How Much Would It Cost to be Santa Claus?


How much would it cost to be Santa Claus?

Kynan Eng:

It will cost $24.3 billion to make the toys, plus $683 million to deliver them by ocean and road freight (delivery time 2 months). Or, if it absolutely, positively must be there overnight, air freight will cost $95.8 billion before discounts. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough planes in the world to deliver everything in one day and airport capacity is limited, so it will take around 5 days if every commercial and military plane in the world (40,000 planes total) is pressed into service. Further details below.

How many kids in the world? Where are they?

Around 27 percent of the world’s population is aged 0–14, according to the CIA. As a crude approximation, we can extrapolate that to 32.8 percent of the world being aged 0–17. People are spread out around the world as shown in the list below, as of August 2016. Note that some regions of the world have a higher proportion of kids, but we will ignore this factor for the purposes of the calculation.

Population by Regions in the World (2016)

  • North America: 579 million (190 million kids)
  • South America: 423 million (139 million kids)
  • Europe + Russia: 887 million (291 million kids)
  • Africa: 1216 million (399 million kids)
  • India: 1252 million (411 million kids)
  • East Asia/Oceania: 3043 million (988 million kids)

TOTAL: 7.4 billion (2.43 billion kids)

How expensive to produce a toy?

In 2000, one McDonald’s Happy Meal toy cost 43 cents to produce. Let’s be generous, and say that we expend a production cost of $10 per child on toys, including packaging and wrapping paper. We will also assume that these toys weigh a total of 2 kg per child and a volume of 0.01 m3, including packaging. So our toy budget is $24.3 billion and we have to ship 4.86 billion kg, with a volume of 48.6 million m3.

Where are we shipping from?

Depending on who you ask, Santa Claus lives in one of several locations:

However, in reality, modern Santa produces in and around Shenzhen, China. His northern residence serves mainly as a theme park, marketing headquarters, and tax haven. So everything must be shipped from Shenzhen or nearby Hong Kong.

Shipping cost: Ocean + road freight

The most cost-effective way to send stuff is by ship and then road. The data here comes from an online freight calculator. A standard 40-foot shipping container has an interior volume of 67.6 m3, of which about 60 m3 is usable after accounting for fork lift pallets, etc. So we can fit 6000 presents into each container. Therefore we will need to ship 405,000 containers. The world’s largest container ships can each carry upwards of 9000 containers, so we will need only 45 ships to carry all of the presents. The ocean shipping costs are broken down below ($cost/container x number of containers):

  • North America: Hong Kong - Los Angeles: $1400 x 31667 → $44.3 million
  • South America: Hong Kong - Panama: $1450 x 23167 → $33.6 million
  • Europe + Russia: Hong Kong - Rotterdam: $750 x 48500 → $36.4 million
  • Africa: Hong Kong - Port Said (Egypt): $625 x 66500 → $41.6 million
  • India: Hong Kong - Mumbai: $600 x 68500 → $41.1 million
  • Asia: Hong Kong - Shanghai: $400 x 507167 → $39.5 million

For the road shipping cost, we will make a wild assumption that the average road distance is about 2400 miles, which is about the distance from Los Angeles to Philadelphia. This costs around $1100 per container in the USA, which we will use as the overall cost. So we get:

Total ocean + road freight cost = $236M + $446M = $683M

Shipping cost: Air freight

The point of origin will be either Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport or Hong Kong International Airport, which are very close to each other. Air freight requires two air legs (Hong Kong → regional hub → destination city) and one road leg. The exception is within Asia, which requires just one flight. The first-leg air freight costs are as shown below (cost quoted per present).

  • North America: Hong Kong - Los Angeles: $19 → $3.61 billion
  • South America: Hong Kong - Panama: $20 → $2.78 billion
  • Europe + Russia: Hong Kong - Frankfurt: $19 → $5.53 billion
  • Africa: Hong Kong - Port Said (Egypt): $22 → $8.78 billion
  • India: Hong Kong - Mumbai: $25 → $10.28 billion
  • Asia: Hong Kong - Beijing: $21 → $20.7 billion

Total first leg: $51.7 billion, plus second leg ($18/present): $43.7 billion, plus road: $446 million = $95.8 billion

Do we have enough planes? In short, no. In 2015, FedEx shipped 16.02 billion tonne-km of air freight, while the top 10 companies combined shopped 85.528 billion tonne-km. This works out to shipping our load 17600 km—so it would be possible to do it only if every air freight company could delivery their annual capacity in one day. Modern cargo aircraft range in capacity from around 39,780 kg (Boeing 757–200 freighter) to 134,200 kg (Boeing 747–8F). If we take an average payload of 80,000 kg per plane, we will need 60,750 long-haul flights, plus the same number of short-haul flights. The world has about 20,000 civilian aircraft and 20,000 military aircraft, but most of them are not long-haul—so we will need some sort of well-organized short-hop relay system.

