For Your Consideration – And They’re Off! Edition

Jim Keller

Every year, I reiterate that one can liken the Oscar race to a horse race where each studio pins their hopes on their respective horses hoping to place. In the analogy, the studio is the horse’s owner, public relations is the jockey, and the actor or film is the horse. Here I’ve included my rankings as they stood on the eve of Oscar nominations—the number in parentheses indicates my placement following nominations. I chose eight nominees for Best Picture out of a possible ten, as determined by the Academy’s preferential ballot system. All other categories reflect five nominees. The picks that appear in black text within the table were my original nominee picks, and those in red represent actual nominees that I had not chosen.

This year, I banked on the success of films like A Star is Born and BlacKkKlansman to drive their nominations, and ultimately included Bradley Cooper in my Best Director list and John David Washington in Best Actor (clearly, the Academy had other ideas; for example, you can see the support for Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma through not only the Best Actress nomination for Yalitza Aparicio, which I predicted, but also the Best Supporting Actress nomination for Marina de Tavira, which was a nice surprise). You never know which way the Academy wind is going to blow, and perhaps to some degree that’s what makes Oscar watching so enjoyable.

With that, I give you my current Oscar predictions:

Roma. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

BlacKkKlansman. Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

A Star is Born. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Rockefeller’s Resolutions for 2019

Sarah Baker

The Ancient Babylonians are thought to be the first people to make the equivalent of what we think of as a New Year’s resolution. Four millennia ago, they would make promises to the gods that they would pay their debts in the upcoming year. This happened at the beginning of the Babylonian new year, in March, during an eleven-day festival called Akitu, or the Festival of the Sowing of Barley. The Babylonians believed that if they kept these promises, the gods would bless them with good luck throughout the year.

This trend persisted thousands of years later, picked up by individuals mostly for religious reasons, and ancient Romans and early Christians continued to make promises to their deities or deity on the first day of the new year, which became January 1 after Julius Casear moved it to this date to honor the Roman god of beginnings, Janus. People normally used this as an opportunity to promise that they would atone for past mistakes and be better in the future. Today, New Year’s resolutions are common in the Western world and are generally individual goals for self-improvement. About 45% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but the success rate for keeping these goals is a measly 8%, according to a poll conducted in December 2018.

Now, at the start of 2019, we have reached a time when we all reflect on what we have or have not accomplished in 2018 and how we would like to improve ourselves this upcoming year. My own resolutions include seriously starting to plan my wedding, running my first half marathon, and being able to do ten pull-ups in a row. Maybe writing it down for you all to see will make me feel more accountable, and I can be in that 8% of people who actually achieve their goals.

Here is a glimpse of the resolutions that other members of the Rockefeller community have for 2019:

“My resolution is to survive toward end of the year, while 1) raising three kids, 2) taking care of a house 3) commuting between New York and Richmond, 4) doing my Ph.D., and 5) running two businesses at the same time. Steps taken so far: I have tried to fill every minute of my day with something.”

– Du Cheng

Du with his partner and three kids.

“My resolution is to lose weight by eating less burgers and more chicken and to become an “Intermediate+” volleyball player so that I can play with the Tri-I on Wednesday nights.”

– Shigeru Kaneki

Shigeru eating chicken he cooked for himself in his new InstantPot.

“My resolution is to figure out my career plan and to break out of this quarter-life crisis. I would also like to more seriously consider learning how to cook an adult meal.”

– Jyen Yiee Wong

Jyen trying to figure out her next life steps.

“My resolution is to cook healthier and eat in more moderation!”

– Steven Cajamarca

Chicken that Steven cooked for himself.

“My New Year’s Resolution is to travel more. So I decided to start the year right and spent a day in Moscow on my way back to NYC. It was so cold, but so beautiful!”

– Anna Amelianchik

Anna embracing the beautiful cold in Moscow.

Get Your Hot Dogs Here

Aileen Marshall

Classic New York Hot Dog: 100% American beef with sauerkraut and onions on a soft bun. May 31, 2014. Aneil Lutchman.

Hot dog cart on East 16th Street in New York City. October 23, 2007. Rollingrck.

“Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.” That was the tagline of an old commercial. Hot dogs are known for being a quintessentially American food, especially associated with sports stadiums. In New York City, hot dog carts are considered iconic.  But how American are they?

Sausages have been around since the ninth century B.C., and were even mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. Hot dogs are a type of sausage also known as frankfurters or wieners. This particular soft sausage, made from pork byproducts in a thin casing, was first developed in Frankfurt, Germany in the late fifteenth century, hence the name frankfurters. Legend has it that in the 1690s, a butcher in Colburg, Germany notice dthat frankfurters were similar in shape to his dachshund dog. He started calling them dachshund sausages. However, since hot dogs are also known as wieners, Austrians claim they were invented in Vienna in the late 1800s. By the mid-nineteenth century, it was a common practice to eat frankfurters in a bun. This practice was brought to America by German immigrants, not invented here, and they may have already referred to them as dogs.

There are variations of a famous story about how the first hot dogs were invented in America, but they are probably not true. The main rendition is about a man named Feuchtwanger. He was selling hot dogs on the streets in St. Louis (or some say at the World’s Fair) sometime in the late 1800s and would loan people gloves to eat them with so as not burn their hands. However most people never gave the gloves back. When he ran out of gloves, he talked to either a local baker, his wife, or brother-in-law who gave him some long buns he split down the middle. However, there is a lot of written evidence that hot dogs were already around. The writer H. L. Mencken wrote that he had been eating hot dogs since his childhood, in the 1880s, and they were not considered new then.  There are many mentions in Harvard, Yale, and Princeton magazines from the 1890s about “dog wagons” near the colleges. Apparently, they were called “dog wagons” since meat was considered low quality, but they were cheap, making them convenient food for students. So the story about the name “hot dogs” being invented in the early twentieth century by a newspaper cartoonist is probably not true either. Supposedly, Tad Dorgan was at a baseball game, polo match, or bicycle race at the Polo Grounds or Madison Square Garden, sometime between 1900 and 1906. A vendor was yelling something to the effect of, “Get your red hot dachshund sausages here!”, and it caught Dorgan’s attention. He drew a cartoon of the vendor for the New York Journal, but since he didn’t know how to spell dachshund, he just called them dogs; however, no record of this cartoon has ever been found. Ironically, wanting to serve something “truly American,” President Franklin Roosevelt included hot dogs on the menu for the visit of King George VI of England in 1939.

It seems hot dogs have been sold in New York City for well over a hundred years. There are newspaper mentions of hot dogs being sold from push carts, with sauerkraut on a milk roll in the New York City Bowery in the 1860s.  A German immigrant named Charles Feltman opened a hot dog stand in Coney Island in 1867, but it folded during the Great Depression in the 1930s. In 1915, a Polish immigrant working for Feltman slept on the floor of the restaurant to save money. A year later he had saved up $300, which he used to open his own hot dog restaurant in Coney Island. He competed with Feltman by selling his dogs for five cents, while Feltman’s cost ten cents. That enterprising young man was Nathan Handwerker, and his original restaurant is still in Coney Island to this day, with Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog restaurants located all around the country. Their celebrated hot dog eating contest started in 1972 and occurs every year on the Fourth of July.

There is a story that a friend of Feltman’s named Donovan built him a small tin-lined chest with a charcoal stove inside to boil the hot dogs, similar to the hot dog carts we know today. Another claim for the first modern hot dog cart is from 1926. A man named Frances Coffey designed a stainless steel cart with a cooking plate, steam table, and ice box, according to the website New York Tour1. Today there are regulations controlling mobile food vendors, including hot dog carts. The dogs must be pre-cooked and kept in a pan of hot water, which is why they are often referred to as “dirty water dogs.” The carts must have a cooler for storage, and sinks for washing utensils.  Most carts use propane for heating. Umbrellas are required to protect the food from the sun and dust, and there is a limit to the number of condiments carried. Vendors must be also trained in safe food handling practices and have their carts inspected by the city.

