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14 Things You Didn't Know About Sonic Drive-In

Back in the day, drive-in restaurants were a dime a dozen. But they’ve mostly gone the way of the drive-in movie theater, with one notable exception: Sonic Drive-In. As the biggest chain of drive-in restaurants still in existence, Sonic serves 3 million customers across 45 states every day. Even if you're a loyal consumer of cherry limeades, here are a few facts you probably didn't know about "America's favorite drive-in."

1. SONIC WAS ORIGINALLY JUST A ROOT BEER STAND.

Restaurant founder Troy Smith tried his hand at running a number of restaurants, from diners and steakhouses to a root beer stand in Shawnee, Oklahoma. He outfitted the root beer stand with a car-to-kitchen intercom system after discovering a similar setup at a restaurant along the Texas-Louisiana border. It didn’t take him long to realize that the stand was consistently outperforming all of his other restaurants, turning a 20 percent profit on a regular basis. (There’s always money in the root beer stand.) So, in 1953, Smith ditched the other places and focused all of his attention on the root beer business.

2. SONIC COULD HAVE BEEN CALLED "TOP HAT" INSTEAD.

"Top Hat" was the name of the root beer stand, which Smith wanted to keep when he decided to expand. Unfortunately, his lawyers discovered that the phrase had already been trademarked and advised him to come up with something else.

3. THE NAME "SONIC" REFERS TO ITS SPEEDINESS.

Lars Plougmann, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The alternative name Smith and business partner Charles Pappe came up with was directly related to the Top Hat tagline they developed to promote the quick ordering process made possible by the intercom system. That slogan? “Service with the Speed of Sound.” The first drive-in officially dubbed Sonic opened in Stillwater, Oklahoma in 1959.

4. THE FIRST FRANCHISE AGREEMENT INCLUDED AN UNUSUAL STIPULATION.

Instead of charging a flat fee, Sonic’s first formal franchise agreement gave Smith and Pappe a penny for every logo-stamped paper hamburger bag that was used.

5. SONIC AND DR PEPPER TEAM UP TO HOST AN ANNUAL CARHOP COMPETITION.

The winner receives $1000 and an all-expense-paid trip to the annual Sonic National Convention. They’re accepting submissions now, so if you’re a Sonic carhop, get on it. Here’s what you’ll be up against:

6. CHERRY LIMEADES ARE ONE OF SONIC'S BEST-SELLING PRODUCTS.

A photo posted by Sonic Drive-In (@sonicdrivein) on

In one year, Sonic sells enough of the delicious drinks to fill more than 15 Olympic sized swimming pools.

7. FRANKIE AVALON WAS ONCE THE COMPANY SPOKESMAN.

Playing to their nostalgic image, Sonic recruited former teen idol Frankie Avalon as their spokesperson in the late ‘80s and early '90s.

These days, the company has turned to Oklahoma City Thunder player Kevin Durant for celebrity endorsement—specifically, to push their new line of slushes studded with candy pieces.

8. THE COMPANY SAYS IT OFFERS 168,894 DRINK COMBINATIONS.

A photo posted by Sonic Drive-In (@sonicdrivein) on

If Durant gets tired of adding Jolly Ranchers and Nerds to his drinks, he has plenty of other options available. In fact, even though Sonic advertises 168,894 combos, the Wall Street Journal found even more—688,133.

9. SOME OF THE BEST FLAVOR COMBOS ARE EMPLOYEE-SUBMITTED.

In 2011, Sonic corporate asked employees to concoct and submit drink combinations and names that weren’t officially on the menu. They received more than 600 entries, from Blue Hawaiian (Sprite with blue coconut flavoring and real pineapple) to Strawberry Shortcake (Sprite with vanilla flavoring, sweet cream, and real strawberries).

10. THE SONIC HEADQUARTERS IN OKLAHOMA CITY FEATURES A TEST KITCHEN.

The 10-person test kitchen works to invent new menu items and perfect old ones. The test kitchen staff also runs the employee cafeteria. "We want the employees to try the food and be ambassadors for the food," Chef Claes Petersson has said.

11. YOU CAN GET BEER AT SONIC BEACH.

A photo posted by 🅱ianke (@teambianke) on

If you live in Florida, you may have come across Sonic Beach. Intended to "capture the South Florida essence," Sonic Beach has a patio area, 60” LED flat screen TVs, a sand beach area—and alcohol. They're the only Sonic locations that offer beer, wine, and even Dom Perignon.

12. SOME SONIC LOCATIONS OFFER ADULT PLAYGROUNDS.

If you’re not near a Sonic Beach, don’t worry—there’s probably still some fun to be had at your local restaurant. In hopes of providing the adult equivalent of a ball pit, many Sonics offer batting cages, volleyball courts, playgrounds, and more.

13. THE TWO DEADPAN MEN IN THE SONIC COMMERCIALS ARE ACTUALLY IMPROV ACTORS AND WRITERS.

Peter Grosz wrote for The Colbert Report for three years and currently writes for Late Night with Seth Meyers, while T.J. Jagodowski is a Second City alum who has had roles in the movies Stranger Than Fiction, Oz the Great and Powerful, and Get Hard.

14. NO SONIC IN YOUR AREA YET? THERE PROBABLY WILL BE.

Bob B. Brown, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

In 2014, the company announced plans to add 1000 restaurants in the next 10 years, including an additional 300 in California alone.

This piece was corrected to reflect that Sonic's Oklahoma City headquarters has a test kitchen and employee cafeteria, not a drive-in restaurant.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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