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Ctrl + ← Drought, Darth Vader And Potato Salad

This is Ctrl + ←, our weekly data journalism roundup. You’ll find the most-read FiveThirtyEight articles of the past week, as well as gems we spotted elsewhere on the Internet.


  1. A Statistical Appreciation of the Washington Generals And Harlem Globetrotters
  2. How to Tell Someone’s Age When All You Know Is Her Name
  3. Billion-Dollar Billy Beane
  4. America’s Favorite ‘Star Wars’ Movies (And Least Favorite Characters)
  5. How Rory McIlroy Stacks up to Tiger And Jack
  6. Red Sox GM Ben Cherington Isn’t Completely Delusional
  7. Should Travelers Avoid Flying Airlines That Have Had Crashes in the Past?
  8. North Dakota’s Oil Bonanza Is Unsustainable
  9. Elizabeth Warren Would Be the Most Liberal Democratic Nominee Since 1972
  10. What Do We Really Know About the Safety of E-Cigarettes?


Unhappy New Yorkers: When the National Bureau of Economic Research looked at self-reported well-being in America, New York’s residents came out as the saddest of any large metropolitan area. Danielle Kurtzleben at Vox took up the study, and reproduced this map showing happiness levels after the researchers controlled for income (blue is happy, red not so much).


If the Big Apple inspires so little joy in its residents, why does it draw in so many people, and why don’t unhappy New Yorkers move elsewhere? The researchers, who spotted a similar trend in Boston and L.A., suggested a possible explanation:

“[H]umans are quite understandably willing to sacrifice both happiness and life satisfaction if the price is right. … Indeed, the residents of unhappier metropolitan areas today do receive higher real wages—presumably as compensation for their misery.”

The toll on Gaza’s children: Using fatality figures from the United Nations and the Israeli Defense Forces, Lazaro Gamio and Richard Johnson at The Washington Post created this simple interactive which shows how the toll of violence has escalated since July 8th — and how children have borne the costs of adults’ decisions. Where insufficient information was known, the journalists visualized the death in gray, thus demonstrating a crucial point we raised this week: Numbers are difficult to collect and even harder to verify.

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Drought in America: As drought has intensified in California, the Upshot took the time to map where it is most severe and chart how its prevalence has changed in America since 1895. Mike Bostock and Kevin Quealy report that “about 34 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least a moderate drought as of July 22” and show that in August 2012, that figure was 68 percent.

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Luke Skywalker vs. Hillary Clinton: We love it when someone takes our data and turns it into something new. So we were delighted when Christopher Ingraham at the Wonkblog took up an article by Walter Hickey on the popularity of “Star Wars” characters and added 2016 presidential candidates into the mix. Ingraham showed how the only movie characters receiving less support than politicians were Emperor Palpatine and Jar Jar Binks.

Stephen Colbert was apparently also tickled by the findings and produced this sketch in which he announced, “I am now officially endorsing Darth Vader for president of the United States.” Colbert’s support could be influential, so rest assured we’ll be factoring it into our prediction model in 2016.

$110 potato salad: Crowd funding sites have been used for a whole range of objectives — to raise money for a Watermelon holder, a giant sculpture of Lionel Ritchie’s head, and even a Pi Pie Pan (think of the possibilities). But eyebrows were raised when Zack Brown posted an appeal that said, “Basically I’m just making potato salad. I haven’t decided what kind yet” — and received more than $52,000 of donations.


Over at The Atlantic, Rebecca Chao realized she could tell a story about how the potato salad dream became a reality by scraping data on all the donations made on Kickstarter. She found that “69 percent of all backers pledged between $1 and $4 — yet small donors only make up 15 percent of the total campaign funds. In other words, most of the money is coming from a small group of donors. The group that gave the largest share donated between $35 and $49, contributing roughly 40 percent to the total.”

Donors (73 percent of whom were male) were offered rewards depending on the amount pledged. Those giving $110 or more were promised the “platinum potato” reward, earning “the recipe book, the shirt and the hat,” along with a pledge that Brown would say their name aloud while making the potato salad. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether that’s good value for their money.

Mona Chalabi is data editor at the Guardian US, and a columnist at New York Magazine. She was previously a lead news writer for FiveThirtyEight.