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6 Games You're Probably Playing Wrong

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istock

by Seb Patrick

From Monopoly to blackjack, you might be surprised to learn that you've been playing some of the world's most popular games wrong all along. Whether it's by misinterpreting the actual rules or misunderstanding the principles of how to win, here are six popular games where mistakes are common.

1. MONOPOLY

Monopoly is a game that hinges on “house rules”—passed down through families from one generation to the next, in different combinations which ensure that no two games are exactly alike. But it might surprise you just how significantly the most popular interpretations can differ from what’s been laid out in the rules for several decades.

The concept of auctioning unwanted properties after they’ve been landed on, for example, feels like an idea that someone came up with and added afterwards, which is probably why some people choose not to employ it. But auctions are clearly stated in the rules as being as much a part of the game as buying houses or picking up Community Chest cards.

Do you have to complete a full lap of the board before you’re allowed to buy property? Nope, not according to the rules: You can start buying as soon as you first land on something. And here’s a big one on which people often differ: Are you allowed to collect rent while in jail? Yes, of course you are—there’s nothing in the rules that says you can’t. Indeed, staying in jail is seen as a useful strategic tool in the later, hotel-filled stages of the game.

Popular house rules such as getting a windfall of previously-collected taxes when landing on Free Parking or getting double the usual salary for landing on “Go” were actually included in a special “House Rules” edition of the game last year. Oh, and that rule about going straight to jail if you roll three doubles in a row? It might sound like something your uncle made up, but that one’s been right there in the rules all along.

2. CLUE

Many a game of Clue has ended with players in a mad rush to get their tokens to the murder scene, so that they can make the all-important accusation. But this method of ending a game isn’t actually necessary, according to the rules.

While Clue’s rule book stipulates that you can only make a “suggestion” (the bit where you get people to show you the cards in their hand) about a room you’re currently in, the potentially game-ending “accusation” can actually be made at any point. You can make a suggestion in the conservatory for the purposes of eliminating it from your inquiries, before immediately making an accusation that the crime went down in the ballroom.

Seasoned Clue players point out that the writers of the original rule book didn’t take into account the sort of strategic play that involves making your accusation based on others’ actions as well as your own inquiries—and so the rules aren’t actually clear in stating that you don’t even have to make a suggestion before you go on to accuse.

Some recent editions of the game have actually added a new rule that states that you have to go to the central point on the board before you can make that all-important accusation, so mad dashes with the dice can still be a part of your game if you’re playing one of those versions. But they’re not an intrinsic part of the game’s framework, so make sure you clarify which rule you’re going with before you start playing!

3. POKER

While televised poker tournaments have done a lot for the wider public perception of how the game is supposed to be played in a formal setting, the fictional games often seen in movies and on TV shows still have plenty to answer for. So just to be clear: While it may look cool when some guy in a film says "I'll see your $50 … [dramatic pause] … and raise you $50!" in reality that second batch of chips would immediately be handed back to the player by the dealer. In a casino or tournament poker game, you can either call the bet or raise it, but you can't do both one after the other. If you want to raise, you have to declare it immediately.

That process of placing some chips on the table and then gradually increasing the amount with a dramatic flourish is known as "string betting," and is almost universally discouraged, primarily because it allows a player to judge others' reactions to the lower bet before deciding whether to continue.

4. SCRABBLE

Having a good vocabulary—or at least the ability to remember which two-letter words appear in the dictionary—is, of course, an important part of being good at Scrabble. But is it the only part? Can you become a top player based on dictionary skills alone, or is there more to it?

Something that people easily miss when it comes to Scrabble is that the game is as much about logic and strategy as it is about being able to solve anagrams. Knowing what words your rack can make at any particular time is of course a key attribute, but just as important is being able to “play” the tiles that are already on the board, those that might be on your opponent’s rack, and those that are still in the bag.

Sometimes it can actually be better to hold off on playing a particular word—even if it would score you decent points at that moment in time—to gain an advantage by playing it at a later point.

While most people know that you can forfeit your turn in order to exchange some or all of the letters in your rack (something that can also be an important strategic move on occasion), it’s less widely-known that the rules allow for players to skip their turn entirely, and simply wait for a better opportunity.

And of course, where you place your tiles is just as important as the words you make with them—and we’re not just talking about picking up double- and triple-word scores. If your play is only going to score points along a single axis, rather than gaining a multiplier bonus for creating multiple new words, then maybe it’s not worth playing at all.

5. BLACKJACK

A common mistake people make when playing blackjack is to only play your own cards—or, perhaps more significantly, to consider that yourself and the dealer are on a level playing field. In truth, due to the fact that you have to beat the dealer, the odds in casino blackjack are so heavily stacked against you that the only real way to come out on top is by counting cards.

If you don’t have the ability to see through cards, then at the very least familiarize yourself with some tables of probability beforehand—there are plenty all over the internet, although bear in mind that odds differ hugely depending on how many decks your particular casino uses. At the very least, be aware that the number on the dealer’s face-up card can have a far bigger effect than you might imagine on whether that 16 of yours is worth sticking or twisting on.

6. POOL

Everyone knows that when you get to the end of a game of pool—whether eight-ball or nine-ball—and you're looking to pot the eight-ball, you have to first nominate the pocket you're aiming for, and that sinking the ball into the wrong pocket will forfeit the entire game. Right? Well, no, not exactly.

While that's a fairly common house rule in pub-based games, it doesn't actually have its origin in any official or tournament-based set of rules, either in the U.S. or U.K. In fact, you're perfectly at liberty to pot the black anywhere you like, without declaring a pocket first.

In addition, while the most popular penalty for a standard foul in a casual game is for the opponent to be given a "free" shot, tournament rules generally dictate the much harsher outcome of getting the "ball in hand"—that is, being able to place the cue ball anywhere on the table before the next shot.

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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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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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