Friday, December 20, 2013

Plausible Claus: Santa's Possible Distribution Network

Skeptics argue that Santa Claus's worldwide Christmas Eve delivery isn't possible, citing some arcane laws of physics that would need to be bent or bypassed altogether. Most of these arguments, however, don't take into account the complexity of Santa's possible distribution network that would make his annual globetrotting trek more plausible.
What follows is an outline of how Santa's network might be organized and used to make the greatest single-night delivery service work.
The facts
We all know that Santa has to deliver a lot of toys to millions of children, but exactly how much is a lot?
  • The world population is approximately 7.132 billion.
  • About 25 percent of the world's population is under age 14 (Santa's target audience).
  • So, in the best-case scenario — that all the children made it onto the “Nice” list — Santa must deliver toys to 1.783 billion children.
  • If Santa delivers a modest 5 pounds of toys to each child on the list, he must be prepared to deliver 8.92 billion pounds of toys — that's the weight of more than 54,000 space shuttles!
Carrying tons of toys on a sleigh is a big problem, but one that could be worked around.
Aside from the weight problem (the weight of the toys, not of Santa), time is also an important factor. Common folklore says that Santa Claus delivers toys to good little girls and boys all over the world "in one night." Although we normally think of "one night" as six or eight hours, Santa has a lot more time than that.
Taking into account the 24 time zones and the International Date Line, Santa can take as much as 32 hours to make his deliveries.
If he starts just west of the International Date Line (in, say, Kiribati) at 10 p.m. local time and travels west, spending an hour and 20 minutes in each time zone, he will finish his delivery route at 6:30 a.m. (in American Samoa). Further subdividing the planet between northern and southern hemispheres results in 48 delivery quadrants, and Santa gets a whole 40 minutes in each one!
The distribution network
As most people tell it, Santa loads up his sleigh at the North Pole with all the toys he needs to deliver to the children. This, of course, makes no sense. Not only is it inefficient, but the wear and tear on his sleigh would be atrocious, not to mention the strain it puts on his nine flying reindeer.
A more efficient system would rely on strategically placed distribution centers for each time zone or 15 degrees of longitude — perhaps one massive warehouse at the North and South Poles and 24 smaller centers near the equator — dividing the planet into 48 "delivery zones."
On the evening of December 24, Santa Claus sets off from the North Pole along the western side of the International Date Line, his sleigh laden with toys intended only for the first delivery quadrant. Nearly 40 minutes later, he arrives at the first equatorial distribution center, probably somewhere in northern Tonga, having delivered all the toys in the batch. Quick as a flash, his Tongan elves hoist the next batch of deliveries onto the sleigh and "refuel" his reindeer with a mixture of grasses, grains and Red Bull.
Then Santa continues south, disappearing down chimneys and filling stockings and arrives at the South Pole warehouse about 40 minutes later, where his sleigh is again reloaded and his reindeer refueled (or relieved, as the case may be). Then he takes off north through the next quadrant west, stops to refill the sleigh at the second equatorial distribution center hidden in the Solomon Islands, and continues north.
Meanwhile, at the North Pole, the elves have had two hours and 40 minutes — plenty of time — to prepare the delivery batch for the fifth quadrant. When Santa arrives in his now empty sleigh, that bag of goodies gets hoisted onto the sleigh and he takes off south again.
In this way, Santa crisscrosses the globe from north to south to north, ensuring that his reindeer remain well-fed and that his sleigh is never overloaded.
Remaining issues
Granted, flying from one of the poles to a distribution center in Sri Lanka, Gabon or Ecuador in under 40 minutes isn't exactly a cakewalk, even if you aren't stopping at every child's household along the way. Certainly some magic is involved in the process (we don't often see flying reindeer, after all).
But magic or not, a systematic delivery route with regular stops at strategically placed distribution centers can turn what seems like an impossible mission into (at the very least) a plausible one.
About the author: Andrew Hollandbeck is a professional writer and copy editor – as well as a semi-professional bringer of mirth – living and working in Indianapolis, Indiana.


Unknown said...

Great post! We did a similar thing and produced an infographic to go with it...
Our data is slightly different to yours but the overall conclusion is the same: Santa's a busy chap!

Christopher Sciacca said...

Hi Jason, thanks and great infographic. If you do another one this year be sure to send it my way.