

Even though this is the end of Archie, it won't be the end of Archie—the main, non-"Life With Archie" series will continue to follow Archie and his Riverdale pals. This brief foray into the future is just one of the many things our hero has had to face since his creation in 1941.

1. Archie was inspired by a 1930s teenage heartthrob

Publicity photo of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland for film Love Finds Andy Hardy, public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Archie was based—in part, at least—on the Andy Hardy movie series, starring Mickey Rooney. When Andy Hardy isn’t rejecting girl-next-door Betsy Booth (Betsy/Betty, get it?), he’s dating a slew of Veronica-like girlfriends that include Lana Turner, Donna Reed, and Ann Rutherford. Like Archie, Andy is an average guy who somehow attracts girls who are way out of his league—and thus the Archie universe’s gender dynamics were formed.

2. Archie Andrews was on the radio

From 1943 to 1953, The Adventures of Archie Andrews radio show played primarily on NBC. The show’s intro featured a squeaky-voiced Jughead saying, “Aw relax, Archie, ree-lax!” Oddly, this show for preteens often featured Archie’s parents more than Archie himself. Sample plots include “Archie Gets Dressed for a Date With Veronica,” “Mr. Andrews Wallpapers a Room,” and “Buying a Hammock.”

3. When the Monkees refused "Sugar, Sugar," it went to The Archies

Supposedly, when producer Don Kirshner offered the Monkees “Sugar, Sugar” (which songwriter Jeff Barry denies happened), they refused it, demanding artistic control and a more mature sound. The situation grew so heated, Mike Nesmith put his fist through a wall, saying, “That could have been your face.” So Kirshner went on to create The Archies—formed by the teenagers on TV's The Archie Showa band that couldn’t talk back or hit things. It was the number one song of 1969.

4. Archie was a superhero named Captain Pureheart

Courtesy of Dial B for Blog

In 1966, Archie became Captain Pureheart, a Superman-like character with powerful strength and the ability to fly using "jet-boosters.” Along with Betty, aka Superteen, and Jughead as Captain Hero, Captain Pureheart battled villains like The Ice Cube and Evilheart (i.e. Reggie) using super bad breath, exploding bubble gum, and the power of a pure heart. Not surprisingly, Captain Pureheart was canceled from lack of sales.

5. Archie’s Christian comics existed

Courtesy of Comics Alliance 

In 1973, an artist for Archie Comics named Al Hartley got permission to use the characters in a series published by Spire Christian Comics. In the 49 issues that followed, Archie and friends undergo evangelical hijinks that include converting a hippie to Christianity; convincing a reporter of the importance of prayer; and demonstrating what happens when schools stop teaching the Bible in an Old West town. (It’s okay: They open a Christian bookstore.)

6. Archie cartoons never do that well

There have been six animated Archie TV shows since 1969, ranging in style and theme. The Archie Show was straight from the comic books. The New Archies tried to update the animation to please kids from the 1980s. Archie's Weird Mysteries took on B-movie monsters like mummies and a 50-foot Veronica. Not one show lasted more than a year. Let’s hope the newest animated show, It’s Archie, will fare better.

7. There was an Archie TV movie? Of course there was. 

Archie: To Riverdale And Back Again aired on NBC in 1990. In it, Archie (played by Christopher Rich) goes to his 15-year high school reunion and runs into the gang, now live-action adults. The movie is impressive in its thorough depiction of Riverdale—Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead even perform a song similar to “Sugar, Sugar.” But will Archie finally pick between Betty and Veronica, or stay with his fiancée?

8. Kevin Keller, the gay Archie character, made history

Courtesy of Kevin Keller Facebook

In 2010, Archie comics introduced its first gay character, Kevin Keller, in Veronica 202. The issue promptly sold out, and Archie Comics ordered its first reprint ever in its 72-year history. Clearly, the character struck a nerve. Archie Comics then gave Kevin his own series in 2011, making him the first gay male with a solo series in mainstream comics. Kevin is also going to become a superhero called The Equalizer as part of his ongoing storyline this May.

9. Archie is branching out into Young Adult books

This summer, Archie is entering the young adult market—or Betty is, at least. Diary Of A Girl Next Door: Betty by Tania del Rio will be from her point of view. Betty has always kept a diary, so she seems like a natural choice. The book is a combination of first-person text and illustrations that Betty “drew,” much in the style of Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney.

10. Afterlife With Archie takes on adult horror

Courtesy of Afterlife with Archie Facebook

Afterlife With Archie is a mature horror comic where Riverdale is overrun with zombies. Hot Dog is killed by a car, so Jughead begs Sabrina to bring him back to life. When she does, zombie Hot Dog bites Jughead, who then turns into a zombie, and the terror escalates from there. Afterlife With Archie has been selling well and is getting good reviews. There are even rumors of a movie. It seems that Archie's afterlives never end.

11. Archie Gets a 'Girls' Makeover

In 2015, Lena Dunham will write a four-part series for Archie Comics. According to Entertainment Weekly, the story will "follow Archie and the gang when they run into a new reality show filming in Riverdale."

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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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May 23, 2017
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