11 Meaty Facts About Arby's

Arby's may play to an older audience than other fast food chains, by it doesn't need a play-place to have a good time.


The name is a play on the letters 'R' and 'B.' And despite some claims that it’s an ode to their classic sandwich, it doesn’t stand for “roast beef.” Rather, RB stands for Raffel Brothers, a nod to founders Leroy and Forrest Raffel, who opened the first Arby’s in Boardman, Ohio, on July 23, 1964.


It’s not clear why—they weren’t in Texas and didn’t serve distinctly Southwestern food—but that was the name the brothers originally had in mind. There was already another business in nearby Akron, Ohio with that name, however, so Arby’s it was.


The brothers weren’t exactly sure what sort of food they wanted to serve when they left their jobs as restaurant equipment suppliers to follow the fast food trend. They were inspired late one night at a summer beach resort in Massachusetts. Even though it was dark and rainy, people were waiting in line for roast beef at a place called Kelly’s. The Raffels decided roast beef was the perfect open niche in the current fast food landscape. But while McDonalds was selling hamburgers for 15 cents, Arby’s roast beef sandwiches—one of just a few things on the menu—was more than four times that amount, at 69 cents. The brothers hoped that slightly higher-end restaurants would attract more of an adult crowd.


In the late 1980s, the Hall-of-Fame slugger started purchasing franchise locations in the Milwaukee area, the town where he spent the majority of his baseball career. ''The most important thing that I want all of us to understand is that we are serving the public,'' he told his employees at the time. ''Whether customers buy one Coke or 15 sandwiches, they're all going to be treated the same way—with a smile and a 'thank you.’”


You might not think of Arby’s as the most nutritious place to dine out, but in the ‘90s, the company was first to make a couple of healthy changes. In 1991, it became the first fast food chain to debut a “lite” menu, featuring a series of salads with less than 300 calories. And in ’94, Arby’s became the first chain restaurant to ban smoking in all of its locations.


The menu has grown significantly since roast beef was the only sandwich available, and some additions have been more successful than others. According to Arby’s, the most successful new product in over 50 years of restaurant history is the smokehouse brisket sandwich, which they first introduced in the fall of 2014. The smoked brisket, smoked Gouda cheese, barbecue sauce, and crispy onions combo lifted “year-over-year same-store sales” more than 12 percent during the promotion.


As the menu evolved, Arby’s needed to advertise options beyond roast beef. To alert customers to the many protein offerings, Arby’s hung mouth-watering posters featuring the many meats on the menu—chicken tenders, roast turkey, ham, corned beef, brisket, Angus steak, bacon, and the old standby, roast beef.

“People started coming in and asking, ‘Can I have that?’” Christopher Fuller, the company’s vice president of brand and corporate communications, told The Washington Post of the ad, which showed all of the meats stacked neatly on top of each other.

The so-called “Meat Mountain” isn’t on the menu, but if you ask for it by name, the folks at Arby’s will put all that meat—plus Swiss and cheddar cheese—on a roll for you, for just $10.


Last year, to prove that the smoked meat in their Smokehouse Brisket LTO sandwich is really smoked for 13 hours, Arby’s aired a commercial showing the whole process—all 13 hours. Viewers tuned in for an average of 39 minutes—not bad for a fast food commercial, considering television viewers sometimes can't make it through a 30-second commercial without fast-forwarding their DVR. The Guinness World Record-breaking ad actually played in full on a Duluth, Minnesota channel on a Saturday. To top it this year, the company gave out 500 six-DVD box sets, with all 13 hours of meat smoking plus a bonus eight hours of turkey action. Riveting.


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During the 2014 Grammys, Twitter was abuzz with the idea that Pharrell Williams’s hat—a Vivienne Westwood design—looked an awful lot like the Arby’s logo (it even spawned its own Twitter account). After the show, the singer put the hat up for sale on eBay and Arby’s bought it for $44,100. All of the money was donated to children's charity From One Hand to Another, which helps kids learn through technology and the arts.


All those sandwiches have added up. Since the first Arby’s opened in 1964, they’ve sold 5 billion classic roast beef sandwiches, 3.34 million pounds of corned beef, and about 1.37 million pounds of sauerkraut. And, presumably, gallons upon gallons of horsey sauce.


When Jon Stewart first started bashing the chain in 2013 on The Daily Show, executives at Arby’s were initially worried about the bad press. But pretty quickly they decided to roll with the punches, sending the Daily Show team a platter of sandwiches later that year and really embracing their “rivalry” when Stewart announced his retirement. The fast food chain featured prominently in the host’s final week this August, sponsoring an entire episode, airing custom commercials, and even sending their chief executive to appear in a taped send-off segment in the finale. In Stewart’s honor, Arby’s even introduced a secret, off-menu item called the Daily Deli: a double corned beef on rye (Stewart's favorite). Awww.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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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.