Author Archives

The Masterful Storyteller: A David Grann Reading List

David Grann is the ultimate writer’s writer. The reporter and staff writer for The New Yorker has a way of discovering nuggets of an idea (the bare minimum of a pitch), and then, through intrepid and painstaking research, crafting pieces that tend to stick with readers for years.

“Many of the characters are driven by obsession,” Grann once told Nieman Storyboard. “But I’m also interested in what these characters are obsessed with, so it’s not just their obsession, it’s the object of their obsession…I’m looking for multiple elements. On one level, there is a story that is compelling, there are characters that are interesting, but also there are some intellectual stakes.”

For his upcoming book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the F.B.I., Grann details the murders committed against members of the Osage Nation—which subsequently became the first case investigated by the FBI—and spent more than three years researching and reporting events that happened nearly a hundred years ago. Josh Dean similarly had been interested in writing about the Osage Nation killings, when he was informed by his agent that Grann had, in Dean’s words, “been working on this book quietly for two years.”

Dean told the Longform podcast:

I literally fell out of my chair. I admire David Grann; he is one of the best at this thing. I read his stories voraciously. I know what David Grann is doing…One, I know he is going to do an amazing job. He has a two year head-start. If it hadn’t been him…why would I [write the book]? I went into a shell and drank for six days.

While Killers of the Flower Moon will undoubtedly become a blockbuster hit one day (Imperative Entertainment paid a whopping $5 million for film rights), another of Grann’s works will debut in theaters this week. “The Lost City of Z” came to life as a New Yorker feature in 2005, and according to Grann, it was one of his rare pieces that felt incomplete as a magazine article. “It was the first piece I’d done for The New Yorker where I finished and I said, one, I’m not sick of it, and, two, there are so many more places to go. There were still doors to open,” he told Interview magazine. The article became a book, which was published in 2009, and now a film starring Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson.

Hunnam stars as Percy Fawcett, a turn-of-the-century English explorer who disappears in a quest to prove the existence of an ancient and influential civilization in the Amazon. In reporting Fawcett’s travels, Grann journeyed to the jungles where Fawcett vanished, as well as plumbed through his diaries and life, turning what had initially been a piece about this lost civilization into an all-encompassing biography—all the better for its adaptation to screen.

It’s impossible to compose a “best of” list for Grann’s writings, so below is a primer for some of his most compelling New Yorker pieces, which includes some of his earlier (and often overlooked) work. Read more…

The 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners

The winners of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize were announced today — on the 170th birthday of Joseph Pulitzer — and though there were some surprises, the majority of the honors were bestowed on some of the year’s most talked about pieces of writing. For example, Colson Whitehead won for his ground-breaking work of fiction, The Underground Railroad. And C.J. Chivers of the New York Times snagged a Pulitzer for his heart-breaking portrayal of a soldier grappling with his life stateside in “The Fighter.”

The entire list of the other Pulitzer recipients can be found here, but below is a compendium of some of the celebrated works. Read more…

How Adidas Took Over the Sneaker Game with a 50-Year-Old Shoe

The opening bars to Run-D.M.C.’s classic “My Adidas” are among the greatest lines in all of rap:

My Ahhh-didas, walk through concert doors
And roam all over coliseum floors
I stepped on stage, at Live Aid
All the people gave, and the poor got paid
And out of speakers I did speak
I wore my sneakers but I’m not a sneak
My Adidas touch the sand of a foreign land
With mic in hand, I cold took command
My Adidas and me close as can be
We make a mean team, my Adidas and me

It wasn’t just that D.M.C. kicked off the hit track, which blared from playgrounds and suburbs in 1986 (and beyond), in such an explosive, heavy-hitting manner; “My Adidas” was a clarion call for the group’s love of Adidas Superstar sneakers—essentially the first ever product placement in a mainstream crossover hit. And the group didn’t have to get paid to rap about their favorite shoe (though they did: After a group of Adidas executives saw a Run-D.M.C. concert at Madison Square Garden in 1986, and witnessed the crowd hold up their Adidas sneakers when “My Adidas” was performed, the shoe company signed the rappers to a $1.5 million endorsement deal).

The Superstars, which Adidas first introduced in 1969, were the ultimate playground sneaker. Ideal for playing basketball, the thick rubber padding around the shoe’s toe, which inspired nicknames like “shell tops” and “clam toes,” protected a player’s feet. They were also ideal for brushing up and wearing out; the Superstar transcended its initial purpose and became a shoe adored by both sneakerheads and those who wanted something sleek to wear with a suit.

