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11 Chock-Full Facts About Cold Stone Creamery

Whether you like it, love it, or gotta have it, Cold Stone Creamery and their candy-filled, extra rich ice cream creations have been the pinnacle of summertime decadence since the first store opened in Tempe, Ariz. in 1988.

1. THEY SELL “SUPERPREMIUM ICE CREAM.”

That flattering adjective isn’t just some self-awarded praise. The label is an industry designation that refers to ice cream with 12-14 percent butterfat and relatively low “overrun”—the amount of extra air that’s pumped into it. This is what gives Cold Stone’s flavors their super creamy feel, an intentional choice by founders Donald and Susan Sutherland, who wanted something between flavorful hard-packed and smooth soft-serve.

2. ALL OF THEIR ICE CREAM IS MADE ON SITE.

All of their innovative flavors are made daily on premise, and the granite slab that the various candies, nuts, and fruits are mixed in on is chilled to 16 degrees.

3. COLD STONE DIDN’T INVENT THE MIX-IN.

But then again, neither did competitors Maggie Moo's or Marble Slab. That honor goes to Steve Herrell, who opened his Boston ice cream parlor Steve's Ice Cream in 1973—pioneering superpremium ice creams and the idea of “smooshing-in.” Cold Stone is happy to give Herrell credit for the innovative idea—although they changed the name of the concept to "mix-ins" for distinction—but they think they can do it better.

"Steve was the father of mix-ins," Meredith Bryan, co-owner of the Cold Stone in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston and the chain's area developer, told Boston.com in 2004. "We love Steve. We worship him. But this is taking it to a whole new level. People have definitely never seen this before, even people who have been to Steve's before."

4. THE COMPANY GREW SUPER QUICKLY.

It landed at No. 94 on Entrepreneur magazine’s "101 Fastest-Growing Franchises in America” in 2000 with 100 stores in over 16 states. By 2005, Cold Stone had jumped to 12th place on the list.

5. THEY ONCE SERVED CRICKETS.

In an attempt to capitalize on the nation’s Survivor obsession, the ice cream chain launched a cricket campaign in 2001. Chocolate-covered crickets were available for purchase at all then-142 locations of Cold Stone throughout the country. Patrons who ate the insects were given free ice cream on their next visit or the chance to be entered into a raffle for a trip to the Australian site where the reality show was filmed.

"They look like real crickets, so it's tough to get past that, but once you pop them in your mouth, they taste kind of like chocolate-covered potato chips," Brian Curin, Cold Stone's director of marketing at the time, said.

6. YOU CAN GET JELLY BELLY BEANS FLAVORED LIKE COLD STONE FAVORITES.

The two sweet brands partnered in 2008 and still today you can purchase jelly beans flavored like Birthday Cake Remix, Apple Pie a la Cold Stone, Chocolate Devotion, and a few others.

7. COLD STONE MADE NON-MELTING ICE CREAM ONCE.

In 2009, Cold Stone partnered with JELL-O to produce a limited-edition line of pudding-flavored ice creams: Chocolate, Butterscotch, Vanilla, and Banana. The special scoops had a strange, slightly unintentional feature: they never really melted. The flavors were made with actual JELL-O mix and although served chilled as an ice cream, if they were allowed to sit out at room temperature they melted not into a liquid but a pudding.

8. THE MILKSHAKES ARE REALLY, REALLY DECADENT.

How decadent? Try, award-winning—sort of. For two years in a row (2010 and 2011), Cold Stone’s PB&C milkshake—made with chocolate ice cream, milk, and peanut butter—earned the top spot on Men's Health "20 Worst Drinks in America" list. The 24-oz shake clocks in at 2,010 calories, 131 grams of fat (68 grams saturated), and 153 grams of sugar. But that’s not stopping devotees. "I don't care. I'd drink it without difficulty,” the Telegraph quoted one fan of the shake as saying. “I'd probably have it once a week."

9. THERE’S A COLD STONE VIDEO GAME.

It’s called Cold Stone Creamery: Scoop It Up and it’s available for purchase for the Wii. The game involves running an ice cream shop, of course, and along the way you can unlock new flavors, cones and mix-ins.

10. COLD STONE’S FORMER CEO IS NOW THE GOVERNOR OF ARIZONA.

In 2014, Doug Ducey was elected governor of Arizona. Although he had served as the state's treasurer since 2011, the Republican didn’t highlight that aspect of his career during his campaign. Instead, he focused on his time as CEO at Cold Stone Creamery from 1995 until the company was sold to Kahala in 2007. His campaign ads dubbed him "the conservative ice-cream guy,” and at one forum he implored voters to "look at me and evaluate me from your personal experience at Cold Stone Creamery.”

Around the time he got elected, the state capitol started stocking Cold Stone Creamery items in their freezer—but a spokeswoman claimed the connection was purely coincidental.

11. SERVERS COMPETE TO BE THE MOST ENTERTAINING.

If you’ve been to a Cold Stone location you know your candy-filled ice cream treat often comes with a side of singing—servers are instructed to make up silly songs whenever they receive tips. But the entertainment factor doesn’t stop there. Along with learning the basics of serving up scoops, new employees are coached on different techniques for personalizing the service—from singing and dancing to juggling. The company highlights these unique talents at an annual competition for the most entertaining team of ice-cream servers. We think the Dubai crew seen above has a lock on 2015.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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!

Original image
Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
Original image
Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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