While hot dogs are much beloved in the country (we eat about seven billion per year), they are also rather unhealthy. Traditional hot dogs are pre-cooked, made from beef or pork byproducts, fat, salt, spices, and preservatives (mainly nitrates). The World Health Organization lists nitrates as Group 1 Carcinogens. There are many alternatives produced to make them healthier, such as chicken, turkey, or tofu dogs. Most hot dogs we eat are of the skinless type. They are cooked in the skin, or casing, and the skin is removed afterwards.

The customary New York City frank is a beef dog served with mustard and sauerkraut, and sometimes cooked onions in a thin tomato base, on a soft white bun. Different regions and stadiums tend to have their own signature style. In Chicago, hot dogs are buried under mustard, tomato, chopped raw onion, peppers, pickles, relish, and celery salt on a poppy seed bun. They like their hot dogs spicy in Texas; at Astros Field in Houston, dogs are sold with chili, cheese, and jalapeños. The “Fenway Frank” in Boston is boiled and then grilled, and served on a toasted New England-style (flat-sided) bun. The Atlanta Braves have their dogs topped with coleslaw. In Los Angeles, the “Dodger Dog” consists of a grilled ten-inch-long pork frank with ketchup, mustard, chopped onions, and sweet relish.

Hot dogs have always been a convenient food to eat while walking around, at picnics, or at sports stadiums. New Yorkers sometimes refer to the street carts as “sidewalk gourmet.” While not very healthy, it’s one more traditional foods to sample while in a new city, or even in your own.

A New Year, A New Musical: The Prom

Melissa Jarmel

There are many new musicals that will be vying for a Tony nomination this year. Some are movies turned musicals: King Kong (currently playing), Pretty Woman (currently playing), and Tootsie (starting March 29). Some are jukebox musicals: The Cher Show (currently playing) and Ain’t Too Proud: The Temptations Musical (starting February 28). One is a musical adaptation of a folk opera concept album by Anaïs Mitchell called Hadestown (starting March 22). And some are original new musicals: Gettin’ The Band Back Together (opened and closed in 2018), Be More Chill (starting February 13), and The Prom (currently playing).

A few of the musicals set to open are going to be strong contenders for the Tony for Best New Musical, but of those currently playing, I think The Prom is the favorite and will surely get a nomination. This show is a musical comedy, so you should expect over-the-top humor and exaggerated performances to keep you entertained. And The Prom delivers with self-awareness and little regard for political correctness.

The show opens with a group of aging, narcissistic Broadway actors who scroll through Twitter trying to find a cause to get involved with to better their image as activists. Enter Emma—a high school student who wants to bring her girlfriend to the prom—but her small town in Indiana is so opposed that the Parent Teacher Association cancels the prom altogether to stop her. Without consulting Emma, the Broadway crew races to her side to protest and reinstate a prom where she can take her girlfriend, and so the drama (and comedy) ensues.

The laughs are many, and the feels are high as the show explores themes of acceptance, the role of the arts in school, and personal growth in between the promposals and witty repartee. The music is poppy and upbeat, and you’ll be sure to leave the theatre bopping along to the final song “It’s Time to Dance” or singing, “life’s no dress rehearsal” from the other big company number “Tonight Belongs to You,” though these are not the only memorable songs.

There is a same-day rush when the box office opens for two tickets per person. Currently, Telecharge is also offering a discount to see the show through April 21st for up to $50 off tickets. Additionally, tickets have appeared at the TKTS booths for $83-93 and are usually orchestra tickets. Lastly, if you sign up for TDF, this is one of the shows that has appeared before on their listings for members (just a reminder that Broadway tickets are under $50 for members and membership is now $40).

The Prom​ is playing at the Longacre Theatre (220 W 48th Street).


Pets of Tri-I

Pooja Viswanathan



In the second run of this series, Pooja Viswanathan interviews Emma and Rusty, the cats who live with Jim Keller and Dom Olinares. I met these wonderful creatures one fine evening, and they were very gracious to answer some pressing questions I had for them. If you would like your pet(s) featured in this series, please contact me at

Pooja Viswanathan: How long have you lived in New York City?
Emma: All my life. Forrr 52 years—that’s nine human years.

Rusty: Forrr 32 years, that’s fourrr human years.

PV:  What is your first memory?

E: Hunting and defending my prey from otherrr stray cats on the streets of New York. I took advantage of my big paws and extra thumbs to fight and survive.

R: When I was brought in a shoebox with my siblings to the Humane Society from the freezing cold of winterrr. The tip of my tail had to be removed due to injury, but I was glad to be warm. I have a slightly shorterrr tail now, but it does not affect me at all.

PV: When did you meet your daddies?

E: In 2011, daddy Dom adopted me from the ASPCA, and soon afterrr I trained him to become my slave. Daddy Jim joined us two years laterrr and reformed me, but I still have the last say in everything.
R: When I was a kitten in 2014, my daddies came and picked me up from the Humane Society. I felt like I had always been waiting forrr them. The moment I saw them we werrre bonded. I cannot imagine living without them and my sisterrr.

PV: How do your daddies fit in the Tri-I community?

E: Daddy Jim is a writerrr and editorrr at MSK.

R: Daddy Dom does a lot of really cool experiments as a scientist at Rockefellerrr University.

PV: Where do you live? What is your favorite thing about living here?

E: On the Upperrr East Side. Our new place is very high up and has so many windows. I love it because I can see a lot of flying, feathered prey on the rooftops of adjacent buildings and on the East Riverrr. I chirp and chatterrr when I see them but they neverrr seem to hearrr me. I imagine the many different ways to catch them once I get the chance.

R: I love all the space in our new apartment because I can run around and chase my sisterrr all day and night. All the time is play time!

PV: If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you live?

E: I heard a lot about Paris from my daddies’ vacation last spring. I have already conquered New York, and I’d love to move on to anotherrr city of equal caliberrr.

R: You mean without my daddies?! Nowherrre!

PV: What are your favorite foods?

E: Classic chicken pâté, and dry cat food forrr treats. I shed a lot of furrr and I groom myself continuously so I preferrr food that helps me control hairballs.

R: Special treats from my daddies with real fish like sardines! Sometimes daddy Jim will sneak me some cream. Yum!

PV: What is your favorite weekend activity in NYC?

E: Napping on daddy Jim’s lap and then afterrr a while moving to daddy Dom’s lap.

R: Play all day! I bring my toys to my daddies and we play fetch.

PV: Besides your daddies, who is your favorite human in the Tri-I community?

E: I am loath to say that I like anyone else besides daddies Jim and Dom, but I guess I would say Auntie Natalia, who often looks afterrr us when they are away.

R: Auntie Natalia! She takes care of us when our daddies are traveling (even though I don’t like it when they leave!)

PV: Do you have a funny story to share with us?

E:  I’m afraid I can’t find much humorrr in the world today.

R: Well one time I rolled around in the bath tub and came out all glittery because of a bath bomb that had been used the night beforrre. My daddies could not figurrre out wherrre I got the glitterrr at first but then they caught me rolling on the tub again afterrr they had just cleaned me up. I thought it was the funniest thing everrr! I love rolling around in the bath tub when no one is looking, and I come out smelling really nice!

PV: Is there some way we can see more pictures of you on the interwebs?

E: You can find us both on Instagram using #theemmaandrustyshow.

PV: Which movie do you think will win the Oscar this year?

E: Definitely The Favourite because like Queen Anne, I am a queen who depends on others for everything.  I can relate to having loyal subjects, and I love that hers relentlessly fight over herrr in the film. That is how it should be.

R: Black Pantherrr! Wakanda foreverrr!

