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Posted by Stubby the Rocket

There’s a lot of movie and TV news coming out of San Diego Comic-Con, but we were excited to that some people wanted to sit down and talk about books! Specifically, Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz sat down with The Nerdist’s Kyle Hill to discuss their books, Anders’ Nebula Award-winning All the Birds in the Sky and Newitz’ upcoming Autonomous. The conversation ranged from writing processes to Robin Hood to…taking Harry Potter out with a drone strike?

It’s a great conversation. Head over to Nerdist for the full interview!

sartorias: Mei Changs (MC)
[personal profile] sartorias
In this next arc, we see the powerful Marquis Xie moving toward securing more power through the oblivious Crown Prince. But he’s not merely the usual rug-chewing bad guy, which makes him so much more interesting. And also unpredictable.

Meanwhile, we are getting to know Xia Dong, Princess Nihuang’s bestie, who still refuses to speak to Prince Jing. She is loyal and honest and a fierce warrior. (And she has a very, very bumpy ride ahead of her.)

Finally, Princess Nihuang is confused and intrigued by this reclusive scholar who has the power to send military aid to a province on the other side of the continent, and yet who refuses to set foot in a falling-down house . . . and we see the building emotional cost to MC when spending more time with the princess and with Jing.

The next few eps are the midpoint of act one, and reach a climax I thought really intense on the first watch. I couldn’t believe that the intensity was going to scale upward exponentially—but it does. And by intensity I don’t mean climbing body counts, which enervate me fast. I mean real, personal stakes. Emotional cost. Political layers with real cost. So much intensity, so much beauty.
Read more... )

Touristifying in Frankfurt

Jul. 22nd, 2017 05:35 pm
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
[personal profile] oursin

Having a weekend with partner in Frankfurt.

Hotel perhaps overdoing the stylish minimalism: why does this always mean, nowhere to put stuff in the bathroom? However, good marks for the breakfast buffet.

On matters of modern design, am I the only person who finds themself waving their hands at a tap that turns on some other way, and vice versa?

Today to the Stadel- art gallery, very good stuff and lots of it. Among works observed, one C16th courtesan as Flora, with obligatory symbolickal bubbie displayed.

Also to the Arts and Crafts Museum, which has gone full-on poncey and eschews labeling in favour of composing curatorial 'constellations'. Though I could have spent more time with the shiny pillow-like balloons that one was permitted even exhorted to touch. (Sometimes I am shallow and frivolous.)

Some general flaneurserie, looking into churches, etc.

Summer brain

Jul. 22nd, 2017 06:29 am
sartorias: (desk)
[personal profile] sartorias
Another book seems to be trying to grab me, so while I veer between ongoing projects and escaping the unrelenting heat with tv watching (more NIF later today) and reading, I'm writing notes and watching the tetris pieces fall and interlock. If they fuse, well, then, that's what I'll be doing.

In the meantime, an interesting discussion, which I hope to wring another BVC blog post out of. (It's getting hard to figure out something to write, but I committed to it, so . . . besides, it's good for me to test my ideas against others. Too easy to get locked inside my head.)

Anyway, the discussion subject was words you don't use. I don't necessarily mean cuss words you avoid, but words that have too much freight for whatever reason. Like, the discussion got started when someone mentioned that when we were growing up, nobody ever said the word 'cancer' or wrote it. Sick, ill, other euphemisms, but she felt that there was this tremendous fear around the word because it was always a death sentence, especially as the constant cigarette atmosphere around us started catching up with people at not very old ages. Saying it was impolite, like saying pregnant (expecting was the word back then), but also there was a kind of superstition like mentioning it would invite it.

Another person said she refuses to use the word 'literally' because she hears it so much, usually used wrong, that is, as an emphasizer, which she sees as sloppy language.

A third person at that discussion said that that was weird, and why avoid any word?

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Posted by Stubby the Rocket

The Defenders SDCC trailer

It’s here! The final, full-length trailer for Marvel’s The Defenders! But don’t think that Luke Cage is hugging you for it.

We all need a friendship as beautiful and sass-laden as the one between Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock:

Yes. YES. We are so happy that we only need to wait until August 18th for get the rest of that.

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Posted by Emily Asher-Perrin

The Defenders, Marvel tv

The Defenders showed up to San Diego Comic Con with friends and foes and everyone in between, and they had a few announcements for the group, including information on what comes after The Defenders are done… defending.

First off, Daredevil has been given the greenlight for its third season! Which is probably just as well, seeing as the previous season ended on a cliffhanger of sorts. Iron Fist is also renewed for season two, and is adding Misty Knight to the cast… which is interesting considering the fact that Danny Rand and Misty had a relationship in the comics and haven’t really crossed paths yet in the television universe.

There were a few hints as to what’s coming in the Defenders as well, including a post-credit sequence that Jeph Loeb, head of Marvel TV, likens to your average MCU post-credits sequence. (Maybe this will relate the events of the upcoming Infinity War to our ground-level heroes?) To inquiries about Elektra’s role, Elodie Yung would only say that there were questions about how much of Elektra’s person was intact following her revival….

Finn Jones (Iron Fist) was quick point out that Danny Rand already changed a great deal in the first season of Iron Fist, and that it would continue to move in that direction for him. The Punisher has already filmed its first season, and Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Page is set to be a significant part of it, following her connection to Frank Castle in Daredevil season two.

Marvel's The Defenders, SDCC 2017


Mike Coulter (Luke Cage) was first to say that while the action of the show is excellent, what really shines is the energy between the four lead characters. Much was made of the budding sarcastic friendship between Jessica Jones and Matt Murdoch, with Kysten Ritter saying that “Jessica has a gooey inside, so she’ll help but not without dragging everyone…” Apparently she’s not a fan of Daredevil’s red suit.

Jeph Loeb also made the point that there is a fifth Defender: New York City.


And on that note… The Defenders premieres on Netflix on August 18th.