We’re living in period rife with nostalgia, so it makes perfect sense that the Superstars — a sneaker perfect for the time period it was introduced as well as now — would still be sought after. According to NPD Group, a market research company, the Superstar was the nation’s best seller by dollar sales in 2016—the first time in the history of tracking this market that Nike wasn’t in the top spot. Read more…

“IPAs Are Like Fragile Butterflies”: A Conversation with Beer Writer Josh Bernstein

According to the Brewers Association,  craft beer hasn’t slowed down, and the brewers only continue to grow, making up nearly 22 percent of the beer industry’s retail value. The rise of craft—or the “end of craft” depending on how you view it—owes its success to the the authenticity and devotion to full-bodied flavors, as well as a homemade, independent spirit.

Which is why, on National Beer Day, we’d like to share our recent interview with Josh Bernstein, the dean of craft beer writers and one of the first to fully articulate the innumerable sensations, like the hit of a Mosaic hop on the tongue, that accompany a sip of beer. Bernstein, who recently released, Complete IPA: The Guide to Your Favorite Craft Beer, spoke with Longreads about his—and the nation’s—obsession with India Pale Ales and the growing evolution of craft beer.

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Americans love IPAs, but how has the beer style changed in the past decade?

Back then, IPAs were all about aggression. Bitterness is great, but it turns as many off as it turns on. Big burly IPAs served a purpose, but they fell along with the imperial IPA pushWhat’s interesting to me is that IPAs are not all about bitterness, and brewers have begun to utilize hop varieties in different ways. The sledgehammer aspect of IPAs has disappeared, and been replaced with nuance.

[Hop varieties] Mosaic and Citra emphasized tropical, fruity, citrusy aromas. We are in this flavor-questing world right now. We want flavor in everything we do, from Thai takeout to beers, and hop varieties play within this new world. People start to spin IPAs in different directions: white IPAs, black IPAs, etc. People spun the color wheel to accentuate flavors like tropical fruits. The creativity has trickled down and it is dizzying. It used to be that Northeast IPAs were made in the English tradition, in which the malt was profound. Yhey were dark and sweet, which contrasted to the brightness of west coast IPAs. The last three years, though, Northeast IPAs have transformed to this hazy, juicy, and fruity beer with none of the bitterness.

IPAs have created a new template for beer that people can agree upon. The consumer wants flavor, and IPAs deliver in spades.

What was the tipping point for IPAs?

Definitely the beers of Vermont: Alchemist’s Heady Topper and Hill Farmstead. In 2012, I was stuck—snowed in—in Burlington. It was the best and the worst thing to happen to me. The local co-op had plenty of Heady, and I spent a long blizzard weekend drinking my way through their selection, and I saw the future of what these flavors could be. When you start to look at what is happening now,  a decade of hop varieties have begun to trickle out from the ground. Brewers started to create hop crosses—like Citra, which debuted in around 2007—and use new ingredients to create distinct beers.

How does craft beer continue to grow from here? 

There is a national evolution and international evolution, and we are at the beginning of this change. Beer styles grew up in geographic regions thanks to the water and the intellect of brewers, but with the rise of the international economy, beer styles are now moving quickly. Hops are like the marijuana industry—full of crazy strains and flavors. With hop research, we are seeing the very beginning of what is possible. It’s what comes of the ground that will determine where IPAs and craft beer goes.

There’s also research that has to be done to determine how long these flavors will last, shelf-wise. Ben Edmunds at Breakside Brewery is doing research on how to keep a juicy flavor without falling off. IPAs in particular are like fragile butterflies—they need to be consumed fresh—and because IPAs are a crowded market, you have to innovate to stand out. You can’t just brew an IPA and expect it to be good, or draw interest.

Tired Hands in Philadelphia is making a milkshake IPA, and Great Notion Brewing in Portland specializes in Northeast IPAs. Brewers are helping push tastes in different directions by researching different ways that flavors can fit together

Will IPAs always be dominant?

We are a nation of lager drinkers, and there is a rise in pilsners right now, but after twenty people come to the bar and ask for an IPA, brewers have to make one. Take Carton’s Boat beer. I talked to [owner and brewer] Augie Carton at a party, and he first called Boat a koslch because no one had called a low alcohol IPA a session IPA back then. And even when people complain that there are too many IPAs on tap, you talk to any bartender and ask what is selling, it’s IPAs.

If IPAs are king, is there another style you see bursting into the craft beer conscience?