February Bulletin

Pregame Your Brain: The Science of Movement

 The Rockefeller Members of the KnowScience organization Sarah Baker, Tiago Altavini, Jyen Yiee Wong, and Simona Giunta would like to invite you to the “Pregame Your Brain” event at Caveat on February 8. From 6 to 8 p.m. scientists will introduce guests to the science of movement at the following stations:

  • Microsoft Kinect: Come discover the latest technology behind motion sensing to understand how learning about movement can help recover movement in people that have been hurt or sick. Scientist: Sarah Baker.
  • Leap Motion Controller: The infrared light sensor of the Leap Motion Controller tracks the motion of your hand and forearm, allowing you to play a video game without touching any surface! Scientist: Chiara Bertipaglia.
  • Human-human interface: Have you ever dreamt of controlling the people around you? Now you can! Come control someone else’s arm with your brain! Scientists: Stephanie Rogers, Heather Snell.
  • Visual Illusions: Challenge yourself with mind-blowing optical illusions. Come find out how they are gathered by your eye and processed by your brain, creating a disconnection between perception and reality. Scientist: Tiago Siebert Altavini.

The event is free with advanced RSVP online or $5 at the door (21+).

Natural Expressions


On February 14 at 7:30 p.m. Santa Maria Pecoraro Di Vittorio of the Rice Laboratory will be performing a Valentine’s Concert with the Chamber Orchestra of New York, featuring music by Khachaturian, Mahler, and Tchaikovsky. This concert is being held in Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall and tickets can be found online (25% off general admission using code: CNY29834) and $35 student tickets can be purchased by emailing Santa Maria at

Collete Ryder of The Rockefeller University’s Office of Sponsored Programs Administration will be performing Arthur Honegger’s King David (Le Roi David) with NYCHORAL on February 28. This performance, directed by David Hayes, will feature choral and orchestral music, as well as dance and narration, to explore the lives of three biblical characters: Samuel, Saul, and David. This performance will take place in the Central Synagogue (652 Lexington Avenue) at 8 p.m. Tickets ($45) are available online / contact Collette Ryder ( for discounts.

Maria Lazzaro from Human Resources at The Rockefeller University will be playing Jazz music on February 28 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Mae Mae Café and Bar for an extended Happy Hour. Admission is free.

Digital Events

Bernie Langs and Clint Mobley of The Rockefeller University Development Office announce the release of their new recording on SoundCloud, “Resolution, She & Other Songs.” This medley features familiar and original themes from “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” by Bruce Springsteen, “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell, “Resolution” by Clint Mobley, “She” – lyrics by Anastasios Kozaitis, music by Clint Mobley & Bernie Langs, and “Sloop John B.” by Brian Wilson.


Email Megan E. Kelley at to submit your art/music/performance/sporting/other event for next month’s “Natural Expressions” and follow @NatSelections on Twitter for more events.

A Tale of Two Meals: Profile of New Sichuan Restaurant, Hui

Emily Atlas and Donna Tallent

Emily Atlas:

Donna and I recently met at a Natural Selections interest meeting and learned that we both love food and exploring the various food options of the Upper East Side and beyond. Although some friends have told me that the Upper East Side has limited interesting food options, in my two months so far as a student at Rockefeller, I have found that this is not entirely true. We heard about a new Sichuan restaurant called Hui that opened about three months ago and thought it would be fun to share a meal together, try a few dishes, and then tell a Tale of Two Meals.

Donna Tallent:

If you’re walking up 70th Street toward Second Avenue, it’s hard to miss this ground-floor spot with its large maroon awning. Hui is situated in the Lenox Hill neighborhood, equidistant from Hunter College and Weill Cornell Medical College, and three short blocks from The Rockefeller University. Even at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday, which is an early dinner hour for most New Yorkers, I observed a steady stream of pedestrian traffic heading inside or pausing to check out the menu as I stood out front waiting for Emily to arrive. One woman, someone who I imagined was local to the neighborhood, stopped and addressed me where I stood, as if I were some sort of an ambassador for the restaurant: “Grand Opening…Is this a new Chinese restaurant?”, she asked.


We had a 5:30 p.m. reservation at Hui. Having just come from an interesting Friday Lecture, I hustled to Hui, a 5-10 minute walk from Rockefeller’s campus. As I walked, I thought about how I had not yet found many Chinese restaurants near Rockefeller. In fact, before going to Hui, I had only been to Xi’an Famous Foods, a small shop on 78th Street that serves thick hand-pulled noodles, famously spiced with cumin. Delicious as it may be, Xi’an Famous Foods focuses mostly on noodles and regional specialties from the Xi’an province of China. While I am excited about the uptick of more authentic and regional Chinese restaurants in New York City, my childhood memories of Chinese food consist mostly of Chinese-American versions of Sichuan and Shanghainese food, and I still crave many of those dishes.


Hui, with its white tablecloths, attentive staff, and family-style portions, reminded me of the Chinese restaurants my family frequented when I was a child, but with much more of a modern-day feel. The exposed brick walls, grey wood floors, and sculptured metalwork décor give the restaurant a polished yet comfortable and inviting vibe. There’s also a lovely yet sleek, soft-lit, fully-stocked bar if you’re looking for a cocktail and a quick nibble. Hui is a place to have an after-work drink, an intimate meal with a friend, or a large family gathering.


The first thing I noticed was that the décor shows a lot of attention to detail. This is a place to go for a sit-down meal in a way that Xi’an Famous Foods is not. The restaurant was a tad empty at 5:30 p.m., but it filled up over the course of our meal, and was near capacity by 7:00 p.m.

The attentive wait staff quickly informed us that it was Happy Hour (every day from 5-8 p.m.). I ordered a glass of a dry Riesling ($6 at Happy Hour), a good wine to pair with Chinese dishes.

The menu had a near-overwhelming array of choices. Luckily, Donna and I agreed to share our dishes, so we could try as much as possible. We decided on scallion pancakes (six pieces for $7.95) and pork steamed buns (six soup-filled buns for $9.95). We also ordered the spicy and sour beef pot ($21.95) and the spicy and sour shredded potatoes ($13.95). Scallion pancakes and pork steamed buns (also known as pork soup dumplings, juicy pork buns, or xiaolongbao [shau-long-bau]) are two familiar dishes I try, if available, to get a sense of any new Chinese restaurant I check out.

When the scallion pancakes arrived, I wasn’t sure whether I would like them. I tend to look for crispy, browned, bubbly scallion pancakes with only a slight sheen of oil. These particular scallion pancakes were not browned, and frankly looked a little greasy. However, I was struck by how delicate they were. They were both crispy and chewy and paired perfectly with the dipping sauce of soy sauce, ginger, and rice vinegar. The pork steamed buns arrived piping hot in a bamboo steamer. The soup inside the buns was flavorful and rich and the pork was well seasoned. I was most impressed with the dumpling dough, which was delicate and cooked perfectly. You could tell that the dumplings were freshly made.

Finally, our main dishes arrived. The waitress had told us earlier that the sour and spicy shredded potato dish was one her mom used to make for her when she was a child, and eating the dish evoked nostalgic feelings of home for her. I dove right into the potatoes, which were very thinly julienned and crisp, with a vinegary tang. There were many thinly sliced red chilis and the dish was extremely spicy. I have a very high spice tolerance and I enjoy spicy foods, but by the end of the meal, my lips were definitely feeling the effects of the capsaicin. The spicy and sour beef pot was less spicy, but still flavorful.  Donna seemed to prefer this dish, but I found it hard to enjoy the subtler flavors after digging into the potatoes; that is one of the perils of highly spiced foods.


Emily and I ordered beer and wine from the almost-half-price happy hour menu (beer is $4 a glass, wine is $6 a glass) and then pored through pages and pages of glossy menu items, including full-color photos of dishes from ten different categories: Cold Appetizers, Hot Appetizers, Soup, Salad, Vegetables, Entrees, Rice and Noodles, Special Clay Pot, Chef Specialties, and Desserts.

