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Warner Bros.

27 Facts About Christmas Vacation

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Warner Bros.

On December 1, 1989, a new chapter of Griswold family dysfunction was unleashed upon the world when National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation made its debut in movie theaters and an instant holiday classic was born. Here are 27 things you might not know about everyone’s favorite Christmas comedy.

1. THE MOVIE IS BASED ON A SHORT STORY.

Like the 1983 original, Christmas Vacation is based on a short story, “Christmas ‘59,” written by John Hughes for National Lampoon in December 1980. Its literary predecessor is paid tribute to when Clark is trapped in the attic and pulls out a box of old home movies, including one labeled “Christmas ’59.” (Eagle-eyed viewers might notice that when Clark is watching the film, it actually says “Christmas 1955.”)

2. CLARK GREW UP IN SAMANTHA STEVENS’ HOUSE.

If Clark’s childhood home featured in those old movies looks familiar, that’s because it’s the same house featured on Bewitched as well as The New Gidget. Except it’s not a house at all; it’s part of the Warner Bros. back lot, located on what is known as Blondie Street. The rest of the Griswolds’ neighborhood is on a studio back lot as well. And if the home of their snooty neighbors, Todd and Margo, looks familiar, that’s because it’s where Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and his family lived in Lethal Weapon.

3. JOHN HUGHES WASN’T A FAN OF SEQUELS.

Though many of Hughes’ films have spawned sequels, the man himself was not a fan of retreads. “The only sequels I was involved in were under duress,” Hughes once stated in an interview. Though he’s credited as a writer on European Vacation, he said that was only because he had created the characters. “But the studio came to me and begged for another [Vacation movie], and I only agreed because I had a good story to base it on. But those movies have become little more than Chevy Chase vehicles at this stage. I didn't even know about Vegas Vacation until I read about it in the trades! Ever since it came out, people have been coming up to me with disappointed looks on their faces, asking ‘What were you thinking?’ ‘I had nothing to do with it! I swear!’”

4. IT’S ONE OF ONLY TWO CHRISTMAS MOVIES RELEASED IN 1989.

Though the holiday season is usually packed with Christmas-themed movies, Christmas Vacation was one of only two that were released in 1989. The other was John Hancock’s Prancer. Johnny Galecki, a.k.a. Rusty Griswold, starred in both.

5. AUDREY IS (MIRACULOUSLY) OLDER THAN RUSTY.

In both the original Vacation and European Vacation, Rusty is believed to be the older of the two Griswold children. In Christmas Vacation, Rusty somehow morphs into Audrey’s younger brother.

6. THE FILM HAS TIES TO IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.

In addition to footage from the Frank Capra classic actually appearing in the film, Christmas Vacation has another fun tie to It’s a Wonderful Life: Frank Capra’s grandson, Frank Capra III, is Christmas Vacation’s assistant director.

7. THE CAST OF CHRISTMAS VACATION WAS PRETTY IMPRESSIVE.

In addition to featuring future stars Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis (who scored a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination three years later for her role in Cape Fear), star Beverly D’Angelo was most impressed with the older actors who came along for the Christmas Vacation ride. “I attribute that to Jeremiah Chechik and his direction in bringing in E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, and Diane Ladd,” she noted. “That was really a special cast.”

8. IN A WAY, STANLEY KUBRICK IS TO THANK FOR CHRISTMAS VACATION.

Christmas Vacation marked the directorial debut of Jeremiah Chechik, who began his career as a fashion photographer for Vogue then moved into commercial directing. “I had made these commercials that became quite iconic here in the U.S.,” Chechik recalled to Den of Geek! in 2011. “They were very dark and sexy and sort of a little bit ahead of their time in terms of style. And what happened was they gained the notice of [Stanley] Kubrick, who had mentioned them as his favorite American filmmaking, ironically, in a New York Times article.” It didn’t take long for Chechik’s phone to start ringing and for studios to start sending him scripts. “And the script that really piqued my interest was Christmas Vacation," he said. "And the reason is I had never done any comedy—ever.”

9. CHECHIK HAD NEVER SEEN A VACATION MOVIE.

“I hadn't seen the first two [Vacation movies], and so I wasn't really influenced by anything other than the fact that it was a big—at the time—their big Christmas movie, and comedy,” said Chechik. “And I just felt if I could crack this maybe there's a whole other world of filmmaking for me.” Following Christmas Vacation, Chechik directed Benny & Joon, Diabolique, and The Avengers plus episodes of The Bronx is Burning, Gossip Girl, Chuck, and Burn Notice.

10. THE MOVIE HAD A HUGE BUDGET, PARTICULARLY FOR A COMEDY.

A $27 million budget, to be exact. Which was particularly high considering that the film had no special effects a la Ghostbusters (which was made for $30 million). But it had no trouble making its budget back; the film’s final domestic gross was $71,319,526.

11. ROGER EBERT DID NOT LOVE THE FILM.

Though it has become a bona fide holiday classic, not everyone was a fan of Christmas Vacation. In his two-star review of the film, Roger Ebert described the movie as “curious in how close it comes to delivering on its material: Sequence after sequence seems to contain all the necessary material, to be well on the way toward a payoff, and then it somehow doesn't work.”

