Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


March 15, 2009

Psychologists seem to have a fancy word for every conceivable fear known to man or woman. Nyctophobia, fear of darkness. Phagophobia, fear of swallowing. Agyrophobia, fear of crossing the street. Blennophobia, morbid fear of slime. On National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” I talked about the phobia de jour triskaidekaphobia.

You can listen to the piece here.

Meryl and Me

February 24, 2009

As a shy and retiring science writer who has never dined at Spago, I like to think I am above the Oscars and all the glamour, glitz and dreamy diversions that Hollywood offers. And yet every year, for weeks after the Academy Awards, I find myself obsessing over the few movie stars I’ve actually met in real life.

There was the rushed morning at the Greenwich Village espresso bar when the woman behind me, Julia Roberts, watched me wimpishly dilute my coffee with half-and-half. How different my life would be, I now think, if she had seen me down it black. Or if she had caught me taking out a flask — not that I own a flask — and dumping Polish vodka into my brew. Or if I had had the nerve to offer her a swig and we skipped merrily, hand in hand, out of the place together. I’ll have to ask Julia, when we meet again, if it would have made a difference.

[continued on National Public Radio, which reports that Meryl Streep could have had a date with me at the Oscars if she had not been so preoccupied with tomatoes.]

War Games

November 7, 2008

In the next few days, I’m off to Soho to participate in Surrender, a provocative interactive play by Josh Fox and my friend and Hudson Valley neighbor Jason Christopher Hartley.  Jason is an Iraq War veteran who got busted by his military superiors for posting a blog from Iraq that rawly chronicled the ordinary details of his life as a soldier.  In Surrender, audience members don army jackets and combat boots and are trained for two hours by Jason.  Then we go on a mission and maybe accidentally kill civilians.

Chess Tipping

April 28, 2008

My friend Chris sent me this photo of the tip jars in the coffee shop below his office. Judging by the distribution of money, it seems that the shop is frequented by more woodpushers than masters. Or could it be that there are more (self-identified) good players than weak ones but the latter are better tippers?

No Nunchucks in the White House, No Fellation in the Library

December 5, 2007

Once I went to a reception at the White House for Stephen Hawking. As I passed through the metal detectors at the security check point, I read a sign that listed prohibited items such as knives, guns, and nunchucks. Gee, I thought, does the sign really deter world-be presidential assassins? And nunchucks!! If it weren’t for the sign, would Kobudo warriors have taken over the president’s home?

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the august reading room of The New York Public Library searching for a topic for my next book, and I was similarly struck by a list of seemingly self-evident prohibited behavior:

Obscene and/or abusive language or gestures.

Creating a public disturbance.

Harassing or threatening behavior.

Sexual acts.

Use of bicycles, skates, skateboards, scooters, or similar items.

Engaging in any activity that is a violation of criminal or civil law.

Correction: 7:00 PM

November 10, 2007

My book talk and signing at the Marshall Chess Club (23 West 10th Street) on Tuesday, Nov. 13, is at 7 PM not 7:30 PM. Sorry for any confusion!! Refreshments will be served.

King’s Gambit Book Signing in Greenwich Village

September 21, 2007

If you’re in New York City on Tuesday, please come to my first public event for King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father and the World’s Most Dangerous Game. On September 25 at 7:00 PM, I’ll be signing copies of the book and giving a short talk at Barnes & Noble, 4 Astor Place. At the event, I’ll be interviewed by Dr. Frank Brady, the president of the Marshall Chess Club and author of the definitive biography of Bobby Fischer.

You don’t need to be in New York to listen to my appearance on “The Leonard Lopate Show” on WNYC at 1:00 PM on Monday, September 24. The show will be streamed live on the Web.

Nakamura is Flamed on Eve of Chess Match

September 17, 2007

There is a rich tradition in coffeehouse chess of trash talking. In blitz games, in particular, chess hustlers often verbally harass their opponents in mid-play to distract them and soften them up for the kill. Chess lore is also full of sore losers’ flaming adversaries whom they perceive as clueless. (Even a monkey pecking at a typewriter can occasionally pound out a sonnet worthy of Shakespeare.) After one such defeat, the great Aron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935) is said to have climbed up on the chessboard, dropped to his knees, and shouted to the heavens, “Oh Lord, why did I have to lose to this idiot?”

The tradition of verbal abuse at the chessboard is alive and well, especially on the Web. Hikaru Nakamura, the top board on the New York Knights and an omnipresent Internet devotee, used to like to tell opponents “Bend!” and “Resign and spare yourself further humiliation.”

Hikaru is paired tonight in the U.S. Chess League against the Boston Blitz’s Larry Christiansen. Yesterday, Hikaru was online at the Internet Chess Club observing the moves of a game from the World Championship in Mexico City. Larry, or at least someone using his account, was online too and decided to get foul with Hikaru:

LarryC-BOS(GM) kibitzes: when i beat u
LarryC-BOS(GM) kibitzes: im a be like
LarryC-BOS(GM) kibitzes: bend over
LarryC-BOS(GM) kibitzes: and ill even come if u want as drunk as i am now
LarryC-BOS(GM) kibitzes: lol

Nakamura, who was apparently watching football as well as the World Championship, played it cool and did not respond. Just as well because it turned out that the sophomoric kibitzer wasn’t Christiansen, my sources say, but someone impersonating him (a Boston Blitz teammate, perhaps?) who had access to his user name and password.

My memoir King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game is full of amusing examples of players’ misbehaving. The book has been out less than a week, and is still available at a special introductory rate at Amazon of 34% off.

Earth Isn’t Doomed After All

September 13, 2007

If you are feeling down because of the protracted war in Iraq, the anniversary of 9/11, or the ineptitude of the international chess federation to put forward a coherent plan for choosing a world chess champion, here’s some news to cheer you up. A team of astronomers in Naples, Italy, believes that five billion years from now Earth may be able to outlast the expected apocalyptic swelling of the Sun to 100 times its current diameter. In the current issue of Nature, they report the discovery of an Earthlike planet that survived its own sun’s explosion.