It didn’t take us long to pick out several items we felt were worth sampling: From Hot Appetizers, juicy steamed buns and scallion pancakes. Emily showed me how to eat the steamed buns, piping hot and full of luscious, savory broth, by gently balancing a bun on your spoon, nibbling the top until the broth trickles out, and then slurping up the broth. I attempted to be graceful with the first dumpling, but by my third, I began to shove them into my mouth whole. The scallion pancakes were light, crisp, and flaky. I imagined they received a quick, delicious dip into a shallow pan of oil and told Emily I could just eat an entire plate of only them. From Vegetables, spicy and sour shredded potatoes, which were too spicy for me but Emily seemed to love; and from Chef Specialties, the spicy and sour beef pot. Now this specialty dish was the plate of food that will make me return to Hui. A generous pile of shredded beef lay on top of rice noodles, which swam in a perfectly seasoned beef broth. I left my to-go box on the table and truly mourn for my abandoned, uneaten leftovers.


All in all, I had a great meal at Hui with Donna and would definitely return! Hui has a reasonably priced lunch menu and it would be a good break from my usual Collaborative Research Center or Weiss lunches.


Hui Restaurant and Bar

314 E 70th Street, between First and Second Avenues

(646) 869-0339

Lunch specials served Monday-Friday, 11:30–3:30 p.m.

According to Web site, online orders are 10% off until December 31, 2018

Visit Web site for hours and additional daily specials.

Time is of the Essence: Limited Engagements Closing Soon

Melissa Jarmel

As the new year approaches, I wanted to draw your attention to three limited engagement plays that hit Broadway this fall and are set to close in January: The Lifespan of a Fact, Waverly Gallery, and American Son.

The most lighthearted among the three is The Lifespan of a Fact. This play features Daniel Radcliffe as an intern at a magazine whose superior, played by Cherry Jones, assigns him to fact-check an article by a writer who prefers “truthiness” to truth (though this writer, played by Bobby Cannavale, would immediately correct me to say that he wrote an essay, not an article, and that there isn’t really a difference between truth and “truthiness” or maybe that “truthiness” has more truth). With this highly topical play, you’re in for ninety-five minutes of absurd humor that considers the value of facts and the role the media has in telling the truth.

If you prefer to trade in the absurd for something that grounds itself in terrifying realism, you should make sure to see Kerry Washington (famous for Scandal) and Steven Pasquale (from Rescue Me) play parents of a biracial teenager caught up in a police incident in American Son. While the play focuses on one incident with one particular family in the middle of the night in a police station in Florida, Christopher Demos-Brown’s writing and Washington’s emotional performance excellently portray how her character’s frustrations and worries about her black son are the worries of many black mothers in America, sentiments that her estranged white husband fails to grasp for the majority of the play. The dynamic portrayed by this couple also delves into some of the challenges of interracial marriage and raising biracial children to have a cohesive identity in a world that won’t see them in their entirety. It’s a lot to tackle in ninety minutes, but this cast will keep you engaged and in suspense until the lights go out.

The Waverly Gallery is also based in realism but can often feel surreal as you are drawn in by Elaine May’s masterful performance of a feisty New Yorker facing Alzheimer’s disease. May returns to Broadway after fifty years to portray Gladys Green, a liberal activist in her eighties with Alzheimer’s who has been running a small art gallery for many years, from which the play takes its name. While the gallery isn’t thriving at the time the play begins, it is still serving as a familiar place for Gladys to remain engaged as her dementia progresses. This play explores how a person with dementia and their family cope as Alzheimer’s takes its course. Although a heartbreaking topic and portrayal, you’ll find yourself laughing throughout at the odd relationship Gladys develops with a young artist, played by Michael Cera, and maybe some all-too-familiar family dynamics.

All three plays have rush policies (listed below) and have recently been listed for same-day discounts at the TKTS booths.


The Lifespan of a Fact

Closes January 13, 2019

$40 General Rush


American Son

Closes January 27, 2019

$35 Student Rush


Waverly Gallery

Closes January 27, 2019

$40 Student Rush

Natural Expressions


Brian Dougherty of The Rockefeller University’s President’s Office will be singing with the Musica Sacra Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. His performance of Handel’s Messiah will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, December 19, and tickets can be purchased online.

On Thursday, December 20, Collette Ryder of the Office of Sponsored Program Administration at The Rockefeller University will be singing A Ceremony of Carols with the NYChoral Chamber Ensemble. This holiday concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. at St. Peter’s Church and tickets are $40. More information can be found online.

Digital Events

Bernie Langs has recently recorded a medley of his original composition “I Didn’t Tell Anyone” and two cover songs by Mick Jagger/Keith Richards, “Till the Next Time We Say Goodbye” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Check out the release on SoundCloud.

Email Megan E. Kelley at to submit your art/music/performance/sporting/other event for next month’s “Natural Expressions” and follow @NatSelections on Twitter for more events.

Editorial Note

This month, the Natural Selections Editorial Board bids farewell to Jim Keller. We would like to thank him for his interminable dedication to Natural Selections over the past seven years. Jim first joined Natural Selections as a contributor and copy editor in October 2011, and he became Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor in July 2013. Jim’s love of film is evident if you’ve read his “For Your Consideration” column that has shed light on contentious Oscar races and given us insight into the best performances each year; luckily for our community, this column will have future editions. For the past five and a half years, Jim has been the fearless leader of Natural Selections as Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor, making the publication the success that it is today for the Rockefeller and Tri-I community. Jim has made a permanent impact on the Editorial Board, and we will do only our best to try to emulate his success in the years to come. We wish him all the best and will miss having him on the team!



For Your Consideration – Ones to Watch, Vol. 3 Edition

Jim Keller

With Thanksgiving all a faded memory, it’s time to close out the Ones to Watch series with the Best Supporting Actor and Actress races. The nominees for both races can be unpredictable but last year was the second year in a row where the Best Supporting Actor winner was essentially decided early on during the precursor awards circuit. Conversely, the Best Supporting Actress race has become very easy to predict the winner of for the past six years. Often a film’s narrative can decide who from the supporting races makes it in. Last year was a bit different, as you can see from the outcomes below. But the Academy clearly used other parameters in their decision to nominate Melinda Dillon for Absence of Malice in 1982 and more recently, Rachel McAdams’s for Spotlight three years ago. In the former, Dillon’s character famously skipped across lawns picking up newspapers and McAdams does nothing outside of make a few pensive “Mmm” sounds. This is why I use a different format when discussing the supporting than with the leading races. Instead of laying out each actor’s accomplishments and whether I would bet on them for a nomination, I have broken down the various circumstances these actors find themselves in because of the film’s narrative, and how that may influence Oscar voters to pencil them in for nominations.

Various critics groups, including the National Board of Review (NBR), the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) have announced their respective winners and The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes), and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) have announced their respective nominees. These announcements, and the events associated with them, help to form a consensus of Oscar nominees and make the acting categories clearer as we approach nominations on January 23. In effect, they signal the start of the Oscar race’s second leg.


Last Year’s Best Supporting Actor Results:

Mark Rylance Dunkirk: Because the film was still considered a Best Picture frontrunner at this time last year, it made sense that Rylance could be pulled along, but despite eight nominations for the film, including Best Picture and Best Director that was not the case.

Ben Mendelsohn Darkest Hour: Even though the film landed six Oscar nominations, Mendelsohn was not one of them.

Willem Dafoe The Florida Project: Dafoe was the film’s sole nomination, and the race came down to him and Sam Rockwell.

Armie Hammer Call Me by Your Name: Sadly, despite Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and Golden Globe nominations, Hammer was unable to muscle his way into the top 5.

Michael Stuhlbarg Call Me by Your Name: Same here, Stuhlbarg was unable to find Oscar love despite a BFCA nomination.

Sam Rockwell Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: As I mentioned above, the race came down to Rockwell and Dafoe, with Rockwell collecting trophies from most of the precursors, including the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), BFCA, Golden Globes, SAG and eventually went on to win the Oscar.

Woody Harrelson Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: After his SAG nomination, Harrelson gained some traction and was nominated. This was a real two for one for the film with Rockwell’s nomination and win.

Michael Shannon The Shape of Water: Although the film did extremely well in overall nominations and went on to win Best Picture and Best Director, the Academy snubbed Shannon’s villain.