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Posted by Ramin Skibba

Aliens could be hiding on almost any of the Milky Way’s roughly 100 billion planets, but so far, we haven’t been able to find them (dubious claims to the contrary notwithstanding). Part of the problem is that astronomers don’t know exactly where to look or what to look for. To have a chance of locating alien life-forms — which is like searching for a needle that may not exist in an infinitely large haystack — they’ll have to narrow the search.

Astronomers hoping to find extraterrestrial life are looking largely for exoplanets (planets outside Earth’s solar system) in the so-called “Goldilocks zone” around each star: a distance range in which a planet is not too hot and not too cold, making it possible for liquid water to exist on the surface. But after studying our own world and many other planetary systems, scientists have come to believe that many factors other than distance are key to the development of life. These include the mix of gases in the atmosphere, the age of the planet and host star, whether the host star often puts out harmful radiation, and how fast the planet rotates — some planets rotate at a rate that leaves the same side always facing their star, so one hemisphere is stuck in perpetual night while the other is locked into scorching day. This makes it a complex problem that scientists can start to tackle with powerful computers, data and statistics. These tools — and new telescope technology — could make the discovery of life beyond Earth more likely.

These images show a star-forming region viewed through the Hubble Space Telescope (left) and a simulation of what it would look like as seen at a potential future observatory called the Large UltraViolet Optical Infrared Surveyor (right). New telescope technology could make the discovery of life beyond Earth more likely.


Two teams of astronomers are proposing different methods of tackling these questions. One argues that we should try to identify trends in the data generated by surveys of thousands of planets, while the other favors focusing on a handful of individual planets to assess where they’d lie on a scale from uninhabitable to probably populated.

Jacob Bean, an astronomer at the University of Chicago, advocates for the broader approach in a paper he and two other researchers published this spring. It’s not possible to know for sure if a distant planet is friendly to life, Bean says, so he and his colleagues aim to compare lots of planets to figure out which are most likely to host the conditions thought to be important to produce and sustain life. Determining how the amount of water or carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is correlated with distance from the star, for example, could help inform future, more targeted searches that use new space telescopes to look for worlds with hospitable climates. “How many planets do we need to look at to find the number of ‘Earth-like’ ones? That’s the multibillion-dollar question,” he said.

This is an artist’s illustration of systems of planets outside our solar system. Scientists are trying to figure out how to narrow the search for life on other planets.

NASA / ESA / M. Kornmesser (ESO)

Data that’s already available from NASA’s Kepler space telescope could help astronomers figure out what percentage of planets might be habitable. The Kepler mission revolutionized the study of exoplanets: It has allowed astronomers to analyze thousands of planets and their host stars, rather than the mere dozens or hundreds of extraterrestrial bodies — most of which are uninhabitable gas giants — on which we had data in the pre-Kepler period. In all, Kepler scientists have found 2,335 confirmed exoplanets, plus many more candidates waiting to be verified. With this information, researchers can get a better handle on how many solar systems have rocky planets circling at the right distance from the star or stars at the center, how often those stars zap the planets with radiation, how many planets are likely to have water, and how many feature other indications of a habitable climate. From there, scientists could deduce which of these factors are most important to the formation of planets that could develop life as we know it and determine which kinds of planets and stars are most worth focusing on.

That’s the big-picture strategy for the search for life. The other research, which was led by University of Washington astrobiologist David Catling and which will soon be undergoing peer review, claims that we’re ready to zoom in, going from questions about whether the conditions are right for life to whether life has actually developed on planets we’re interested in. His team proposes a statistical framework to evaluate these worlds.

In addition to a planet’s location and size, it matters whether its star gives off tons of radiation that could scorch off the atmosphere, leaving the planet with nothing to protect it from space weather. For example, the planets circling TRAPPIST-1 and Proxima Centauri, two red dwarf stars, exist in just such a threatening environment, and a new study by Harvard astrophysicists gives them a very low chance of supporting life. If a planet does have an atmosphere, then it matters what’s in it, as oxygen could be a sign of alien beings on the surface — even if they’re only tiny — and water vapor means it’s more likely that the climate is friendly to life. Methane, ozone and carbon dioxide could be positive signs too, but they can be produced by processes that don’t necessarily signify life, such as volcanoes.

This artist’s concept compares Earth to the exoplanet Kepler-452b, which sits in the so-called Goldilocks zone of its star. The illustration is just one guess as to what Kepler-452b might look like.

NASA / Ames / JPL-Caltech / T. Pyle

To put together as complete a picture as possible about a planet, astronomers need both high-resolution images of the solar system and a light spectrum of the planet, which reveals what gases are present in the planet’s atmosphere based on what wavelengths of light from the star appear or fail to appear after passing the planet. If they had access to more powerful telescopes than those in use today, astronomers would want to collect even more information, including details about the age and activity of the star; the planet’s size and distance from its star; the composition and pressure of the atmosphere; whether there were signs of water, such as glints of light reflecting off oceans; and what signs there were of geological processes such as tectonic or volcanic activity. Catling eventually hopes to be able to use this information to categorize planets so that you could say Planet Y has a 20 to 40 percent chance of having life, while Planet Z has an 80 percent chance.

But at the moment, his plan is largely theoretical.

“We’re not at the point where we can really calculate the frequency or probability of life, but it’s a useful exercise,” said Eric Ford, an astrophysicist and astrostatistician at Penn State University who was not involved in either study. “As in, ‘Here’s what we’d like to do, and, given our limitations, what’s the least-bad assumptions we can make about our prior knowledge?’ It turns an impossible problem into one we can gain a foothold in answering.”

The image on the left shows exoplanet Kepler-538 b. Is there life on 538? Astronomer Frank Drake (right) proposed a formula for estimating the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy.


Catling and his team proposed an approach that characterizes the chance that there’s life on a planet based on what’s known about the planet and its star, updating the chances as more data comes in. Distinguishing between the knowns and unknowns helps reduce the biases affecting the system and allows it to produce fewer false positives — but only if the humans doing the characterization have a good understanding of how likely it is that a set of planetary features indicates an inhabited planet versus a lifeless one. Since we haven’t yet found life beyond Earth, even in our own solar system, it’s hard to estimate these things with any confidence.

