IJMC Santa Claus Isn't Dead!

                    IJMC - Santa Claus Isn't Dead!

Here we have a classic piece that has been attributed to several places 
over the years, but commonly to Spy magazine I believe. Anyway, two other
people seem to have seen fit to add their own refutations. So, in one 
post, we manage to kill Santa and then save him twice. Ain't it great, 
the things you can do with technology today?                        -dave

SANTA CLAUS: An Engineer's Perspective


There are approximately two billion children (persons under 18)in the
world. However, since Santa does not visit children of Muslim, Hindu,
Jewish or Buddhist religions, this reduces the workload for Christmas
night to 15% of the total, or 378 million (according to the Population
Reference Bureau). At an average(census) rate of 3.5 children per house
hold, that comes to 108 million homes, presuming that there is at least
one good child in each. 


Santa has about 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the
different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels
east to west(which seems logical). This works out to 967.7 visits per
second.  This is to say that for each Christian household with a good
child, Santa has around 1/1000th of a second to park the sleigh, hop out,
jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining
presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left for him, get
back up the chimney, jump into the sleigh and get on to the next house. 

Assuming that each of these 108 million stops is evenly distributed around
the earth (which, of course, we know to be false, but will accept for the
purposes of our calculations), we are now talking about 0.78 miles per
household; a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting bathroom stops
or breaks. This means Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per
second--3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the
fastest man-made vehicle, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4
miles per second, and a conventional reindeer can run (at best) 15 miles
per hour. 


The payload of the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that
each child gets nothing more than a medium sized Lego set (two pounds),
the sleigh is carrying over 500 thousand tons, not counting Santa himself.

On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even
granting that the "flying" reindeer could pull ten times the normal
amount, the job can't be done with eight or even nine of them--Santa would
need 360,000 of them. This increases the payload, not counting the weight
of the sleigh, another 54,000 tons, or roughly seven times the weight of
the Queen Elizabeth (the ship, not the monarch). 


600,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air
resistance--this would heat up the reindeer in the same fashion as a
spacecraft re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer
would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each. In short,
they would burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer
behind them and creating deafening sonic booms in their wake. 

The entire reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a
second, or right about the time Santa reached the fifth house on his trip.
Not that it matters, however, since Santa, as a result of accelerating
from a dead stop to 650 m.p.s. in .001 seconds, would be subjected to
centrifugal forces of 17,500 g's. A 250 pound Santa (which seems
ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015
pounds of force, instantly crushing his bones and organs and reducing him
to a quivering blob of pink goo. 


Therefore, if Santa did exist, he's dead now.


 Please forgive the previous example of old fashioned linear thinking
 within the box.
         The math, of course, is all wrong because of incorrect linear
 thinking and absurd assumptions.  Where did the number of presumed
 children come from?  Anyone who has driven on our freeways knows there
 are children who are chronologically well over 360 months old.  Why
 presume there is at least one good child in each household?  In many
 there are none at all.  On the other hand, in the Clintonite society,
 goodness has nothing to do with this - it helps your self esteem to get
 presents, whether or not you have been good or in any manner deserving.
 Besides, if you are given presents, you might refrain from taking
 presents that were not intended for you.
 So, for the good of society, every child, no matter how old, should be
 considered "good" and given most favored child status.  Furthermore,
 discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnic origin, or any other
 reason, including perceived goodness or badness, is intolerable.  
 Thus, the numbers of places designated for delivery of presents is
 grossly understated.
         As for the OPTEMPO of Santa's operation, the above analysis did
 nothing to refute the hypothesis that Santa simply operates in a 
 different time warp.  Perhaps what appears to be one nanosecond to mere
 humans is an eternity to Santa, or this year's Santa. As stated in the
 "Miracle on 42nd Street," what if he simply slowed time down?  They did
 it on Star Trek!
 Secondly, why has the analysis discounted parallel processing?  Who is 
 the analyst to say that Santa can't do all the homes in one city at the 
 same time?  Bill Gates can send the same, or similar messages, to
 multiple addresses at one time, and he's only been at this game for a few
 years.  Who is to say that Santa doesn't deliver all the dolls in one
 parallel delivery? And all the toy trucks in another?  There are
 certainly fewer varieties of presents than there are of recipients, so
 they can be matched up for parallel delivery.
         As for the attempt at a time-motion study, clearly the above
 engineer has never been to Filene's Basement Sales in which women who
 normally are 30 minutes late for a date manage to try on and decide 
 upon 35 different outfits within 1.00034 seconds, and in many cases
 apparently manage to time-share with others in the process.  This isn't
 Lord and Taylor's, and linear thinking just won't cut it.  And where is
 due consideration for virtual reality or the transmission of a concept 
 which is assembled from appropriate molecules at destination.  When
 the telephone was first invented, did people see a piece of paper
 shoved in one end come out the other?  No, but today fax machines
 essentially do just that. So perhaps presents are ordered at one end,
 and materialize at the other, perhaps even with the help of local
 distributors, sometimes disguised as Toys-R-Us outlets.
         As for structural calculations: if 10,000 vehicles with an 
 average weight of 4,000 pounds cross a bridge every day, is the bridge 
 supporting 40,000,000 pounds?  No, it is supporting an average well below
 that, albeit the average may be perfectly theoretical.  Thus Santa's
 sleigh need not support the full weight of all the presents, just as a
 telephone line does not support the weight of all the faxed documents
 transmitted.  And as for energy, an announcement this week was made
 that a firm has not only demonstrated, but patented a device which
 produces several thousand times as much sound energy as previously
 possible by controlling the boundary waves at the speed of sound,
 avoiding shock waves and the sound barrier.  So why couldn't Santa have
 discovered equivalent ways of taming the drag coefficients, and
 improving the thrust of cloven hooves a long time ago?
         What our engineer needs is a little lubrication and holiday 
 cheer.  Someone give him some egg nog so he can see the world outside his


 The analysis about the death of Santa Claus, based on
 classical physics, is seriously flawed owing to its neglect of
 quantum phenomena that become significant in his particular case.
 As it happens, the terminal velocity of a reindeer in dry December
 air over the Northern Hemisphere (for example) is known with
 tremendous precision.  The mass of Santa and his sleigh (since the
 number of children and their gifts is also known precisely, ahead
 of time, and the reindeer must weigh in minutes before the flight)
 is also known with tremendous precision.  His direction of flight is,
 as you say, essentially east to west.
 All of that, when taken together, means that the momentum vector of
 Mr Claus and his cargo is known with incredible precision.  An
 elementary application of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle yields
 the result that Santa's location, at any given moment on Christmas
 Eve, is highly imprecise.  In other words, he is "smeared out" over
 the surface of the earth, analogous to the manner in which an
 electron is "smeared out" within a certain distance from the nucleus
 in an atom.  Thus he can, quite literally, be everywhere at any given
 In addition, the relativistic velocities which his reindeer can attain
 for brief moments make it possible for him, in certain cases, to arrive
 at some locations shortly before he left the North Pole.  Santa, in other
 words, assumes for brief periods the characteristics of tachyons.
 I will admit that tachyons remain hypothetical, but then so do black
 holes, and who really doubts their existence anymore?

IJMC December 1997 Archives