Numlock News: April 23, 2020 • Crabs, Transgenic Rice, Spirytus Rektyfikowany
By Walt Hickey
According to data from NPD Group, March 2020 was a massive month for the video game industry in the United States, with game software sales hitting $739 million, hardware sales hitting $461 million, and accessories spending hitting $397 million. The total $1.6 billion in U.S. consumer spending on games in March was up 35 percent year over year, and is the second highest for any March on record after just March 2008. Nintendo Switch sales were double those of 2019, and both the PS4 and Xbox One were up at least 25 percent.
Brewers great and small are contending with a shift in how people consume alcohol. For small, independent craft breweries sales to bars and restaurants can account for the overwhelming majority of their sales, meaning their closure puts them in a dire situation. Even the larger independents are struggling seriously: Bell’s Brewery in Michigan does about two-fifths of its sales with restaurants and bars. Their issue is that they’ve got 50,000 kegs, or roughly 6.2 million pints, of Oberon summer beer that just moved out to bars and restaurants and now must be returned or tossed out. It’s not as simple as bottling or canning it, given the materials needed, so let’s just say if you’re willing to make a serious commitment to one beer for the rest of the summer now’s a great time to chirp up.
A team of researchers were able to genetically engineer three different kinds of plants to make them better able to handle extreme heat. In a test organism, the engineered Arabidopsis seedlings that were exposed to 8.5 hours of 106 degree Fahrenheit heat survived while the others died, and the same effect was observed in rice and tobacco seedlings as well. That’s important, because with the world getting warmer serious global food shortages could become routine if crops fail at levels now considered extreme. What’s really interesting about the study, though, is that the species had more photosynthesis at normal temperatures: the transgenic rice yielded 20 percent more grain, and the tobacco’s rate of photosynthesis increased 48 percent.
Last year, the blue crab population in the Chesapeake Bay was estimated to be 594 million, which was a 60 percent growth. In 2018, there were 55 million pounds harvested and in 2017 there were 54 million pounds hauled in, so the recovery in the crab population was encouraging and promising for an excellent harvest this year. Naturally, with the restaurants that consume 90 percent of the crabs in Maryland closed up, and the foreign workers who form the backbone of the crabbing business lacking, nobody has any idea what the seafood industry on the Chesapeake is going to look like and, of particular interest to both the business as well as the researchers, what this means for crab stocks. After World War II, fish stocks increased, so it’s possible that they will rebound even further.
In 2017, live streamers made $983 million from merch alone, and this year daily users of livestreaming websites are projected to triple to 45 million. Were those revenues to keep pace, that would mean some $4 billion for streamers when it comes to merch sales. There are several companies that specialize in hooking up streamers with swag to hawk, ranging from athleisure companies to T-shirts or other online shops, with one — Streamlabs — setting up 2,000 new merch stores per week. Welcome to 2020, where at least you can be so good at playing Minecraft you can support a steady merchandising empire.
Lots of people have two main problems right now: first, they were unable to get a hold of hand sanitizer before everything popped off, and second, they would like a way to get smashed in case of emergency. The American solution to those problems, Everclear, flew off the shelves immediately, but Spirytus Rektyfikowany, a Polish liquor that is 96 percent alcohol by volume, has swept in to save the day in Poland and American neighborhoods where the liquor is stocked alike. Spirytus was popular during Poland’s communist era as liquid that could be diluted into passable vodka, and in New York you could score a fifth for a cool $19.95. Polemost Liquors in Greenpoint said they sold 1,200 bottles in two weeks, well above average. With supplies now low, I’ll stick to Żubrówka, which can’t go out of stock because it’s already technically banned for sale in the United States of America.
Department stores are in free fall, and retail analysts are skeptical that any more than a handful will be able to ride out the crisis. Inevitably, the stores will scale back their footprint, and that could be the final death knell for malls. Department store chains are roughly 30 percent of total mall square footage in the United States. Sears and J.C. Penney — the latter of which is mulling bankruptcy, the former of which has been a poster child for “I don’t think they’re going to bounce back” for my entire lifetime — account for 10 percent of mall square footage alone. Losing a major tenant like a Macy’s can lead to a contagion that wipes out an entire mall, and a report this month found department stores had a 42 percent probability of defaulting on their debt in the next year.
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