The category was rounded out by Richard Jenkins, the good guy in The Shape of Water, and Christopher Plummer, the bad guy in All the Money in the World (who replaced an even worse guy who originally played the role, Kevin Spacey). When Spacey was caught up in the #MeToo tide following sexual misconduct allegations, Plummer was tapped to refilm his scenes and take the role.

Before we dive into this year’s list of contenders, let me touch upon some of the phenomena we often see in the supporting races:

Two for one: A film can often have multiple supporting nominees. The precedent was set in both supporting categories back in 1939 when Hattie McDaniel and Olivia de Havilland competed against one another for Gone with the Wind, and Harry Carey and Claud Rains were nominated for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In the ninety years of the Academy Awards, we have seen this play out twenty-nine times for Best Supporting Actress and only seventeen times for Best Supporting Actor. Last year we saw the end of a twenty-six-year streak of no double nominations in Supporting Actor with the nominations of Rockwell and Harrelson for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The last time this occurred was in 1991 when Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley were nominated for Bugsy. Conversely, we must only go back to 2011, when Octavia Spencer won and Jessica Chastain was nominated for The Help, for the last instance in Supporting Actress. It’s worth noting that Rockwell’s win should negate the idea that many Oscar watchers have that double nominations for a film effectively cancel both actors out.

Ride Along: A Best Picture nomination can often yield supporting nominations for the film’s actors, e.g., Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) and Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread).

Category fraud: When there are too many high-quality performances to choose from in a given year, Academy voters have been known to fill lead performance slots with supporting roles and vice versa. Lookout for Mahershala Ali to pop up in supporting for Green Book for the men and Emma Stone in The Favourite for the ladies this year.

Eyes on the newcomer: Voters for precursor awards often rally around a newcomer to the Oscar race and anoint them the prom king/queen, i.e., they win most of the races leading up to Oscar so that by the time the Oscars roll around, it is a given that they will win that too. See Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Allison Janney in I, Tonya just this year.

Guide to the precursor awards and nominations standings: BFCA (*), LAFCA (+), NBR (~), NYFCC (^), Golden Globe (#), and SAG ($). The symbols appear after the contender’s names below.


Mahershala Ali (Green Book)* # $, Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)* # $, Richard E. Grant – (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)^ * # $, and Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy)* # $:

Mahershala Ali in Green Book; Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Last year we saw three films vie for Best Picture that comment on the Trump regime: Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, and the eventual winner The Shape of Water. This year, that trend continues. For this reason, it comes as no surprise that most of this year’s Best Supporting Actor contenders come from films that capture the zeitgeist. First up is Green Book, which recounts the true story of a New York bouncer (Viggo Mortensen) who drove a Jamaican-American classical pianist (Ali) on a tour through the 1960s’ American South. Although billed as a comedy, much of the South was steeped in racism back then, and without spoiling the film, much of what unfolds is far from laughable—though the director, Peter Farrelly handles the subject matter with kid gloves, thereby avoiding it becoming the film’s focus, much the way it was handled in 1990’s Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy. The film, which has seven BFCA nominations, examines race relations in pressure cooker situations such as the division we currently see in the U.S. Ali’s performance is widely regarded as the one to beat.

Metacritic score: 70

A second film focused on race relations is Spike Lee’s fantastic BlacKkKlansman, which is also based on a true story where Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer from Colorado Springs (John David Washington), sets out to infiltrate and expose the local Ku Klux Klan branch. Driver plays Stallworth’s Jewish partner and the decoy for the operation. The depiction of two men of different races who work together in harmony to bring down evil is a bit of a metaphor for combatting the aforementioned division in the U.S. I would be remiss not to mention that Lee ties in past events to deliver a searing indictment of the Charlottesville, VA rally last August. Regardless of how the awards season turns out, the film will forever mark a dark time in the U.S. as a must see with a powerful impact.

Metacritic score: 83

There are two other films this year that capture the zeitgeist in different ways. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is based on Lee Israel’s memoir of the same name and tells the true story of best-selling celebrity biographer Israel (McCarthy) who resorted to forgery to revitalize a failing writing career. Swazi-English actor Grant plays Israel’s sidekick Jack Hock who gets embroiled in her schemes and leads to her undoing. The beauty of Hock is that he is a character who happens to be gay. His sexuality is not examined under a microscope or even discussed at all. Instead, Israel and Hock are kindred spirits who find comfort in one another as people who are largely rejected from society, and who do not have a definitive path forward. Grant lights up the screen opposite McCarthy and looks to be a lock for a nomination.

Metacritic score: 87

Timothée Chalamet in Beautiful Boy; Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Beautiful Boy is based on a pair of memoirs from father and son David and Nic Sheff chronicling the experience of survival, relapse, and recovery in a family coping with drug addiction over many years. Chalamet mesmerizes as Nic, a teenage boy whose drug experimentation sends him down the slippery slope of addiction. The film is one of three films this year exploring addiction; the others are A Star Is Born and Ben Is Back. It’s no surprise really that three films tackling the same subject matter were released in a year that saw drug overdoses become one of the leading causes of death in adults under the age of fifty-five.

Metacritic score: 63

Best Picture Bets

Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)* ~ $, Sam Rockwell (Vice)#, and Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)*: The rest of our contenders represent a mixed bag. We have Elliott, a veteran actor whose first film role was in 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and who is known for his work in westerns on television and the big screen. In ASIB, he makes the most of little screen time, but his voice was also purposely channeled by Bradley Cooper who plays his on-screen brother who suffers from addiction in the latest version of love and stardom. Elliott’s unique voice has helped him stand out, and, in this case, is highlighted by Cooper’s use of it.

Metacritic score: 88

Next is Rockwell as George W. Bush in Vice, a biopic of Bush’s Vice President, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale). The film is the third film commenting on the Trump regime in that it examines the events of the past that made it possible. Rockwell, last year’s Best Supporting Actor winner, is said to be strong, but there is a question about his screen time that could ultimately affect his nomination chances.

Metacritic score: 63

Finally, there’s Jordan in Black Panther who looks to join Heath Ledger as only the second performance to date in a superhero movie to earn an Oscar nomination. The film is the first in the genre with an all-black cast, which sees the heir to the hidden kingdom of Wakanda (Chadwick Boseman in the title role) step forward to lead his people while confronting a challenger from his country’s past (Jordan).

Metacritic score: 88

In all three cases, the men appear in strong Best Picture contenders, which helps their chances of a nomination.

Others who could be nominated include Steve Carrell for Vice and Lin-Manuel Miranda for Mary Poppins Returns. Ever since Carrell first played against type in 2014’s Foxcatcher his projects have often landed squarely in the Academy’s wheelhouse, and this year is no different with roles in Beautiful Boy and Welcome to Marwen. On the other hand, Miranda, a star of the stage looking to segue his voiceover career to the screen, is said to be great in the sequel to the Julie Andrews classic. It’s important to note that neither of these men have appeared in the precursor awards conversation. The only other one who has is Steven Yeun for Burning, but it’s difficult enough to land a Best Actor or Best Actress nomination for a foreign film, so it is not very likely that Yeun will connect.


Last Year’s Best Supporting Actress Race Results:

Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird: She was nominated but unable to take down Allison Janney who kept winning on the precursor circuit and never stopped.

Mary J. Blige – Mudbound: She was nominated thereby breaking the no acting nominations curse that Netflix had been enduring.

Allison Janney – I, Tonya: As I mentioned, she not only was nominated, but she won.

Octavia Spencer The Shape of Water: My hunch that the Academy wouldn’t be able to resist nominating her given that they recognized her twice in sprawling ensembles (The Help and Hidden Figures) was correct.

My instincts on Holly Hunter (The Big Sick) and Brooklyn Prince (The Florida Project) were also correct, and neither made the cut despite BFCA and SAG and BFCA nominations, respectively.

The biggest snub was Hong Chau who gave one of the best performances of the year in Downsizing. I was really hoping that the Academy would break an abysmal eleven-year streak of zero nominations for an Asian actress, but sadly it was not to be.

