Numlock News: May 21, 2020 • Escape, Reactor, Fyre

By Walt Hickey

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Escape rooms — public attractions where groups of people interact with surroundings to collaborate and solve a challenging problem — had just hit the mainstream, jumping from 24 such attractions in the U.S. in 2014 to 1,900 by 2017 to 2,350 escape rooms in 2019. Unfortunately, 2020 happens to be a business environment that eliminates things like public attractions, groups of people, interaction with surroundings, and collaborative solutions to challenging problems. Some owners are improvising — a camera, a smartphone, and a willing aide, and the experience of solving a room over the internet is possible — while others are waiting it out. My boyfriend recently developed a creative at-home Top Chef-themed escape room right in our apartment! The gist is I’m locked in a bedroom with an hour on the clock, and if I escape the room and bug him while he’s trying to watch Restaurant Wars he will flay me.

Dina Bass, Bloomberg


What once was unthinkable has finally happened: a single YouTube channel beat one billion views on the platform in a single week. That’s a pace of 99,000 views per minute, and truly an achievement. Who’s the bleeding-edge young talent that notched 1.04 billion views last week, redefining the aesthetics and storytelling of the future through innovative youth appeal? It’s Cocomelon — Nursery Rhymes. It’s a video channel of nursery rhymes. Lots of kids are stuck at home. Very lucrative. Always nice to be reminded that the most popular hit single in the world at any given time is, from a certain perspective, the Alphabet Song.

Sam Gutelle, TubeFilter

The Snyder Cut

The release of Justice League in 2017 was disappointing: here was a film that had Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman — three characters it’s universally agreed are pretty rad and beloved, and with a track record of working incredibly well together — and the movie made like $225 million domestically, behind Despicable Me 3 and nine other movies. It was panned critically, and for years fans held to an idea that a cut of the movie must exist that was not a fiasco. They were wrong, no such cut exists, but Warner really wants people to sign up for their new streaming service HBO Max, so they’re giving Zack Snyder somewhere between $20 million and $30 million to do reshoots, upgrade visual effects, and effectively re-do much of post-production to create what would have been the Snyder Cut had he not stepped away from the film. His first cut of the film was allegedly four hours long, because Lawrence of Arabia just blows by too quick I guess, and the suits at Warner made them cut it to two hours 20 minutes, and then another filmmaker came in to finish the film.

Borys Kit, The Hollywood Reporter

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Fyre Money

Kendall Jenner will pay $90,000 to settle a suit over her Instagram post that promoted the doomed Fyre Festival, a purported music festival that shambolically deteriorated in real-time on a Bahamian beach. Jenner, who has about 129 million followers on the platform, was alleged to be paid $250,000 for the Instagram post to promote the event and then got another $25,000 several days later. Right now, a bankruptcy trustee is working to recover money for the creditors bamboozled into staking the idiotic venture. Listen, if this is what it takes to remove a rival bid from the auction for MoviePass I’m fine with it.

Jonathan Randles, The Wall Street Journal

Money Fire

Gallatin, Tennessee voted yesterday to authorize tax credits worth $19.5 million over 20 years to a recipient code-named “Project Woolhawk” in exchange for their construction of a data center in the vicinity. It’s unconfirmed who the recipient actually is given the shell companies used in the negotiations, but it’s believed by policymakers to be Facebook, though the local head of development claims to have no idea who the company behind the shell is. Even in the realm of local governments doling out tax incentives — a practice that rarely results in the desired gains for a reasonable price — data centers are a uniquely bad investment, as the jobs they create are not permanent because once they’re up and running it doesn’t take too many people to keep the lights on compared to other businesses. Facebook has collected roughly $375 million in state and local subsidies in its data center projects, mostly from Texas and Utah.

Pat Garofalo, Boondoggle


There are 96 commercial nuclear reactors in the United States, supplying 20 percent of the electrical power in the country and about 50 percent of the carbon-free energy. That’s down from 113 in the early 1990s, and nuclear’s position in the energy mix will soon begin to slip. That’s bad because given how cheap petroleum fuels are right now, it’s not like those plants will be immediately replaced by sunshine and breezes. The Department of Energy’s new Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program is investing in getting two new prototype reactors up and running within seven years. It’s investing $230 million this year, with the goal of coming up with new reactor designs that are more efficient and effective at using the fuel.

Adrian Cho, Science Magazine

Port of Los Angeles

The port of L.A. is the busiest in the U.S., and while demand has fallen sharply for consumer goods, boats containing loads of them from China are nevertheless still in motion. The space crunch is unheard of: there are 1.8 billion square feet of warehousing in the port — which spans 7,500 acres and incorporates 43 miles of waterways — and approximately 1 percent of that warehouse and distribution space is vacant, an unprecedented crunch. This is happening across the world, so some shipping companies are now directing their ships to take the scenic route. With a trip through the Suez Canal costing a half million dollars for a container ship and bunker fuel at rock bottom prices, why not take a trip around Africa instead if you’re not in a hurry anymore?

Jackie Northam, NPR

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Correction: An earlier version of this piece said an investment was $230 billion when it was $230 million.

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