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15 Fun Facts About Midnight Madness

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survivorbk, youtube

If you were alive during the first half of the 1980s and lucky enough to have access to HBO, you’ll need no convincing that “fagabeefe” is indeed a word and will have no problem completing the following jock chant: "M-E-A-T…"

For those of you who are stumped, it’s "M-A-C-H-I-N-E," the battle cry of the muscle-headed green team. They're one of five teams competing against four other color-coded player groups (each one its own stereotype) in an all-night scavenger hunt known as Midnight Madness. Alan Solomon portrayed Leon, the character who coordinated the contest as the "Game Master" and slowly garnered the interest of everyone else in his apartment building, who cheered on the five teams. Here are 15 fun facts about the 1980 cult comedy film classic.

1. IT WAS MICHAEL J. FOX’S FEATURE FILM DEBUT.

Though he'd portrayed roles on scattered TV shows and made-for-TV movies since an episode of The Beachcombers back in 1973, Midnight Madness marked the soon-to-be-teen-heartthrob’s first appearance on the big screen. It was so early in Fox’s career, in fact, that he wasn’t even using the “J.” yet. He’s simply Michael Fox (just a couple years before the film’s release, he was Mike Fox).

2. IT WAS BASED ON A REAL THING.

The film is based on a real all-night scavenger hunt, which graphic designer Don Luskin staged in Los Angeles for the first time in 1973.

3. IT INSPIRED A NUMBER OF ALTERNATE REALITY GAMES.

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The most famous among them is probably Microsoft VP Joe Belfiore’s The Game. He started it as a high school student in Clearwater, Florida before moving it to Stanford University and then to Seattle when he began working for Microsoft. During a TED Talk about The Game in 2004, Belfiore made all of the audience members’ cell phones ring. (Top that, Leon!)

4. DAVID NAUGHTON WAS PIMPING DR PEPPER AT THE TIME.

Photo courtesy Movie Easter Eggs

Product placement in movies is nothing new, so David Naughton gulping down a bottle of Dr Pepper shouldn’t seem suspicious. What is curious—or, perhaps, coincidental—is that Naughton just so happened to be the soft drink’s pitchman. He spent four years singing, dancing, and making us believe that “I’m a Pepper, You’re a Pepper.” He lost the job a year later after delving into R-rated fare, notably the 1981 John Landis classic An American Werewolf in London. 

5. PAUL REUBENS HAD A SMALL (BUT MEMORABLE) ROLE.

Photo courtesy Forgotten Films

He played the proprietor of Pinball City who has a very distinct way of making change (there’s gunplay involved). It was one of four big-screen appearances for Reubens that year, including Pee-Wee Herman’s first on-screen gig in Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie. It was a busy year for Reubens; he launched The Pee-Wee Herman Show as a live stage show in 1980, too.

6. IT WAS A DISNEY MOVIE, BUT NOBODY REALLY KNEW THAT.

Because Disney was only known for its kiddie fare, the studio opted to keep its association with the film rather quiet. Their trepidation being that the teenage audience for which the movie was intended might be turned off by the fact that it came from Mickey Mouse’s house. Midnight Madness was only the second PG-rated film released by the studio (the first was The Black Hole).

7. WINNIE THE POOH’S BUDDY PIGLET IS LEON’S NEIGHBOR.

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At least the man who voiced Piglet—John Fiedler—is. Fiedler portrayed Wally Thorpe, one of Leon's apartment neighbors who gets caught up in the action of the treasure hunt. Other faces you might recognize in the film include Dirk Blocker (son of Dan "Hoss Cartwright" Blocker) and J. Brennan Smith, who portrayed Englebert in the TV version of The Bad News Bears..

8. ITS WORKING TITLE WAS THE ALL NIGHT TREASURE HUNT.

The title was changed to Midnight Madness so that the film wouldn’t be confused with 1979’s Scavenger Hunt. But it didn’t seem to concern the producers that actor Stephen Furst starred in both films.

9. THE YELLOW TEAM’S JEEP ISN’T A JEEP AT ALL.

The yellow team can call their ride a Jeep all they want. It’s not. It’s a Toyota Land Cruiser.

10. MAUDE FLANDERS IS THE LEADER OF THE RED TEAM.

Maggie Roswell—who has voiced a number of characters on The Simpsons, including Maude Flanders and Helen Lovejoy—plays the mouthy leader of the all-girl red team. The movie marked her feature film debut.

11. A BOOK FOLLOWED THE MOVIE.

In 1980, the movie got novelized, courtesy of author T.M. Wright.

12. DIABLO CODY IS A FAN.

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The Oscar-winning screenwriter included Midnight Madness in her lineup of favorite films when she took over programming at Los Angeles’ New Beverly Cinema (which Quentin Tarantino owns) for two weeks in 2008, an event dubbed “Mondo Diablo.” She even managed to persuade a few cast and crewmembers to take part in a Q&A.

13. HELTAH SKELTAH DIGS IT, TOO.

The Brooklyn-based rap duo sampled the film’s catchier-than-it-should-be theme in their song, “Midnight Madness.”

14. THE BONAVENTURE HOTEL ONLY HAS 35 FLOORS.

Elevators are deployed as the teams race to be the first ones to cross the finish line, which they only know is “somewhere… in the Bonaventure Hotel.” The only problem is that while the elevator panel in the movie offers guests 51 floors from which to choose, the real Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites (which totally touts being featured in the film on its Website, by the way) is only 35 stories tall.

15. YOU REALLY CAN LOOK BETWEEN THE TWO GIANT MELONS.

Wikimedia Commons

It’s just not going to happen at Johnie’s Fat Boy, because the restaurant never existed. The historic restaurant that was used as one of the scavenger hunt’s more memorable locations (especially if you were into double entendre and busty waitresses) was Johnie’s Broiler in Downey, California, part of which was illegally demolished in 2007. Fortunately, the fine folks at Bob’s Big Boy Broiler stepped in and saved the landmark eatery.

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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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