Good Will

Amy Adams (Vice)* # $

Amy Adams in Vice; Photo Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures.

If you ask anyone who pays even the slightest attention to the awards race, they’ll tell you that Adams is long overdue for a win. She was first nominated in this category in 2006 for Junebug, and she amassed three more nominations in the category for Doubt, The Fighter, and The Master in 2009, 2011, and 2013, respectively. Adams earned her first Best Actress nomination for American Hustle in 2014. She won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical for Big Eyes, a BAFTA-nominated role the Academy, SAG, and BFCA ignored. Just two years ago she appeared in Arrival, a Best Picture nominee that earned a total of eight nominations but Adams was left out despite Golden Globe, BFCA, BAFTA, and SAG nominations and an NBR win. This year, not only does Adams have the nominations denoted above for Vice, but she has received double nominations from those awards bodies for her leading role in HBO’s Sharp Objects: Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television (HFPA), Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series (SAG), Best Actress in a Movie Made for Television or Limited Series (BFCA), giving her campaign a boost from the television side. Here she portrays VP Dick Cheney’s wife, Lynne, and is once again earning raves for her performance that has many saying that she could win. There’s only one woman standing in her way: Regina King (see below).

Returning Champs

Emma Stone* # $ and Rachael Weisz (The Favourite)* # $ and Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased)*:

Oscar often retreats to what is comfortable by nominating those whom have won or been nominated before. Enter Stone and Weisz who play a pair of dueling cousins at each other’s throats as they try to curry favor with Queen Anne (Olivia Colman ruling, literally) in early 18th century England. Both women have won Best Actress Oscars: Stone last year for La La Land and Weisz in 2006 for The Constant Gardener. But Stone also has a nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for 2014’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), and, the much showier role, giving her a leg up on the competition. As does her second SAG nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series in Netflix’s Maniac. As one of the highest reviewed films of the year, the film is on track for a Best Picture nomination—w ill it pull both Stone and Weisz along for the ride?

Metacritic score: 91

In Boy Erased, based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name, Kidman plays Nancy Eamons, the mother of Jared (Lucas Hedges) who is forced by his parents to participate in a gay conversion therapy program. Kidman played a mother just last year in Lion, thereby earning her first Best Supporting Actress nomination. She has also been getting rave reviews for her performance in Destroyer this year, earning her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. Like Adams, she has done well on television having won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television this year for Big Little Lies. The same role won her the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie last year. Sadly, the film, my favorite so far this year, hasn’t been able to build momentum, and has been largely shutout of the awards race. Because of this, a nomination for Kidman would be a nice surprise.

Metacritic score: 71

The Wildcard

Margot Robbie (Mary Queen of Scots)$:

Margot Robbie in Mary Queen of Scots; Photo Courtesy of Fox Focus Features.

Last year, Robbie was always in the awards conversation for Best Actress for playing the ill-fated figure skater, Tonya Harding in I, Tonya. So, it was no surprise when she landed her first Best Actress nomination. This year is a bit of a different story—f or one, her film has mixed reviews, but for another, she is just barely in the supporting race with her SAG nomination. In Mary Queen of Scots, Robbie plays Queen Elizabeth I opposite her cousin Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) who is ultimately imprisoned before facing execution for her attempt to grab the crown. At this stage, I am betting Robbie gets in the top five, but a win is just not in the cards.

Metacritic score: 61


Claire Foy (First Man)*  # and Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)+ ~ ^ * #: Although British actress Foy is new to the Oscar conversation, she is well known for her role in the Netflix drama The Crown, which netted her a Golden Globe win for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama in 2017 and a nomination the following year. In 2017, Foy was also nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Primetime Emmy award, which she won the following year. In First Man, Foy plays the wife of famed U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), and because she did a lot with a small role, hers somewhat overshadows the subtler performance given by Gosling. This has translated to more acclaim for Foy’s performance than her counterpart, but the film’s prospects are uncertain following the controversy that erupted among conservatives because of Damien Chazelle’s decision to not show a flag being planted on the moon during Armstrong’s history-making walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969. Given that Oscar nominations are often built Academy branch by Academy branch, if the film doesn’t land a Best Picture nomination (as it most certainly should), will Foy’s chances slip away? Her lack of a SAG nomination could be a harbinger of what is to come.

Metacritic score: 84

This brings us to the peculiar case of King. Up until the SAG nominations, she looked like a slam dunk for the Oscar. But when she failed to get that nomination, which many say is crucial—you have to go back 18 years to Marcia Gay Harden’s win for Pollack to find a winner in this category who did not have a SAG nomination—it set her chances of winning back. Some say that because the film is a late breaker the nomination committee may not have seen the film, but we can never be sure. So, let’s focus on what we do know: King is a revered member of the Hollywood community, having won three Primetime Emmy Awards for her work in American Crime. The first two in 2015 and 2016 were for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie, and the third this year in Netflix’s Seven Seconds was for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie. King earned a third nomination for American Crime last year but did not win. This year, the BFCA nominated her for that same role in Best Supporting Actress in a Movie or Limited Series. In If Beale Street Could Talk, King plays the mother of a pregnant woman in Harlem who scrambles to prove her fiancé’s innocence of a crime. The film is director Barry Jenkins’ follow up to 2016 Best Picture winner Moonlight and stands strong in the Best Picture race this year. All season, King has been the favorite to win. She will most certainly be nominated, but can she stem the tide of Amy Adams’ good will?

Metacritic score: 86

For the ladies, other possibilities include Michelle Yeoh as a high and mighty matriarch in Crazy Rich Asians, Natalie Portman’s caustic popstar in Vox Lux, and Rachel McAdams remarkable turn in another one of my favorites, Disobedience. Of course, one should never count out Meryl Streep who is said to be great in a small role in Mary Poppins Returns.

Similar to the men discussed earlier, none of these women have appeared in the major precursor awards conversation, though McAdams was nominated for Best Supporting Actress by the British Independent Film Awards.

With recent developments on the precursor awards circuit, this year’s races are quite exciting. It just goes to show that one should never get too comfortable where Oscar is concerned.

When the Moon Hits Your Eye…

Aileen Marshall

Slices of New York-style pizza; Photo courtesy of Lizard10979/Wikipedia.

Pizzeria Port Alba in Naples; Photo courtesy of Alexandra Hamer/Wikipedia.

Quick, what is the most ubiquitous food you can think of? One that almost everyone around the world knows and loves, even if they have their own style? What is your go-to food to get when you want something quick and satisfying? I think pizza fits that bill. If you live here in New York City, you know that there is a pizza parlor almost every few blocks. How did pizza become such a pervasive and popular food?

Many ancient cultures had some form of flat bread, for example focaccia in Italy, naan and roti in India. The ancient Greeks made a bread called plakous, often topped with herbs, onions, garlic, and cheese. Archeologist have found evidence of baking a flat bread from 7,000 years ago in Sardinia and of pizza-making tools in Pompeii from the first century B.C. There are notations about soldiers in the sixth century B.C. Persia using their shields to bake a flat bread, and then adding cheese and dates on top.

The pizza as we know it today started in Naples, Italy. In the fifteenth century, Naples had a large working-poor population. Pizza, translated as “pie” in Italian, was a flatbread with cheese and olive oil, and sometimes vegetables. It was a popular, cheap, and quick food for these workers. In 1522, tomatoes were first imported from Peru and it was in Naples that pizza makers started adding tomato sauce to the pizza. Being a port city, many sailors and merchants spread word about pizza throughout Europe. In 1830, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, what is thought to be the first pizzeria in modern form was established in Naples and is still there today.

Raphael Esposito was a famous pizza maker in Naples in 1889. In June of that year he was commissioned to make some special pizzas for the visit of Queen Margherita of Italy. One pizza he made was covered with tomato, mozzarella, and basil, to mimic the colors of the Italian flag. Queen Margherita declared that version her favorite. Afterwards, people started calling that type of pizza “margherita style.”

