As a theorist, Khot is able to work anywhere — with his relatives in India, in bustling New York City cafes, even in movie theaters. But his favorite thinking place is Washington Square Park, just across the street from his NYU office and the faculty apartment where he lives with his wife and son. “My work is mainly thinking and for the most part, I am stuck and not making progress,” he said. “If I were in the office, I would just get bored and doze off.”
But in the park, “there are entertainers, chess players, fortune tellers, sunbathers, children, tourists, co-existing with squirrels, pigeons, pets and even a hawk that has made this neighborhood his home for several years,” Khot said. “I can stare at all this, listen to all the buzz and keep thinking all day!” The proximity to work, home and nearby restaurants and cafes allows him to work, do his chores, get coffee and look after his son. During the day, he plants himself on one of the shaded benches near the playground, but in the evenings he prefers a scenic spot near the water fountain.
For all the excitement surrounding Khot’s conjecture, the question of whether his assumption is true remains open. These days, as Khot sits quietly in his favorite thinking place, surrounded by the frenetic energy of the park, he is working on two approaches to prove the Unique Games Conjecture, a task he isn’t certain can be accomplished in his lifetime.