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.
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.”
Russia Made The King Of Chess. The U.S. Dethroned Him. (with Pete Madden and Patrick Reevell)
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.
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.
Shorter Isn’t Better, Slate (with Stefan Fatsis)
English Soccer’s Mysterious Worldwide Popularity, Contexts (with James Curley)
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
Which 2020 Candidates Have The Most In Common … On Twitter? (with Gus Wezerek)
How Cable News Covers Mueller (with Dhrumil Mehta)
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)
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
Jailers in chief?, The Economist
The Crime Scene, Politico Magazine (with Lauren-Brooke Eisen)
Journalism and Prediction during the Coronavirus Pandemic, Nieman Reports
The (Very) Long Tail Of Hurricane Recovery (with Julia Wolfe) (Shortlist, 2018 Information Is Beautiful Awards)
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.
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.
A Meadery Ferments in Bushwick, Edible Brooklyn
A Complete Catalog Of Quentin Tarantino (Longlist, 2016 Information Is Beautiful Awards)
“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
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