In a nuclear attack, there’s no avoiding the brutal math

nuclear testing

NUCLEAR KNOWLEDGE A nuclear bomb used today would probably be 10 kilotons or less, nuclear security experts say, much smaller and more survivable than the megaton weapons developed during the Cold War. A new study provides some key numbers that could help save your life if a nuclear bomb drops.

Like many Washingtonians, I try not to think about my proximity to a potential nuclear attack bull’s-eye. I live just over a mile from the U.S. Capitol, and I work three-quarters of a mile from the White House.

I’ve blithely assumed that if D.C. were ever bombed in a nuclear attack, I would just vaporize without ever knowing what hit me. But as I’ve learned from a recent analysis of where and when to take shelter, the kinds of nuclear weapons that would probably be used in an attack today are much smaller — and more survivable — than the megaton warheads stockpiled during the Cold War. The detonation could be 10 kilotons (equivalent to 10,000 tons of TNT) or less, and most people more than half a mile from ground zero would survive the initial blast from a 10-kiloton nuclear bomb, according to my new favorite government report, Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation. So I’ve got a fighting chance even at three-quarters of a mile from an attack on the White House.

One of the first things my fellow survivors and I will face is the highest-stakes math test we’ve ever taken. Let’s say you’re at work in a downtown area when the blast happens. You see a flash, your building shakes and a number of windows shatter. Through one of the gaping holes you see a mushroom cloud forming. There’s no basement, so you run to an interior windowless office. Now what? Hunker down and wait for rescue, or make a dash for your friend’s building three blocks over that has a basement break room?

In a 10 kiloton blast, buildings would be destroyed in about a half-mile radius, as shown on this map of a hypothetical urban environment.


You start having flashbacks to story problems involving trains. Bob is receiving x Roentgens per hour in his office, but would receive only x/5 Roentgens per hour in a basement. The basement is 10 minutes away and the radiation outside is 10x. What the heck should Bob do now? It could seem like a lost cause even for a worry-wart planner like me who memorizes the cabin safety information cards on airplanes (there’s no rear exit on a US Airways CRJ-200, in case you ever need to know).

Luckily atmospheric scientist Michael Dillon of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California has developed some helpful rules of thumb. He focused on minimizing total radiation exposure regardless of blast size, wind direction or many other factors that could affect radiation levels. In math terms, you’re minimizing the area under the curve of your radiation exposure over time: the integral, for those who took calculus. (Yet more evidence that math skills really are useful.)

One way to minimize that total exposure is to get to a location that blocks more radiation. The best shelter is belowground — say, in a basement. Hiding in the basement of a large apartment or office building can bring radiation levels down to one two-hundredth of the outdoor dose, a protection factor of 200. Being inside a one-story wooden house, on the other hand, may only cut your exposure in half, a protection factor of 2. About 20 percent of U.S. houses are considered poor radiation shelters (we’re looking at you, California wood-frame cottages without basements).

So what to do if you are caught in a poor shelter but think you can get to a better one? Here’s where Dillon’s math comes in. Essentially, you’re comparing the extra area added to your exposure curve while you’re outdoors with the area you’ll save by spending time in the better shelter later. Radiation levels will be tailing off over time; one rule of thumb is called the 7-10 rule: Seven hours after a blast, you’ll be getting one-tenth the dose received in the first hour.

The most important factors, Dillon found, are how long it has been since the detonation and how long it will take you to get to the better shelter. To minimize the area under your curve, you’re going to want to minimize the ratio of the time you spend in an initial poor-quality shelter to the time you spend outdoors getting to better shelter.

Buildings provide different levels of radiation protection depending on mass. A dose reduction factor of 10 indicates that a person in that area would receive one-tenth the dose of a person in the open.


If you have access to only a poor-quality shelter initially (something like a wooden house with no basement) but can get to an adequate shelter (with a protection factor of 10 or more, like the basement of a wooden house) within five minutes, you should ditch the poor shelter immediately and go to the better shelter, Dillon reports January 14 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A. If it will take you 15 minutes to get to the adequate shelter, you can still reduce your total exposure as long as you make your move within 30 minutes of the detonation. After that, your savings decline along with the outdoor radiation levels.

