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Greener Pastures

Some things do get better

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Sixteen years ago Paul Hoffman wrote an article for Smithsonian about giving up chess because, as a teenager, he had become too obsessed with the game. He also felt that tournament participants constituted a "white-male club of social misfits." Three years ago he took up the game again and found it entirely changed, with "well-adjusted kids of both genders; players of all races, creeds and colors, and lots of immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe." Hoffman, the former editor in chief of Discover magazine, attributes the new and improved U.S. chess scene to many factors, from the success of the 1993 movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, to Harry Potter’s enthusiasm for the game, to the immigration of top Russian players to the United States, to the widespread teaching of chess in schools.

No one exemplifies chess’s new face better than 22-year-old Jennifer Shahade, perhaps the strongest U.S.-born female to play the game, whom Hoffman profiles in " Garry Kasparov. "But I ran out of time trying to see through the complications that she had cleverly created," Hoffman says. "The virtue of a five-minute game is that the pain is over quickly."

Longtime, prolific contributor Doug Stewart wrote two pieces in this issue, one about the art that graced, if that’s the word, the covers of the pulp magazines of the 1930s and ’40s (" Boston’s harbor islands (" Nike missile silos and a former FBI safe house? Not to mention a $3.8 billion waste treatment plant that tourists are invited to visit?"

For Stewart, who worked for several years in the late 1970s and early ’80s on Boston’s CommercialWharf, a big surprise was "how clear the waters of BostonHarbor have become. Ten years ago, if you dipped an oar in the harbor, you couldn’t see the blade. Now you can see the bottom 20 feet down."

Even more surprising was how few people know about Boston’s islands. "When I interviewed ten groups of tourists outside the Paul Revere House on Boston’s venerable Freedom Trail a few blocks from the waterfront," says Stewart, "no one had even heard there was a park in the harbor—including a couple that had just returned from a narrated harbor cruise!"

About Carey Winfrey
Carey Winfrey

Carey Winfrey was Smithsonian magazine's editor in chief for ten years, from 2001 to 2011.

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