Numlock News: October 22, 2021 • Pelicans, Triceratops, Trapped In Amber

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!

Gift Cards

This year the amount spent on gift cards is expected to rise 27 percent this holiday season to $270 per person, with gift cards accounting for 40 percent of total gift purchases. In 2021, an estimated $28.2 billion was loaded onto generic gift cards, up from $19.8 billion in 2016 and a figure projected to rise to $30.2 billion. Globally the whole prepaid card business passed $2 trillion last year, and is projected to hit $4.7 trillion by 2027, but that encompasses a whole lot more than those $25 gift cards to Chili’s that serves as the standard American replacement-level gift.

Amelia Pollard and Augusta Saraiva, Bloomberg


A new paper published in Science Advances describes a crab that wandered onto land in the Cretaceous period and foolishly got stuck in a bunch of sap and became trapped in amber. The new type of crab is helpful because it pushes the estimated time when non-marine crabs came onto land back 25 million to 50 million years. It’s from a period paleontologists call the Cretaceous Crab Revolution, which I assume was followed by the Democratic Cretaceous Crab’s Republic, then the Cretaceous Crab Reign of Terror, the Cretaceous Crab Empire, the War of the Third Crustacean and Battle of Lobsterlitz, the ill-fated invasion of Laurasia in winter, the brief Jurassic Crab Restoration, and naturally the Boil of Waterloo.

Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica


The New Orleans Pelicans get $3.65 million every year in a rebate from the state of Louisiana under the Quality Jobs program, the most money of any company in the state. The state of Louisiana provides 4 percent to 6 percent back based on the total wages of newly-created jobs, and if a company pays $21 per hour on average they qualify for the rebate. The Pelicans have an eye-popping average hourly wage of $608 per hour across the 183 jobs they have, and that’s because lots of their employees are basketball players being paid millions of dollars. Indeed, the second-highest hourly wage in the state is $68 per hour from an industrial services company. The $140 million to 123 companies under the program is actually more than Louisiana gives to its community colleges.

Wes Muller, Louisiana Illuminator


The largest triceratops ever found, a fossil named Big John, sold for €6.65 million ($7.74 million) at an auction in Paris. The bones were found in South Dakota in 2014, and the winner of the auction was an anonymous collector. Only about 60 percent of the skeleton was recovered across 200 pieces, and the animal was recombobulated in Trieste, Italy. The high prices for fossils at auction have been criticized, with critics saying they’re pricing museums and public institutions out of the fossil business.

BBC News


In the first three months of 2021, worldwide merger and acquisition volume hit $4.3 trillion, which is a new record and crushes the previous record of $4.1 trillion in 2007. That’s actually having a really significant impact on the employment in the U.S., as mergers and acquisitions typically mean lots of pink slips for workers even while departing executives get colossal compensation packages.

Sarah Miller, The Washington Post


A new study describes the extraordinary paths that birds will take to avoid smoke and fires. The study from the U.S. Geological Survey found that four radio-collared Tule geese heading south from Alaska towards California for winter in 2020 took new, interesting deviations from their 2019 path to avoid smoke from a number of wildfires. The 2019 migration took just four days, while the 2020 migration took nine, and they had to fly an additional 470 miles in their quest to avoid the smoke from 68 active fires.

Kylie Mohr, High Country News


When hunted for their ivory, elephant populations under significant stress from poaching increasingly emerge tuskless. The gene to be tuskless is on the X chromosome, and because of the way it’s expressed, only female elephants can be born tuskless. During the Mozambican Civil War, which was from 1977 to 1992, elephants were poached extensively, with populations declining 90 percent. The frequency of tusklessness increased from 18.5 percent pre-war to 50.9 percent post-war, as having tusks made the animals less likely to survive. Tuskless females survived at five times the rate of tusked females. The effect isn’t permanent: the generation born after the war was down to 33 percent tuskless, a major dip from the 50.9 percent in the war generation.

Rachel Nuwer, Scientific American

This week in the Sunday edition, something a little different, I talked to my former FiveThirtyEight colleague Benjamin Morris all about the retirement of Hakuho, the greatest sumo wrestler of all time. The news dropped a few weeks ago that Hakuho was hanging it up, and back in 2016, Ben wrote one of my favorite-ever stories, The Sumo Matchup Centuries In The Making, all about the sport and Hakuho. You don’t have to know anything about Sumo going into it, and it’s one of my favorite interviews of the year and I took the paywall down so check it out. Ben can be found on Twitter at @skepticalsports.

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