If you are in or able to immediately enter adequate shelter right after a blast, federal guidelines say you shoud stay put. So if you’re our hypothetical office worker in downtown Washington, D.C., you should probably stay in an interior room near the center of the building unless you’re confident you can get to that supersafe basement before highly radioactive fallout starts raining down. According to a 2009 federal report that examined the effect of a 10-kiloton blast in downtown D.C. and in Los Angeles, “if you are outside of the building-collapse area immediately surrounding the detonation, you should have several minutes before fallout arrives.” After that, it’s unlikely you’re going to have enough information to calculate whether your total dosage would be reduced by moving from adequate to better shelter, even if you’ve memorized the equations.

Once you’re hunkered down, you can generally expect to stay put for at least a couple hours in a minimally adequate shelter before trying to evacuate the area, and 24 hours or more if you’re in a good shelter with a protection factor over 100 (again, minimizing your total exposure as outdoor levels fall). That decision can involve a different set of equations, based on wind speed and direction plus a whole host of other variables.

Still, that’s not nearly as long as movies would have us believe we need to hide out. Instead of living out my final days wishing I’d remembered a can opener, maybe I’ll just be glad I was such a worry wart up front.


To crunch granite in Olympic-level curling, be prepared to crunch numbers

Olympic Curling

The vast majority of winter Olympic sports are inaccessible to the average viewer watching at home. You know you can’t ski like Ted Ligety, or skate like Shani Davis. You don’t have the first clue how to drive a bobsled, can’t fly from a halfpipe like Shaun White, and your dreams of suiting up for USA Hockey were scuttled when you never made the NHL. Or learned to play hockey. Or to even to ice skate.

But curling. Ah, curling. The true everyman sport. After drawing more buzz than speed skating and snowboarding at the Vancouver Olympics, curling has spent even more time on American television screens during the Sochi games. In Canada, where it’s wildly popular, curling is treated a lot like being in a bowling league. Competition, yes, but also friends and beer and quirky terminology (Hog line! Hammer! Hack Weight! The Manitoba Curl!).

Curling might look like shuffleboard on ice, but it’s really, really hard.

The aesthetic accessibility might lead some to believe it could be them in Sochi, on the world stage sliding stones or pushing brooms, in the big low-fi, low-tech party that is Olympic curling. They’d be wrong, of course, on every level. First, curling might look like shuffleboard on ice, but it’s really, really hard. Second, there’s more going on than meets the eye.

Don’t kick yourself for thinking otherwise, says John Benton, who represented the U.S. in Vancouver and is serving as a television analyst for NBC in Sochi. “This is a fairly common misperception,” he says. “There is a ton of physics going on out there, and to have the precision required to slide a 42-pound piece of polished granite 120 feet down a sheet of ice to a spot that is sometimes about a foot around takes a ton of technical know-how.”

The foundation is friction, and understanding how manipulating it can manipulate the stone. Sweeping ahead of the stone heats the ice ever so slightly, lessening friction and allowing it to travel faster. Then there’s the release, in which the stone’s handle is turned, rotating it and helping shape its path down the ice based on more frictional forces. Finally, there’s the physics of momentum, as stones must be used to knock each other around strategically. Sometimes a curler will want his stone to stop completely while knocking another out of scoring range, other times he may want to split the available momentum between two stones.

(Universities like to publish elaborate papers about this stuff. To have it explained more accessibly by a petite Canadian woman, click here.)

There is some gadgetry, as well. Some of it is very simple – timing devices, for example, help determine the relative speed of different stones on the ice. (In theory, they all ought to behave the same. In practice, they don’t.) Some broom heads contain a thermal reflective material, helping reflect the heat generated by sweeping back into the ice. Sliding shoes, Benton notes, contain low-friction materials like Teflon or stainless steel. At the Olympic level, stones have sensors embedded in the handles to detect whether a stone is released ahead of the foul, or “hog” line. Video analysis, both as a training device and scouting tool, is widely used.

Fun for sure, but not exactly the technological stuff of spy satellites and smartwatches.

Curling may be a quaint throwback sport ruled by the concepts of honor and sportsmanship, but it definitely leaps into modernity in the use of statistical analysis. The analytics movement now prevalent across America’s most popular major sports like the NBA also plays a big role in curling, particularly at the elite level.

Sliding shoes contain low-friction materials like Teflon or stainless steel.

“Most top teams are using some sort of statistical package to analyze each player, the whole team, the other team, for shooting percentages as well as game-plan execution,” says Benton. “These packages have become extremely detailed in what is tracked and how. Much more than simple shooting percentages.” That granularity can impact in-game decision making.

