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11 Refreshing Facts About Margaritas

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istock

Kick back, grab the salt and limes, and enjoy a frosty drink while reading these facts about your favorite summer cocktail.

1. ITS ORIGINS ARE MURKY.

No one is quite sure who invented the margarita, but there are a lot of theories. The most widely spread rumor is that an American socialite named Margarita Sames created the drink for her friends in 1948. One of her party guests was Tommy Hilton, who added the drink to the bar menu at his hotels. This is probably not true, though: The first importer of Jose Cuervo used the tagline "Margarita: it's more than a girl's name" in 1945—three years before Sames debuted her drink.

Another story is that a man named Danny Herrera made the drink in his Tijuana restaurant in the '30s or '40s (accounts vary). Marjorie King, one of the showgirls there, was unable to drink any hard liquor but tequila. She wanted a cocktail using the liquor, so Herrera began experimenting. He concocted the now-famous drink and named it after the showgirl, as Margarita is a Spanish version of the name Marjorie.

The very first print mention we can find of the drink (but not the name) comes from the 1937 book Café Royal Cocktail Book by William Tarling. The drink had a similar recipe but was called Picador (a type of bullfighter).

2. MARGARITA MEANS DAISY IN SPANISH.

The daisy is an old prohibition drink that has a base spirit, sugar, and a sour. The cocktail later inspired the sidecar, which is basically a margarita with cognac and lemon. Some believe that the margarita is just a spin on a tequila daisy.

3. THE FIRST FROZEN MARGARITA MACHINE WAS INVENTED IN 1971.

The origins of the cocktail are unclear, but the origins of the machine are pretty straightforward: Mariano Martinez invented the frozen margarita machine in the early '70s. The 26-year-old Dallas restaurateur was having trouble creating the frozen drink for customers; bartenders complained they took too long, and customers thought they melted too quickly. 

After seeing a Slurpee machine in a 7-Eleven, Martinez was struck with inspiration. He transformed a soft-serve ice cream machine into one that pumped out frosty margaritas. The drinks were a huge success, and the machines can now be found all over the country.

4. THE SALT IS IMPORTANT.

The salt is there to bring out the sweet and sour flavors of the drink; even just a pinch will help subdue the bitterness and enhance the important flavors. On top of this, salt intensifies the drinker’s perception of the drink’s aromas, making the flavors even more powerful.

5. MARGARITAS ARE INCREDIBLY POPULAR.

In fact, it was the most ordered mixed drink of 2008, according to the Cheers On-Premise Handbook. That year, Americans were consuming 185,000 margaritas per hour on average.

6. THERE ARE TONS OF VARIATIONS.

The original recipe calls for tequila, Cointreau, lime, and salt to garnish, but there are a number of creative spins of the cocktail. Different fruits like peaches, mangos, and pineapple can be added to give the drink a more tropical feel. Some replace the salt with sugar, or garnish with sage or coriander leaves. Even crazier, adventurous types will add ingredients like Sriracha or chocolate. Here’s a full list of creative margaritas to try.

7. THE WORLD'S LARGEST MARGARITA WAS MADE IN LAS VEGAS.

The Flamingo Hotel’s Margaritaville Casino in Las Vegas holds the honor of making the largest margarita in the world. This enormous drink was 8500 gallons (32,176 liters) and “served” in a 17-foot-tall tank. It took 60 people 300 hours to create. The drink, called the “Lucky Rita,” was created to celebrate the opening of the casino in 2011.

8. THE WORLD'S MOST EXPENSIVE MARGARITA COST $1200.

In 2013, 230 FIFTH Rooftop Bar & Penthouse Lounge in Manhattan baited partiers with a frozen margarita that used some incredibly high-end ingredients—the tequila alone cost $1800 a bottle. Even the ice was made from $450 bottles of Lois Roederer Cristal Champagne. The final product was poured into a Ralph Lauren hand-blown Hungarian crystal glass that can be taken home afterward. The decadent drink was for a good cause though—half the money was donated to a charity of the drinker’s choice. 

9. OR YOU CAN BUY ONE WITH EARRINGS FOR $30,000.

If you thought $1200 wasn't too bad to spend on a cocktail, how does $30,000 sound? For Valentine’s Day in 2015, the Iron Cactus in Austin, Texas, offered an extremely expensive margarita that came with a pair of diamond earrings. The bar's "romance expert" would set the whole thing up; no word on whether all that dough covered dinner, though.

10. THERE'S A "WORLD" COMPETITION.

The Tucson Originals and the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance get together every year to bring the public the World Margarita Championship. Renowned bartenders from Tucson come to duke it out for the honor of best margarita in Arizona. Visitors also vote for their favorites in a People's Choice category. Last year’s overall winner was an orange jalapẽno margarita by Eric Brenner of Pastiche.

11. YOU CAN GET YOUR MARGARITA IN FRIED FORM.

Kristy, Flickr

Why drink your cocktail when you can eat it? This strange food is served at the Texas State Fair, along with a variety of other food that shouldn't be fried. Funnel cake batter is put through a margarita mixer, fried, and then soaked in more margarita. The finished product is topped with whipped cream and served in a salt-rimmed glass.

All images courtesy of iStock unless noted otherwise 

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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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May 23, 2017
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