Dry hopped sours are percolating. It doesn’t sound great, like drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth, but the chemical interaction and interplays just work.

I used to love Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA, but now with all the different options availible, I haven’t had one in a while. Last month I revisited 60 Minute and I had a much different reaction—it didn’t hit me the way it used to. Is that something we’ll see, brewers tweaking their flagship recipes to fit the new craft sphere?

Legacy brewers have realized the IPA is key going forward, and they’re seeing shifts in American tastes and global tastes. It’s great to go back to beers you’ve forgotten and find out why they were elegant beers. Your palette matures and you tend to look for those big memorable flavors that used to stand out for you. But since education is so much higher these days, brewers are altering recipes to accommodate for new flavors.

Breweries adapt: New Belgium [Ranger] and Sierra Nevada [Torpedo] adds IPAs to their roster, and Sierra Nevada even comes out with a gose last year [Otra Vez]. IPAs and other styles change. A little more citrus in there, or some tropical notes. There are more than 5,000 craft breweries in the United States—you have to stay current.

Further reading:

Can College Basketball Be Fixed?

There were 44 fouls called on Monday night during the college basketball national championship game between North Carolina and Gonzaga. It was an obscene amount of whistles for a game that is supposed to represent the sport’s creme, and it made the game, which was won by the Tar Heels—a year after a stunning buzzer beater by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins ended UNC’s season in spectacularly heart-breaking fashion—nearly unbearable to watch.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. A rule change by the NCAA several years ago allowed for a greater freedom of movement on the perimeter; no longer were guards getting bumped and hand checked as they navigated screens. And along with the shortening of the shot clock to 30 seconds (from 35 seconds), the college game was imbued with flow, spacing, and speed.

To be clear, college hoops isn’t broken. But the NCAA has a definite problem on its hands—its referees, all of whom are part-time employees and work second jobs seven months out of the calendar year, are struggling with the increased athleticism and speed of the modern college game. Put it this way: NBA refs don’t have to worry about whether a perceived blown call will lead to a boycott of their roofing business. Read more…

Seven Stories About the Science Behind Fast Food

I am a pizza apostate. Not only do I use a fork and knife whenever I eat pizza, I also sometimes bypass my normal slice joint for the siren call of deliciously buttered-and-garlic salted crust that only Dominos can deliver.

According to Bloomberg, I am not the only one who can’t resist the Michigan chain’s pies: the company is now worth a staggering $9 billion—its share price has risen more than 2,000 percent since 2010 (outpacing the likes of Google and Apple)—and Dominos has not only been brought back to life, it is now the leading force in the intersection of fast food and technology. As Susan Berfield writes,

Domino’s has always understood the importance of not having to go anywhere. Although you can still walk into a restaurant if you must, there are at least a dozen ways to order a Domino’s pizza in absentia. Some are self-explanatory: mobile apps, Apple Watch, Facebook Messenger. Others need some explanation. To order via Twitter, you must create an online account, save a pizza as your favorite (known as your Easy Order), and connect it to your Twitter account. Then tweet a pizza emoji to @dominos. “We’ll know who you are, what pizza you want, your default location and payment,” Maloney says. “We send a ‘Sounds awesome, are you sure?’ You send a thumbs up.” But if you want to order something other than your favorite, you’re out of luck.

Maloney clears away the remains of our lunch (Pacific Veggie, thin crust) to show me option 12 on his phone: zero-click ordering. “This will freak you out,” he says. “What’s the easiest way to order? When you don’t have to do anything.” One day Maloney and Garcia were in the car with their ad guys, dreaming of how to one-up Amazon’s one-click ordering. Three months later they had their zero-click app, which does require one click to start. “Tap the Domino’s icon to open it and find my Easy Order,” Maloney says. That’s it. “I have 10 seconds before it automatically places the order.” A big countdown clock appears on Maloney’s screen. If he does nothing, his Easy Order, a 12-inch hand-tossed pizza, will be on its way to his home.

While Dominos is at the forefront of our fast food, it isn’t the only company to have paired food science and tech to deliver a product that is utterly craveable. The following are some of the best pieces in the past several years to capture this culinary shift. Read more…

Revisiting the History of the Oakland Raiders Courtesy of Hunter S. Thompson

The Oakland Raiders have been a thorn in the NFL’s side for decades. From pugnacious owner Al Davis to the team’s raucously rowdy fans and years of mediocrity, the Raiders reveled in being the league’s black sheep. And on the rare occasion when the team was competitive, like during the late 1970s and early ’80s when the franchise won three Super Bowls, the Silver and Black still seemed to thumb its collective nose at the league’s Brooks Brothers-outfitted executives on NYC’s Park Avenue.