“An example might be that after three games, one player is showing that they are struggling (under 75 percent) throwing take-outs (removing the opponent’s stone) on the right-hand side of the ice, but only when throwing a counter-clockwise rotation. The team coach can do this analysis and then go back to the video of the game to get at a possible cause and solution for the player,” he says.

Despite its simple fundamentals, curling is actually a sport tailor made for analytics – heavily influenced by key strategic choices, and played at a slow enough pace to have those choices considered by a group of athletes already required to understand things like physics.

Meaning smart folk.

So as you get lost in your couch cushions wondering how you just spent the last four hours conquered by the hypnotic sights and sounds of televised Olympic curling, take comfort knowing you’re participating not just in the gentlemanly, ancient traditions of a sport tracing its roots back to 15th century Scotland, but a great leap (throw? slide?) forward into our future.

Frank Underwood Is Embarrassingly Ignorant About How Treasury Auctions Work

frank underwood president house of cards

There is a lot of confusion surrounding China and its role as a holder of U.S. government debt. 

An exchange at the beginning of episode 6 of the second season of House of Cards provides a perfect illustration of this.

In the show, members of the presidential administration are discussing which tack to take with China, and the president suggests playing hardball.

“If China doesn’t show at the refunding auction, long-term interest rates will spike!” warns someone at the table — ostensibly the Treasury Secretary.

“And in a week, yields on our 10-year notes will pierce the 7% threshold,” chimes in Frank Underwood (the show’s main character, portrayed by Kevin Spacey).

“That could happen.”

You’ve probably heard this before in American political discourse. There’s this idea that if China decides to stop buying U.S. government bonds, the U.S. Treasury will have a failed auction and bond yields will surge.

There are two big problems with this: first, there is a system of primary dealers in place to make sure that failed auctions won’t happen, and second, China’s holdings of U.S. Treasuries are not some sort of “leverage” that the Chinese government holds over the U.S. government.

On the contrary, China’s Treasury holdings are a function of its foreign exchange reserve accumulation.

As other countries buy Chinese goods with dollars — the primary currency of international trade — it puts upward pressure on the Chinese renminbi. China’s central bank accumulates dollar reserves to counter this upward pressure, and it holds those dollar reserves in U.S. Treasuries in order to garner interest.

China’s foreign reserves continue to rise, so it is in no position to “dump U.S. debt,” as politicians sometime like to claim it will. It is true that its central bank has begun to allocate away from Treasuries as a percentage of its reserve portfolio, but this is the sort of thing that must be done over time.

So when you hear politicians engaging in fearmongering over China’s holdings of U.S. government bonds, remember that it’s complete nonsense.

A Tour of the Pseudostates of the Former Soviet Union

90059925-picture-taken-on-august-26-2008-shows-residents-ofPicture taken on August 26, 2008 shows Residents of Sukhumi celebrating the recognition of Abkhazian independence by Russian Federation, in Sukhumi.

Crimea’s new prime minister, Sergei Aksenov, has moved up the date of a planned referendum on the peninsula’s future status to March 30. Voters will be asked to vote “yes” or “no” on whether “Crimea has state sovereignty and is a part of Ukraine, in accordance with treaties and agreements.”

It seems extremely unlikely that Kiev will recognize the referendum, but with Russian troops occupying the territory, there’s not a whole lot they can do about it. Crimea, therefore, seems destined to join the ranks of the former Soviet Union’s “frozen conflicts.” Here’s a quick rundown over the other four:


Also known Trans-Dniester or Pridnestrovie, the traditionally Russian speaking regionwas joined by Moscow to Bessarabia, formerly part of Romania, to create the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic after World War II.

Amid rising Moldovan nationalism during the break-up of the Soviet Union, Transnistria declared its independence in 1990. After a short and bloody war, a ceasefire was declared in 1992. The region became de facto independent, backed up a significant Russian military presence, but it is not recognized by Moldova or most other countries. Transnistrians have not gained any more enthusiasm for the idea of joining Moldova – Europe’s poorest country – since that time, and in a 2006 referendum, 90 percent voted for independence. There has been some quietdiplomatic progress since then, and increased trade between the two sides, but a permanent solution doesn’t appear likely any time soon.


