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13 Facts About L. Frank Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum was a hit from the start. Published in 1900, the story of Dorothy and her friends the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion captured the public’s imagination. It wasn’t long before there was merchandising, a Broadway musical, a film, and a whopping 13 sequels. Truly, it was the Harry Potter of its day. 

1. Baum framed the pencil he used to write the novel. 

L. Frank Baum—former chicken rancher, traveling salesman, and theater manager—had already published two successful children’s books when he started The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1898. He finished the book in October 1899. He must have been proud of his work, for he framed the pencil stub and hung it on the wall of his study. On the attached paper he scrawled, “With this pencil I wrote the manuscript of The Emerald City.” 

2. He got the name “Oz” from his filing cabinet.

At first, Baum had trouble coming up with a name for the magical land Dorothy visits. Then one day he found himself looking at the filing cabinet in his study. There were three drawers marked “A to G,” “H to N,” and “O to Z.” And so Oz was born. 

3. Dorothy Gale was named after a niece who died.

Dorothy Gale is based on Dorothy Gage, the infant niece of Baum’s wife, Maud. She died in November 1898, right as Baum was writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The character Dorothy was Baum’s tribute to the lost baby girl.   

4. Baum never lived in Kansas.

Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in Chicago. He’d been to Kansas only once when he and Maud were touring with his melodrama "The Maid of Arran." He may have picked Kansas because of the tornado that sweeps Dorothy away. In 1893, a cyclone ripped through the state, killing 31 people and destroying two towns. The writer Gore Vidal suggested this disaster may have inspired the setting of Baum’s book. 

5. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is an episodic novel. 

Throughout the book, Dorothy follows a yellow brick road, which runs straight through the story. Periodically she goes off the road, has an adventure, then returns and continues her journey. Along the way, she meets a host of almost-forgotten characters, such as the Queen of the Field Mice, people made out of china, and the Kalidahs—creatures with the bodies of bears and the heads of tigers.

6. Dorothy’s shoes were silver, not ruby red.

In the book, Dorothy is given “silver shoes with pointed toes.” The color was changed for the 1939 movie starring Judy Garland because the filmmakers thought that ruby red looked better in Technicolor. 

7. Oz wasn’t a dream, after all.

Other differences between the movie and the book: Dorothy doesn’t meet Glinda until the end; rather, the Good Witch of the North is the one to greet her when she comes to Oz. The book doesn’t end with the wizard taking off in a hot air balloon—Dorothy travels south to find Glinda and has more adventures. And while Oz turns out to be a dream in the movie, it’s a real place in the book. When Aunt Em asks Dorothy where she came from, she says that she was in the Land of Oz, then adds, “I'm so glad to be at home again!" (“There’s no place like home” is a movie line.)

8. Baum assembled the first copy of the book himself.

When the first print of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz came off the press in May 1900, Baum was there to compile the pages. He then gave the book to his sister, Mary Louise Baum Brewster, writing on the manuscript, “This ‘dummy was made from sheets I gathered from the press as fast as printed and bound up by hand. It is really the very first book ever made of this story.”

9. The book sold out in two weeks.

Full distribution began in August. According to the publisher, the first printing of 10,000 copies sold out in two weeks, followed by a second printing of 15,000 and a third printing of 10,000. In November, there was a fourth printing of 30,000 and in January, a fifth printing of 25,000. That’s 90,000 books in the first six months. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz remained a bestseller for two years. 

10. Baum followed up with The Wizard of Oz: The 1903 Musical Extravaganza.

Along with illustrator W.W. Denslow and composer Paul Tietjens, Baum set out to turn his book into a musical. Fred Hamlin, producer of the Grand Opera House in Chicago, is said to have taken on the play because the word “Wizard” was in the title. Apparently his family made a fortune with the medical tonic, Hamlin’s Wizard Oil. The Wizard of Oz opened in June 1902 in Chicago. Then it moved to Broadway, where it played for years. 

11. Baum had a falling out with his illustrator.

W.W. Denslow first worked with Baum illustrating 1899's Father Goose: His Book, a surprise bestseller. Denslow then illustrated The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The men believed in the images so much that when the publisher balked on paying for color print, Denslow and Baum paid for the plates themselves. But as the two shared copyright for the book, they soon had a disagreement over who was responsible for its success. Tensions mounted during the musical, with Denslow insisting that as the costume designer, he should be paid the same as the writer and composer. The two men never worked together again. 

12. Baum kept writing sequels because of money problems.

Baum soon grew tired of writing the series and intended to stop after the sixth book, The Emerald City of Oz. But a year later, he filed for bankruptcy and had to resume writing the Oz books. The last sequel was Glinda of Oz, which was published posthumously in 1920. 

All and all, Baum was a prolific writer. He also wrote under several pseudonyms, including Edith van Dyne, author of the Aunt Jane’s Nieces series. In the end, he wrote over 50 novels, 80 short stories, hundreds of poems, and at least a dozen plays. 

13. You can watch the first film version of The Wizard of Oz.

Here’s a silent film version of the book, which was made by Selig Polyscope Company in 1910. 

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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