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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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Big Questions
What Does the Sergeant at Arms Do?
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
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In 1981, shortly after Howard Liebengood was elected the 27th Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate, he realized he had no idea how to address incoming president-elect Ronald Reagan on a visit. “The thought struck me that I didn't know what to call the President-elect,'' Liebengood told The New York Times in November of that year. ''Do you call him 'President-elect,' 'Governor,' or what?” (He went with “Sir.”)

It would not be the first—or last—time someone wondered what, exactly, a Sergeant at Arms (SAA) should be doing. Both the House and the Senate have their own Sergeant at Arms, and their visibility is highest during the State of the Union address. For Donald Trump’s State of the Union on January 30, the 40th Senate SAA, Frank Larkin, will escort the senators to the House Chamber, while the 36th House of Representatives SAA, Paul Irving, will introduce the president (“Mister [or Madam] Speaker, the President of the United States!”). But the job's responsibilities extend far beyond being an emcee.

The Sergeants at Arms are also their respective houses’ chief law enforcement officers. Obliging law enforcement duties means supervising their respective wings of the Capitol and making sure security is tight. The SAA has the authority to find and retrieve errant senators and representatives, to arrest or detain anyone causing disruptions (even for crimes such as bribing representatives), and to control who accesses chambers.

In a sense, they act as the government’s bouncers.

Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin escorts China's president Xi Jinping
Senat Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin (L) escorts China's president Xi Jinping during a visit to Capitol Hill.
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This is not a ceremonial task. In 1988, Senate SAA Henry Giugni led a posse of Capitol police to find, arrest, and corral Republicans missing for a Senate vote. One of them, Republican Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon, had to be carried to the Senate floor to break the filibustering over a vote on senatorial campaign finance reform.

While manhandling wayward politicians sounds fun, it’s more likely the SAAs will be spending their time on administrative tasks. As protocol officer, visits to Congress by the president or other dignitaries have to be coordinated and escorts provided; as executive officer, they provide assistance to their houses of Congress, with the Senate SAA assisting Senate offices with computers, furniture, mail processing, and other logistical support. The two SAAs also alternate serving as chairman of the Capitol Police board.

Perhaps a better question than asking what they do is pondering how they have time to do it all.

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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Big Questions
What Makes a Cat's Tail Puff Up When It's Scared?
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Cats wear their emotions on their tails, not their sleeves. They tap their fluffy rear appendages during relaxing naps, thrash them while tense, and hold them stiff and aloft when they’re feeling aggressive, among other behaviors. And in some scary situations (like, say, being surprised by a cucumber), a cat’s tail will actually expand, puffing up to nearly twice its volume as its owner hisses, arches its back, and flattens its ears. What does a super-sized tail signify, and how does it occur naturally without help from hairspray?

Cats with puffed tails are “basically trying to make themselves look as big as possible, and that’s because they detect a threat in the environment," Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. The “threat” in question can be as major as an approaching dog or as minor as an unexpected noise. Even if a cat isn't technically in any real danger, it's still biologically wired to spring to the offensive at a moment’s notice, as it's "not quite at the top of the food chain,” Delgado says. And a big tail is reflexive feline body language for “I’m big and scary, and you wouldn't want to mess with me,” she adds.

A cat’s tail puffs when muscles in its skin (where the hair base is) contract in response to hormone signals from the stress/fight or flight system, or sympathetic nervous system. Occasionally, the hairs on a cat’s back will also puff up along with the tail. That said, not all cats swell up when a startling situation strikes. “I’ve seen some cats that seem unflappable, and they never get poofed up,” Delgado says. “My cats get puffed up pretty easily.”

In addition to cats, other animals also experience piloerection, as this phenomenon is technically called. For example, “some birds puff up when they're encountering an enemy or a threat,” Delgado says. “I think it is a universal response among animals to try to get themselves out of a [potentially dangerous] situation. Really, the idea is that you don't have to fight because if you fight, you might lose an ear or you might get an injury that could be fatal. For most animals, they’re trying to figure out how to scare another animal off without actually going fisticuffs.” In other words, hiss softly, but carry a big tail.

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