Nagorno-Karabakh is a predominantly Armenian enclave within the territory of neighboring Azerbaijan. The two countries have fought over the region since the 19thcentury. It was transferred to Soviet Azerbaijan by Joseph Stalin in 1923 and remained part of it throughout the Soviet period.

In 1988, the region declared independence and demanded reunification with Soviet Armenia. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a bloody war broke outbetween the two countries in which at least 30,000 people were killed. A Russian-brokered ceasefire was signed in 1994, but the region’s status has remained unresolved, and exchanges along the border are common. A long-running mediation effort by the OSCE has made little progress.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Just three miles from Sochi, Abkhazia has declared itself independent from Georgia since 1999. Independent from the 8th to the 11 centuries, the region was part of Georgia until both were annexed by Russia in the 19th century. Stalin, incorporated it into Georgia in 1931. Ossetia was also absorbed into Russia in the 19th century. In the 1920s, Moscow divided it into, making North Ossetia part of Russia, and South Ossetia an autonomous region within Georgia.

After the break-up, both territories found themselves as part of Georgia under the Georgian nationalist President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Ossetia seceded in 1990, prompting an invasion by Georgian forces that resulted in a civil war resulting in tends of thousands of casualties and refugees. A ceasefire was declared in 1992.

Georgia sent troops to put down a similar separatist movement in Abkhazia in 1992, resulting in another bloody year-long war with Russian-backed Abkhazian troops. The status quo, enforced by Russian troops, held for years in both regions after that,  though Georgia claims the Abkhazian government carried out the ethnic cleansing of the region’s Georgian population and accused Moscow of exacerbating tensions by granting residents of the region Russian passports.

In 2008, after a series of skirmishes between Georgian and South Ossetian forces, Gerogia sent in troops to restore control, prompting a Russian incursion into both territories as well as Georgia-proper that likely permanently separated both from Georgian control. Shortly after the war, Russia recognized the independence of both, comparing it to Western recognition of Kosovo. Today, they are recognized as independent only by the odd grouping of Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Vanuatu, Nauru, and Tuvalu.

Russia’s actions in Crimea in recent days have been called “fully analogous with Abkhazia” by Ukraine’s acting president.

As you can see, all of these conflicts all have their roots in heavy-handed Stalin’s redrawing of national boundaries as well as post-breakup violence during the 1990s. Crimea, assuming it joins this club, is a somewhat different animal, joined to Ukraine in the Khrushchev era and relatively peaceful until now.

Lesson learned? After Bitcoin’s Mt. Gox meltdown, the real test begins


Mark Karpeles, CEO of Mt. Gox, which claims to have lost 850,000 Bitcoins to thieves

On Friday, Tokyo-based Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox filed for bankruptcy protection in a Japanese court, after losing about 850,000 Bitcoins (BTC), 750,000 of which belonged to its customers. The loss equals roughly $475 million, at current exchange rates.The failures of Mt. Gox – once the world’s largest Bitcoin exchange, which shut down its site on Monday – has left an untold number of casualties in its wake. Many Mt. Gox users lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some claim to have lost millions. And with the company still $65 million debt (that’s in addition to the lost Bitcoin), 127,000 Mt. Gox creditors are now reportedly in bankruptcy.

Despite this supreme blow to the industry and its users, Bitcoin is not dead. It’s not even dying. But it is licking its wounds. And the question now is, when the bandages finally come off, will average people still want to look at Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is not dead. It’s not even dying. But it is licking its wounds. 

How Mt. Gox lost these Bitcoins remains a matter of debate. An apparently authentic document leaked by Bitcoin entrepreneur Ryan Selkis (aka “Two Bit Idiot”) entitled “Crisis Strategy Draft” says the Bitcoins were stolen over a period of “several years.” (If that’s true, the heist of Mt. Gox would rank as one of the largest bank robberies in history.) Others speculate that Karpeles simply lost access to the private encryption keys to the digital wallets, or that the keys were stored in a bank vault that was seized by the U.S. government in 2013 after authorities found that the company was operating without properly registering with federal and state authorities.

 Whatever happened, roughly 7 percent of all Bitcoins in existence appear to no longer belong to their rightful owners – incompetence, and a lack of proper security and business acumen appear to be the culprit.“First of all, I’m very sorry,” Mark Karpeles, the 28-year-old CEO of Mt. Gox, told the Tokyo court. “The Bitcoin industry is healthy and it is growing. It will continue, and reducing the impact is the most important point.”

