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10 Sports Involving Pumpkins

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When you think of pumpkin competitions, the first thing that comes to mind is the race to grow the world's largest pumpkin. But if you can't spend all year nursing your garden fruits, there are plenty of other fun things to do with a pumpkin. And some people take those things very seriously.

1. Pumpkin Paddling

A sport that is growing in popularity is Pumpkin Paddling, in which you make a boat out of a giant pumpkin and race against other pumpkin boats. Honestly, they do this in several places. One of the biggest competitions is the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta in Damariscotta, Maine. The pumpkinfest has contests for growing, decorating, and carving pumpkins, but the regatta is the biggest draw. Watch a video to see how it's done.

2. Pumpkin Bowling

The sport of pumpkin bowling has yet to reach the level of regional and national competitions. Rather, it is limited to local and even party-level games because the rules vary from region to region. In Minnesota, the Downing Pumpkin Farm has an annual competition on New Year's Day.

3. Punkin Chunkin

Punkin' Chunkin' 2010 - Air Cannons

It takes some real power to throw a pumpkin. It helps if you build a machine to do it! There are many community and regional pumpkin-throwing competitions, but the biggest of all is the World Championship Punkin Chunkin held the first weekend in November in a big field near Seaford, Delaware. Chunk a pumpkin as far as you can with a compressed air cannon, trebuchet, catapult, centrifugal engine, or by human power alone. Each gadget has a separate competition. If you can't make it, the best of the best will be broadcast on nationwide TV Thanksgiving evening. Here you see some of the homemade air cannons. Image by Flickr user autiscy.

4. Underwater Pumpkin Carving

Catalina Halloween Diving 2009 - 23

You have your everyday pumpkin carving competitions all over the country, and then you have underwater pumpkin carving. It takes longer to carve a pumpkin underwater, but you can leave your mess behind for the fish. Also, pumpkins tend to float before they are pierced, so you may have to practice wrestling them down to the carving area.
Image by Flickr user David Galvan .

Pumpkin Drops

When you Google the term Pumpkin Drop, you will get either recipes (pumpkin drop cookies) or competitions in which people drop pumpkins. But there are many different ways to win a pumpkin drop.

5. Drop for Preservation

The Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at West Virginia University stages an annual pumpkin drop. The goal in this drop is to design packaging for the pumpkin that will keep it from breaking at the end of an 11-story fall. And it's a difficult challenge: materials are limited to things that are safe for the surrounding crowd, and must be biodegradable and able to be cleaned up within 30 seconds of the drop!

6. Drop for a Pretty Splat

In contrast, the whole point of dropping pumpkins for Boston University's physics department is to make an aesthetically pleasing mess. Students fill their pumpkins with paint or other materials (whipped cream is popular) to make a nice colorful splat on the sidewalk underneath the 70-foot drop. Watch the process on video.

7. Drop for Splat Distance

The University of California at San Diego (UCSD) drops a huge pumpkin off the tallest building on campus every October to see how big a splat they can make. In 1995, pieces flew over an area 100 feet wide! But that's not all -the pumpkin is first filled with candy, so after the drop students can sort through pumpkin guts on the ground for treats.

8. Drop for Charity

Farms that stage fall festivals have various forms of pumpkin drops as well. HeeHaw Farms in Pleasant Grove, Utah drops pumpkins to benefit the March of Dimes. Purchase a pumpkin and use it for a target drop. Pumpkins over 500 pounds are dropped from a crane onto a car!

9. Drop for the Ride

The Great Texas Pumpkin Drop Festival takes place in San Marcos, Texas. It's a fundraising event in which participants pay to go up a tethered hot air balloon and drop pumpkins from high in the air just to watch them splat!

10. Aerial Pumpkin Bombing

The St. Charles Flying Service in Missouri hosts an annual pumpkin drop from airplanes! The goal in this drop is to hit a target on the ground from a plane. The video shown here is from a similar drop at Antique Airfield in Blakesburg, Iowa in 2009. They staged a pumpkin drop for 14 years, but then discontinued the event.

