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13 Facts About Disney’s Haunted Mansion

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Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion opened on August 9, 1969, and quickly became one of the park’s most beloved attractions. Every Magic Kingdom built since then, from Florida to Tokyo and beyond, has included some version of the Haunted Mansion. To celebrate all these years of grim, grinning ghosts, here are 13 facts about the spookiest ride ever devised by Walt Disney and his team of “Imagineers.”

1. In the Beginning

Disney first approached Imagineer Ken Anderson about the idea for a haunted attraction in 1957. Originally planned as a walk-through attraction, it would have involved maids or butlers guiding guests through the mansion and telling them about the tragic tale of a sea captain and his bride. Also planned was a “Museum of the Weird,” which would have showcased strange creatures and odd, interactive illusions.

2. An Empty House

Construction of the Haunted Mansion’s façade began in 1962 and was finished in 1963. The building sat empty after Disney and his Imagineers focused on the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. It remained that way following Disney’s death in 1966 as Imagineers, now left to their own devices, struggled to decide what to do with the attraction.

3. From Baltimore to New Orleans

Although the Haunted Mansion is located in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square and appears to be a typical antebellum manse, it was inspired by a home almost 999 miles to the north—Baltimore. The Shipley-Lydecker House was built in Baltimore in 1803.

4. Movie Influences

Many Haunted Mansion experts think that three films were major inspirations for the Imagineers as they completed the attraction—La Belle et La Bete, Jean Cocteau’s 1946 version of Beauty and the Beast; The Haunting, Robert Wise’s 1963 adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House; and the 1927 version of The Cat and the Canary. Design elements from all three movies can be seen in the ride itself.

5. Expensive Ghosts

According to an official Disneyland press release from 1969, the Haunted Mansion cost $7 million to develop and build. That translates to roughly $45 million today.

6. 999 Happy Haunts

From the very beginning, Disneyland press materials touted that 999 ghosts resided in the mansion. While the number of actual ghostly figures in the attraction has never been officially tallied, it is generally acknowledged that there’s always room for one more.

7. Different Lands

The Haunted Mansion is the only Disney attraction to be featured in different lands at each of the five Magic Kingdoms. In Disneyland, it’s in New Orleans Square. At Walt Disney World, it’s located in Liberty Square. It resides in Fantasyland at Tokyo Disneyland and in Frontierland at Disneyland Paris, where it’s known as Phantom Manor. At Hong Kong Disneyland, a completely different attraction known as Mystic Manor is located in Mystic Point.

8. Up or Down?

The world-famous stretching rooms, in which guests are introduced to the attraction’s “Ghost Host,” descend at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion and at Phantom Manor in Disneyland Paris. At Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland, the ceiling rises while guests remain on the same level.

9. Familiar Voices

The voice of the Ghost Host was provided by actor Paul Frees, who was also the voice of Boris Badenov on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and the Disney character Professor Ludwig von Drake. The voice of the main singing bust in the graveyard scene belongs to Thurl Ravenscroft, who voiced Tony the Tiger. Madame Leota, the disembodied head inside the crystal ball, is the voice of Eleanor Audley, who also provided the voices of Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella.

10. Dancing Ghosts

The dancing ghosts in the ballroom are created using a theatrical effect that’s been around since the early 1800s. Called the Pepper’s Ghost illusion, it’s a relatively simple trick in which illuminated objects are reflected onto a pane of glass, making them appear translucent. It’s named after John Henry Pepper, who popularized the effect.

11. Nemo’s Organ

 

At Disneyland, the pipe organ played by a spectral musician in the ballroom scene is the same organ used by James Mason as Captain Nemo in Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The prop was modified for use in the Haunted Mansion. The organs used in other versions of the ride are replicas of the original.

12. Hitching a Ride

The names of the three hitchhiking ghosts guests encounter at the end of the ride are Gus, Ezra, and Phineas. Gus is the short one with the ball and chain, Ezra is the tall, skeletal one with the bowler hat, and Phineas is the one carrying the carpet bag.

13. Pet Cemetery

Both the Disneyland and Walt Disney World versions of the ride have a small pet cemetery located outside the mansion. In Walt Disney World, one can see a tombstone for J. Thaddeus Toad, the hero of the park’s long-gone attraction Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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iStock
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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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