By most counts, the impact of Mt. Gox’s supreme failure could come in two forms: The first is a hellfire of government regulation, which already includes a call for an outright ban on the cryptocurrency in the U.S. – something Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen correctly says is essentially impossible thanks to Bitcoin’s decentralized nature. (No one bank, country, or other entity controls Bitcoin.) That said, the European Union and China have already imposed greater limitations on Bitcoin – and a further twisting of the knife could send the digital currency into a tailspin.

The second possible impact is much more promising, if risky for average investors: The Bitcoin industry, which is currently subject to relatively limited regulation in the U.S., U.K. and much of the world, will simply sort itself out. Indeed, many see the purging of Mt. Gox from the Bitcoin ecosystem as the push the industry needed to mature, and reestablish the trust of current and potential Bitcoin users.


“’That which does not kill us makes us stronger’ very much applies to Bitcoin, and the downfall of a single (though large) Bitcoin business is not enough to ‘kill’ Bitcoin,” writes Tom Robinson, a well-known software engineer and Bitcoin expert. “This type of event has happened before. We learn a tough lesson and carry on, strengthening the weakest links as we go.”

A number of companies have already begun to embody the second generation of Bitcoin business. Many would count Coinbase, Kraken, and Circle among the “good” Bitcoin businesses. And it is no accident that these companies, along with BTC China, Bitstamp, and, were the first in the industry to formally respond to the collapse of Mt. Gox.

“This tragic violation of the trust of users of Mt. Gox was the result of one company’s actions and does not reflect the resilience or value of Bitcoin and the digital currency industry,” the companies wrote in a joint statement. “There are hundreds of trustworthy and responsible companies involved in Bitcoin. These companies will continue to build the future of money by making Bitcoin more secure and easy to use for consumers and merchants.”

You could read that statement as simple damage control – but it also reveals that these companies know exactly what the Bitcoin industry needs if it is to survive: Trust, security, and greater transparency.

“‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger’ very much applies to Bitcoin.”

Another promising player is a soon-to-launch new exchange created by Barry Silbert, founder and CEO of SecondMarket. Unlike the current breed of Bitcoin exchanges, which allow anyone to buy and sell Bitcoin, Silbert’s yet-unnamed new exchange would only deal with authorized members, which he says would be subject to a great of scrutiny.

 “If you want to buy and sell Bitcoin you have to go through one of the members, and the members are all going to be regulated businesses,” Silbert told CoinDesk. “They’ll be banks, they’ll be MSBs, they’ll be Bitcoin companies, they’ll be broker dealers. The idea is the other exchanges of the world could actually become members of the exchange.”No matter how trustworthy or well-run any of these businesses are, security will remain a primary concern – and a problem that is likely impossible to ever solve completely. Theft and fraud will continue, just as it does in any monied industry. It is still entirely possible that the governments of the world will work out a way to impose crippling regulation on the Bitcoin industry. There will be more losses, blunders, and failed Bitcoin businesses. But even from where I sit, as a Bitcoin skeptic, there is good reason to believe that the implosion of Mt. Gox leaves the world of cryptocurrencies healthier than it was last week. For now, though, the prudent option is to lean back, and wait to see if the cancer can remain in remission.

Jurassic World adds two more to cast, including a human villain you might recognize

As anyone who’s ever seen a Jurassic Park movie knows, dinosaurs aren’t the only enemy. Certain humans tend to be big jerks too, and we now know that the chief jerk of the Homo sapiens contingent in Universal’s series reboot Jurassic World will be Vincent D’Onofrio. The report comes from Deadline, which also confirms that Indian star Irrfan Khan – who you may remember as Norman Osborn’s personal assistant from The Amazing Spider-Man – takes a lead role in the dino flick as well.D’Onofrio was last spotted in the so-terrible-it’s-awesome Escape Plan, the prison escape/action flick that featured the double-threat starring duo of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. He was also the long time star of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which closed its last case back in 2011. D’Onofrio has a bunch more lined up, and he’s just added a project that will likely involve him being consumed by some sharp-toothed, cloned beast from the prehistoric era. So that’s great. Khan’s role isn’t clear, though Deadline claims that both newly confirmed cast members are in starring roles.

