You’ll probably get at least one repeat present this year, so why not get a repeat Granite Geek column?
Come to think of it, it won’t be a repeat for you lucky Monitor readers. I’m new here, so I can dust off tons of old columns, and you’ll be none the wiser!
And tons is right. I’ve been writing this column for so long that I have a stocking full of science-y Christmas chestnuts to choose from, including:
∎ Astronomical explanations for the Star of Bethlehem (comet, planetary alignment, cosmic dust).
∎ Calculating the speed of Santa’s sleigh (so fast that he’s led by Rudolph the Red-Shift Reindeer).
∎ Comparing the percentage of elf DNA in human chromosomes to the percentage of Neanderthal DNA (it’s less, but elves are small).
However, since economic issues always crop up in a presidential election year, I think I’ll go with this one: How big is Santa’s workshop?
Find yourself an old envelope and we’ll do some calculating on its back.
First, I estimate that one-third of the world’s population celebrates Christmas with presents. That’s 2.4 billion people, roughly half of whom are children, so let’s say 1.2 billion presents must be built over the course of the year. (We’ll restrict Santa to one present per kid.)
Santa is a nice employer, not a naughty one, so his elves work a 50-week year and 40-hour weeks. That’s 2,000 work hours a year, which means 600,000 presents have to be built each hour.
Elves are talented, so it takes an average of one hour to build each present, whether it’s a doll that talks or an iPhone app. So the workshop needs room for 600,000 elves working side by side.
I hunted through federal standards to find out how much floor space each elf needs. While I encountered some entertaining distractions, like the definition of a “vertical elutriator cotton dust sampler,” but couldn’t find workplace specifications for mythological humanoids. Let’s assume that, being efficient and undersized, elves need just one square foot of space each. Then we’ll add another square foot for each for support areas such as cafeteria and bathrooms. (I’ll skip over the question of how to make a septic system percolate at the North Pole.)
The result is a workshop with a footprint of 1.2 million square feet.
Now comes the warehouse, because with a delivery window of 18 hours for 1.2 billion items, you can’t do “just in time” manufacturing.
Let’s say each toy occupies 1 cubic foot: that’s 1.2 billion cubic feet. A 20-foot-tall warehouse would take up 60 million square feet. Which brings our total footprint to 61.2 million square feet, or 1,400 acres, or about 2.2 square miles.
Monstrous, but not impossible.
Dubai International Airport claims a floor area of 12 million square feet, the Pentagon covers 6.6 million square feet, and Steeplegate Mall has 481,000 square feet of retail space.
So Santa’s workshop is equivalent to four Dubai airports, two Pentagons and a Steeplegate Mall. For a man who can fit a billion cubic feet of toys in one bag without breaking anything, that seems pretty doable.
One more point: I particularly admire the way Santa has managed to keep this enormous place invisible to Google’s satellite maps. The way online sites have destroyed our anonymity, that’s a skill that would make a fine Christmas present for everybody.
(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, email@example.com, or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)