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10 Crazy Things That Happened at Studio 54

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The original Studio 54 nightclub, which opened on this date in 1977, was open for less than three years before owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager were prosecuted for tax evasion. But 33 months was more than enough time for a dazzling array of hedonistic shenanigans. The club opened again under new management in 1981, and while the new owners also had wild events that attracted a plethora of A-list celebrities, the vibe just wasn’t the same. Here are a few of the insane things (at least, the ones that are fit to print) we missed out on:

1. Four tons of glitter on the floor.

To celebrate New Year’s Eve in the late 1970s, event planner Robert Isabell trucked in four tons of glitter for guests to dance on. “You felt like you were standing on stardust,” Ian Schrager later said. “People got the glitter in their hair, in their socks. You would see it in people’s homes six months later, and you knew they’d been at Studio 54 on New Year’s.”

2. The night they sold nothing but fruit juice and soda.

During the first year the club was open, Schrager and Rubell got by with no liquor license. Instead, they purchased daily permits intended for caterers, not nightclubs. The head of the State Liquor Authority got wind of the scam and conducted a sting; afterward, the club was closed for the night. Undaunted, Studio 54 opened the next night anyway. Patrons received this notice at the door:

“Welcome! And thank you for joining us this evening. Due to an unfortunate misunderstanding, we are unable to serve alcoholic beverages tonight. However, we have a variety of soft drinks and juices, and you are welcome to drink as much as [you] like at no charge. Studio 54 will remain open; we thank you for helping make it the success that it is.”

3. Bianca Jagger riding around on a white horse.

Mick Jagger’s then-wife helped open Studio 54 when designer Halston held a birthday party for her there. It’s often reported that Jagger rode in astride a magnificent white horse, but last year, she issued a statement that corrected that notion: She didn’t ride in on the white horse. It was already at the party, and she rode it once she got inside, led around by a tall naked dude covered in gold glitter. Jagger hoped that her letter would finally “put this Studio 54 fable—out to pasture.”

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4. Andy Warhol’s birthday party.

On August 6, 1979, Halston hosted another birthday bash at Studio 54—this one for Andy Warhol. He gifted Warhol with a pair of roller skates, while Rubell simply gave him a garbage pail stuffed with cash. When Rubell was jailed for tax evasion, Warhol gave Rubell his own money-themed gift: a brass sculpture with dollar signs cut out.

5. When fashion fell from the sky.

The nightclub was known for dropping things from a net on the ceiling—often balloons, sometimes glitter. But on at least one occasion, the net contained gift boxes that held pricey goodies from various fashion houses.

6. The nights Disco Sally appeared.

Mingling amongst the likes of Warhol, Halston, and Jagger was a 77-year old widow named Sally Lippman. “Disco Sally” became a regular after one of her young friends told her that she should check out Studio 54 just once, to see it. She and her friend managed to get in, and Rubell was delighted to see her on the dance floor, telling her, “I like to see you here. Come anytime you like, and you’ll get in.” You didn’t have to tell Sally twice—after that, she became a fixture there most nights. “I didn’t dance for 50 years because my husband didn’t like it,” she said. Here she is in action, terrifying Lawrence Welk.

7. All of the Halloween parties.

Former model Kevin Haley once recalled the elaborate (and politically incorrect) setup that was just the entrance to the party: “As you came up the ramp in the foyer, you looked through little windows into little booths with midgets doing things. The one that sticks out in my head had a midget family eating a formal dinner. It was like a nonstop party.”

8. Valentino’s Birthday party.

Giancarlo Giammetti decided to throw a circus birthday party for his partner, fashion designer Valentino, three days before his birthday. "We had a circus ring with sand, and mermaids on trapezes," Giammetti said. "Fellini gave us costumes from his film, The Clowns. Valentino was the ringmaster, and Marina Schiano came as a palm reader with a parrot on her shoulder.” Another infamous night at 54 was the evening Dolly Parton held an after-concert party there, complete with bales of hay and live farm animals.

9. When the game Simon premiered at the club.

In 1978, Milton Bradley had a launch party for their new game, Simon. They must have realized that the trippy sequences of flashing lights would appeal to the disco set, because they had a four-foot model designed and hung it over the dance floor.

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10. The raid that eventually closed the club.

After Steve Rubell made a public statement that “only the Mafia does better” than Studio 54 when it came to money, the IRS took notice—the club had paid just $8000 in taxes in 1977. At a raid on December 14, 1978, feds found a reported $600,000 in garbage bags hidden in the building, in addition to 300 Quaalude pills and at least a few ounces of cocaine (reports varied on the actual amount). A few hours after the raid, people came to the club in droves, either to get the gossip or to support the owners.

Before Rubell and Schrager were shipped off to prison to serve 13-month sentences, they were serenaded by Diana Ross and Liza Minnelli in front of a crowd that included Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Gia Carangi, and Richard Gere, among others.

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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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© Nintendo
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.