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How Much Would It Cost to be Santa Claus?

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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.

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Who Started Casual Fridays?
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For employees at the mercy of an office thermostat, Casual Fridays provide some much-needed relief during frigid winters and the scorching months of summer. Though many offices are beginning to loosen their dress codes permanently, plenty of employees still cling to this one day a week when wearing shorts won't raise any eyebrows and that T-shirt won't result in an email from HR. But Casual Friday didn't begin just as a cure for discomfort in the workplace; there was also money to be made. 

In the 1960s, Bill Foster, president of The Hawaiian Fashion Guild, plotted to find a way to sell more of the colorfully designed Aloha shirts to their residents with the launch of "Operation Liberation," which gave two shirts to every member of the Hawaii House of Representatives and the Hawaii Senate. The purpose of this campaign was to persuade the politicians to allow government workers to wear the lightweight shirts not only to beat the heat in the summer months, but also to support the state’s garment industry. The custom took off in 1966 and was given a familiar name, "Aloha Friday."

Technology giant Hewlett-Packard claims to have sparked the spread of casual wear in the workplace around the same time in the San Francisco Bay area. Called "Blue Sky Days," this Friday custom wasn't just limited to clothing: HP's founders—Bill Hewlett and David Packard—wanted people to take these days to think of more creative ideas and initiatives outside of their normal routine. This idea soon caught on throughout Silicon Valley and, eventually, into other industries.

However, the spread of this casual trend on the mainland resulted in haphazard, sometimes sloppy attire in the workplace. To help clarify the issue, and to promote his own brand, Rick Miller of Dockers stepped in with an ingenious marketing plan. In 1992, he sent an eight-page “Guide To Casual Business Wear” to approximately 25,000 human resource managers to distribute to their employees. This kickstarted the Dockers brand by popularizing the khaki pant and redefining what is acceptable attire in the workplace.

Now, many nations adopt a Casual Friday approach for similar reasons. In 2005, Japan implemented a Cool Biz policy that granted a summer dress code during hot weather months, in exchange for a more moderate temperature in office buildings. This meant offices were saving energy by keeping their temperature at no less than 82.4°F, but workers could breathe a bit easier in business casual tops and sneakers.

Blame the fashion industry, the unbearable heat, or simply an evolving cultural attitude. The likes of Bill Foster’s Aloha Friday and Rick Miller’s “Guide To Casual Business Wear” gave employees permission to dress for comfort on the job—for at least one coveted day of the week.

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

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How Does Catnip Work?
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If you have a cat, you probably keep a supply of catnip at home. Many cats are irresistibly drawn to the herb, and respond excitedly to its scent, rubbing against it, rolling around on the floor, and otherwise going nuts. There are few things that can get felines quite as riled up as a whiff of catnip—not even the most delicious treats. But why does catnip, as opposed to any other plant, have such a profound effect on our feline friends?

Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is a member of the mint family. It contains a compound called nepetalactone, which is what causes the characteristic catnip reaction. Contrary to what you might expect, the reaction isn’t pheromone related—even though pheromones are the smelly chemicals we usually associate with a change in behavior. While pheromones bind to a set of specialized receptors in what’s known as a vomeronasal organ, located in the roof of a cat's mouth (which is why they sometimes open their mouths to detect pheromones), nepetalactone binds to olfactory receptors at the olfactory epithelium, or the tissue that lines the mucus membranes inside a cat’s nose and is linked to smell.

Scientists know the basics of the chemical structure of nepetalactone, but how it causes excitement in cats is less clear. “We don’t know the full mechanisms of how the binding of these compounds to the receptors in the nose ultimately changes their behavior,” as Bruce Kornreich, associate director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, tells Mental Floss. Sadly, sticking a bunch of cats in an MRI machine with catnip and analyzing their brain activity isn’t really feasible, either from a practical or a financial standpoint, so it’s hard to determine which parts of a cat’s brain are reacting to the chemical as they frolic and play.

Though it may look like they’re getting high, catnip doesn’t appear to be harmful or addictive to cats. The euphoric period only lasts for a short time before cats become temporarily immune to its charms, meaning that it’s hard for them to overdo it.

“Cats do seem to limit themselves," Michael Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss. "Their stimulation lasts for about 10 minutes, then it sort of goes away.” While you may not want to turn your house into a greenhouse for catnip and let your feline friend run loose, it’s a useful way to keep indoor cats—whose environment isn’t always the most thrilling—stimulated and happy. (If you need proof of just how much cats love this herb, we suggest checking out Cats on Catnip, a new book of photography from professional cat photographer Andrew Martilla featuring dozens of images of cats playing around with catnip.)

That said, not all cats respond to catnip. According to Topper, an estimated 70 percent of cats react to catnip, and it appears to have a genetic basis. Topper compares it to the genetic variation that causes some individuals to smell asparagus pee while others don’t. Even if a cat will eventually love the smell of catnip, it doesn’t come out of the womb yearning for a sniff. Young kittens don’t show any behavioral response to it, and may not develop one until several months after birth [PDF].

But some researchers contend that more cats may respond to catnip than we actually realize. In one 2017 study, a group of researchers in Mexico examined how cats might subtly respond to catnip in ways that aren’t always as obvious as rolling around on the floor with their tongue hanging out. It found that 80 percent of cats responded to catnip in a passive way, showing decreased motor activity and sitting in the “sphinx” position, an indicator of a relaxed state.

There are also other plants that have similar effects on cats, some of which may appeal to a wider variety of felines than regular old catnip. In a 2017 study in the journal BMC Veterinary Research, researchers tested feline responses to not just catnip, but several other plants containing compounds similar in structure to nepetalactone, like valerian root, Tatarian honeysuckle, and silver vine. They found that 94 percent of cats responded to at least one of the plants, if not more than one. The majority of the cats that didn’t respond to catnip itself did respond to silver vine, suggesting that plant might be a potential alternative for cats that seem immune to catnip’s charms.

Despite the name, domestic cats aren’t the only species that love catnip. Many other feline species enjoy it, too, including lions and jaguars, though tigers are largely indifferent to it. The scent of the plant also attracts butterflies. (However, no matter what you’ve heard, humans can’t get high off it. When made into a tea, though, it reportedly has mild sedative effects.)

The reason Nepeta cataria releases nepetalactone doesn’t necessarily have to do with giving your cat a buzz. The fact that it gives cats that little charge of euphoria may be purely coincidental. The chemical is an insect repellant that the plant emits as a defense mechanism against pests like aphids. According to the American Chemical Society, nepetalactone attracts wasps and other insect predators that eat aphids, calling in protective reinforcements when the plant is in aphid-related distress. That it brings all the cats to the yard is just a side effect.

Because of this, catnip may have even more uses in the future beyond sending cats into a delighted frenzy. Rutgers University has spent more than a decade breeding a more potent version of catnip, called CR9, which produces more nepetalactone. It’s not just a matter of selling better cat toys; since catnip releases the compound to ward off insects, it’s also a great mosquito repellant, one that scientists hope can one day be adapted for human use. In that case, you might be as excited about catnip as your cat is.

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

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