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20 Things You Didn't Know About Dairy Queen

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Whether you're craving a plain vanilla cone or an elaborate banana split, your local Dairy Queen has been the go-to spot for summertime soft-serve since 1940.

1. The first DQ was located in Joliet, Illinois.

To promote the new soft-serve store, founder Sherb Noble suggested an "all you can eat for 10 cents" sale. The promotion was so popular, Noble worried that the stampede of customers would break the glass windows of the store front.

2. A "Brazier" Dairy Queen is one that serves hot food in addition to ice cream.

A "brazier," by the way, is another word for a charcoal grill.

3. There's a rhyme and reason to the company's name.

The original store was deemed "Dairy Queen" because Jack "Grandpa" McCullough, the "driving force" behind DQ’s soft serve, said his creation was a queen among dairy products.

4. Dairy Queen's soft serve recipe is a highly guarded trade secret.

And just like KFC and Coke, they'll never reveal the ingredients. "[The formula] is kept in a safe deposit box and there are only a few keys to it," DQ's chief branding officer, Michael Keller, has said.

5. No Doubt formed at a Dairy Queen in 1986.

Gwen Stefani and her brother Eric worked with other founding member John Spence at an Anaheim store, where they discussed forming a band. Other celebrity DQ employees include former Attorney General John Ashcroft, actress Bonnie Hunt, and singer Martina McBride.

6. Though Dairy Queen has been around since 1940, they didn't invent their trademark Blizzards until 1985.

They sold more than 175 million Blizzards in the very first year.

7. Many franchises turn Blizzards upside down in front of customers before serving.

It’s proof of how thick and delicious their soft-serve is—but it’s also a total marketing gimmick. Some stores offer the treat for free if the employee fails to perform the trick.

8. The Green Tea Blizzard is the #1 seller in China.

In the U.S., the most popular Blizzard is Oreo.

9. Warren Buffett loves Dairy Queen.

Of course, he owns it—at least, Berkshire Hathaway does—but he really supports the product. Once, while dining at the Four Seasons in New York, he asked staff to pick him up some DQ ice cream for dessert. Unfortunately, the city didn’t have a DQ location at the time, so he had to settle for some cookies.

10. DQ sold a frozen yogurt option in the '90s, but it didn't catch on.

You may remember the Breeze, a lower-calorie Blizzard alternative that was made with frozen yogurt. It was around for about a decade before the company pulled it from the menu, saying demand was so low that the frozen yogurt would often go bad before it could be used.

11. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban angered Dairy Queen employees across the nation in 2002.

Cuban suggested that Ed Rush, the NBA’s head of officiating, wasn’t even capable of managing a Dairy Queen. In response, the company invited the billionaire to give it a shot himself—and he accepted their offer. Wearing a "Tony" nametag, Cuban spent two hours serving customers at a Dairy Queen in Coppell, Texas, in 2002. He had trouble perfecting the trademark “Q” swirl at the top of soft-serve cones.

12. Technically, when you order a cone or cup at Dairy Queen, you’re not getting ice cream.

According to the company, "Our soft-serve does not qualify to be called ice cream. To be categorized as ice cream, the minimum butterfat content must be 10 percent, and our soft-serve has only 5 percent butterfat."

13. The Dilly Bar was invented in 1955.

The soft-serve round coated in chocolate and finished with that signature Dairy Queen swirl was introduced to the franchise by Robert Litherland, the co-owner of a store in Moorhead, Minn. Employees of an ice cream distributor in Minneapolis showed up at Litherland’s door to demonstrate the technique, and finished by holding up the completed bar and saying, “Now, isn’t that a dilly!” The name stuck, though Litherland had one regret: "We weren’t smart enough to copyright that name."

14. The "MooLatte" coffee ice cream treat generated some controversy.

When DQ rolled out the MooLatte frozen coffee drink in 2004, more than a few eyebrows were raised at the made-up word’s similarity to the slur "mulatto." The controversy wasn’t enough to squash the product; it’s still around today.

15. Dennis the Menace was the company spokestoon until 2002.

When the copyright license expired, Dairy Queen chose not to renew it. It’s been speculated that company execs felt Dennis was no longer a character kids related to.

16. There was once a "Little Miss Dairy Queen."

Clad in a Dutch-style cap, dress, and shoes, Little Miss Dairy Queen was featured as a 5-foot weather vane in a select few locations. Most are gone now, but see if you can spot one on your next road trip.

17. The world’s largest Blizzard weighed 8,260.85 pounds.

It was made in 2001 in Springfield, Mass. Guinness doesn’t specify the flavor, but if we had to guess, we'd say it was Oreo.

18. Dairy Queen also holds the record for world’s largest ice cream cake.

Made of sponge cake and vanilla ice cream, the dessert was constructed in Toronto in 2011. It weighed more than 10 tons and was topped with a ridiculous amount of crushed Oreo cookies.

19. Saudi Arabia really loves Dairy Queen.

It must, anyway—otherwise, Berkshire Hathaway wouldn’t have opened the world’s largest Dairy Queen in Riyadh. The two-level restaurant is 7500 square feet and can seat 240 customers.

20. The Blizzardmobile was a thing.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Blizzard in 2010, DQ took a cue from Oscar Mayer and rolled out the Blizzardmobile, a large truck that stopped at 25 cities in the U.S. and Canada. The truck distributed free mini Blizzards and conducted various games for coupons and prizes.

All images courtesy of Getty 

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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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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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