Catling’s approach evokes the famous “Drake equation,” put forth by astronomer Frank Drake in the 1960s as a way to figure out a ballpark number of extraterrestrial civilizations in the galaxy. The idea is to estimate how many stars there are, how many of those have planets, how many of those planets could support life, how many actually develop life, how many of those life-forms evolve into intelligent life, and so on. Starting with the simpler pieces and then building up to more complex ones helps us better understand the puzzle as a whole, even if some big pieces are still missing.

“This is a wish list,” Catling said of his group’s method, noting that we don’t have the technology to make it happen. “It’s like trying to find microbes before microscopes in the 16th century. We’re at that point now.”

Catling’s team is anticipating data from new telescopes, like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the James Webb Space Telescope, both set to launch next year. But they’re also looking beyond these to more sophisticated telescopes that may be built in the 2030s and 2040s. Those will likely have the capability to detect more potential signs of life from many more exoplanets.

Both approaches use a lot of data and tell scientists quite a bit about how planets form and whether they harbor the conditions that we think allow life to develop. But at least until those next-generation telescopes are finished, we will probably have to wait to find out if we’re alone in the universe.

“Even if we had an ‘Earth twin’ and detected oxygen and methane and glinting from oceans, we’ll never be 100 percent sure,” Catling said. “The only thing truly 100 percent would be [an alien] signal. … That would be a slam dunk.”

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Posted by Neil Paine

A week ago, I wrote about how both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros are in rare historical company this season. According to FiveThirtyEight’s Elo power ratings — which measure a team’s strength at any moment — each is playing roughly as well as the fabled 1927 Yankees played. But this season’s top-heaviness extends well beyond just the Astros and Dodgers. Each member of MLB’s ruling class this season is unusually strong, which suggests that, come October, we may be watching the the most stacked playoff fields in memory. That’s great news for fans — but it’s also really bad news for the wannabes and would-be Cinderellas that are currently chasing the front-runners.

One easy way to visualize the power balance of a league is to look at how its teams at any given ranking slot measure up to those from other seasons in the past. For example, the Dodgers have the best Elo rating (1602) of any top-ranked team through July 20 of a season in the expansion era (since 1961). Likewise, the Astros are by far the best second-ranked Elo team of the expansion era.

Go down the line, and each of Elo’s top six teams carries one of the strongest ratings in modern history for its slot. The third ranked Washington Nationals, for instance, are more like the top team in an average season than a mere third wheel. The Boston Red Sox would be running a strong third most seasons; this year, they’re a distant fourth. The Indians and Cubs can both tell similar stories.

As we approach the July 31 trade deadline, this is more than just an academic curiosity. A team’s willingness to pony up prospects for a better shot at the World Series is directly tied to how much good it thinks a trade will do. In a wide-open season, even teams outside the top tier of contenders could be convinced to roll the dice on an upgrade — particularly with the expanded wild-card format. But the stronger the top teams are, the less incentive teams on the periphery have to make a championship push. According to Elo, we haven’t seen a stronger crop of elite teams in the expansion era than this season’s top six.1

As recently as a few years ago, you could have lamented the lack of dominant teams at the top of the major leagues. At this same time in 2015, for instance, the leading Elo teams were among the weakest at their slots in the expansion era. But baseball’s era of parity seems to be officially over, with the game moving back toward imbalance. While a top-heavy MLB might never look like its basketball equivalent,2 it’s still going to be tougher than usual for aspiring contenders to break through — a fact you can bet every GM is keenly aware of in the lead-up to the deadline.

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Posted by Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Maggie Koerth-Baker and Kathryn Casteel

Welcome to TrumpBeat, FiveThirtyEight’s weekly feature on the latest policy developments in Washington and beyond. Want to get TrumpBeat in your inbox each week? Sign up for our newsletter. Comments, criticism or suggestions for future columns? Email us, or drop a note in the comments.

Republican senators are still sorting out how to accomplish their goal of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. Proposed strategies this week have been all over the place — passing GOP senators’ Better Care Reconciliation Act, doing nothing and letting Obamacare fail, and repealing the ACA and replacing it later. These are very different policy moves that would have very different effects on the health insurance landscape. But all of them have one thing in common: They assume the private insurance marketplaces set up under the Affordable Care Act continue to provide coverage through 2018. But there are at least three key decisions the Trump administration has to make that could affect what that looks like.

Insurers in most states have submitted proposals for the insurance plans they want to sell in 2018. Those plans are being negotiated and reviewed. According to data compiled by Charles Gaba at ACASignups.net, an independent tracker who supports the ACA, there may be an average 33 percent increase in premiums next year (before subsidies), and around 20 percent of that is due to uncertainty created by the current administration. Although negotiations are ongoing and some states have yet to reveal proposals, those estimates square with statements from insurers and health policy experts. A national average, however, masks huge variations by state: For example, insurers in Vermont and Oregon are seeking relatively small premium increases, while people in New Mexico and Georgia could see steep increases.

There are a variety of reasons for these increases. One is that it’s not clear whether the Trump administration will enforce the mandate that most people have health insurance or pay a fine, though it has already weakened it, which could mean fewer healthy people participating in the marketplaces and higher premiums for those who do. Another is that we don’t know whether President Trump will use marketing and advertising to promote enrollment as the Obama administration did, which has been shown to increase enrollment among healthier people. There are already signs he will not: The Daily Beast reported that the Department of Health and Human Services has been using money earmarked to promote enrollment to create videos attacking Obamacare. And Politico reported that the department canceled contracts with two companies that were supposed to help enroll people during the open enrollment period for next year. Again, fewer healthier people in the marketplaces results in higher premiums.