Well, those execs enacted their own form of revenge: thanks to a league vote this week, the Raiders will leave the Bay Area for Las Vegas. Much like the neutering of Cleveland’s Dawg Pound (when the Cleveland Browns left for Baltimore in the late 1990s), the vote was put to the NFL owners, and only one—the Miami Dolphins—voted against the move, marking the third team in the past 14 months to relocate. While the Raiders’ new stadium won’t be ready until 2019 (at the earliest), the Raiders will have a two-year memorial for the city that loved them like no other.

It’s worth revisiting when the Raiders were weird and good. In 1973, Rolling Stone sent Hunter S. Thompson to embed with the AFC West team. Thompson was deep into gonzo journalism by this point, and as an avid football fan, he desperately wanted to chronicle a season with what was arguably the NFL’s strangest team. Trouble was, Davis didn’t entirely trust Thompson, and neither did the Raider players, who the Rolling Stone writer plied with cocaine in order for them to open up (according to Robert Draper’s history of the groundbreaking magazine, Thompson then tried to write the coke off as a business expense).

What follows is Thompson’s first interaction with Davis as reported in Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl: No Rest for the Wretched:

…the other was a small wiry man in a tan golf jacket with a greasy duck-tail haircut who paced along the sidelines of both fields with a speedy kind of intensity that I never really noticed until he suddenly appeared very close to me and I heard him ask a sportswriter from the San Francisco Chronicle who I was and I was doing there…

The conversation took place within 10 yards of me, and I heard most of it.

“Who’s the big guy over there with the ball in his hand?” asked the man with the DA.

“His name’s Thompson,” replied Chronicle sportswriter Jack Smith. “He’s a writer for Rolling Stone.”

“The Rolling Stones? Jesus Christ! What’s he doing here? Did you bring him?”

“No, he’s writing a big article. Rolling Stone is a magazine, Al. It’s different from the Rolling Stones; they’re a rock music group… Thompson’s a buddy of George Plimpton’s, I think… and he’s also a friend of Dave Burgin’s-you remember Burgin?”

“Holy shit! Burgin! We ran him out of here with a cattle prod!”

I saw Smith laugh at this point, then he was talking again: “Don’t worry, Al. Thompson’s okay. He wrote a good book about Las Vegas.”

Good god! I thought. That’s it… If they read that book I’m finished. By this time I’d realized that this strange-looking bugger named “Al,” who looked like a pimp or a track-tout, was in fact the infamous Al Davis-general manager and de facto owner (pending settlement of a nasty lawsuit scheduled for court-action early this year) of the whole Oakland Raider operation.

Davis glanced over his shoulder at me, then spoke back to Smith: “Get the bastard out of here. I don’t trust him.”

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March Madness Has Its Own ‘Heidi Game’

With 16 seconds remaining in what had already been a classic Elite Eight game between No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Kentucky this past Sunday, the unthinkable happened —a TV station cut away from the NCAA tournament.

For the thousands who were ready to explode following Kentucky’s Malik Monk’s game-tying three-pointer, or UNC’s Luke Maye hitting what’ll go down as one of the all-time greatest shots in Tar Heel history, CBS affiliate WBNS in Columbus, Ohio instead flashed a blank screen—for six minutes—for a tornado warning. Suffice to say, Twitter was not amused:

Several Ohio counties received the tornado warning, but those folks gladly would have rather watched the scintillating 16 seconds of March Madness glory before hunkering down in the basement or root cellar as any potential storm passed above ground. But instead, WBNS pulled the feed, followed by a less-than-endearing mea culpa:

We had a massive technical failure in the final seconds of the NCAA basketball game between the University of Kentucky and the University of North Carolina.

Once the situation was remedied we were under a tornado warning and lives were in danger. Upon the conclusion of the warning we aired the remaining minutes of the game.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

The similarities between this Elite Eight snafu and the infamous Heidi game are glaring. Forty-nine years ago, 65 seconds was all that stood between the New York Jets and a 32-29 victory against the Oakland Raiders. The game had drawn millions of eyeballs, who were all eagerly waiting to see the Jets win its fifth straight game when NBC, which aired the contest, switched to the TV adaptation of Heidi. The channel had planned to air the movie regardless of the game’s score, and so rather than watch the Raiders rally with a 43-yard touchdown pass (followed by another TD after the Jets fumbled the ensuing kickoff), viewers were treated to the story of an orphaned Swiss girl.

