Numlock News: May 15, 2020 • Mantises, Tenet, Pythons

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!

Let Go

Frozen, one of three ongoing Disney musicals along with The Lion King and Aladdin, will not resume playing whenever the Great White Way gets back to work. Frozen cost $35 million to mount and grossed $155 million over a two-year run with 1.3 million attendees, but given the considerable costs of running a Broadway production those numbers don’t really suggest the show had profitability after its 825 performances and 26 previews. Attendance was solid — generally hitting 80 percent to 90 percent of box office potential — but not quite the continued sellouts seen for its Disney peers, and it would appear that whatever form Broadway will take following its current closure was judged unsustainable for the third production. The North American tour and a number of international productions will still proceed.

Greg Evans, Deadline


There are understood to be two general categories of predator. One, pursuit predators, stalk and run down their prey, flexibly going after their lunch. The other, sit-and-wait predators, are Jack-In-The-Box with jaws really, their name pretty much says it all. A new study of the praying mantis puts it firmly in the former category, an intense hunter that — based on an experiment monitoring the reactions of eight mantises attempting to hunt prey moving between 200 millimeters per second and 730 millimeters per second — can adjust the speed of their strike on the fly, correcting their mistakes at speeds of less than a tenth of a second. Insects have traditionally been looked at as crunchy little robots in terms of how they function, but new research on the mantis — as well as wasps and ants — show we may have been underestimating them.

Cara Giaimo, The New York Times


Video games are built on engines, and one of the most popular ones is the Unreal Engine from Epic Games, the same studio that makes Fortnite. Those engines can be big money if they’re used as the skeleton for another game that goes on to be commercially successful, and determining which engine to go with to build a game can be a choice of who gets 5 percent of revenue forever. For small developers on tight margins, this can be a serious line item, making a new decision from Epic — to make the first $1 million in revenue royalty-free, up from the previous level of $50,000 — a boost for indie developers deciding between the Unreal Engine and rivals like Unity, which operates on a flat subscription-tier system.

Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica

Free Money

A combination of rock-bottom interest rates and lots full of stagnant inventory means that now is a ridiculously opportune time to buy a car, as many dealerships are offering seven-year no-interest loans. The desperation move — trying to get butts in driver seats at a time when auto sales are tanking, down 80 percent below expected in the month of March — is remarkable, even for longtime analysts of the sector. In April, 26 percent of new car sales had a 0 percent interest loan, a situation where dealers are fine extending thousands of dollars in credit to random people as long as they take one of these accursed cars away from them.

Camila Domonoske, NPR

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Uber, a large mobility company whose core business involves externalizing risk and maintenance costs on to individual contractors, is eyeing an acquisition of Grubhub, a medium-sized company whose core business involves externalizing risk and maintenance costs on to individual contractors. This is viewed favorably by pretty much all involved: just 38 percent of Grubhub’s monthly active users also use Uber Eats, so there’s little overlap. Uber would gain the vast majority of the market share in places where Grubhub dominates like New York (62 percent of the meal delivery sales), Philadelphia (39 percent) and Boston (42 percent). The particularly interesting thing about Grubhub is that it’s a public, profitable company in an industry where all of its competitors are fueled by zillions of dollars of venture capital.

Ali Griswold, Oversharing


Cinemas are still eyeing an opening in July and considering what that would even look like and if it’d be worth it to kick off a summer movie season with Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, which is still on the calendar for a domestic release on July 17. That movie cost $200 million, and rolling the dice on auditoriums that may be stuck at 25 percent to 50 percent capacity for legal reasons poses the question: is this doable? The question on everyone’s mind is will the red numbers and the black numbers combine and make the good numbers still? Well, with 40,613 movie screens, there are — ballpark estimates given 150 seats and five shows a day — something like 25 million to 30 million seats a day for a new studio movie, and between 79 million and 90 million on weekends. That’s surprisingly workable: even Avengers: Endgame filled just an estimated 44 million seats on its opening weekend, so there’s plenty of opportunity for barely-filled cinemas to make money. It’s been the very foundation of Paramount’s business model for years.

Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter


Florida at this point technically belongs to Burmese pythons. It’s just theirs now, I’m sorry: since they were first spotted in 1979, the U.S. Geological Survey now estimates that in South Florida alone, there could be between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of Burmese pythons. They’ve decimated the ecosystem, eliminating biodiversity and adapting to the swamps of Florida incredibly successfully. They’ve dislodged the alligator as the apex predator of the Everglades — they totally eat gators. One study in 2015 monitored a population of marsh rabbits released into the Everglades and found within a year 77 percent had been consumed by the snakes. It’s gotten to the point where the best solution that the dedicated conservationists of the Sunshine State have come up with is the government paying by the foot for dead pythons.

Rebecca Renner, Outside Online

This week I continue my two-part interview about the current supply chain crisis in the comic business with John Jackson Miller. He’s the archivist behind Comichron, an outstanding resource for historical comic sales data, as well as the author of a number of books, including the forthcoming Star Trek: Discovery - Die Standing out on June 14. See all his books here.

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