Pizza first appeared in the U.S. in the 1800s, mostly among Italian immigrants. It surged in popularity after World War II, as many soldiers who had been stationed in Italy came home and raved about pizza. There is some contention as to which was the first pizzeria in the U.S. In 1897, Gennaro Lombardi opened a grocery store on Spring Street here in New York City that evolved into a pizzeria, receiving a city-issued commercial license to sell pizza in 1905. Brothers Gennero and Giovani Bruno opened a pizzeria on the Loop in Chicago in 1903 that some claim to be the first U.S. pizzeria. Totonno’s Pizzeria of Coney Island was started by a former Lombardi employee in 1924 where he sold slices for a nickel.

Several factors helped drive the surge in the popularity of pizza in the mid-1900s. Several chain restaurants started in the forties and fifties, such as Pizzeria Uno, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars, and Papa John’s. The advent of frozen pizza, invented by the Celentano brothers in the 1960s, was another factor. Finally, the delivery of pizza to homes also became popular during the 1960s. The U.S. Army’s military intelligence unit reportedly used pizza deliveries to spy on politicians and reporters in that decade, according to a report issued by the City University of New York.

New York-style pizza is traditionally an eighteen-inch wide pie made in a coal oven, although many places use a gas oven today, and is known for its crispy crust and foldable slices. A “regular” slice has only tomato sauce and cheese. Some say it is the New York City tap water, used in making the glutinous dough that gives it that great, distinctive taste.

Other cities are known for their own unique style of pizza. Perhaps the most famous is Chicago, known for its deep dish pizza. The format, started by Pizzeria Uno, has high edges and uses chunky tomato sauce. In California, pizza is usually a personal sized pie that is topped with local vegetables and avocado. In St. Louis, the crust is made with a yeast-free dough and topped with processed cheese product that is a combination of cheddar, swiss, and provolone. Washington D.C., is known for its jumbo slices that can be more than a foot long and need to be served on two paper plates.

Has all this reading about the history of pizza made you hungry? The author admits to having pizza twice during the writing of this article. Luckily, in this city, there is always a neighborhood pizza parlor. In the Rockefeller area, while we have lost Sutton Pizza, there is still the popular Pizza Park on First Avenue., near 66th Street as well as Famous Ray’s on Lexington Avenue and 63rd Street. What is your favorite pizza joint in the city? Next time you are there, remember the famous quote from Yogi Berra when a pizza maker asked if he wanted his pie cut into eight slices: “Better make it four, I don’t think I could eat eight.”

Pets of Tri-I – Watson Gonzales

Pooja Viswanathan

This is a series to introduce the Tri-I community to the wildlife amongst us. In this issue, Natural Selections’ Pooja Viswanathan interviews Watson Gonzales (follow on Instagram @_watson_dog_), the terrier mix who lives with Kevin Gonzales (postdoc, Fuchs Lab).

Pooja Viswanathan: How long have you lived in New York City?

Watson Gonzales: I was moved to NYC in July 2017. I remember being scared in the car ride and pooped inside my carrier. Then I met my dad and the first thing he did was pour water on me and scrub me with soap! I’ve been in NYC now for 1.5 hooman’ years, and I still don’t know why he keeps doing that to me! I’ve learned it’s called a “bath.” I’m scared of baths!

PV: Where do you live? What is your favorite neighborhood in NYC?

WG: I live in Manhattan. I like my neighborhood, the Upper East Side. I heard only snobby rich dogs live here but I’m certainly not one! All my doggie and most of my hooman’ friends aren’t either!

PV: If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you live?

WG: Anywhere with a big backyard where I can run run run run like a gazelle! My hooman’ brought me to Cape Cod for Thanksgiving and I love it there. Lots of space to explore! I chased and caught a mouse, but the hoomans’ got angry because it didn’t survive…I just wanted to play with it. 🙁

PV: What are your favorite foods of NYC?

WG: Hooman’ food definitely! I always look at hoomans’ eating with puppy eyes, and they always give me some! I love outsmarting hoomans’! Unless it’s salad, celery or strawberries. Ewww!

PV: What do you miss most when you are out of town?

WG: I don’t miss anything. Whenever I’ve been out of town, there’s always a big backyard to run around in and mud to roll in!

PV: What is your favorite weekend activity in NYC?

WG: What’s a weekend? My activities are eat, sleep, poop, and play. My favorite is play.

PV: Which human do you live with? How do they belong in the Tri-I community?

WG: I live with Kevin, he says he is a postdoc at The Rockefeller University, but I don’t know what that means. All I know is he keeps doing fun things outside home and won’t bring me.

PV: Besides your human roomie, who is your favorite human in the Tri-I community? (If you could share your bone with anyone in the Tri-I community, who would it be?)

WG: All my roomie’s friends think they’re my favorite, especially Tati! She always kidnaps me from my home when my roomie isn’t around. But she gives me biscuits, belly rubs, and takes really good pictures of me that highlight my true beauty! I guess she isn’t half-bad.

PV: Can you tell us a funny story?

WG: Once I went hiking with my hoomans’ upstate, and I found a big pile of poop! I thought it smelled nice so I wanted some on my fur and rolled on it! My hoomans’ made a funny face when they saw me and said, “What’s wrong with this dog?” They took all the tissue paper in the car to undo my effort. Guess they don’t like the smell of poop as much as I do…in the end, Kevin had to use his gym towel and Tati’s water to give me a bath. Their faces were so funny; it looked like they were getting sick, not sure why. Oh wait…you said a funny story, but that one had a sad ending with me getting an actual bath. I hate baths!

Science (Policy) for the Benefit of Humanity

Sarah Ackerman

Science policy is a broad subject, which is vitally important to all scientists and members of society. It encompasses many topics ranging from NIH grant funding, to restrictions on new technologies, such as CRISPR or stem cells, to how data and science should be used when making policies about health care or the environment. These policies greatly impact scientific research and it is essential for scientists to understand these policies and to advocate for their research with society in mind.

The Science and Education Policy Association (SEPA) is a Tri-Institutional group led by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who recognize the importance of science policy.  To bring these topics to light, SEPA organizes speakers on policy issues, discussion groups, career panels, and writing workshops to educate our academic community about science policy and potential career options in the field.

On November 10, SEPA hosted the Second Annual Science Policy Symposium at the Rockefeller University. The day was sponsored by The Schmidt Foundation, The Moore Foundation, The Rockefeller University, and Weill Cornell Medicine.  The goal of the symposium was to expose early career scientists to the world of science policy, provide training workshops to acquire skills used in science policy, and create a networking opportunity for like-minded scientists. The symposium attracted over 200 attendees, predominately graduate students, from all over the country.

The event was kickstarted in Caspary auditorium by Dr. Jennifer Pearl, the director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellowship.  Throughout the day we heard talks by Erin Heath, an AAAS Federal Budget expert, Dr. Frances Colon, the former Deputy Science and Technology Advisor for the State Department, and Dr. Dalal Najib, the senior program officer in the Policy and Global Affairs Division of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. The day also included a panel titled Rebuilding a Sustainable and Resilient Puerto Rico through Science and a panel with representatives from different science policy fellowship programs. Six workshops throughout the day also trained attendees in skills pertaining to science advocacy, working with non-profit organizations, science communication, scientists in political office, and changes to STEM education. More than thirty students/student groups also participated as presenters in a poster session. The day’s schedule ended with a keynote talk given by Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, the Vice President of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the former United States Assistant Secretary of the State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the U.S. State Department.  She discussed her invaluable experience serving as a scientific advisor in the White House.

This jam-packed symposium schedule allowed attendees to tailor the day to their interests, interact with and ask questions of high-level scientists working in the policy field, and build relationships with other early career scientists interested in science policy. The event has fostered connections and training opportunities for symposium attendees from around the country and particularly for SEPA members who organized and volunteered for the event. The magnitude of interest curated from the event encouraged attendees that there are other like-minded scientists passionate about science policy and that these interests are possible to pursue as a career. In a follow-up survey given to our attendees, 85% said that after attending the symposium they are more likely to contact someone they met at the symposium and 90% said they would attend another conference like ours in the future. For more coverage of the day, check out our twitter hashtag #NSPNsymposium18!

