Numlock News: July 19, 2021 • Helicoids, Peppa Pig, North Korea

By Walt Hickey

Welcome back!


The pandemic accelerated lots of changes in the world, one of which appears to be the popularity of neckties. The end of the tie has been alleged for a century, but recently the data’s actually backing those claims up: tie sales peaked in 1995 at $1.3 billion, but by 2009 had fallen to $418 million, which would have been only $300 million in 1995 dollars. The decline of the suit — sales fell 8 percent from 2015 to 2019 — have affected the market for ties in common day-to-day business usage, though clearly ties will remain popular for more formal events.

Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, The Atlantic


North Korea’s trade with China, its only major trading partner, fell to $65.72 million over the first half of 2021, a decline of 84 percent, and down 95 percent from the same period of 2019. In June, North Korean trade with China amounted to just $14.13 million, which was a far cry from the over $200 million notched in every single month of 2019. China is responsible for over 90 percent of North Korea’s trade.

Shin Watanabe, Nikkei Asia

1, 2, 3

A third suspect has been charged with a crime that has shocked and appalled Australia, the theft of a Big Bird costume from the Sesame Street Circus Spectacular in April. The costume was valued at $160,000 and two men have already been charged with an aggravated count of dishonestly taking property without consent. The costume was returned two days after the heist, propped up on a nearby electricity box with a note stuffed down its beak explaining the situation signed by “The Big Bird Bandits,” which is not exactly the kind of detail a defense attorney wants to hear. Those charged were also banned from attending the Sesame Street Circus.

Emily Cosenza,


The trend of American kids obsessed with the children’s cartoon Peppa Pig beginning to speak with English accents and British-isms like “petrol station” or “biscuits” was supercharged during the pandemic, as the pig held on to her spot as the second-most in demand children’s cartoon in the 12 months ending February behind only SpongeBob SquarePants. To get a sense for how competitive that category is, according to Parrot Analytics, Peppa Pig jumped from the 103rd most in-demand show of any kind in the previous 12 months to the 50th most in-demand show among adults and kids during that period. Typically, parenting experts advise limiting childhood exposure to Great Britain until considerably later in life, such as with a few Monty Python sketches when they’re teenagers and perhaps A Christmas Carol once a year or so as a treat, as premature introduction to topics like Harry Potter have been linked to widespread confusion and irritation over what “snogging” is.

Preetika Rana and Meghan Bobrowsky, The Wall Street Journal


In 1871, the physicist Lord Kelvin came up with an object called an isotropic helicoid, which was the answer to a riddle he posed about an object that naturally rotates when it moves through a fluid but also looks the same from any direction. His solution was a weird, neat looking thing, which is pretty much a sphere with circular fins covering it at precise angles. This hydrodynamic parlor game was never properly tested, but now we have three-dimensional printers and some time on our hands, so a new paper describes what the vaunted Kelvin’s helicoid can do, having crafted five different isotropic helicoids each a little more than a centimeter wide. The answer, it turns out, is Kelvin was wrong, and it doesn’t rotate when it spins. Listen, I don’t know what to tell you, Kelvin put out a whole lot of bangers, but evidently they weren’t all winners.

Leah Crane, New Scientist and Michael Schirber, Physics

Black Widow

Theater groups are pointing to the simultaneous digital release of Black Widow on Disney+ as a cause of the film’s collapse at the box office this weekend, when it made $26.3 million, a 67 percent decline week-over-week, and the worst Marvel Cinematic Universe second week drop off in the books. The movie made $60 million in its first week through digital release alone, but the theater owners argue that the digital release — for $30 — eliminated not only theatrical revenue but also caused an immediate surge in piracy and cannibalized the eventual premium video on demand revenue the studio would have booked eventually when a new film first becomes available on digital downloads and Blu-ray.

Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter


Novo Nordisk’s new obesity treatment began its U.S. rollout in June, and the drug — which targets appetite in the brain, and in trials led to an average decrease of 15 percent body weight — is poised to be a hit. Wegovy costs $1,350 for four weekly injections and is intended to be a long-term therapy, with Novo Nordisk’s task now being to pitch insurance companies on covering it. That’s a hurdle: Anthem Inc. and Aetna don’t cover weight loss drugs usually, and major pharmacy benefit managers don’t usually reimburse for weight reduction drugs.

Emma Court, Bloomberg

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.

The 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.

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

Check out the Numlock Book Club and Numlock award season supplement.

2021 Sunday subscriber editions:Thriving · Comic Rebound · Return of Travel · Sticky Stuff · For-profit Med School · A Good Day · Press Reset · Perverse Incentives · Demon Slayer · Carbon Credits · Money in Politics ·

Local News · Oscar Upsets · Sneakers · Post-pandemic Cities · Facebook AI · Fireflies · Vehicle Safety ·
Climate Codes · Figure Skating · True Believer · Apprentices · Sports Polls · Pipeline · Wattpad · The Nib · Driven
2020 Sunday Edition Archive
2019 Sunday Edition Archive
2018 Sunday Edition Archive