Numlock News: January 3, 2020 • Toys, Directors, Counterfeits

By Walt Hickey

Have a wonderful weekend!

What Are Those?

A newly unsealed indictment bust open what authorities describe as a massive counterfeiting operation, with Nike and Louis Vuitton footwear that — if they were the bona fide article — would be worth $472 million. That’s on the heels of a bust last year which involved 385,280 fake Air Jordans, plus a suite of other counterfeiting busts pertaining to footwear. Counterfeiting is a surprisingly large part of the global economy: knockoff goods accounted for something like $520 billion in worldwide sales last year, 3.3 percent of all global trade. Law enforcement had been going after this new operation since February 2012, and brought it in after flipping a defendant into cooperating and using them to receive bulk counterfeit deliveries from China.

Justin Rohrlich, Quartz


The videogame Fortnite made a paltry $1.8 billion in 2019, down from the $2.4 billion it made the prior year. I’m kidding, that’s still an unfathomable amount of money and good enough to make it the highest-grossing game of the year, fending off other free-to-play games like Nexon’s Dungeon Fighter Online and Tencent’s Honour of Kings, which each made $1.6 billion. There are other, more familiar faces in the top tier: League of Legends and Candy Crush Saga both made $1.5 billion, and Pokémon Go is still making payday with $1.4 billion. Digital game revenue was $109.4 billion, and 80 percent of that was in free-to-play.

Todd Spangler, Variety


A new study analyzed 1,300 films produced between 2007 and 2019 to find that for the first time in years, there may be genuine movement within Hollywood to put more women behind the camera. Last year, women made up 10.6 percent of the directors of the top 100 grossing films, the highest level since at least 2007 when women made up just 2.7 percent of people behind the camera of the top grossing films. Over the whole 13-year period, just 4.8 percent of the 1,448 directors were women, so this is a pretty significant leap. The study further found that films directed by women performed functionally the same as those made by men according to critics. Most interesting of all? Universal Pictures had the highest number of female directors — 15 women — attached to the films they made, and also the highest number of directors from underrepresented demographics. Worth noting? A woman, Donna Langley, has been Universal’s VP of production since 2001.

Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti, Kevin Yao, Hanna Clark and Katherine Pieper, Annenberg Inclusion Initiative

(This weekend’s Sunday edition is talking to Dr. Smith and Dr. Pieper about this study, it’s a really good one.)


For places that have historically struggled to reliably access clean and consistent water, desalination of seawater is a godsend. In Antofagasta, Chile (population 360,000) a desalination plant has been providing the city with water since 2003, steadily increasing its output to become the largest such plant in Latin America and pumping 1,056 liters per second, 82.5 percent of the potable water in the city. Across the entire 600,000-person region, 56.3 percent of drinking water is desalinated seawater. There is a major downside, though: all that salt that is removed gets dumped back into the ocean, drastically changing the composition of the water, making it brinier and harder for native life. The other issue? For conventional water treatment, powering the plant is just 9 percent of the cost of the water. At La Chimba, 69 percent of the cost is just to power the facility, a massive energy contribution that’s prompting Chile to look at cleaning up the energy mix powering the station.

John Bartlett, The Guardian


Mattel, the toymaker, is mounting a major effort to streamline operations that grew bloated in a toy market where predicting what was popular was easy, year-to-year and people wanted basically as many Barbies in one year as they did the prior year. That’s not the market anymore: 45 percent of the items Mattel sells accounts for just 6 percent of the revenue, and the company plans to cut about 30 percent of its items. The cuts are also extending to the very colors used in the toys themselves: where designers once had their choice of 150 different red hues, Mattel cut that by a third to try to pare down complex supply chains, and aims to do the same in other forms too. Someone’s going to have to break it to Barbie that the Dreamhouse is probably not going to be that brick colonial with the custom hardwood floors and Eames chair, and is going to be more pre-fab built out of sticks in a paved Florida swamp with a Craigslist Ikea POÄNG.

Paul Ziobro, The Wall Street Journal


Prior to the advent of GPS, if you wanted to answer a question like “what do birds actually do in a hurricane?” you’d have to seriously jeopardize the safety of a grad student, but a new study that tracked 18 pelicans as they hunkered down for Hurricane Irma in 2017 and Florence and Michael in 2018 now gives us a pretty good idea. During the periods of the lowest pressure and highest winds, the birds tended to hide behind barrier islands and highway overpasses, or chilled out in estuaries. This meant going hungry for a few days, but the only evidence that a bird died was one GPS tracker going dark during Florence.

Jenny Howard, Hakai Magazine


Yesterday was the worst day of the year for many shipping companies, with the volume of returns peaking annually on January 2 at an estimated 1.9 million packages. Altogether, consumers are projected to return $90 billion to $95 billion worth of merch bought over the holidays, which is a 15 percent to 20 percent increase over 2018. Indeed, for brick and mortar stores — people still prefer to return goods at physical stores as our lizard brains can all agree the concept of paying $4.95 to discard something is fundamentally heinous — this is a bit of an echo of the holiday season, as all those people loaded up with store credit are prone to shop on their own.

Jennifer Smith, The Wall Street Journal

Thanks to the paid subscribers to Numlock News who make this possible. Subscribers guarantee this stays ad-free, and get a special Sunday edition. Consider becoming a full subscriber today.

Thank you so much for subscribing! If you're enjoying the newsletter, forward it to someone you think may enjoy it too! Send links to me on Twitter at @WaltHickey or email me with numbers, tips, or feedback at Send corrections or typos to the copy desk at

The very best way to reach new readers is word of mouth. If you click THIS LINK in your inbox, it’ll create an easy-to-send pre-written email you can just fire off to some friends.

Previous 2019 Sunday special editions: 2019 · TI-84 · Heated · Hemp · Kylie Cosmetics · Secondhand · Biometrics · Voting Machines · Open Borders ·  WrestleMania ·  Game of Thrones ·  Concussion

Snake Oil ·  Skyglow ·  Juul ·  Chris Ingraham ·  Invasive Species ·  The Rat Spill ·  The Sterling Affairs ·  Snakebites ·  Bees ·  Deep Fakes ·  Artificial Intelligence ·  Marijuana ·  Mussels · 100% Renewable Grid ·  Drive Thru Dreams ·  Department Stores & Champion ·  Baltimore Crab Shacks ·  Kylie Jenner ·
Amber Fossils ·  Self-Improvement ·  Box Office Forecasting ·  Crazy/Genius ·  Scrubbers ·  Saving the World ·  Summer Movies ·  No One Man Should Have All That Power ·  Film Incentives ·  Stadiums & Casinos ·  Late Night ·  65 is the new 50 ·  Scooternomics ·  Gene Therapy ·  SESTA/FOSTA ·  CAPTCHA ·  New Zealand ·  Good To Go ·  California Football ·  Personality Testing ·  China’s Corruption Crackdown ·  Yosemite
2018 Sunday Editions: 2018  ·  Game of Thrones  ·  Signal Problems · CTE and Football · Facebook · Shark Repellent · Movies · Voting Rights · Goats · Invitation Only · Fat Bear Week · Weinersmith · Airplane Bathrooms ·  NIMBYs ·  Fall 2018 Sports Analytics ·  The Media  ·  Omega-3  ·  Mattress Troubles  ·  Conspiracy Theorists  ·  Beaches  ·  Bubbles  ·  NYC Trash  ·  Fish Wars  ·  Women’s Jeans  ·  Video Stores