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13 Mysterious Facts About Clue

These days, no one is shocked when Hollywood announces they’ll try to make a movie based on a toy, let alone a board game. But that wasn’t the case 30 years ago, when Clue and its many mysteries hit theaters. Time’s been kind to this odd little gem of a movie, though, thanks to an ever-growing cult following and the ability to watch all three of its alternate endings at once. So, in honor of three decades of candlesticks, falling chandeliers, and flames on the sides of our faces, here are 13 fun facts about the film.

1. JOHN LANDIS WAS THE ORIGINAL DIRECTOR.

An American Werewolf in London director John Landis crafted the original premise for Clue—a group of strangers, all being blackmailed, stuck in a mansion as a murder mystery unfolds around them—and initially planned to direct it himself. After commissioning Jonathan Lynn—at the time a Hollywood unknown best known for British TV work like Yes Minister—to write the screenplay, Landis decided to direct the Chevy Chase/Dan Aykroyd comedy Spies Likes Us instead, leaving Clue without a director. Impressed by Lynn’s background in theater, Landis suggested that he direct the film.

“He worked so hard and he was passionate about it,” said Landis. “He had this amazing [theater] background, and I thought, ‘Gee, you know, why don’t you do it, because it will be more than a year before I’m even available.’”

2. LANDIS WANTED TOM STOPPARD TO WRITE THE SCRIPT.

Though Landis had the initial framework for the film in place, what he didn’t have was an actual solution to the mystery, so he set out to get a “real writer,” and approached famed playwright Tom Stoppard. Stoppard worked for a year on the script before giving up and returning his paycheck, so Landis went to the great Stephen Sondheim (Into the Woods) and Psycho star Anthony Perkins, who’d previously collaborated on the mystery film The Last of Sheila. They turned the job down, and after a few more writers, Landis found Lynn.

3. CARRIE FISHER WAS THE ORIGINAL MISS SCARLET.

In the film’s original cast, its biggest star was Carrie Fisher. Days before she was supposed to show up for rehearsals, though, Fisher entered rehab. At the time, Lynn and Fisher both hoped she could work out a schedule that would allow her to receive treatment and do the film at the same time, but Clue’s insurers were having none of that, so the role of Miss Scarlet went to Lesley Ann Warren instead.

4. TIM CURRY WAS THE THIRD CHOICE FOR WADSWORTH THE BUTLER.

When considering who would play the butler at the center of the story, Lynn initially wanted Leonard Rossiter (Barry Lyndon), who at the time was starring in a London production of Loot that Lynn was also involved in. Unfortunately, Rossiter died on October 5, 1984 (he passed away in his dressing room while preparing to go on stage for a performance of Loot). Lynn then turned to Rowan Atkinson, who had just broken through with his British comedy Blackadder, but the studio wasn’t interested. Finally, the role went to Tim Curry, a former schoolmate of Lynn’s who already had his The Rocky Horror Picture Show credibility.

5. COLLEEN CAMP HAD TO FIGHT HARD FOR THE ROLE OF YVETTE.

According to Colleen Camp, the role of Yvette the maid was a coveted one in Hollywood, and everyone from Jennifer Jason Leigh to Madonna was interested in the part. Determined to win it for herself, Camp showed up to her audition in a rented maid’s outfit, and won the role.

6. MRS. WHITE’S ROLE GOT LARGER WHEN MADELINE KAHN CAME ABOARD.

According to Lynn, the role of Mrs. White was “underwritten” in the first draft of the script. When comedy legend Madeline Kahn—famous for the duel triumphs of Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles—became interesting in the part, Lynn went back and expanded the role.

7. THE DIALOGUE PACING WAS INSPIRED BY HIS GIRL FRIDAY.

Lynn set the film in New England in 1954, deliberately recalling tones of old Hollywood, and he wanted his cast to keep that in mind. Before they started shooting, Lynn screened for his cast the classic Cary Grant/Rosalind Russell film His Girl Friday, a film famous for its rapid-fire dialogue.

“He wanted us all to have that cadence, that very clipped, quick delivery on our lines,” Lesley Ann Warren recalled.

8. THE CHARACTERS' CARS MATCH THEIR NAMES.

Each of the main characters’ classic cars reflects the color given in their name. So when we first see Miss Scarlet, she’s by the side of the road next to a red car, then Professor Plum gets a plum-colored car, Colonel Mustard’s car is yellow, Mrs. Peacock’s is blue, and so on.

9. LESLEY ANN WARREN’S CORSET WAS SO TIGHT, SHE COULDN’T SIT DOWN.

Because Miss Scarlet’s dress was so tight, and costume designer Michael Kaplan dressed her in boned corsets, Lesley Ann Warren had difficulty sitting down while in costume, or really moving much at all. While the rest of the cast was enjoying games of pool in the billiard room, she was leaning against a board.

"To rest in that dress was a challenge, so they had slant boards,” Warren said. “It’s a diagonal board that one can lean against. It’s not uncomfortable, and there’re armrests, but you can’t sit down all that much. I spent a lot of time there. I didn’t play pool.”

10. THE FILM’S MOST FAMOUS SPEECH WAS IMPROVISED.

Lynn was not a fan of improvisation, and wanted his actors to stick to his script. One star in particular wasn’t a big fan of that, though: Madeline Kahn. So when Mrs. White is supposed to talk about how much she hated Yvette, Kahn lets loose a riff involving “flames” on the side of her face, and it was so good it just had to stay in the movie.

“All that was written was, ‘I hated her so much that I wanted to kill her,’ or something like that,” co-star Michael McKean said. “But she just kind of went into a fugue about hatred. She did it three or four times, and each time was funnier than the last.”

11. YOU MAY RECOGNIZE THE SINGING TELEGRAM GIRL AS A GO-GO.

YouTube

The Singing Telegram Girl, who only has a few seconds of (living) screen time in the film, wasn’t known as an actress at the time, but she was already a success in the music business. That’s right, it’s Go-Gos guitarist Jane Wiedlin, in her first film role.

12. THERE WAS ORIGINALLY A FOURTH ALTERNATE ENDING.

Clue famously features three different solutions to the mystery, and they originally played in different theaters across the country (which is part of the reason why the film was a box office flop; no one knew which version to see). In the planning stages of the film, though, John Landis wanted four endings, one of which was eventually scripted and later scrapped by Lynn because it just wasn’t working. So, what was it? Well, Lynn claims he doesn’t remember, but the original movie storybook says it involved a scheme by Wadsworth to poison everyone.

13. THE MOVIE GOT ITS OWN PSYCH TRIBUTE EPISODE.

For its 100th episode, the mystery-comedy series Psych staged a Clue tribute in which various people are murder suspects inside a mansion. Martin Mull, Christopher Lloyd, and Lesley Ann Warren all appeared in the episode.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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