Tuesday, December 18, 2007

COLUMN: Kyrgyzstan Claus

I stink at math.

It's one of my dark, shameful secrets. There's just something about numbers that makes my brain switch off. I am, for lack of a better word, mathtarded. And it's not for lack of trying, either.

I'm not saying I was the world's best student or anything, but still, I gave math my best shot. I had to -- my father was a former physics major who designed and built the house I grew up in from scratch. I'm still convinced to this day that my dad lost most of his hair not due to genetics, but due to my Algebra II homework (a class I passed by the skin of my teeth and thanks only to cram sessions with an overly patient parent and a programmable calculator that learned the formulas a lot faster than me.)

High schoolers are famous for saying stupid stuff, and one of those cringe-worthy phrases often uttered by my younger self? "I will NEVER need to know this to get by in life." Well, I'm here to tell you that, for once, High School Shane was right. I have made it almost 37 years now, and can safely tell you all that I've yet to find myself in a perilous situation where I need to measure an isosceles triangle in order to survive. In fact, I had to go to Wikipedia just now to spell "isosceles." I have yet to encounter any task preceded by the adjective "Pythagorean." The cosine button on my calculator has NEVER been pressed.

I'm sure there are career paths out there that utilize math on a minute-by-minute basis. Newspaper Columnist isn't one of 'em. I suppose it would be nice to balance a checkbook or complete a tax form without the sensation that my brain is about to leak out of my eye sockets, but hey -- if you can't do those simple tasks, there's certainly a computer program and/or paid professional willing to take it on for you. It's good to know that there are competent mathematicians and engineers out there to make life easier and run the world for we mathematically challenged types.

Take the fine Nordic engineering consultants of the Sweco Group. According to their website, Sweco provides consulting services in engineering, environmental technology, and architecture. However, as a public service to one and all, they recently applied their genius minds to a phenomenon not easily grasped by we math underlings -- Santa Claus. For generations, we've been puzzled how one jolly old man and his eight freaky deer could possibly deliver toys to ALL the girls and boys. In a press release that I swear I'm not making up, Sweco has the answers.

Taking into account factors like geographic density and the fewest detours, and working with the estimation that there are 120 persons per square mile and an average of 66 feet between homes on Earth -- and assuming that Santa travels against the Earth's rotation thus giving him an optimizing 48 hours in which to deliver gifts -- Sweco has proven that Santa has exactly 34 microseconds at each stop to shimmy down the chimney, plop down the gifts, down some cookies and milk, and be on his merry way.

In order to pull this off, Dasher and Prancer and Comet and Dunder and the gang need to travel at 12,974,400 miles an hour to get the job done. And that officially puts the kibash on the North Pole. Assuming that Santa begins and ends his annual trek from the most logistically optimal position on Earth based on population density and distance, there's only one place where Santa's Workshop can really exist: Kyrgyzstan.

That's right, Santa Claus is a Kyrgyzstani. Until now, Kyrgyzstan was best known for its woolen exports, the komuz (a fretless 3-stringed lute), a rousing 22nd place finish in the men's pentathlon at the 2004 Summer Olympiad, and being the only country whose name sounds like the noise I make when I sneeze. But now, thanks to the wonders of modern mathematics, it's home to Santa and the elves.

And the Kyrgyzstani government couldn't be happier. After word reached them of the Swedish engineering discovery, the Kyrgyz tourism board launched a contest to track down the Bearded One and his jellybelly. Given Kyrgyzstan's abundant and treacherous mountains, this might take some time.

"The state tourism agency always knew that Father Christmas lived here," said Kyrgyz tourism official Akbar Dzhigitov this week to reporters, "and finally Swedish scientists have proved it." The contest runs until December 20 and the winner will receive an award, so you've still got time to catch that flight (Air Kyrgyz?) and get a-huntin'.

Of course, another report on the internet claims to debunk the Swedish engineer's claim. It says that -- if the Sweco findings are accurate and Santa's jetting around at 12,974,400 mph -- a sleigh weighed down with presents would encounter such massive air resistance that the whole ensemble would burst into flames and be vaporized with 4.26 thousandths of a second.

Thus proving, once and for all, the truth we dare not speak: mathematicians are even MORE bored than I ever thought possible. And also proving that the greatest physicist & mathematician of all time must be Santa Claus himself, as even given these odds, he somehow manages his job. After all, the presents under the tree are irrefutable proof. My guess is it must involve a rip in the space-time continuum... or perhaps a genetic Santa cloning lab... or perhaps subterranean tunnels allowing Santa to fly THROUGH the Earth as opposed to around it...

Then again, what do I know? I stink at math.

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