For those who are interested in science policy there is more exciting news—SEPA, in collaboration with the Science Policy Initiative (SPI) from the University of Virginia, has launched the new National Science Policy Network (NSPN). The organization aims to connect science policy groups all over the country and come together on new initiatives. One initiative is the microgrant project. The first round of grants have been given out to science policy groups around the country for specific projects or to launch their own group at their university. NSPN’s second initiative is the memo writing competition. Memo writing is a critical component for influencing policy and knowing how to write one is crucial for a successful science policy career. At the Symposium on November 10, NSPN announced the start of the memo writing competition. Winners will receive a reward and be published in the Journal of Science Policy and Governance.

If you are interested in being part of our memo writing team or just want to get involved please email SEPA (  SEPA is working hard to educate our community about science policy issues and provide unique educational opportunities for scientists to be competitive for policy fellowships and jobs. Come join us!

Life on a Roll

Elodie Pauwels

Many comparisons can be made between a single day and a full year. Both are the result of the rotation of the Earth, on its axis or around the sun. This sunset—these three pictures taken within 15 minutes of each other—offered blazing colors, as it often does at the end of the year. Happy holidays!


Bernard Langs

While vacationing in London in May, my wife and I took the train to visit Hampton Court Palace in East Molesey, Surrey. ​Hampton Court Palace was occupied by King Henry VIII and his many wives in the early sixteenth century, and he utilized its grandeur to demonstrate power and magnificence. Several subsequent royals added structures to the Palace and William Shakespeare’s “King’s Men” first performed Hamlet and Macbeth there in 1603 for James I. The beautiful gardens were expanded by William III and Mary II in the late 1600s. Queen Victoria ordered the palace open to all of her subjects in 1838.

Word of the Month

Dakota Blackman

trust (n): a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something

I have been thinking a lot about the word “trust” recently. Its dictionary definition reads as follows: “a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” The nominal form of the word has roots in Old English, Old Norse, and Proto-German. The words from which it has evolved are all unsurprisingly similar in meaning, beginning in the 13th century with roots in religion, and progressing into an umbrella term for all kinds of faith.

Of course, I think the subject of trust—either directly or indirectly—has been on the mind of many recently. Last month, Christine Blasey Ford, a professor and researcher in psychology at Palo Alto University and at Stanford University School of Medicine, testified during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing regarding the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. She alleged that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school; she described her experience in detail, provided thoughtful and articulate answers to questions asked, and—true to her profession—accessibly and effectively dove into psychological and neuroscientific explanations of trauma, telling Senator Diane Feinstein that traumatic events can occlude “basic memory functions,” resulting in “the trauma-related experience [getting] locked in there whereas other details [can] kind of drift.” Blasey Ford, much like Anita Hill before her, was compliant and forthcoming, claiming simply that she was doing her civic duty and informing the American people of an unfit candidate for the United States Supreme Court.

Brett Kavanaugh, much like Clarence Thomas before him, was confirmed shortly after this testimony.

Trust calls for a belief in the “reliability, truth, ability, or strength” of someone or something. But what does it mean to really trust, and how does it manifest? Objectively speaking, Christine Blasey Ford checks all the boxes here: her testimony was reliable, she told the truth to the best of her ability (and had enough self-awareness and scientific understanding to account for moments when she was unable to do so), and she showed incredible strength. Brett Kavanaugh, by the dictionary definition, did not live up to Blasey Ford’s example. He was unreliable both in his temperament and his testimony: he lied under oath and also had what was essentially a tantrum on the senate floor. His ability has been questioned not only by the American people, but also by organizations such as the National Council of Churches, former friends and colleagues from Yale University (his alma mater), and several thousand law professors. Kavanaugh has not earned the country’s trust, yet he has it. He is not fit to be trusted (much less to serve on the United States Supreme Court), yet he is. It is disappointing, but not altogether surprising, that those in power are willing to put their trust in a man who does not deserve it, and revoke trust from a woman who does.

Throughout the whole confirmation process, our Senators (and our country’s system of justice) did not warrant trust. However, Christine Blasey Ford warranted trust, respect, and—above all—belief.

Review: Einstein’s Shadow: A Black Hole, a Band of Astronomers, and the Quest to See the Unseeable

Seth Fletcher

Ecco/HarperCollins, October 9, 2018

288 pages

Hardback, $27.00


Emma Garst


What if the speed of light was 25 miles per hour? What if we lived in “Flatland”, a world of two dimensions? What if you fell into a black hole? There is a whole genre of books dedicated to probing these mind-bending ideas about the nature of space and time—books written to bring complex mathematical concepts to eye level in terms of “what ifs.” However, what is harder to find, is the “how do” book. How do we know planets curve space-time? How do we measure the size of the black hole at the center of our galaxy? In fact, how do we even know there is a black hole at the center of our galaxy? Untangling the intricacies of designing experiments, taking measurements, and seeing a signal in the noise is more complicated and messy than a theoretical model. In Einstein’s Shadow, Seth Fletcher manages to weave these threads into a compelling narrative.

Einstein’s Shadow follows Shep Doeleman in his intrepid journey to build an earth-sized telescope to image the black hole at the center of the galaxy. The reader quickly finds out that this does not, in fact, involve building a Death Star-like outer-space contraption. Instead, this massive telescope requires the synchronization of radiotelescopes all over the world to get a view of that black hole from many points at once, creating a virtual telescope with a dish diameter equal to the distance between the observatories.

The undertaking of such a project is not as simple as asking for money and collecting data. Telescopes around the globe must be upgraded with state-of-the-art equipment and never before tested methods of data collection must be written. Time on the telescopes must be coordinated and the weather must cooperate in three to four different locations thousands of miles apart. Massive international consortiums of scientists must be organized and managed—by scientists with no formalized training in organizational management. Fletcher is attuned to the small absurdities that arise in this situation. “The minutes from their discussions convey the good-natured cluelessness of kids trying to start a rock band,” he writes of an early organizational meeting. “‘Perhaps we should keep a list of action items and take turns with writing minutes,’ concludes the first installment.”

Fletcher’s narrative ability shines as he describes the installation of an atomic clock in one of the many telescopes needed for this project. On its face, the process of moving a hulking piece of equipment from the first to the second floor of a telescope base seems so trivial as to not be worth a mention. However, Fletcher heightens the scene to an emotionally charged peak, laying out the nail biting process and the dire consequences of one misstep. From the slow-moving caravan up the side of the mountain to the lifting of the atomic clock by a slew of workers using rappelling harnesses and roping ladders together “as if to cross chasms in the Khumbu icefall” and swinging the atomic clock “Tarzan-style… cable to cable, across the open stairwell,” the reader is thrown in with the scientists, looking on with a bit of terror and a silent prayer. This is one of a thousand steps that must go right to create the earth-sized telescope, and in these moments the reader feels how precarious the scientific endeavor is.

The wonders of the day-to-day, mechanical work of getting a project of this scale off the ground were sometimes overshadowed by the people and politics involved. Fletcher’s focus on Shep casts the astronomer as the necessary hero of the story, the man shepherding a wily and complex idea towards execution—which wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t find the man so unlikeable. Throughout the book, Shep seems in turn difficult, smug, and paranoid. These character failings are not totally lost on Fletcher, who describes Shep as “tightly coiled and intense”; but the broader view casts Shep as a difficult genius, whose larger than life personality is a necessary quirk of his innate intellect. As a scientist I’ve met enough smart, capable, communicative, and cooperative people that I have little infatuation with this pernicious trope.

Part of the draw of this work is its importance; these scientists are trying to get a look at the structure of our galaxy, and in the process see the inner mechanics of our universe. If that’s not grand, I don’t know what is. By focusing on the nitty gritty work of engineering and organization for this ambitious astronomical project, Fletcher brings a massive undertaking down to earth, in more ways than one.