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Our Readers' Favorite Halloween Costumes

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All fall, you guys have been filling up our inbox with your best Halloween photos. Get in the holiday spirit by looking at some of our favorite submissions. Apologies for all the pagination—we don't typically do that, but we also don't typically stick 60 photos in a post. Enjoy!

Olivia sent in this picture of herself dressed as a ninja. No word on the identity or whereabouts of the hostage beside her.


Brian, Abby & Hannah Segool, circa 1993. (From Abby: "My parents started me on the road to nerd-dom early in life.")


Marion Germaine sent in this photo of her daughter as a cute little polar bear. A cute little polar bear feasting on the flesh of a bloody severed leg.


Here's one from the 1970s. Scarlett Messenger is dressed as a bat, and her shirt reads "DING" in big red letters. "Yes, I went to school dressed as a Ding Bat. I don't think the scars have healed yet."


Elizabeth-Anne Cobb sets the bar pretty high for people who make their costume out of a box each year.


We've all seen Harry Potter, Severus Snape and Cho Chang costumes, but Angela Kerchner's family waded deeper into the canon—here's her husband and daughter as Xenophilis and Luna Lovegood.


Angela's other daughter played a convincing Moaning Myrtle.


The rules for Christopher Schwarz's costumes are as follows: "1) A good amount of people must know who I am right away. 2) When I go to Halloween parties, no one else should be dressed the same way." (You'll hear from him again.)


Jade Thompson and her boyfriend cleaned up at costume contests last year.


Nathan Jackson as...Nathan Jackson! (Apologies to the rest of you who submitted photos of your Nathan Jackson costumes. Only had room for one.)


Anneke Majors has pulled off both Frida Kahlo and a jellyfish.


Anneke also sent in this photo of her friend Abby as Tippi Hedren (from The Birds).


Jake Meek said his Bob Ross attire was purchased in the ladies department at a local thrift store, "which I can only assume is where all men's clothing from the '70s currently resides." He's posing with the Orbit Gum Lady. Advertising characters are always a popular choice. Let's run through a bunch of mascots...


Here are the same two, this time as The Hamburgler and the woman on the Sunmaid Raisins box.


One of my favorites—Allison Brooks as Toucan Sam!


Tricia Williamson's husband creeped people out as The King. ("He went around all night offering a burger to people and showing up in the window. 4 years later people are still talking about it.")


Not sure why, but I was very happy to see someone dressed as Colonel Sanders. Well played, Liz Somes.


Patrick & Amanda McCullough as Mr. Clean & Mrs. Dirty.


Here's Christopher Schwarz again, this time as The Hamburgler.


Megan as the Travelocity Roaming Gnome, along with a salt shaker (Mariah) and a "cereal killer" (Anna Frick -- "that's why cereal is glued to my shirt and spoons are attached to my gloves.")

Who wants to see some superheros and villains?


Lots of superhero costumes. Rebekah Davies sent in this photo of her co-worker Michael as Captain America. ("He made it from scratch, including sewing the shield from individual pleather tiles he cut out...hundreds of them.")


Heidi Hurst is Highlighter Girl! (Superpower: "I brighten your day!")


Melissa Shumate as Wonder Woman (with a Burger King crown for good measure).


Rachel Moore as Doctor Horrible!


Christopher Schwarz makes his third and final appearance on our list, this time as Two-Face.


It's Optimus Vance Rutherford!


Nathan Stewart gives away his how-to-be-Pinhead-from-Hellraiser secret: "I used liquid latex to cover my entire head, then painted toothpicks silver for the nails. A little dab of latex on the end of the toothpicks and they stuck without any problems. I even made my own Lament Configuration out of a block of wood."


Is the Tooth Fairy a hero? Kevin Kroll put an intimidating spin on the role.


Kerry Ruscitti and her husband went the American Gothic route.


I'm sure Joanne Christensen's kids are thrilled she sent in this photo from Halloween '98.


Regina Ruopoli and her elaborate, hand-made peacock costume.


Dressed as Super Princess Peach, Stefa Nunes ran into a couple of Mario Brothers.


Gino and his boyfriend pulled off a convincing Mario & Luigi, too.


Last year, Chelsea Glaze and her boyfriend "decided to be vikings because vikings are just awesome."


Not as many political costumes as I expected. Here are Melanie and Sarah as Bristol and Sarah Palin.


Linda McGee as "What the Well-Dressed Lady in Pacolet (SC) Is Wearing This Year."


Connor in CA bounced from house to house as Tigger.


Missa Haas says her cat, Sunny, is wild about Halloween. Sunny is also terrifying.


Laura Gryder sent in this star-powered photo: Peg Bundy, Nathan Explosion of Dethklok, and Richard Simmons.


Keegan Greenier explains: "Pillow stuffed in front. Black tights. Giant, yellow-rimmed sunglasses. Long live the '80s."


From Laurier Nicas: "I really loved Waldo growing up. Proof? Halloween 1991, Age 6. What this photo doesn't prove is that I am actually a girl."


Said Dominique Grant of her Waldo: "This was the best costume for getting in the background of other people's pictures."


Cindy Allen sent us these photos of her son as Legolas from The Lord of the Rings.


While they're not in costume, I had to include this photo of Ed and Heidi. I can respect a gourd hat that requires wiring.


Nicole Nasuti as Prison Martha, from 2004.


Alexzandra & Ashley Rico as a bunch of grapes and someone riding a pony-on-a-stick.


Ashley went all out in her portrayal of Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas.


The pride of Burbank, Ky Matthes went as Carol Burnett's character from her show's "Went With the Wind" skit.


Our first zombie, Carol Galloway.


We haven't met one of our neighbors down the street, and will be using Halloween as an excuse to pop in and say hello. Here's hoping they're dressed up like Robert & Julie Ashe when they open the door.


Another great one—here are Melissa Shumate and her sister Al rocking homemade Care Bears costumes.

Let's wrap this up with a few photos of various mental_floss staffers...

Staff Photos


Last year, Paul & Stacy Conradt got all dolled up as Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett. Wonder what she's planning this year?


And here's Stacy from yesteryear.


Miss Cellania as a rock and roll witch; Andréa Fernandes as a really scary clown.


Scott Allen as the DC Metro.


On the right, Brett Savage as Robin. On the left, Jason Plautz as...well, I'm not sure. I don't think it's actually from Halloween, but I really love that pic. I may go as that next year.


The Higgins Brothers, circa 1981. Mike as The Lone Ranger; Chris as a kitty cat.


Also from Halloween '81: my wife and I pay tribute to our favorite Sesame Street characters. Our 15-month-old daughter will follow in our footsteps tomorrow when she steps into an Elmo costume. She loves Elmo in books and as a doll, but I'm not certain she actually wants to be Elmo. This could get interesting.

Happy Halloween, everybody! Hope it's a memorable one. Take some good pics for next year's round-up.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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.