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12 Gloriumptious Facts About Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

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Did you know that in the first draft of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie is encased in chocolate and given to another child as an Easter present? Or that the book's original title was Charlie's Chocolate Boy? Or that Dahl was working on a third book about Charlie at the time of his death? Here are some more fascinating facts about the development of this classic children’s book.

1. AS A BOY, DAHL WAS A TASTER FOR A CHOCOLATE COMPANY.

Dahl based Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on his experiences as a taster for Cadbury. When he was 13, Cadbury would send Dahl's school boxes of chocolates for the boys to taste test—kind of like an early focus group. The boxes contained 12 chocolate bars wrapped in foil—one “control” bar and 11 new flavors. As a child, Dahl fantasized about working in a chocolate inventing room, an idea that came back to him when he began writing his second children’s book.

2. CHOCOLATE ESPIONAGE WAS A REAL THING.

The chocolate spies who try to steal Willy Wonka’s inventions for rival candy makers were not entirely a product of Dahl’s imagination. In the 1920s, competition among chocolatiers was so fierce that companies sent spies to steal each other’s innovations. Trade secrets were guarded and employees were monitored for suspicious activities. During Dahl’s childhood, the British candy firms Cadbury and Rowntree's became such vicious competitors that stories about their spying became the stuff of legend.

3. THE ORIGINAL TITLE WAS CHARLIE'S CHOCOLATE BOY.

The first draft of the book, titled Charlie's Chocolate Boy, was completely different from the published version. In it, Charlie enters a room filled with chocolate eggs “the size of automobiles” and life-sized chocolate animals and people. He tries on a mold for making chocolate boys and becomes encased in chocolate. Willy Wonka, unaware that a real boy is inside the chocolate, gives Charlie to his son for Easter. Charlie then thwarts a robbery and Mr. Wonka rewards him with an enormous chocolate shop nine-stories high.

4. THERE WERE MANY OTHER KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN EARLY DRAFTS AND THE PUBLISHED BOOK.

In addition to the familiar characters—Charlie Bucket, Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teavee, and Veruca Salt—early drafts had a host of other characters and different parts of the chocolate factory. Originally, Dahl wanted at least twice as many kids to take a trip to Wonka's factory: The author's lost first draft may have had 15 children, according to a spokesperson from his literary estate, while later drafts (including the one read by Lucy Mangan for her book Inside Charlie's Chocolate Factory: The Complete Story of Willy Wonka, the Golden Ticket, and Roald Dahl's Most Famous Creation) put the number at 10 kids. In either case, Dahl quickly realized that was far too many characters and reduced the number to a more manageable five.

In the years since the book's release, many of the cut chapters have been “rediscovered” among Dahl’s papers and published online. For example, there's a chapter in which Willy Wonka takes the kids into the Vanilla Fudge Room, which has “a colossal jagged mountain as high as a five-storey building, and the whole thing was made of pale-brown, creamy, vanilla fudge.” Two of the now-excised children, Wilbur Rice and Tommy Troutbeck, disobey Mr. Wonka and ride on the railway wagon straight into the Pounding And Cutting Room. (You can read the chapter here).

In what was possibly the second draft of the book, Dahl has the children tour the Warming-Candy Room, where an elaborate machine makes a candy that warms you up when you eat it. Clarence Crump, Bertie Upside, and Terence Roper greedily eat handfuls of the stuff before learning the hard way that you’re only supposed to have one warming-candy at a time. (You can read that chapter here.)

5. A CHARACTER NAMED MIRANDA PIKER WAS TURNED INTO PEANUT BRITTLE.

“I remember one small girl I slung out of the book, who was called Miranda Mary Piker,” Dahl once recalled. “She was the filthiest, rudest, and most disobedient creature you could imagine.” In early drafts, Miranda falls into the chocolate waterfall and winds up in the peanut brittle room, where, according to an Oompa-Loompa song, she's turned into peanut brittle. ("And her parents will have surely understood / That instead of saying, 'Miranda, / Oh the beast we cannot stand her!' / They'll be saying, 'Oh, how tasty and how good!'")

