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Waldo's Topless Beach Scandal

For Eileen Godfrey of Nashua, New Hampshire, there could be no doubt: There was definitely nipple.

It was October of 1992, and Godfrey had just returned from shopping at a local BJ’s Wholesale Club with a puzzle for her five-year-old daughter, Jessica, to assemble. It was a sprawling beach scene populated by hundreds of characters, including one dressed slightly inappropriately for the climate: Waldo, the sweater-sporting explorer who “hides” in every crowd scene illustrated by Martin Handford for his Where’s Waldo? line of books. (The series, which debuted in 1987, is referred to as Where’s Wally? in Handford’s native England.)

Jessica did not get a chance to locate him. While looking at the pieces, Godfrey spotted a woman reacting in surprise to a little boy poking her in the back with an ice cream cone. Though the tiny figure was no bigger than a dime, it was clear that Handford had drawn a breast and accompanying nipple on the sunbather. Her bikini top was laid out in front of her.

Angry, Godfrey put the puzzle out of reach of both Jessica and her 10-year-old son. She phoned BJ’s, which pulled the remaining boxes from the shelves. The story made the Associated Press wires, with the Great American Puzzle Company blithely telling a reporter that they had received a couple of other complaints about the illustration the year prior.

Great American was probably indifferent because they had merely reproduced the artwork: It originated with Walker Books, the UK publishing house that issued all of Handford’s Wally/Waldo works. Since it’s unlikely anyone had tampered with the drawing, Godfrey’s discovery meant that the book likely featured the exact same scene.

That was proven just a few months later, when another mother—this one in East Hampton, New York—discovered the book her 10-year-old son had borrowed from his school library contained the covert anatomy lesson.

“I think it’s, like, disgusting,” the boy, Ken Coleman, told the Times-Post News Service in March 1993. Disgusting or not, he felt compelled to show the book to his younger brother before alerting his parents; his stepmother, Shirley Coleman, successfully rallied to have her school district pull the book from circulation.

From that point on, the original Where’s Waldo? collection spent much of the 1990s occupying the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Challenged Books, just behind Howard Stern's Private Parts. In the UK, nudity is not quite the taboo it is in the United States—nude sunbathing is legal on any beach, though someone might ask you politely to cover up—making it unlikely the illustrator or his UK publisher would be overly concerned with a minor puritanical controversy. (Some Waldo fans have reported the sunbather recovered her top for later editions; Walker Books did not respond to mental_floss's request for confirmation.)

Handford, who rarely grants interviews, never addressed the controversy directly. Speaking briefly to the Los Angeles Times and other media for the character’s tenth anniversary in 1997, however, Handford said that he considered Wally a “cool guy” and “very open-minded.”

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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