The other big outstanding question is how Trump and Congress will deal with payments owed to health insurance companies. Insurers are required to give the poorest enrollees discounts on things like deductibles and co-pays; the law intended for the federal government to reimburse those discounts — with Congress appropriating the funds. When Congress refused to do so, Obama made the payments anyway, and Congress sued his administration. (The court case is ongoing.) Trump has been making the payments on a month-by-month basis while threatening to pull them, using the payments as leverage in the ongoing repeal debate in Congress. More than half of people using the marketplaces receive these payments; if insurers aren’t reimbursed, it will push up premiums and could lead some to leave the marketplace.

What the administration does with these three things will help determine premiums for next year, which will also determine who can afford coverage and how much the federal government spends in subsidies. We’ve written about uncertainty and the markets before at TrumpBeat, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the ongoing debate in Congress affects not only future legislation, but also existing law.

Voting integrity: ID check

The 1993 National Voter Registration Act was aimed at making it easier for more Americans to vote by coupling registration opportunities with driver’s license and public assistance applications and making it harder to kick registered voters off the rolls. Now there’s evidence that Kris Kobach, the vice chairman of Trump’s new Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, wants to change that law.

In emails that were released last week as part of a lawsuit brought against him by the American Civil Liberties Union, Kobach wrote of planned legislation that would amend the National Voter Registration Act so that it explicitly allows states to require proof of citizenship — a passport or a birth certificate — for a voter to register. That news has only added fodder for the chorus of criticism aimed at Kobach and his commission.

We’ve written previously about the many problems with Kobach’s claims of widespread voter fraud. The short version: Nobody knows exactly how much illegal voting occurs, but all the available data points to it being extremely rare. Interestingly, though, it’s just as hard to prove the negative effects of the voter ID laws Kobach has championed.

As with illegal voting, it’s difficult to study voter ID laws, and nobody knows for sure whether they reduce turnout — effectively suppressing legal votes. No two states have exactly the same laws, and most of the laws have been in effect for less than five years. Maybe most importantly, there are confounding factors that make it difficult to tease apart cause and effect — for instance, the states that had adopted a strict voter ID law by 2015 already had lower voter turnout than those that did not. That comes from an analysis of peer-reviewed research on this topic published in May by Benjamin Highton, a political scientist at the University of California, Davis. He found just four studies that were designed to account for these kinds of real-world problems; all came up with results that suggest ID laws have very limited impacts (less than 4 percentage points) on voter turnout.

This is unlikely to be the final word on the subject, of course. Scientifically, this question is at the starting gate, not the finish line. But it’s possible that American politics is currently fighting a heated partisan battle over two risks — voter fraud and ID-law-related voter suppression — that are both extremely small.

Immigration: Opening the door

A central plank of Trump’s “America First” campaign platform was a pledge to limit immigration: He vowed to crack down on both illegal immigration and abuse of guest-worker programs that, Trump argued, push down wages for American workers. Since taking office, Trump has stuck with his “hire American” rhetoric, signing an executive order that tightened rules on visas for foreign workers and pledging to overhaul the legal immigration system

This week, however, Trump’s Department of Homeland Security said it would increase the number of visas for workers in low-wage industries that rely on temporary employees. The department announced that it was adding 15,000 H-2B visas for workers in seasonal, nonagricultural jobs, a 45 percent increase from what is normally issued for the second half of the fiscal year.

The H-2B announcement scrambled the usual politics of immigration. Business groups, which have often expressed concern about Trump’s hostility to immigration, praised the decision, saying that they need temporary foreign workers to fill labor shortages in the hospitality, construction and seafood industries. Meanwhile, the Center for Immigration Studies, an independent research organization that advocates for limited immigration, criticized the move, which it argued takes jobs away from a pool of U.S. workers. (The group noted that the White House declared this “Made in America” week and highlighted the administration’s hire-American policies.)

In its announcement, the Department of Homeland Security noted that businesses only qualify for the visas if they can prove that they are likely to “suffer irreparable harm” if unable to hire foreign workers. But critics are skeptical that labor shortages are as severe as companies claim. The Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank that Trump has aligned himself with on certain issues, argued in a recent report that almost all of the top 10 occupations for H-2B workers have relatively high unemployment rates and have experienced stagnant or declining wages since 2004. That, the group argues, suggests there is no shortage of available workers, at least on a national level. (The report does note that it is possible that states and local areas are experiencing a limited labor pool for these jobs but claims the H-2B program maintains a framework that exploits foreign workers.)

It isn’t clear why Trump agreed to increase the H-2B program even as his administration is cracking down on visas available to skilled workers in areas such as tech and limiting other routes of legal immigration. But it’s worth noting that Trump himself has used H2-B visas in the past to hire temporary workers for his resorts and hotels and even remarked on the difficulties of hiring part-time workers during a debate last year.

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Posted by Edited by Oliver Roeder

Welcome to The Riddler. Every week, I offer up problems related to the things we hold dear around here: math, logic and probability. There are two types: Riddler Express for those of you who want something bite-sized and Riddler Classic for those of you in the slow-puzzle movement. Submit a correct answer for either,3 and you may get a shoutout in next week’s column. If you need a hint, or if you have a favorite puzzle collecting dust in your attic, find me on Twitter.

Riddler Express

From Steven Pratt, a real-life electoral problem:

In Steven’s hometown, 11 fine folks are running in a primary for three at-large seats on the City Commission. Each voter may vote for up to three candidates. This election will reduce the field of candidates from 11 to six.

  1. How many different (legal) ways may a voter cast his or her ballot?
  2. How many different outcomes (excluding ties) are there for who advances to November’s general election?

Submit your answer

Riddler Classic

From Àlex Sierra, a cloak-and-dagger puzzle:

Twice before, I’ve pitted Riddler Nation against itself in a battle royale for national domination. War must wage once more. Here are the rules. There are two warlords: you and your archenemy, with whom you’re competing to conquer castles and collect the most victory points. Each of the 10 castles has its own strategic value for a would-be conqueror. Specifically, the castles are worth 1, 2, 3, … , 9 and 10 victory points. You and your enemy each have 100 soldiers to distribute between any of the 10 castles. Whoever sends more soldiers to a given castle conquers that castle and wins its victory points. (If you each send the same number of troops, you split the points.) Whoever ends up with the most points wins.

