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9 Hidden Mario Cameos and References in Video Games

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Mario is perhaps the most iconic video game character in history. The undersized plumber has starred in dozens upon dozens of Nintendo games since his introduction in the original Donkey Kong in 1981, but Mario has also appeared in brief and hidden cameos throughout games for various platforms over the years. Here are 9 of them.

1. Pinball

Although Mario is featured on the cover for Pinball on the NES, you can't find him anywhere until you reach the secret Breakout-style bonus stage. In it, Mario tries to rescue Paulina instead of Princess Peach. You can find this hidden level if you manage to hit the pinball into one of the holes located in the upper right corner of the game.

2. Tetris

The original Tetris for Nintendo featured multiple endings with space ships rocketing into outer space at the end of the A-Type mode. However, if you beat the puzzle game in B-Type mode on the highest difficult setting, various Nintendo characters—such as Princess Peach, Link, Samus, Bowser, Donkey Kong, and, of course, Mario & Luigi—dance around the Kremlin.

3. Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes

In Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes for GameCube, small figures of Mario and Yoshi can be spotted on top of a computer in a laboratory. If you shoot Mario with a pistol, he'll make a 1UP sound chime that will restore your health. If you do the same thing to Yoshi, the dinosaur will say his name.

4. Kirby Super Star

During the "Megaton Punch" mini-game in Kirby Super Star for the Nintendo DS, Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Birdo make brief cameo appearances as spectators in the arena.

5. Donkey Kong Country 2

(1:02 mark)

If you beat Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong's Quest for the Super Nintendo, you can play the "Cranky's Video Game Heroes" mini-game, which features iconic Nintendo characters such as Link, Yoshi, and Mario. A sign that reads "No Hoppers" at the bottom left corner of the screen is a playful jab at Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog and Earthworm Jim.

6. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Bowser appear in several portraits in Princess Zelda's Courtyard in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the N64.

7. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

In a house in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, you'll find a fictional GameStation console with a book titled "Italian Plumber Princess Rescue" next to it inside. This is a clear allusion to Super Mario Bros.

8. Pilotwings 64

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In Pilotwings 64, Mario's face is carved in the side of a Mount Rushmore-like mountain, which also features Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. If you launch missiles into Mario's face, it will crumble to reveal Wario.

9. Assassin's Creed II

When Ezio's uncle, Mario Auditore, greets him in Assassin's Creed II , he exclaims, "It's-a-me! Mario!" This is an obvious reference to the first words that Mario ever uttered in Mario 64 for the N64.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]