Santa's Whiskers

Companions of Santa Claus

Santa’s job is harder than you might think. Take just two of his tasks, packing his sleigh and mapping the quickest route to every house in the world. 

Toys are not all the same size, shape or weight, and so packing the sleigh becomes a real life problem known as “bin packing.” Simply stated, given a fixed amount of space and packages of different sizes, is there a solution that will always make the most of the space?

​Finding the quickest route to every house around the world is also a real life situation known as the “travelling salesperson problem.” In other words, given a fixed number of homes in a geographic area, is there a solution that will always yield the fastest route?

In both cases, no one knows the answer. In fact, no one even knows if there is an answer. These problems are “NP” or Not Polynomial, because the difficulty of finding the best solution increases dramatically whenever you add another package or house.

Real life logistics companies [like the Post Office, FedEx, UPS and the airlines] face these two problems every day and solving them could save a fortune. In fact, the solutions are so important that the Clay Mathematics Institute offers one million dollars to anyone who can either produce a method that works flawlessly, or show that one doesn’t exist.

Now, add to that assigning elves to their various jobs, making the toys, wrapping all the packages, and updating the list of good and bad children in the world and you begin to get a sense of how difficult the job would be for just one man.

So James Rees gave him a wife, Louisa May Alcott gave him the elves and Clement Moore gave him eight reindeer. These have become the companions of Santa Claus.