But now, you have a spy! You know how many soldiers your archenemy will send to each castle. The bad news, though, is that you no longer have 100 soldiers — your army suffered some losses in a previous battle.

What is the value of the spy?

That is, how many soldiers do you need to have in order to win, no matter the distribution of your opponent’s soldiers? Put another way: What k is the minimum number such that, for any distribution of 100 soldiers in the 10 castles by your opponent, you can distribute k soldiers and win the battle?

Submit your answer

Solution to last week’s Riddler Express

Congratulations to 👏 Elaine Hou 👏 of Tampa, Florida, winner of the previous Express puzzle!

You and your two older siblings are sharing two extra-large pizzas and decide to cut them in an unusual way. You overlap the pizzas so that the crust of one touches the center of the other (and vice versa since they are the same size). You then slice both pizzas around the area of overlap. Two of you will each get one of the crescent-shaped pieces, and the third will get both of the football-shaped cutouts. Which should you choose to get more pizza: one crescent or two footballs?

You’ll get more pizza by eating the two footballs.

To show why, solver Sai Rijal began with the following shape in the middle of the pizzas:

Since sides AB, BC, CD, DA, and BD are all radii of one of the circular pizzas, Sai explained, they form two equilateral triangles: ABD and CDB. Because of this, the angles ABC and ADC are each 120 degrees. Therefore, the slice of the red pizza bound by ABC, and the slice of the blue pizza bound by ADC, have the area \((1/3)\pi r^2\) — they’re just one third of each pizza. Let’s remove these 1/3 slices from each of the two pieces of football slices you have. You have 2/3 of a pizza. This is your fair share, because there were two pizzas and three eaters. The remaining segments are extra pizza you have earned through mathematics!

Although it wasn’t necessary for answering the question, you could also go further and calculate the specific areas of the crescents and the footballs. Assume, for simplicity, that each pizza has a radius of 1. It turns out that the two footballs have an area of \(\frac{4\pi -3\sqrt{3}}{3}\), or about 2.46; one crescent has an area of \(\frac{2\pi+3\sqrt{3}}{6}\), or about 1.91. Solver Zack Segel shared his lovely pen and paper work to that end:

GitHub user mimno even created an interactive Monte Carlo simulation of the pizzas, again finding that you’re better off going for the footballs. And others, I’m told, solved the problem by ordering two actual extra-large pizzas. Bon appétit!

Solution to last week’s Riddler Classic

Congratulations to 👏 Neema Salimi 👏 of Atlanta, winner of the previous Classic puzzle!

In the National Squishyball league, the owner of the top-seeded team (i.e., you) gets to select the length of the championship series in advance of the first game, so you could decide to play a single game, a best two out of three series, a three out of five series, etc., all the way up to a 50 out of 99 series. The owner of the winning team gets $1 million minus $10,000 for each of the victories required to win the series, regardless of how many games the series lasts in total. Thus, if the top-seeded team’s owner selects a single-game championship, the winning owner will collect $990,000. If he or she selects a four out of seven series, the winning team’s owner will collect $960,000. The owner of the losing team gets nothing. Your team has a 60 percent chance of winning any individual game. How long a series should you select in order to maximize your expected winnings?

You should select a best-of-25 series, where the first team to 13 wins takes the title. You stand to win about $736,222 on average.

This problem was most commonly approached computationally, with most solvers turning to Excel to guide them through the postseason strategizing. Solver Andrew Hoffman explained how he built such a spreadsheet:

At any given point in the series, each team has a certain number of games left that they need to win in order to win the series (call this number A for Acme and B for Boondocks). They start with the same number. After each game, there’s a 60 percent chance A decreases by 1 and a 40 percent chance B decreases by 1. If either team has 0 games to go, that team has won. You can then build a table recursively for the win probability at cell (A, B), which we’ll call P(A, B) = 0.6 * P(A-1, B) + 0.4 * P(A, B-1). For example, P(2, 1) = 0.6 * P(1, 1) + 0.4 * P(1, 0) = 0.6 * (0.6 * P(0, 1) + 0.4 * P(1, 0)) + 0.4 * 0 = 0.6 * (0.6 * 1 + 0.4 * 0) = 0.6 * 0.6 = 0.36. Build the table through P(50, 50). Then for each N, multiply P(N, N) by the winnings if N games are required: 1,000,000 – 10,000N. This gives the expected winnings for Acme for each N. The maximum value of $736222.04 occurs at N = 13, referring to a 13-out-of-25 series.

Andrew also submitted his graphical results of this project, showing that the expected value (EV) peaks at a series requiring 13 wins.

Others, such as Tyler Barron, Chris Ketelsen and Justin Brookman, turned to Python code, and you can find their alternate solutions above.

Want to submit a riddle?

Email me at oliver.roeder@fivethirtyeight.com.

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Posted by Walt Hickey

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.

-4 points

Favorability rating for the New York Yankees, the only negative spread in the league, according to a SurveyMonkey Audience poll. The most broadly-liked teams are the Cubs, Cardinals and Royals. [FiveThirtyEight]

9 years

O.J. Simpson was granted parole yesterday and will be released from Lovelock Correctional Facility on October 1 after nine years behind bars for a Las Vegas robbery. [ABC News]


The for-profit Ark Encounter, a bible-themed amusement park, sold a piece of land the county says is worth $48 million to a non-profit affiliate, Crosswater Canyon, for $10. The park is attempting to be exempt for a new safety tax. [Lexington Herald Leader]

28 percent

Sears’ stock is up 28 percent from a month ago, a rally bolstered by new cash injections and the announcement yesterday that the company will sell appliances on Amazon.com with Alexa technology allowing people to control their appliances with voice commands. [CNBC]

46 percent

Google Glass, which as recently as two years ago was the cultural signifier that let the world know you make too much money, has begun a second life as the industrial wave of the future, with manufacturers and conglomerates using the wearable technology to optimize performance. GE reports a 46 percent decrease in the time it takes a warehouse picker using the product, and surveyed employees overwhelmingly said it would reduce errors. [Wired]

70 foreign workers

In the middle of what the White House pitched as “Made in America” week, the Trump Mar-a-Lago club asked the government to allow them to hire seventy foreign workers in the fall as they can not find American cooks, waiters and housekeepers. [The Washington Post]

If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.

