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24 Things You Should Know About Las Vegas (and the Nearby Strip)

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What happens in Vegas … well, you know the rest. But here are 24 facts about Sin City you likely haven’t heard. 

1. Most of Vegas’ iconic hotels aren’t technically located in the city of Las Vegas. A good portion of the Las Vegas Strip —and the famed “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign—are actually located in an unincorporated township called Paradise, Nevada. 

2. One attraction that is within Las Vegas city limits: Vegas Vic, the oversized neon cowboy that presides over downtown’s famed Fremont Street. It’s the largest mechanical neon sign in the world.

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3.
More than 41 million visitors cycle through Sin City each year …

4. … So it's a good thing the town boasts 14 of the world’s 20 biggest hotels.

5. There's so much real estate for tourists to take advantage of, it would take a person 288 years to spend a night in every hotel room in the city.

6. There’s a secret city underneath the city. Miles of tunnels—originally built to protect the desert town from flash floods—house hundreds of homeless residents.

7. The strip’s Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel and Casino got its name from founder—and legendary mobster—Bugsy Siegel’s girlfriend. Actress Virginia Hill went by the nickname “The Flamingo” because of her red hair and long, thin legs.

8. In the mid-20th century, Las Vegas possessed its own set of discriminatory Jim Crow laws, which—with the exception of low-wage service jobs—kept African Americans out of the growing city's hotels and casinos. Even legendary performers like Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole were forced to enter and exit the venues in which they were performing through back doors and side entryways. In 1952, acting legend Sammy Davis Jr. took a dip in the whites-only swimming pool at the New Frontier Hotel & Casino. Afterwards, the manager had it drained.

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9.
In May 1955, the Moulin Rouge made history when it became the city's first interracial casino. Legendary boxer Joe Louis, a part owner, declared, “This isn’t the opening of a Las Vegas hotel. It’s history."

10. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Las Vegas was known for putting on a different type of show. At the Nevada Test Site, just 65 miles northwest of the city, the U.S. Department of Energy would test nuclear devices. Las Vegas’ Chamber of Commerce saw a moneymaking opportunity, and decided to distribute calendars advertising detonation times and choice viewing locations.

11. Legendary recluse Howard Hughes checked into the strip’s Desert Inn on Thanksgiving Day 1966, renting the entire top two floors. When he overstayed his 10-day reservation, he was asked to leave. Instead, he started negotiations to buy the 715-room spot. His purchase was complete three months later.

12. FedEx founder Frederick W. Smith saved the delivery company with a trip to Vegas. In 1974—three years after he created the company—the Yale grad took the venture's last $5,000 and turned it into $32,000 with a weekend of blackjack. His, er, gamble gave the company enough money to stay afloat.

13. Do not disturb: Vegas has more unlisted phone numbers than any other city in the United States.

14. Reason to hope? Nevada law states that video slot machines must pay back a minimum of 75 percent of the money deposited on average. (Though it’s worth noting that in New Jersey, home to gambling mecca Atlantic City, it’s 83 percent.)

15. It takes roughly 10 minutes to nab a marriage license at the bureau in downtown Las Vegas, which is open every day from 8 a.m. until midnight. No wonder some 10,000 couples wed in the city each month.

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16.
Let them eat … shrimp cocktails? More than 60,000 pounds of the shellfish are consumed in the city each day. That’s higher than the rest of the country—combined.

17. The half-scale model of the Eiffel Tower, located outside Paris Las Vegas, was originally planned to be full-size, but due to the close proximity of the airport—just three miles—it had to be shrunk down. In contrast, the Luxor Las Vegas’ Sphinx is actually larger than the original Great Sphinx of Giza.

18. At 50 tons, the bronze lion outside the MGM Grand Hotel is believed to be the largest bronze sculpture in the western hemisphere.

19. The distinctive gold color of the windows at the Mirage Hotel comes from actual gold dust.

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20
. There are 3933 guest rooms at Bellagio Las Vegas—more than the number of residents in the city of Bellagio, Italy. 

21. Not into casinos? The city also features a heavy equipment playground where construction enthusiasts can drive around bulldozers for fun.

22. Before his death in 2009, Michael Jackson was looking into doing a Vegas residency. He planned to advertise it with a 50-foot robot-likeness of himself that would roam the Nevada desert.

23. At Vegas diner Heart Attack Grill, waitresses dress in nurses garb and patrons can order an 8000-calorie quadruple bypass burger with a side of flatliner fries. (Fried in pure lard!) Unfortunately, in 2013, one of the spot's regular patrons passed away … from an apparent heart attack.

24. From outer space, the Las Vegas Strip appears as the brightest spot on Earth. Who cares if it’s not actually in Las Vegas?

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”

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