Jurassic World is currently in its pre-production phase, with director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) prepping the growing cast for the story/script he developed with creative partner Derek Connolly. Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt are both currently attached to star as well. Steven Spielberg will bring his experience creating the film version of Michael Crichton’s books into a producer role, alongside Frank Marshall and Pat Crowley.

Universal has a June 12, 2015 release set for Jurassic World.

Who Is True Detective’s Yellow King? Here Are Our 6 Favorite Theories


Packed with symbolism, psychology, and serial murder, the HBO show True Detective has inspired countless theories about the true identity of the Yellow King—the ringleader behind the mysterious cult responsible for the murder and sexual abuse of multiple women and children across Louisiana. So who could be behind it all? A politician? A police cover-up? A one-off character? Even one of our two protagonists? Theories abound about the true identity of the King and his conspirators; as the final episodes of the the story unfold, here are our favorites.

Remember, these are just theories, not spoilers, but if you really want the show—and the identity of the Yellow King—to be a complete surprise, then listen to Rust’s captain: Leave your gun and badge on the desk and stop digging for answers, you loose cannon!

Rust Cohle Is Actually the Yellow King

Nbd, just hallucinating the symbol of a serial killer

NBD, just hallucinating the symbol of a serial killer.

The two detectives interviewing Rust and Marty in the present have a theory: Rust was behind it all the time. What if they’re actually right?  Rust has exceptional insight into the mind of the killer; we also know from his deep undercover years that he’s capable of profound deception. Not to mention that he’ssitting there constructing a circle of men out of beer cans that sure seems to represent the men of the cult the entire time they’re talking.

Of course Rust might not actually know he’s the killer. We know he spent time in a mental institution, not to mention the semi-regular hallucinations that are a byproduct of the miles of drugs he took while undercover. If he is the Yellow King, perhaps he’s unknowingly hunting himself just as earnestly as the two modern-day detectives are. Remember when the pharmacy shooter—the one who could name the Yellow King—mysteriously committed suicide? It’s worth noting that we’ve seen Rust tell an incarcerated suspect to kill themselves before. What if he was the one who convinced the man to commit suicide in order to cover his own tracks? When Ledoux tells Rust, “I’ve seen you in my dreams,” could he be referring to shared participation in the ritualistic abuse?

Rust is frequently able to produce confessions by tapping into people’s desire for forgiveness, something he seems to be looking for himself. Rust also talks about “the sin of being a father” and seems to constantly feel a need for atonement and the punishment of those who hurt children. Could he be referring to his own sin, his own abuse of children—even his own daughter? Several times, we see Rust gazing at a billboard offering a reward for the murderer of a young girl who died several years after he says his own daughter was killed. Could that have been his first victim? Or was he simply symbolically reenacting the death when he killed Dora Lange on the same day his daughter died?

Above Rust’s bed hangs a cross. He says it’s not a religious symbol, but rather a meditative one: “I contemplate the moment in the garden, the idea of allowing your own crucifixion.” He’s referring to the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus foresaw his own crucifixion but did nothing to stop it because his death was necessary to provide salvation. Can Rust foresee his own death and downfall coming on some level? Does he fear it … but also welcome it?

Marty Hart Is Actually the Yellow King

HBO's "True Detective" Season 1 / Director: Cary Fukunaga

This might be the most shocking reveal of all, not only because it would take the audience by surprise after a season of seeing him as a promiscuous bumbler, but because it would mean that Marty managed to fool even the obsessive, hyper-observant Cohle. (Who’s smart now, true detective?) We’ve heard Marty say that the detective’s curse is not being able to able to see what’s right under their nose. Could he be talking about himself? Is Marty actually a false detective? (dun dun dun)

As noted on reddit, Hart is actually an Old English word meaning “stag,” potentially linking him to the antlers that crowned the murdered Dory—and perhaps signifying his own crown. After all, if we’re looking for a yellow king, Martin’s the blondest guy around. When Cohle made his way towards the Tuttle school the first time, it was Martin who drew him away by honking the horn, delaying his discovery of the twig sculpture and the possible darker truth behind it all. When you consider the possibility of Marty as the Yellow King, suddenly it seems awfully convenient that Marty killed Ledoux in a fit of rage, ensuring that no one would live to give him up.