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Posted by Anna Maria Barry-Jester

It has been a very confusing week in federal health care policy. Early in the week, the Senate abruptly abandoned an effort to pass a bill to repeal and replace parts of the Affordable Care Act after four senators said they wouldn’t support it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell then said he would push to pass a bill that would repeal parts of the law in two years, buying the Senate more time to come up with a replacement. Three senators quickly said they wouldn’t support that approach, and the Senate all but gave up. That lasted until President Trump called various senators to the White House, pressuring them to keep working until they agreed on a bill, just a day after he suggested letting Obamacare fail.

Like I said, it’s been a confusing week.

There are some obvious reasons that the GOP is having a hard time coalescing around a plan. Part of the problem is that Republicans don’t agree on the priorities for repeal. The conservative wing of the party wants to peel back regulations and reduce federal spending. Moderates are concerned about changes to Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor, and reduced support for low-income people who are buying private insurance. Two have also said they don’t support defunding Planned Parenthood for a year, as would happen under each of the bills.

Then there’s the challenge of the GOP bills’ lack of support from the public.

You’d be forgiven for not knowing where things stand on the seven-year Republican promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. There are at least three bills floating around, each with opponents within the Republican Party and varying levels of detail about what the effect of each plan would be on the health insurance landscape.

So here’s a roundup of current proposals, what we know about their impact and who supports them:

The Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act

What’s in the bill: This legislation — a new version of the measure that has been debated since the first draft was released on June 22 — would reduce subsidies for people who buy insurance on the marketplaces set up by Obamacare. Some of the Obamacare taxes would be repealed (though two taxes on the wealthy would remain in place). It would allow states to opt out of many of the insurance market regulations, including mandatory coverage of “essential health benefits,” which include maternity care and mental health treatment.

The legislation would also freeze the Obamacare expansion of Medicaid. The expansion opened up the program to all people earning under 138 percent of the federal poverty limit in states that opted in.4 Starting in 2020, the expanded part of the program would take no new enrollees, and states would be reimbursed significantly less for those who continue to be covered (under current law, the federal government would pick up 90 percent of the cost of those enrollees). The bill would also put most of the rest of the Medicaid program on a budget. States would receive a maximum fixed amount per enrollee, or a lump sum for the whole state program, rather than the open-ended reimbursements they get today.

Altogether, the bill would decrease costs for higher-income, healthier people without employer-sponsored insurance and would increases costs for lower-income, sicker people.

What we know about its effects: The bill was posted Thursday, and a Congressional Budget Office analysis of it released the same day found that 15 million fewer people would have insurance coverage next year and 22 million fewer would be covered in 2026, compared with how many would be covered under current law. Premiums would increase over the next two years even as the plans those premiums pay for cover less, according to the CBO, but would decrease starting in 2020. This plan would reduce the federal deficit by $420 billion over a decade, according to CBO estimates.

Who supports it: It’s not yet clear how senators feel about it, although there are clues from previous, similar iterations of the bill. It’s unlikely to please conservative Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who have said that previous iterations of the Senate bill, similar in many ways to this version,5 didn’t do enough to cut regulations. Several moderate Republicans have also expressed concern about the proposed changes to Medicaid funding.

The Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act, with an amendment from Ted Cruz

What’s in the bill: This version of the bill is largely similar to the one above, but it includes a complicated amendment adopted from a proposal by Cruz. The change would allow insurers who sell regulated, Obamacare-compliant plans to also sell largely unregulated plans. Insurers would be required to offer coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and cover essential health benefits for the Obamacare-compliant plans, and they wouldn’t be allowed to charge based on how sick a person is. Insurers selling these plans, however, could likely also sell plans that cover far fewer services and could deny people coverage based on their health status or charge them more for these plans.

What we know about its effects: The amendment is so complicated that HuffPost reported that it could be a month before it can be fully analyzed by the CBO. The Senate needs a score of the bill before it can proceed with a vote, so it asked the Department of Health and Human Services for an analysis; HHS hired the consulting firm McKinsey to produce a report, which the Washington Examiner obtained Wednesday. The report purportedly shows that premiums would drop under the Cruz plan, but experts say it offers little in the way of useful information, as Sarah Kliff explained at Vox. For starters, it looks at how the amendment would work if added to existing law, not the Republican bill.

Experts believe it would gut protections for people with pre-existing conditions by pricing them out of the market. The insurance industry has come out hard against the Cruz plan. In a memo circulated publicly, America’s Health Insurance Plans, one of the insurance industry’s largest trade associations, condemned the amendment, while Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, a lobbying group representing the insurer, told Senate leaders the proposal was “unworkable.” Health policy experts warn that if the Cruz amendment becomes law, healthy people will buy on the unregulated, cheaper market, leaving people with more health care needs on the Obamacare markets.

Who supports it: Four senators have previously said they would not vote to move forward with debating this bill: Lee, Paul, Susan Collins of Maine and Jerry Moran of Kansas. Only 14 senators have expressed clear support, according to The New York Times.

Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act, aka repeal and delay

What’s in the bill: This bill would repeal much of the ACA starting in 2020, though some changes would take effect immediately.

The bill would repeal the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid, as well as the subsidies that help people buy insurance on the private marketplace. It would repeal all of the taxes created by the ACA and eliminate a fund created for public health work after 2018. It includes numerous other changes as well, such as eliminating requirements on what services state Medicaid programs must cover. The repeal bill would, however, add $1.5 billion over two years to respond to the opioid crisis and funding for community mental health centers.

It would also retroactively (to 2016) get rid of the requirement that employers offer coverage to employees and the requirement that most people have insurance — by eliminating the financial penalties for both.