Another bottleneck is the number of airports. The capacity of a modern airport is around one take-off every 60 seconds, which is 1440 flights/day. There are 10 civilian airports within 300 miles of the area, so we can start around 15,000 flights/day. So it will take around four days to get all of the stuff out by air. After that, regional and local airports can handle the traffic easily—the world already handles around 100,000 scheduled flights per day.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Big Questions
Why Is a Pineapple Called a Pineapple?

by James Hunt

Ask an English-speaking person whether they've heard of a pineapple, and you'll probably receive little more than a puzzled look. Surely, every schoolchild has heard of this distinctive tropical fruit—if not in its capacity as produce, then as a dessert ring, or smoothie ingredient, or essential component of a Hawaiian pizza.

But ask an English-speaking person if they've ever heard of the ananas fruit and you'll probably get similarly puzzled looks, but for the opposite reason. The average English speaker has no clue what an ananas is—even though it's the name given to the pineapple in almost every other major global language.

In Arabic, German, French, Dutch, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Swedish, Turkish—even in Latin and Esperanto—the pineapple is known as an ananas, give or take local variations in the alphabet and accents. In the languages where it isn't, it's often because the word has been imported from English, such as in the case of the Japanese パイナップル (painappuru) and the Welsh pinafel.

So how is it that English managed to pick the wrong side in this fight so spectacularly? Would not a pineapple, by any other name, taste as weird and tingly?

To figure out where things went wrong for English as a language, we have to go back and look at how Europeans first encountered the fruit in question, which is native to South America. It was first catalogued by Columbus's expedition to Guadeloupe in 1493, and they called it piña de Indes, meaning "pine of the Indians"—not because the plant resembled a pine tree (it doesn't) but because they thought the fruit looked like a pine cone (umm, ... it still doesn't. But you can sort of see it.)

Columbus was on a Spanish mission and, dutifully, the Spanish still use the shortened form piñas to describe the fruit. But almost every other European language (including Portuguese, Columbus's native tongue) decided to stick with the name given to the fruit by the indigenous Tupí people of South America: ananas, which means "excellent fruit."

According to etymological sources, the English word pineapple was first applied to the fruit in 1664, but that didn't end the great pineapple versus ananas debate. Even as late as the 19th century, there are examples of both forms in concurrent use within the English language; for example, in the title of Thomas Baldwin's Short Practical Directions For The Culture Of The Ananas; Or Pine Apple Plant, which was published in 1813.

So given that we knew what both words meant, why didn't English speakers just let go of this illogical and unhelpful linguistic distinction? The ultimate reason may be: We just think our own language is better than everyone else's.

You see, pineapple was already an English word before it was applied to the fruit. First used in 1398, it was originally used to describe what we now call pine cones. Hilariously, the term pine cones wasn't recorded until 1694, suggesting that the application of pineapple to the ananas fruit probably meant that people had to find an alternative to avoid confusion. And while ananas hung around on the periphery of the language for a time, when given a choice between using a local word and a foreign, imported one, the English went with the former so often that the latter essentially died out.

Of course, it's not too late to change our minds. If you want to ask for ananas the next time you order a pizza, give it a try (though we can't say what you'd up with as a result).

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

Big Questions
Why Do They Build Oil Rigs in the Middle of the Ocean?

Ryan Carlyle:

We put the rigs where the oil is!

There aren’t any rigs in the “middle” of the ocean, but it is fairly common to find major oilfields over 150 km off the coast. This happens because:

  • Shallow seas often had the correct conditions for oil formation millions of years ago. Specifically, something like an algae bloom has to die and sink into oxygen-free conditions on the sea floor, then that organic material gets buried and converted to rock over geologic time.
  • The continental shelf downstream of a major river delta is a great place for deposition of loose, sandy sediments that make good oil reservoir rocks.

These two types of rock—organic-rich source rock and permeable reservoir rock—must be deposited in the correct order in the same place for there to be economically viable oil reservoirs. Sometimes, we find ancient shallow seas (or lakes) on dry land. Sometimes, we find them underneath modern seas. In that latter case, you get underwater oil and offshore oil rigs.

In the “middle” of the ocean, the seafloor is primarily basaltic crust generated by volcanic activity at the mid-ocean ridge. There’s no source of sufficient organic material for oil source rock or high-permeability sandstone for reservoir rock. So there is no oil. Which is fine, because the water is too deep to be very practical to drill on the sea floor anyway. (Possible, but not practical.)

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.


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