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15 Delicious Facts About Doughnuts

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Doughnuts are everywhere. Over the last century, few pastries have inspired as much long-lasting enthusiasm, or as many film and television tributes, as the humble ring of fried dough. But though we’ve been gobbling down doughnuts by the baker's dozens for years, most of us don’t know that much about their delicious history. Here are 15 tasty facts about the iconic pastry to whet your appetite.

1. OVER 10 BILLION DOUGHNUTS ARE MADE IN THE U.S. EACH YEAR.

The American doughnut industry is huge, with numerous fast food chains dedicated to their production. Canada, meanwhile, produces fewer doughnuts (approximately one billion per year), but with its lower population, actually has the most doughnut shops per capita of any country in the world.

2. AS OF 2011, 10 PEOPLE IN THE UNITED STATES HAVE THE LAST NAME “DOUGHNUT” or “DONUT.”

It's unclear whether "Doughnut" was their given last name, or whether they changed it out of passion for the pastry. Meanwhile, 13 people have the first name “Donut,” making it the 245,396th most popular name in the United States according to White Pages.

3. WASHINGTON IRVING IS WIDELY CONSIDERED THE FIRST WRITER TO DESCRIBE DOUGHNUTS IN PRINT.

Irving, who is best known as the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollowdescribed the pastry as "balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog's fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks.”

4. AN OREGON DOUGHNUT SHOP USED TO OFFER MEDICINAL DOUGHNUTS, COATED WITH NYQUIL OR PEPTO BISMOL.

Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oreg. is famous for its crazy doughnut flavors. For a while, the doughnut shop even offered NyQuil- and Pepto Bismol-coated doughnuts (the latter were dipped in Pepto Bismol, sprinkled with Tums, and marketed to customers who’d had too much to drink and wanted a snack that was easy on the stomach). The doughnut shop was eventually forced to retire its medicinal flavors after the FDA stepped in.

5. "SPUDNUTS" HAVE DOUGH MADE OF POTATOES INSTEAD OF FLOUR.

A Spudnuts in Amarillo, Texas. darylfurr via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Made with mashed potatoes or potato starch, potato doughnuts were once so popular they had their own fast food chain: Spudnuts. The mostly defunct chain (there are apparently a few independent locations hanging on, but the parent company no longer exists) was founded by two brothers—an appliance salesman and drug store clerk—in the 1940s. They were the first fast food doughnut chain to open in Los Angeles.

6. BOSTON HAS THE MOST DOUGHNUT SHOPS PER PERSON.

Bostonians really love their doughnuts: The city has one doughnut shop for every 2480 people according to AdWeek

7. THE FRENCH USED TO CALL THEIR DOUGHNUTS "NUN’S FARTS."

The airy fried dough fritters—slightly different from the American circular doughnut—are called “Pet de Nonne” in French, which translates to “Nun’s Farts.”

8. THERE’S SOME TRUTH TO THAT "COPS LOVE DOUGHNUTS" STEREOTYPE.

Back in the 1950s, police officers on the graveyard shift would stop by doughnut shops—which were among the few establishments open late—to do paperwork and have a snack. Eventually a reciprocal relationship developed: Doughnut shop owners welcomed the protection of police officers, and police officers liked having a place to chow down late at night, so the association stuck around.

9. RENÉE ZELLWEGER SAID SHE ATE 20 DOUGHNUTS A DAY TO GAIN WEIGHT FOR THE BRIDGET JONES SEQUEL.

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Zellweger needed to gain weight fast to reprise her role as the eponymous heroine in 2004's Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. The actress claims to have eaten “a Big Mac and chips, potatoes swimming in butter, pizza, milkshakes and 20 doughnuts” every day to hit her weight goal in time for shooting.

10. DOUGHNUTS WERE ONCE DECLARED "THE HIT FOOD" OF THE CENTURY.

At the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair—which was billed as "A Century of Progress"—doughnuts were given the lofty title of "Hit Food of the Century of Progess." Because they were fresh and the automated machines made them quickly, they were cheap and became "a staple of the working class" during the Depression, according to Sally Levitt Steinberg, whose grandfather invented the doughnut machine.

11. CLARK GABLE TAUGHT MOVIE AUDIENCES HOW TO PROPERLY DUNK DOUGHNUTS IN IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT.

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In 1934's It Happened One Night, Clark Gable's character outlined the rules for proper dunking etiquette to co-star Claudette Colbert. "Dunking's an art," he explained. "Don't let it soak so long. A dip and—plop, into your mouth. If you let it soak so long, it'll get soft and fall off. It's all a matter of timing. I ought to write a book about it."

12. A NEW ENGLAND SHIP CAPTAIN CLAIMED TO HAVE INVENTED THE HOLE IN DOUGHNUTS.

Elizabeth Gregory, mother of 19th century ship captain Hanson Gregory, would famously make fried dough pastries for her son and his crew to take on their voyages. But though the elder Gregory may have been an early doughnut innovator (she packed the pastries with nuts, and flavored them with cinnamon and nutmeg), it was Captain Hanson Gregory who claimed to have invented the actual doughnut hole, calling it "the first doughnut hole ever seen by mortal eyes."

13. DOUGHNUTS WERE SERVED TO SOLDIERS DURING WWI.

During World War I, Salvation Army workers would bring soldiers doughnuts and coffee in the trenches of France to cheer them up and remind them of home.

14. ONE CALIFORNIA DOUGHNUT SHOP HAS APPEARED OVER AND OVER IN MOVIES SINCE THE 1980S.

Getty

Featuring a massive 32-foot doughnut sculpture atop its low, flat roof, Randy's Donuts is one of the most iconic Hollywood doughnut shops. The store, which opened in the 1950s as part of the now-defunct Big Donut Drive-In chain, has appeared in numerous movies, including Earth Girls are Easy (1988), Get Shorty (1995), The Golden Child (1986), Crocodile Dundee (1986), and Iron Man 2 (2010).

15. THEY WERE ONCE CALLED "OLYKOEKS."

Though many countries have independently developed their own version of doughnuts, the Dutch are widely attributed with bringing the fried pastry to America prior to the Revolutionary War, originally calling them "olykoeks," meaning "oily cakes."

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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
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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