As SB Nation’s David Pincus recounted in 2009:

The network, bombarded with complaints and hate mail, issued a formal apology. Many fans were so irate at the discovery of what happened that they complained to the NYPD (since the NBC switchboards were still out). The gaffe made the front page of the New York Times, where Cline was described by David Brinkley as a “faceless button pusher in the bowels of NBC”; the New York Daily News covered it with the headline, “Jets 32, Raiders 29, Heidi 14.” … The fiasco brought many changes to football telecasts. The NFL now includes a stipulation in its television contracts stating that local games must be aired to their completion, regardless of what the score is. It’s also why paid programming or filler typically follows NFL broadcasts on Sundays, so as not to repeat the same mistake. NBC installed a phone in the control room to separate calls from irate customers and network executives; to this day, the phone is referred to as the “Heidi Phone.”

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Remembering Jerry Krause, Architect Behind the Greatest NBA Team Ever Assembled

There is dichotomy that naturally comes with any sort of memorialization for Jerry Krause, the general manager of the Chicago Bulls for nearly 20 years and who died earlier this week. Krause didn’t draft Michael Jordan, but it was primarily through his efforts that the Bulls won six NBA titles, dominating the 1990s with players like Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, Horace Grant, and Toni Kukoc, among others; Krause was the architect behind the signing and drafting of those players, and without his efforts, who knows if we would even consider Jordan the GOAT. Read more…

The Grim Reaper of Pubs

The family had learned to be bullish about the passing of their pub from one lofty brand to another. It never much affected their lives at drip-tray height. In the eyes of their regular customers, the Murphys were the Golden Lion. Their hands were on the taps of Guinness and Guinness Extra Cold, they signed the orders on boxes of Tayto crisps. The Murphys brushed down the pool table before evening league matches and heard the grumbles of anyone who had lost a pound or more in the flashing Dream Machine. They had hosted parties for weddings, christenings, communions. One regular, his photograph kept afterwards on a shelf above the till, had been served a last pint by Mary Murphy before dying on the pavement outside; his wake took place back indoors.

The Golden Lion is a local landmark, a towering red-brick building with a double-peaked roof and a high, pronged chimney. Seen from a distance along Royal College Street, the building looks a little like one of those Chinese cat dolls that wave. Closer, the exterior reveals fancy adornment, carved stone, colourful glazed ceramics, Dutch gables – showy work done when the Golden Lion was pulled down and rebuilt at the end of the 19th century. Its owner back then was a Victorian businessman named Will Hetherington. He put an advertisement in the parish newspaper at the time to boast of his expensive refurbishment, inviting locals to make use of the Lion’s “comfort and convenience”. In a century of successive ownership, the Golden Lion remained always a locals’ pub, used for the most part by those who lived and worked within a few hundred metres of the front door.

Under the Murphys’ stewardship, carpets, curtains, and horsey wallpaper were removed over time, leaving a clean, pale-walled interior with bare wooden floors. The family brought in a jukebox, a dartboard, later a pair of flatscreen TVs, mounted at either end of the saloon and kept tuned, as a rule, to sport, quiz shows, or (on weekend evenings) talent contests. Benches outside were taken up, even in winter, by smokers. In the men’s loo a passing Arsenal fan had felt-tipped a crude club badge above the sink and Dave Murphy, an Arsenal fan himself, had not yet ordered it to be washed away. John Murphy, after decades in charge, had retired for health reasons, and Dave was now responsible for the Golden Lion’s overall management. Though he no longer lived above the pub, Mary did. She still served behind the bar every afternoon and evening.

During their meeting with the Admiral rep, the family were told the Golden Lion had been sold on once more. Not to another pubco, but to a private individual. Dave Murphy remembered the Admiral rep being sympathetic and, speaking candidly, she told them that the man who now owned the Golden Lion “was notorious for shutting pubs down”. After the meeting, Dave Murphy rang around some friends in the business. He read out the name he’d scribbled on a piece of paper: Antony Stark.

Had anyone heard of him?

“I was told, this was it,” Murphy remembered. “The Grim Reaper. That if he knocked on the door of your pub, well … it meant the end.”

Tom Lamont’s exhaustive 2015 deep-dive on the death of pub culture in England for The Guardian is worth re-reading, considering the role a bar plays within a community — as watering hole, a place to meet up, or merely where you go to enjoy a book on a summer afternoon — as you raise a pint of Guinness, Smithwick’s, or Bulmers.

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