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The Top Rated Super Bowl Commercial Each Year

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Since 1989, USA Today has asked viewers to sit through the beer ads, candy commercials, and those awful GoDaddy spots to pick the best. Last year, they expanded their online operations to poll 7619 panelists who were asked to watch the entire broadcast and, in live time, score each commercial on a scale of 1 to 10. As you prepare to judge 2014's commerical offerings, let's take a look back at the best of previous years:

1989 – American Express

In a fairly straightforward commercial (OK, straightforward for the Super Bowl), actors Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey, who were both on Saturday Night Live at the time, use their credit cards to get to the big game in Miami. Lovitz has trouble with his Visa, while Carvey is in paradise with his American Express.

1990 – Nike


Announcers, including the likes of Harry Caray, call an event that keeps changing sports with shots of Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, and Bo Jackson. The phrase “Nice shoes” keeps being used. Oh, and there’s even a Richard Nixon joke.

1991 – Diet Pepsi

Because America was fighting the Gulf War at the time, USA Today says many advertisers switched their funny commercials to more serious ones—and those spots didn’t even make their top 10. Diet Pepsi and Ray Charles asked the world if their jingle had caught on yet, receiving a unanimous “sure, dude.”

1992 – Nike

“Who’d you expect, Elmer Fudd?” asks Michael Jordan in Nike’s winning ad, which also featured Bugs Bunny. This commercial laid the groundwork for the future cinematic work of art, Space Jam.

1993 – McDonald’s

Maybe Michael Jordan is what it takes to hit number one; by 1993, he had been featured in three winning commercials. Jordan and Larry Bird duel against each other in an outrageous game of H-O-R-S-E played throughout Chicago. All in the name of the almighty Big Mac.

1994 – Pepsi

A lab chimp drinks a bottle of Pepsi, drives to the beach, and turns into a party animal. Enough said. This begins Pepsi’s domination over other Super Bowl commercials for the next four years.

1995 – Pepsi

Using his straw to get the last drop of Pepsi in his bottle, a young boy on a beach accidentally sucks so hard that he pulls himself into the bottle. His little sister yells, “Mom, he’s done it again!”

1996 – Pepsi

A Coke driver is delivering a new batch to a store when he decides to grab a Pepsi. The whole shelf of cans tumbles to the floor while the Hank Williams song “Your Cheatin’ Heart” plays in the background. Anyone else imagining a modern-day version with Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats”?

1997 – Pepsi

These bears had a primal urge to dance to the tune of the YMCA song, just using the letters that spell out Pepsi. Bless the old man toward the end who makes a Macarena joke.

1998 – Pepsi

This was the last year for Pepsi, who had proved to be a powerhouse during the mid-90s. In this minute-long spot, a skysurfer goes head to head with a goose. The two eventually share a Pepsi and a flock of geese fly away, creating the company’s logo in the sky.

1999 – Budweiser

Enter Budweiser, a company that will play on its Clydesdale tradition and dominate Super Bowl ads from here on. Two dalmatian puppies are separated at birth, one becoming a part of a firehouse and the other the mascot of the Clydesdale-driven beer wagon.

2000 – Budweiser

Rex the Wonder Dog isn’t cooperating on set. While his director is yelling at him, we see the dog’s dream: While chasing a Budweiser truck, he slams into the side of a mini-van. The dog howls, the director catches it on film, and the movie becomes a success.

2001 – Bud Light

Anheuser-Busch replaces their love for animals with Cedric the Entertainer. While trying to entertain his date, the romance takes a turn for the worse when his bottle of Bud Light accidentally explodes on the girl.

2002 – Bud Light

Satin sheets—good. Bud Light—great. The two together? Not so much. A woman begins enticing her beau to join her on their satin sheets with Bud Light, but it doesn’t go as planned. He slides across the sheets and flies out the bedroom window.

2003 – Budweiser

Another Budweiser spot using their famous Clydesdale horses. This time, Budweiser is parodying the use of instant replay by having football-playing horses and a referee zebra. When one of the two humans watching the game calls the ref a “jackass,” the other responds, "I believe that's a zebra."

2004 – Bud Light

They brought back the animals … just not in a good way. Two dog trainers are using their pets to try to outdo each other. It gets weird when one dog bites the other trainer in the groin. This was the same year that Janet Jackson introduced “wardrobe malfunction” into our everyday language.

2005 – Bud Light

A first-time skydiver is too scared to jump out of the plane—and when his instructor tosses a six-pack of Bud Light out of the hatch, it's the plane's pilot who takes the plunge. 

2006 – Bud Light

In what is a “genius” idea, a man installs a turntable so he can hide his refrigerator in an attempt to keep his friends away from his Bud Light. The turntable, though, sends his box to the apartment next door where a group of men are praising the “magic fridge.”

2007 – Budweiser

On a beach, a bunch of crabs hijack a cooler filled with Bud Light. When two bottles in the cooler make it appear like a large crab surrounded by a halo of sun, the gang begins to idolize it.

2008 – Budweiser

In a tribute to Rocky, a horse is turned down to join the iconic horse-drawn Budwesier Clydesdale wagon, but gets inspiration from an unlikely mentor: a dalmatian. The horse trains through the toughest of conditions to join the hitch team.

2009 – Doritos

Doritos ended the reign of the Anheuser-Busch dynasty this year with their first-ever fan-generated commercial. Two men use a snow globe—what one character calls his "crystal ball"—to make wishes for the future. One man says that there will be free Doritos at work, so he throws the snow globe into a vending machine, breaking the glass to get at the Doritos. The other man wishes for a promotion, but accidentally hits his boss when he throws the globe.

2010 – Snickers

“You’re playing like Betty White out there!” Put an aging character actor in a commercial, let her get tackled during a football game, and apparently it’s solid gold that other Super Bowl commercials dream of.

2011 (tie) – Bud Light and Doritos

This was the first year the system returned a tie. Anheuser-Busch and Doritos were neck and neck in 2011, but not so much in 2012 and 2013.

A man is asked to housesit a group of intelligent dogs in a home with a refrigerator full of Bud Light. The man puts the dogs to work, catering a party and serving the product to guests.

In another user-generated win for Doritos, a man teases his girlfriend’s pug with a bag of Doritos. The guy closes and stands behind a glass door, but the pug runs and pounces on the door, knocking it down and taking the bag of chips.

2012 – Doritos

When a man witnesses his dog bury his wife’s cat, the dog bribes the man with bags of Doritos to keep mum. The dog’s plan worked, the commercial worked, and it only cost the video’s creator $20 to put together.

2013 - Budweiser

The big score (and waterworks) of the 2013 Super Bowl came when Budweiser told an emotional story of a trainer and the horse he breeds and raises to be a Budweiser Clydesdale. After seeing the baby horse and trainer interact, the commercial jumps three years, where we see the two re-unite at a big-city parade. The “Brotherhood” spot, which received an averaged score of 7.76, is paying homage to Budweiser’s long relationship with Super Bowl ads and with their horses. “It will be one that makes people smile, maybe put a little bit of a tear in their eye, it’s a very emotionally evocative spot. It’s a great piece and a nod to the tradition of the Clydesdales,” said Paul Chibe, vice president of U.S. marketing for Anheuser-Busch.

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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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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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