Though Miranda was cut from the book, in 1973, Dahl published Miranda's chapter, called "Spotty Powder," as a short story in Puffin Post magazine. She and her parents try to smash the Spotty Powder machine and discover what the candy is really made of.

6. THE OOMPA-LOOMPAS WERE ALMOST CALLED WHIPPLE-SCRUMPETS.

Dahl changed almost all of the character names except Charlie's. Along with the Whipple-Scrumpets, Violet Beauregarde’s original last name was Glockenberry, Veruca Salt was Elvira Entwhistle, Mike Teavee was Herpes Trout, and Augustus Gloop was Augustus Pottle. Willy Wonka was Mr. Ritchie until Dahl renamed him after a boomerang his brother Louis invented when they were kids. It was called a Skilly Wonka. 

7. THE OOMPA-LOOMPAS WERE FIRST DEPICTED AS AFRICAN PYGMIES.

When Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was published in 1964, the Oompa-Loompas were described as African pygmies that Willy Wonka “discovered” and shipped to England “in large packing cases with holes in them.” In the 1970s, the NAACP and others groups criticized this portrayal as racist. Dahl rewrote the Oompa-Loompas, describing them as small people with white skin and long golden brown hair who come from Loompaland. (The orange skin and green hair were added for the 1971 film.)

8. DAHL EXPERIENCED TWO MAJOR TRAGEDIES WHILE WRITING CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.

While writing the book, Dahl experienced two of the biggest tragedies of his life: The first occurred in 1960, when a taxi hit his son Theo, who was riding in a baby carriage. The child developed hydrocephalus, a build-up of fluid in his brain cavities that led to high fevers and temporary blindness and required that the young boy be put through a series of operations. Not content to sit by idly and watch his child suffer, Dahl became an active participant in Theo's recovery. With the help of toymaker Stanley Wade and Theo’s neurosurgeon, Kenneth Till, the trio developed a shunt that helped to alleviate the condition. It became known as the Wade-Dahl-Till valve.

Then, just as Theo was recovering, Dahl’s daughter Olivia came down with measles, which developed into measles encephalitis; she passed away not long after. Dahl was devastated. His wife, actress Patricia Neal, later said he “all but lost his mind.”

9. THE MOVIE WAS A BOX OFFICE FLOP.

The 1971 movie Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder, made only $4 million at the box office. Dahl reportedly hated the film, too. It wasn’t until Warner Bros. started airing the movie on TV that it became popular. (On the other hand, the 2005 movie starring Johnny Depp was a big hit.)

10. THERE'S A REASON WHY THE MOVIE STARS WILLY WONKA.

Though the book is called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the 1971 movie is named after Willy Wonka. There are two reasons for this: When the NAACP was protesting the Oompa-Loompas, they also demanded that the movie’s title be changed so as not to promote the book among viewers of the movie. The second reason for shifting the main character focus was because the movie was financed by Quaker Oats, who were looking at it as a way of advertising a new line of chocolate bars that they were about to produce. Eventually, they settled on calling the new bar the Wonka Bar, and with that they chose to rename the entire movie after Willy Wonka as a promotional tie-in. (Because really, what better way is there to sell candy bars than with the suggestion of light cannibalism?)

11. THERE WAS GOING TO BE A THIRD CHARLIE BOOK.

The book’s sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, was released in 1972. Dahl was working on a third book titled Charlie in the White House when he died in 1990. It was never completed.

12. CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY CONTINUES TO INSPIRE OTHER ENTERTAINMENT.

Aside from the two movies, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been adapted into a musical, an opera, and two video games (including a 1985 game by ZX Spectrum). There’s even a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ride at the Alton Towers theme park in the U.K. And let’s not forget the band Veruca Salt, named after the spoiled little girl who’s labeled a “bad nut” and sent down a garbage chute by Willy Wonka’s trained squirrels.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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