12. IT’S THE ONLY SEQUEL IN THE VACATION FRANCHISE TO HAVE ITS OWN SEQUEL.

But don’t be disappointed if you didn’t know that. Or haven’t seen it. The 2003 film, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure, was made for television. It finds Randy Quaid and Miriam Flynn (as Eddie and Catherine) stranded on an island in the South Pacific for the holidays. Yes, really. It currently holds a 12 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

13. AUDREY IS THE ONLY GRISWOLD TO APPEAR IN CHRISTMAS VACATION 2.

Dana Barron, who played Audrey in the original Vacation, reprised her role for the Christmas Vacation sequel. Eric Idle, who appeared in European Vacation, also makes an appearance, playing “English Victim.”

14. COUSIN EDDIE IS RANDY QUAID’S BEST-KNOWN CHARACTER.

At least it’s the role that gets him the most recognition. In a 1989 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Quaid admitted that he was amazed by the impact the character made. “People still come up to me and quote lines from that part. I get a lot of recognition from that role—probably as much, if not more, than any other.”

15. COUSIN EDDIE IS BASED ON A REAL GUY.

Quaid borrowed many of Cousin Eddie’s mannerisms from a guy he knew growing up in Texas, most notably his tendency toward tongue-clicking. But Eddie’s sweater/Dickie combo? That was an idea from Quaid’s wife.

16. YOU CAN BUY YOUR OWN DICKIE.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Collectibles is a website dedicated to all things Christmas Vacation (obviously). Among the many fun items are Cousin Eddie wardrobe staples, moose mugs, and punch bowls.

17. EDDIE’S SON, ROCKY, DOESN’T SPEAK IN THE FILM.

Nope, not a word.

18. AUNT BETHANY IS BETTY BOOP.

Christmas Vacation marked the final film of Mae Questel, who began her career as the voice of Betty Boop in 1931. She passed away at the age of 89 in January of 1998.

19. BETHANY AND LOUIS’ ENTRANCE MADE THE EARTH SHAKE.

At the same time the production filmed the arrival of Uncle Louis and Aunt Bethany at the Griswold house, a minor earthquake struck. The camera shakes slightly as a result of it as Bethany walks through the front door.

20. CHRISTMAS VACATION WENT STRAIGHT TO VIDEO IN ENGLAND.

Though the movie is a popular holiday film in the U.K. too, it was never actually shown in theaters there. Instead, it went straight to home video.

21. YOU WON’T HEAR “HOLIDAY ROAD” IN CHRISTMAS VACATION.

Christmas Vacation is the only movie in the series that doesn’t feature Lindsey Buckingham’s song, “Holiday Road.” Instead, a new song—the aptly titled “Christmas Vacation”—was written for the film by married songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. A cover of the song appears on the 2007 Disney Channel Holiday album.

22. RANDY QUAID IS THE THIRD COUSIN OF GENE AUTRY.

Which may just sound like a random. But at the end of the film, when the police raid the Griswold home, the version of “Here Comes Santa Claus” being used is Autry’s.

23. ELLEN GRISWOLD LIES TO THE COPS.

In the same scene, Ellen Griswold apologizes to Mrs. Shirley—the wife of Clark’s boss and Eddie’s kidnapping victim—assuring her that “This is our family's first kidnapping,” when, in fact, it is their second. At least the second that we know of: In the first Vacation film, the Griswolds force Lasky, the security guard at Wally World (played by John Candy), to open the park for them.

24. CHEVY CHASE, BEVERLY D’ANGELO, AND JULIETTE LEWIS REUNITED IN 2012.

The trio got together to film a series of Old Navy commercials for the holiday season. Though Johnny Galecki wasn’t there, two previous Rustys—Anthony Michael Hall and Jason Lively—were. As was Dana Barron.

25. JOHNNY GALECKI RECEIVED AN AWARD FROM CHEVY CHASE.

In a 2012 interview, The Sydney Morning Herald asked Johnny Galecki whether he has kept in touch with Chevy Chase. He admitted that “the only time I’ve seen him since that movie, which was 21 years ago I think, is when he presented us with our People’s Choice Award, so that was really neat. If you’re going to run into Chevy again it may as well be as he’s giving you an award.”

26. CHEVY CHASE AND BEVERLY D'ANGELO WERE ANXIOUS TO SEE ANOTHER VACATION MOVIE HAPPEN.

On July 29, 2015, the latest film in the Vacation franchise—simply titled Vacation—made its debut. And it couldn't have happened soon enough for Chase and D'Angelo. In 2011, Chase told Ain’t It Cool News that “I just got off the phone with Beverly D’Angelo. We are trying to work up a new Vacation and apparently Warner’s is working on one with grandchildren, but the one that Bev and I want … You know, we are just trying to think of ideas, because she is very funny and very brilliant, so when you get her in a writing mood and me in writing mood, it’s good, but it’s very hard to get the time.”

27. THE STUDIO WON THAT ONE.

Chase and D’Angelo may have had their own ideas, but the studio moved ahead with that whole “one with grandchildren” thing. Written and directed by John Francis Daley (Sam from Freaks and Geeks) and Jonathan M. Goldstein (who wrote Horrible Bosses), Vacation featured a grown-up Rusty (played by Ed Helms) taking his own family on a road trip.

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2014.

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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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