What we know about its effects: The CBO (which has had a busy week) released an analysis of this bill on Wednesday. The agency thinks 32 million additional people would be uninsured in 2026 (compared with current law) and that the federal deficit would be reduced by $473 billion during that time. The estimated increase in the number of uninsured people includes 19 million who would fall from the Medicaid rolls. But millions would also be uninsured as a result of an upended insurance market, according to the analysis — the agency found that premiums would roughly double by 2026 and that about three-quarters of the population would live in places where no insurer would be willing to sell coverage in the private market.

Of course, this strategy is built around developing a replacement plan over the next two years. But it’s impossible to say what that would look like. Meanwhile, with the immediate repeal of the individual insurance mandate, some 17 million would be expected to lose coverage next year.

Who supports it: Notably, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said after a meeting on Wednesday that he didn’t think there were even 40 senators who supported the strategy of repeal and then replace later. Several senators, including Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, have already come out against the approach.

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Posted by Perry Bacon Jr. and Harry Enten

Arizona Sen. John McCain has been more critical of President Trump in recent weeks.

Melina Mara / The Washington Post via Getty Image

Arizona Sen. John McCain was diagnosed with brain cancer this week, his office announced on Wednesday. He has a brain tumor called a glioblastoma and is now in Arizona, recovering from a surgery to remove a blood clot above his left eye. It is not immediately clear whether McCain will return to the Senate in the next few days or weeks or if his absence will be longer. FiveThirtyEight wishes McCain and his family the best in his recovery.

McCain is a well-respected figure in both parties, which led to an outpouring of well-wishers that included both and President Trump and former President Obama. He is also a landmark figure in American politics — and has at times been both an ally and opponent of Trump — so we thought it was important to look at McCain and his potential absence in that context.

McCain, 80, has often been described — and has sometimes described himself — as a “maverick.” But as we discussed in February, the truth is somewhat more complicated, with McCain having gone through various phases since he was first elected to the Senate in 1986.

After having been a fairly typical Republican for his first dozen or so years in the Senate, McCain ran to the left of front-runner and eventual nominee George W. Bush in his 2000 presidential bid. He made campaign finance reform one of the central themes of his candidacy. In the run-up to his 2000 candidacy, he often sided with moderates or liberals on key votes, as can be seen in how often McCain differed from the conservative position on the American Conservative Union scorecard:

Disenchanted with the Bush presidency, McCain flirted in 2004 with joining the ticket of Democratic nominee John Kerry. But in 2007, on the eve of his next presidential run, McCain became one of the leading advocates of increasing the number of troops in Iraq, which was a much more popular idea on the right than the left. Again showing his ideological flexibility as the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee, McCain considering picking Connecticut senator and former Democrat6 Joe Lieberman as his running mate, who supported hawkish national security policies like McCain but also backed abortion rights and held many other liberal views. But instead McCain opted for Sarah Palin, who was strongly against abortion rights and beloved by the conservative base.

In the Obama years, McCain voted with Republicans on the big issues, such as opposing the Affordable Care Act. Yet, he worked with Democrats on a 2013 bill that would have granted citizenship to undocumented immigrants. And at the end of last year’s presidential campaign, he declared that he would not support Donald Trump. (Earlier in the campaign, Trump had mocked McCain’s war record, saying, “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”)

So is McCain a flip-flopper — or an opportunist? Neither, really; instead, he’s been fairly consistent.7 For most of his tenure in office, McCain has not shifted his legislative philosophy so much as the rest of Congress has shifted — and become more partisan and ideological — around him. Although McCain voted with Republicans about the same amount in both periods, he went from being slightly more partisan than most senators between 1987 and 1996 to among the least partisan senators in the years since then because party-line voting increased so much during that period.

McCain is probably best understood not through a label like “maverick,” but instead through his actual positions. He is consistently pro-military, pro-intervention and hawkish on national security issues, from Iraq to Russia to North Korea. He is also most passionate about those matters, leaving writing bills on issues such as abortion or tax reform largely to his colleagues. On domestic policy, McCain can be all over the place; for example favoring a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants at times but other times saying he opposes that idea.

How all of this has played out in the era of Trump is complicated. McCain has voted with Trump’s position 90.5 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Trump Score. Still, in such a highly partisan epoch, only two Republican senators — Maine’s Susan Collins and Kentucky’s Rand Paul — have voted with Trump less often this year.

And as time has gone on, McCain has come to be more critical of the president. After almost always voting with Trump from January to April, he has voted against Trump’s position on three of the last four Senate votes in which the White House has taken a clear stance. He was one of the strongest voices in the Senate in the chamber’s June decision, by a 97-2 vote, to add new sanctions against Russia and require congressional approval to lift existing ones, an idea that the Trump administration opposed.

McCain has built relationships with figures like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who is trying to steer Trump toward more traditional foreign policy stands. And from the beginning of Trump’s tenure, McCain’s been taking trips abroad and telling anyone who will listen that the president’s comments about Muslims and other controversial stances are not representative of all Americans. It is hard to think of that many other examples of U.S. senators repeatedly questioning the president of their own party while travelling overseas.

McCain has not just differed from the president on foreign policy. The Arizona senator has called for the creation of a special congressional committee to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia, along the lines of what has created in the Nixon era to probe Watergate. He has also urged reporters to keep pushing for details on the Trump-Russia issue. When news emerged recently about a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian figures, McCain pointedly said, “I guarantee you there will be more shoes to drop, I can just guarantee it.”

McCain’s critics on the center and the left have more room to be critical about his positions on domestic policy. He is unquestionably establishment-friendly and media-friendly, making constant appearances on Sunday morning talk shows, which often makes him seem more liberal than his actual record. Historically, he’s been quite conservative on economic policy. And while at times McCain has been sarcastic and pessimistic in his assessment of the Republicans’ health care bill — criticizing Republicans’ secrecy in drafting it and recently suggesting that the GOP work on a bipartisan bill — he’s been slow to articulate his own position on the legislation, although a statement he issued last week suggested the bill needed significant revisions.

