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11 Old Golf Rules That No Longer Exist

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Golf may be a game deeply rooted to the past, but many of its rules have either changed or been eliminated altogether over the centuries. With help from golf rules archive ruleshistory.com and the USGA's collection, here are eleven decrees golfers had to play by, lest they suffer a penalty.

1. The "Tee The Ball Next to the Hole" Rule

Rule:"You must tee your ball within a club's length of the hole"

This is the first entry from the earliest known rules of the game, written by the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith in 1744. Back in the olden days of links play, there were no tee boxes. After holing, players would lay their club down and set off for the next hole right there. As the rules were developed, players would tee off farther and farther away until courses began the practice of installing tee boxes to mark the beginning of each hole.

2. The "Toss the Ball Over Your Shoulder Like Salt" Rule

Rule: "A ball shall be dropped in the following manner: The player himself shall drop it. He shall face the hole, stand erect, and drop the ball behind him over his shoulder."

Starting in 1908, this was what golfers had to do after incidents that required a dropped ball, like hitting out of bounds or into the water. In 1984, the USGA changed the rule, and golfers now have to stand erect and hold the ball out at arm's length before dropping it.

3. The "That's My Ball Now, Buddy" Rule

Rule: "When a Ball lies in sand, mud, or amongst rubbish, no obstruction shall be removed; but in cases where the Ball is so placed, that the Player finds he cannot play it, it shall be in the power of his adversary to play it."

This, from the Burntisland rules of 1828, allows players to hijack an opponent's ball should it land in a hazard.

4. The "I'm Gonna Plonk Your Caddie Right On The Noggin Because I'm the Winner" Rule

Rule: "If...the player's ball strike his adversary, or his cady, the adversary loses the hole; if it strike his own cady, the player loses the hole."

The St. Andrews rules from 1812 included this gem that could turn golf into a contact sport.

5. The "My Ball Landed in Poop" Rule

Rule: "If your Ball lies amongst Human Ordure, Cow Dung or any such nuisance on the fair green, you may, upon losing one, lift it, throw it over your head, behind the nuisance and play it with any club you please"

According to the 1776 rules of the Bruntsfield Links, you could pick your ball out of a fresh pile of dookie and play it with a one-stroke penalty. (You should also probably clean that bad boy off.)

6. The "If You Let Me Borrow Your Club, I'm Keeping It" Rule

Rule: "The addition or replacement of a club or clubs may be made by borrowing from anyone; only the borrower may use such club or clubs for the remainder of the round."

This rule from 1988 was changed back to the original wording in 1992, which makes no mention of the borrower having to use the clubs for the remainder of the round.

7. The "Don't Give Your Caddie Old Balls" Rule

Rule: "No Golfer shall under any pretence whatever give any old Balls to the Cadies. If they do, they shall for every such ball given away forfeit sixpence to the treasurer."

This one is from The Society of Golfers in and about Edinburgh at Bruntsfield Links' rules drafted in 1773. These guys really didn't like helping out their caddies—another rule stated that "no member of this Society pay the Cadies more than one penny per round." Jerks.

8. The "Can't Tell If That's Your Ball Covered in All That Crap? Too Bad" Rule

Rule: "If the ball be covered by sand, fallen leaves or the like...the ball may not be lifted for identification."

The 1956 rules allowed you to remove impediments from the ball to check if it was yours, but the player was not allowed to pick it up to make sure. In 2008, the rules were changed to allow players to lift the ball for identification purposes so long as they made it clear to their opponent beforehand.

9. The "That Dog Just Ate My Ball" Rule

Rule: "If a Dog happen to carry off or damage a Ball in the course of playing, the party to whom it belongs shall be entitled to use another, and lay it as near to the Spot where taken from as can be guessed."

Apparently Aberdeen had a stray dog problem because, in 1783, the Society of Golfers there deemed it necessary to include a rule about mutts running off with balls in play. Who's a good hazard? Yes you are! Yes you are!

10. The "Bums Are Only Allowed to Play With Other Bums" Rule

Rule: "A competitor, unless specially authorised by the Green Committee, shall not play with a professional, and he may not willingly receive advice from anyone but his caddie, in any way whatever, under penalty of disqualification."

In 1904, if you wanted to play St. Andrews with a pro, you were out of luck. The rules prohibited amateurs and professionals playing together. Had that never been abolished, pro-am tournaments wouldn't be possible and we'd be robbed of great moments like these.

11. The "Your Ball Is Standing In the Way of What I Want and I'm Not Afraid to Go Through It if I Have to" Rule

Rule: "At holing, you are to play your ball honestly for the hole, and not to play upon your adversary’s ball not lying in your way to the hole."

Early rules stated that you could temporarily remove your ball only if it touched an opponent's directly. In 1775, the rules were changed to allow removal if the ball was within six inches of an opponent's. But if your ball stood between the hole and theirs, they were forced to either go around it or through it as they earnestly tried to sink their putt. This was called a "stymie," and the rules regarding it evolved until 1984, when players were allowed to temporarily remove balls anywhere in play if they decided they interfered with another player's or their own.

This post originally appeared last year.

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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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10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.

Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

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