In general, Marty doesn’t treat women and children that well: He cheats repeatedly on his wife—once with a former child prostitute—and gets violent with Maggie after he learns of her infidelity (not to mention slapping his daughter Audrey and calling her a slut). We’ve also seen Audrey making sexual drawings and arranging her dolls in a sexual way at a young age, as well as her later alienation and promiscuity in adolescence. What if she’s been sexually abused by her father, or by someone else with the approval of her father? We’ve been looking for monsters in the shadows, or perhaps buried in the complicated psychological labyrinth that is Rust Cohle, but what if it the real monster was in front of us the whole time wearing the simplest mask of all?

The Lawnmower Guy is the Yellow King


This one feels a bit more anticlimatic than Rust being the King—a bayou version of “the butler did it”—but the semi-regular appearances of Errol the lawnmower guy give him enough of a presence to feel like an unexpected culprit without coming completely out of left field. Sure, he seems like a simpleton, but what if he’s much more? With his green clothes, scraggly hair and beard, he also looks a bit like the “Spaghetti Monster” the young girl said chased her through the woods.

On a symbolic level, one of the earliest fights between Rust and Marty—and the foreshadowing of Maggie’s infidelity—was Rust mowing Marty’s lawn when he wasn’t there. If lawnmowing is linked to sexual transgressions, what could that means about a man who devotes his life to it? And what lies under that beard, anyway? Could it be the scars that Dora’s friend said were on the face of the man who visited her before her death, the same ones the rescued girl told Cohle was on the very worst of her abusers?

Governor Tuttle Is Actually the Yellow King

It’s easy to see why Governor Tuttle, a high-ranking government official, might be in charge of the cult. If there really is a police cover-up of the murders and child abuse, that would require a lot of power, which Tuttle certainly has. His family connections offer more links to the cult: His cousin, the late Reverend Billy Lee Tuttle, seems to have been behind the funding of the Wellspring funding of religious schools, which have been linked to the ritual abuse. We haven’t seen the shadowy Governor Tuttle yet, so it’d be a bit surprising to uncover the identity of the King only to learn it was some guy who’s never been onscreen. But who can say?

Maggie’s Dad Is Actually the Yellow King

Audrey's in-no-way-traumatized playtime with her dolls

Audrey’s in-no-way-traumatized playtime with her dolls

A variant on the Marty theory, this suggests that his father-in-law was the familial abuser who molested Audrey instead. This trauma produced not only her sexual drawings as a young child but also the sexual configurations of her dolls that mirrored the abuse of the cult. There’s also that moment when Audrey takes a princess crown—linked to the crown symbolism around the King—and throws it up in the tree where her sister can’t reach. Is that a symbolic way of protecting her from the abuse?

Creepy dad-in-law also isn’t shy when it comes to expressing his opinions about children and intercourse, noting that for kids these days, “everything is sex.” Or maybe that’s just how it seems whenhe looks at them. Later, when Marty looks asks his daughter what’s wrong with her after dragging her home from a threesome with two teenage boys, there’s a distinct expression of horror on her face. What if the answer is “grandpa”? After all, if Marty was involved in the abuse, would he really be so surprised at her promiscuity? And if Maggie’s father is abusing her daughter, does that mean that she was potentially abused as a child as well? Could she too be involved, another “nun”—as the dead Dory called herself in a journal—who was even willing to offer her own daughter to the King?

The Five Horsemen Theory


Cohle put five beer can men in a circle; Audrey did the same with her dolls. In Dora Lange’s mother’s house, there’s a picture of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (Update: As noted by commenters, these appear to be Mardi Gras revelers wearing capuchon masks.) It all adds up to what’s called the Five Horsemen theory: the idea that there are five men involved with the abuse of the children. The stars on the beer-can-men’s heads in Cohle’s circle could be crowns (or perhaps police badges). Ledoux and Dewalle, who both died in the shootout, seem like obvious choices for the five, but they could also simply be henchmen procuring the victims for the “rich men” Ledoux once described. Reverend Tuttle’s hands don’t seem totally clean either. But if the police are involved as Cohle suspects, could more policemen be members of the circle? Could the Horsemen, as two of the theories above suggest, even include Rust or Marty themselves?

These are just six theories, though, of the many swirling around the internet. If you’ve got your own take on the show (Is Marty Hart a “martyr heart” who will have to die to ensure the killer gets caught? What’s up with Billy Lee Tuttle’s John Deere mug?), share them in the comments below. Let’s get weird, people.

%d bloggers like this: