Oliver Roeder: Journalist

Oliver Roeder

Hello! I’m a journalist and author in New York City. Recently, I’ve been a Nieman Fellow at Harvard studying artificial intelligence, and a senior writer and the puzzle editor at FiveThirtyEight. Find me on Twitter or send me an email.

I am especially interested in games and competitive subcultures, political strategy, art and its market, and our artificially intelligent future. I did a PhD in economics with a focus on game theory.

Below, you can find my books, a categorized selection of my articles, some examples of my data visualization, and a selection of my media appearances.

Books

Seven Games: A Human History (W.W. Norton, forthcoming Jan. 2022)

For millennia, human beings have played games. For decades, computer scientists have developed artificial intelligence to beat the best human players—in checkers, chess, Go, backgammon, poker, Scrabble, and bridge, among others. This book is a narrative history of that human-machine collision and the battles for gaming supremacy. It is also an essay on what artificial intelligence and games mean for our species and its future.

The Riddler: Fantastic Puzzles from FiveThirtyEight (W.W. Norton, 2018)

A collection of my weekly math columns and the first book under the FiveThirtyEight banner. Will Shortz called it “a modern, smart puzzle book, unlike anything I’ve seen before, whose math and logic challenges will stretch your brain in new ways.”

Articles

Games and sports

An A.I. Finally Won an Elite Crossword Tournament, Slate

It’s Hard To Win At Poker Against An Opponent With No Tell

The Man Who Solved ‘Jeopardy!’ and The Battle For ‘Jeopardy!’ Supremacy

My dispatches from the World Chess Championship

The American Grandmaster Who Could Become World Champion

Russia Made The King Of Chess. The U.S. Dethroned Him. (with Pete Madden and Patrick Reevell)

The Best Chess Player In The World Beat Me At Chess

After an unlikely series of events and a fateful email, the mayor of Oslo, an Afghan ambassador, a legal adviser with the Maldives mission, and I found ourselves sitting at a large table in the United Nations building playing chess against the best chess player who has ever lived. It did not go well.

Chess’s New Best Player Is A Fearless, Swashbuckling Algorithm

American Chess Is Great Again

The Bots Beat Us. Now What?

How ‘Qi’ And ‘Za’ Changed Scrabble

The Machines Are Coming For Poker

One Last Dispatch From The Land Of Chess Kings And Billionaires

Every two years, I write daily coverage of the weeks-long World Chess Championship. This is my final story from the 2016 match in New York City, featuring Peter Thiel, Russian oligarchs, lots of martinis, a Norwegian wunderkind, his Putin-loyalist challenger, and pilfered mini tacos.

The Glitch Hunters And Speedrunners Reinventing Super Mario Bros.

Shorter Isn’t Better, Slate (with Stefan Fatsis)

English Soccer’s Mysterious Worldwide Popularity, Contexts (with James Curley)

A Plagiarism Scandal Is Unfolding In The Crossword World

The editor of the USA Today crossword puzzle, and the Guinness record holder for most-syndicated crossword constructor and reportedly a multimillionaire, had apparently been plagiarizing puzzles from other newspapers for years. I broke the story, using a huge web-scraped database of puzzles and microfilm dug up in the New York Public Library. The editor was dismissed shortly after publication. This story was a finalist for the investigation prize at the 2016 Data Journalism Awards.

How I Beat the Champ at Scrabble, New York Observer

A Million Little Boxes

What Makes Nigel Richards The Best Scrabble Player On Earth

Politics and government

Which 2020 Candidates Have The Most In Common … On Twitter? (with Gus Wezerek)

How The National Enquirer Covered Trump In The ’90s

How Cable News Covers Mueller (with Dhrumil Mehta)

Why We’re Sharing 3 Million Russian Troll Tweets

I obtained and published some 3 million tweets from members of Russia’s Internet Research Agency—the largest empirical account of Russian trolls’ activities on social media to date. “I want to shout this from the rooftops,” a researcher told me. “This is not just an election thing. It’s a continuing intervention in the political conversation in America.”

How To Win A Trade War (with Rachael Dottle and Julia Wolfe) (Longlist, 2018 Information Is Beautiful Awards)

The Worst Tweeter In Politics Isn’t Trump (with Dhrumil Mehta and Gus Wezerek) (Shortlist, 2018 Information Is Beautiful Awards)

The Supreme Court Is Allergic To Math

How To Win A Nuclear Standoff

In the fall of 2017, with President Trump promising “fire and fury” and Kim Jong Un threatening American territories with “englufing fire,” I put readers in the shoes of a head of state engaged in a nuclear standoff—with an interactive game. I also explore the history of game theoretic study of nuclear weapons, games of chicken, and the “central puzzle about war.”

What does the future of the Supreme Court hold?, The Economist

Why Are Elections So Close?, Nautilus

Clinton And Trump Are Both Promising An Extreme Supreme Court

Jailers in chief?, The Economist

How To Read The Mind Of A Supreme Court Justice

The Crime Scene, Politico Magazine (with Lauren-Brooke Eisen)

Why The Best Supreme Court Predictor In The World Is Some Guy In Queens

Science and math

Journalism and Prediction during the Coronavirus Pandemic, Nieman Reports

Hunting For Mysteries At MIT In A 50-Hour Waking Fever Dream

The (Very) Long Tail Of Hurricane Recovery (with Julia Wolfe) (Shortlist, 2018 Information Is Beautiful Awards)

Math Has No God Particle

The Darkest Town In America

Fourteen times a day, a minivan-sized NASA satellite circles our planet, gathering light data. I analyzed that data, and headed to the darkest town in the continental United States: Gerlach, Nevada, population 100, on the edge of the Black Rock Desert. It’s a town of alien geothermal outcroppings and bad storms, reckoning with the creeping forces of Silicon Valley. Meanwhile, a “dark-sky movement” tries to keep the lights off.

The Weird Economics Of Ikea

How To Avoid Boring Sunsets

Can An Astrophysicist Change The Way We Watch Sports?

Art and culture

The Future Of Art Is Pepe The Frog and Neo-Warholism In The Age Of Big Dada

What If God Were A Giant Game Of Plinko?

A glitzy network game show might seem an unlikely place to see the face of God. But I argue that that’s exactly what one finds on “The Wall.” This story also features million-dollar winners, Charles Darwin’s cousin, the de Moivre-Laplace theorem, and Laplace’s demon.

One Art Lover’s Crusade To Catalog The World

What Makes The Spelling Bee So Hard

An Excavation Of One Of The World’s Greatest Art Collections

A Meadery Ferments in Bushwick, Edible Brooklyn

There is no difference between computer art and human art, Aeon

The Weird World Of Expensive Wine

New York’s Elevators Define The City

Terriers Were Once The Greatest Dogs In The World

A Complete Catalog Of Quentin Tarantino (Longlist, 2016 Information Is Beautiful Awards)

A Nerd’s Guide To The 2,229 Paintings At MoMA

Data visualization

Media appearances

Video

What Makes The Spelling Bee So Hard

An Excavation Of One Of The World’s Greatest Art Collections

Reporting live from the World Chess Championship

The darkest town in the U.S. may not be so dark for much longer

The story behind breaking a crossword plagiarism scandal

Can an astrophysicist change the way we watch sports?

Audio and print

“Jeopardy!” analytics on the CBC’s Day 6

The trade war is over (I lost) on NPR’s Marketplace

North Korea and nuclear war game theory on the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast

The Supreme Court and math on Science Friday

Poker and gaming AI on Slate’s Hang Up and Listen

Chess on Slate’s Hang Up and Listen and KCRW’s Press Play

The economic enigma of Ikea on NPR’s Marketplace

A Million Little Boxes on the Nonfiction Podcast

“Mass Incarceration: The Silence of the Judges” in the New York Review of Books

Crossword plagiarism on KCRW’s Press Play

“FiveThirtyEight Enters the Puzzle Game” in the New York Observer