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18 Spooky Halloween Sayings From Around the U.S.

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Halloween has been celebrated in the United States since the 1800s, thanks to Irish and Scottish immigrants who brought over their All Hallows' Eve traditions. So it's no surprise that a distinctly American English has risen around the holiday, including these 18 spooky regionalisms we’ve gathered in our continued partnership with the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE).

1. HOLLY EVE

In Arkansas or Missouri in the 1930s, West Virginia in the 1940s, or Pennsylvania in the 1950s, you might have referred to Halloween as Holly Eve. Hence, says DARE, a Holly Eve-er is “one who goes out on Halloween.”

2. POKE OF MOONSHINE

Another name for the jack o' lantern, at least in 1930s Connecticut. A peak in the Adirondacks shares the name and, according to The New York Times, might come from the Algonquin Indian pohqui, meaning "broken," and moosie, meaning "smooth," possibly referring to "the level summit and stunning east-facing cliffs.” In the case of a jack o’ lantern, it could possibly refer to its carved and intact surfaces. In South Carolina, to move like a poke of moonshine is to move slowly and lazily.

3. FALSE FACE

The term false face originated in the late 18th century, according to DARE, to mean a mask in general, and in the early 1900s came to refer specifically to a Halloween mask. From a 1911 ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Halloween Masks—We have that false face you want for Tuesday night, grotesque and funny.”

The term seems to have been popular in the 1940s and ‘50s, with DARE quotes from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Mississippi, Kentucky, Indiana, and Texas. One individual states that their grandmother, who was born in New York City in the 1880s, used “‘false face’ (stress on ‘false’) as her ordinary word for ‘Halloween mask,’” and while the mask “didn’t have to be worn specifically on or for Halloween … it did have to cover the entire face.”

4. AND 5. HELP THE POOR AND SOAP OR EATS

While trick or treat is the norm for bonbon begging, in 1930s and '40s Detroit, you might have also heard help the poor. Over in parts of California, Ohio, and Minnesota, the candy call might have been soap or eats or soap or grub. According to a Wisconsin resident, soap has to do with “threatening to soap windows” if goodies aren’t given.

6. PENNY NIGHT

Another trick or treat alternative is penny night, at least in southwest Ohio. The term also refers to the Halloween celebration itself. We're not sure what pennies have to do with it except as sweets stand-ins.

7. BEGGARS’ NIGHT

Parts of the North and North Midland— especially Ohio and Iowa—call Halloween like it is: beggars’ night. “Beggars’ Night, how ’bout a bite?” you might have heard in the Buckeye State. Beggars' night could be celebrated on “one or more days” the week before Halloween, much to the annoyance of several of those quoted in DARE. From a 1936 issue of the Piqua Daily Call in Ohio: “If the kids would get organized and pick on one particular date for their Beggar’s Night, we could brace ourselves for the onslaught.”

One Ohio resident said they had beggar’s night on October 30, on which they said, “Please help the poor,” while on Halloween they said, “Trick or treat.” The same practice also occurred on Thanksgiving eve, according to quotes from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York City.

8. DEVIL’S NIGHT

As a Michigan resident, you might have called the night before Halloween devil’s night, during which, according to quotes in DARE, kids might vandalize and set fire to abandoned buildings. In 1995, Detroit rechristened devil's night as Angel's Night, a community-organized event in which tens of thousands of volunteers "help patrol and surveil the streets during the days leading up to Halloween."

9. MISCHIEF NIGHT

To this New Jersey native, Halloween eve has always been mischief night, on which you could expect to get TP’d, egged, and, in the case of our mailbox one year, spray-painted. According to quotes in DARE, additional activities might include doorbell ringing, gate removing (hence, gate night in some parts of the Northeast), car window soaping, pumpkin stealing, and porch furniture moving.

In England, mischief night refers to the prank-filled evenings of April 30 (May Day eve), October 30, or November 4, the night before Guy Fawkes Day. The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation of the term is from 1830, while DARE’s is from 1977. It’s not clear exactly when the New Jersey/southeastern Pennsylvania meaning of mischief night originated. The earliest record we could find was from 1947 in an article, “Passaic Takes the ''Mischief Out of ‘Mischief Night.’”

A variation on mischief night might be mystery night, attested in Essex and northern Middlesex counties, as well as other parts of north and central Jersey.

10. AND 11. GOOSEY NIGHT AND PICKET NIGHT

Garden State alternatives to mischief night include goosey night and picket night. While picket night might come from “the custom of producing noise by running a stick along a picket fence,” according to Lexical Variation in New Jersey by Robert Foster, it’s unclear where goosey night comes from. If we had to guess, perhaps from goose, meaning to poke or startle.

12. CABBAGE NIGHT

In some northern parts of the United States, October 30 is known as cabbage night, during which, according to DARE, “young people throw cabbages and refuse on people’s porches, and play other pranks.” Why cabbages? As io9 explains, it might have to do with an old Scottish tradition in which young women would pull up cabbages “to examine their stalks,” see if their future husbands “would be lean or plump,” and inexplicably hurl the vegetables at neighbors' homes.

13. CLOTHESLINE NIGHT

In parts of 1950s Vermont, clotheslines were apparently the victim of much TP'ing on Halloween eve. Hence, clothesline night.

14. AND 15. CORN NIGHT AND DOORBELL NIGHT

Corn was the projectile of choice in Ohio areas in the late 1930s. One resident remembered the custom of celebrating the night before Halloween by chucking “dried, shelled corn” at porches. In other parts of the Buckeye State, ringing and running is preferred on what’s known as doorbell night.

16. LIGHT NIGHT

Over in New York, mischief makers would “fling rocks at bare street lights,” says one resident—hence, light night.

17. MOVING NIGHT

After a raucous moving night in Baltimore, you might find anything not nailed down—including gates, flower pots, and porch furniture—moved to a neighboring yard, down the block, or even on the next block.

18. TICKTACK NIGHT

The cabbage night equivalent in regions including Iowa, Ohio, Maryland, New Jersey, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. Ticktack are various “homemade noisemakers used to make rapping or other annoying sounds against a window or door as a prank,” especially around Halloween, as well as the prank itself. In parts of Ohio, one resident said, the tick tack noises were from the sound of corn being thrown at windows.

According to Foster’s Lexical Variation in New Jersey, “Mercer County is the home of Tick Tack Night,” where the name is sometimes reinterpreted as “Tic Tac Toe Night” and some pranksters believed they were “called upon to draw tic tac toe diagrams on houses and walks."

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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