Written by David Vogel Tuesday, 19 December 2006 18:00NORTH POLE-The words are a holiday tradition: "He's making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty or nice."
Santa's infamous double-checked list has always been a mystery to children around the world. Wondering if their greatest Christmas fantasy or a lump of cold coal will appear in the bottom of their stocking on Christmas morning is just as much of a tradition for kids as singing the lyrics.
That is, until now.
The Communications branch of North Pole Industries recently announced a new hotline that users from around the world can call to find out whether their names are appearing on the Naughty or Nice lists.
"The lines are updated hourly," said Greg Nog, an NPI executelf. "Our clients will be able to call our hotline virtually any time of the year to see whether a chunk of coal could be in their future."
According to Nog, the hotline was the original idea of Santa Claus, the jolly elf himself.
Claus has been the CEO of NPI for well over a century, and is well-known in the toy industries for always trying to make his operations more user-friendly.
"We're not just about making toys at the North Pole," Claus said in a Associated Press interview about the new hotline last month. "We make great effort getting as many of our products to as many of our consumers as possible each holiday season.
"Instead of leaving everyone in the dark until the morning of Christmas, we decided to let people check their status year-round, so that they could make an effort to fix any factors that would prevent us from getting our products into their homes."
Claus and NPI have both been under fire the last couple of years for some of their distributive methods, and this hotline isn't debuting without some controversy either.
Said Harold Engel, NPI's legal adviser: "Because of recent global security upgrades, our traditional entrance through the chimney without the resident's permission has come very close to being defined as 'breaking and entering' in some courts."
Engel added that NPI's other time-honored routines are also causing problems, such as Claus flying his sleigh across the entire globe without proper clearance from mortal air traffic control.
"So, naturally, when we announced our new hotline, criticism immediately began to pour in," Engel said.
According to Engel, NPI began receiving letters from irate clients almost immediately, claiming that the hotline's function was unconventional, and that it ruined the entire spirit of Christmas morning.
"Our response was that the hotline was obviously an optional feature that we are offering, and that no calls are necessary for participation in gift receiving," Engel explained.
Despite the minor disapproval, the hotline has been well received overall, as is evidenced by an almost constant busy signal. Every time this reporter attempted to call, all that could be heard was a prerecorded "Your call is important to us," with the song "Jingle Bell Rock" playing incessantly in the background. Over and over. Same song. Again. Again. Again. Not that this reporter is bitter.
Holly Barry is an electronics programmer for NPI. Her job description usually involves installing hardware into remote controls to maneuver model cars or to make dolls wet themselves (thanks to a properly misplaced modifier, this reporter made it sound as if one can use a remote control to do both tasks).
However, Barry was one of the few elves to be promoted to work on the new hotline.
"I'm very excited about the unveiling of our new hotline," she said. "But there are still some minor bugs that we need to work out before it's perfect.
"The hotline is fairly interactive," she explained. "Once the call is made, the caller is asked to enter a series of numbers-including zip code, address number and the numeral form of the caller's birth date-which will eventually narrow the list down to that user."
Once identified, the caller will be informed by a prerecorded voice as to whether he or she is currently appearing on the Naughty or Nice list.
"Unfortunately, our system still has a few glitches, which causes the computer to mix some user files with others. As a result, if the caller happens to share a last name with, let's say, a politician, they may be informed that they are appearing on the Naughty list, when they are actually on the Nice list."
Barry said they plan to have everything fixed within the next two months, and have the hotline ready for unquestionable use for the next year.
If readers want to make any last minute calls before Christmas Eve, the hotline number is 1-800-HOT-COCO.
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UFO: In Canada, Santa's postal code is HOH OHO. I'm not kidding.
Don't ask why.