Still, even if they have taken the same stances on most issues for the last six months, John McCain is a very different kind of Republican than Donald Trump, He’s been one of the leading figures of a group of senators that includes Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, Arizona’s Jeff Flake, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and others. These senators are not moderate or anti-Trump, at least according to their voting records. But they are different from the president in style and tone and are willing to criticize the White House on some issues. Unlike Trump, they can also be gracious and conciliatory toward their political opponents. In 2008, when rank-and-file Republican voters at his events spoke negatively about Obama’s character and background (falsely suggesting that Obama was an “Arab”, for example), McCain defended his Democratic rival and urged a focus on policy differences. He declined to pointedly attack Obama’s relationship with the controversial pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright

So if you are Donald Trump, the absence of McCain is complicated. His absence from the Senate will make it even harder for Republicans to pass health care, as he’s backed Trump’s agenda most of the time. But he’s been a loud and proud critic of Trump when he opposed him — and he’s been opposing Trump more often in recent weeks.

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Posted by Natalie Zutter

The Gifted SDCC trailer

The first trailer for The Gifted, Fox’s forthcoming X-Men universe television drama, introduced the Strucker family: Kate (Amy Acker), Reed (Stephen Moyer)… and their children Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Andy (Percy Hynes White), who all of a sudden are beginning to manifest mutant powers. Fox just shared an extended trailer at San Diego Comic-Con showing what happens when the Struckers have to go on the run, and when the only people they can turn to are fellow mutants.

Which is to say, we get to see plenty of the other “family”: John Proudstar/Thunderbird (Blair Redford), Blink (Jamie Chung), and Eclipse (Sean Teale). Not to mention the mutant criminal Lorna Dane/Polaris (Emma Dumont) and the Sentinels chasing everyone:

SDCC attendees got to see the first 18 minutes of the pilot, which CBR has detailed here. The most interesting detail from the panel was the revelation that The Gifted exists in its own timeline from the X-Men movies. “There are many streams,” creator Matt Nix explained. “The Gifted is in its own universe but not in any same timeline.”

Indeed, Eclipse says in the trailer, “The X-Men, the Brotherhood, we don’t even know if they exist anymore.”

“Why are the X-Men gone?” Nix teased. “That may be a thing in the show…”

Executive producer Derek Hoffman said that the series would use the X-Men universe to hold up a mirror to our own. Though unfortunately for some fans, there are currently no plans to cross over The Gifted with Legion.

The Gifted premieres on Fox on October 2.

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Posted by Emily Asher-Perrin

Darkwing Duck

My children of the 90s have been bolstered by the return of DuckTales, a cartoon that features the many adventures of Scrooge McDuck and his nephews and cohort. But there was another cartoon duck that stole the hearts of many, and an exclusive reveal at San Diego Comic Con confirms that he will also be making an appearance in Duckburg….

Darkwing Duck!

The DuckTales cast and creators were on hand with a sneak peek that gave fans a glimpse of the purple-caped hero, after teasing at the possibility of him showing up at last week’s D23 convention. If the buzzing around the room was anything to go by, the crime-fighter’s appearance was much-appreciated.

This sets a clear path to an outright revival for Darkwing as well–the character was originally created as a spin-off to DuckTales, and by looping him in with the new crew, there is precedent for bringing him back in a bigger way. And they’ve already got Launchpad McQuack ready to go from his role on DuckTales; McQuack is Drake Mallard’s housemate and sidekick to his midnight persona, Darkwing. And they coparent Mallard’s adopted daughter Gosalyn what it’s true.

A Darkwing Duck revival seems like an even better idea in a world laden with superheroics–who better to poke fun than an alliterative super duck?

Don’t miss Darkwing’s appearance on DuckTales, which begins with the TV movie “Woo-oo!” on August 12th and then launches into a full series on September 23rd on Disney XD.

[Via Entertainment Weekly]

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Posted by Leah Schnelbach

If you were waiting for the introduction of Herr Starr, wait no longer: the trailer for Preacher Season 2 just premiered at San Diego Comic-Con, and it features Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy hitting the road, the Saint of Killers hitting the bar, and the aforementioned Herr Starr hitting, um, people.

Plus the best use of Bell Biv Devoe’s classic “Poison” that I have ever heard.

Now you know. Preacher airs Mondays at 9:00 on AMC!


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Posted by Stubby the Rocket

Black Lightning is coming to TV! The CW has released the first trailer introducing us to Jefferson Pierce and his superheroic alter ego Black Lightning, his daughters (who may have some powers of their own), and the ruthless gang who call themselves The One Hundred.

Click through for the full trailer!


DC’s Greg Berlanti is teaming up with Mara Brock Akil and her husband Salim Akil (Being Mary Jane, The Game, Girlfriends) to bring Black Lightning to the screen.

Originally created by Tony Isabella and Trevor von Eeden, this iteration of Black Lightning is coming back to the superhero life after nearly a decade in retirement. He’s been living a quiet life as a principal and the father to two young daughters, but when neighborhood crime begins to skyrocket, he decides to revive his old hero skills.

Black Lightning will hit the CW in 2018! Head over to Den of Geek for more details on the show.


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Posted by Stubby the Rocket

It’s been twenty years since antihero Spawn graced movie screens (well, for a definition of the term “graced”), but now he’s heading back! Courtesy of creator Todd McFarlane and Blumhouse Productions.

McFarlane announced the project today on Facebook, letting fans know that the movie is officially moving forward, after hints and talks about the project in recent months. Blumhouse Productions already has a stable of films that fit right in with Spawn horrific aesthetic, from Get Out to Split to The Purge film series, so Spawn seems like a no-brainer for their books.

McFarlane is clearly ready to get to work: “We’ve gone from the theoretical to now we’re making movies. Blumhouse. Spawn. Badass. R. Get ready for it, we’re going into production. No more talking, it’s time to do.”

No word on who will be playing the eponymous main character or when production will begin, but we can expect to hear much more down the road.

[via ComingSoon.net]


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