Main image by Flickr user Chiot's Run. This story originally appeared in 2011.

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Pop Culture
Why Are We So Scared of Clowns?
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Warner Bros.

With the box office-smashing success of the new adaptation of Stephen King's It, it’s safe to say that coulrophobia (fear of clowns) isn’t a fringe phenomenon. The colorful circus performers are right up there with vampires and werewolves on the list of iconic horror villains. But unlike other movie monsters, clowns were originally meant to make kids laugh, not hide under their beds in terror. So what is it about clowns that taps into our deepest fears?

According to Yale doctoral candidate Danielle Bainbridge, the unsettling clown stereotype goes back centuries. In the inaugural episode of the new PBS digital series Origin of Everything, Bainbridge explains the long history of this pervasive part of our culture.

Before clowns wore floppy shoes and threw pies at each other’s faces, early versions of the performers could be found in royal courts. The court jester wasn’t evil, but he was the only person in the kingdom who could poke fun at the monarch without fear of (literally) losing his head. The fact that fools didn’t fall within the normal social hierarchy may have contributed to the future role clowns would play as untrustworthy outsiders.

From the medieval era, clowns evolved into the harlequins of 16th-century Italian theater. Again, these weren’t bloodthirsty monsters, but they weren’t exactly kid-friendly either. The characters were often mischievous and morally bankrupt, and their strange costumes and masks only added to the creepy vibes they gave off.

Fast-forward to the 19th century, when the white-faced circus clowns we know today started gaining popularity. Unlike the jesters and harlequins that came before them, these clowns performed primarily for children and maintained a wholesome image. But as pop culture in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s showed us, that old perception we had of clowns as nefarious troublemakers never really went away. Steven King’s It, the cult classic Killer Clowns From Outer Space (1988), and that scene from Poltergeist (1982) all combined these original fears with the more modern association of clowns with children. That formula gave us one of the most frightening figures in horror media today.

If you’re not completely spooked yet, watch the full story below.

[h/t Origin of Everything]

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Courtesy of Magic Wheelchair
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This Oregon-Based Nonprofit Creates Amazing Costumes for Children in Wheelchairs
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Courtesy of Magic Wheelchair

Ryan and Lana Weimer celebrate Halloween all year round: The couple from Keizer, Oregon, runs a nonprofit called Magic Wheelchair, which the two founded in early 2015 to build elaborate—and free—costumes for kids in wheelchairs.

The Weimers’ eldest son, Keaton, was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) when he was 9 months old. The rare genetic disorder affects the control of muscle movement, so Keaton uses a wheelchair to get around. In 2008, the 3-year-old asked his parents if he could be a pirate for Halloween. It was then that Ryan had an idea: Instead of simply giving Keaton a tri-corner hat, why not build a pirate ship that fit around his wheelchair?

Weimer constructed the wooden ship, and “what happened when we went out trick-or-treating was really just a wonderful, wonderful experience for us,” Weimer tells Mental Floss. “There's this weird awkwardness around disability. People don't always look at the kid and say hi, or talk to him or look at him. Instead, they just pause, or stare … But with that [pirate ship] costume on [Keaton’s chair], his disability really seemed to disappear, and people saw him before they saw his wheelchair.”

Kids swarmed around Keaton as they admired his ship, and he even wound up getting his picture published on the front page of the local newspaper. An annual tradition was born: Not wanting to rest on his laurels, Weimer continued building Keaton elaborate, wheelchair-friendly Halloween costumes each year. When his younger son Bryce—who was also diagnosed with SMA—was born in 2011, he included him in the fun, too. The positive reactions they received, Weimer says, inspired him and Lana to eventually “create a nonprofit to duplicate the experience we had for other kiddos and other families.”

A custom pirate ship Halloween costume, created by Magic Wheelchair founder Ryan Weimer for his son, Keaton.
A custom pirate ship Halloween costume, created by Magic Wheelchair founder Ryan Weimer for his son, Keaton.
Courtesy of Magic Wheelchair

Magic Wheelchair—which is funded by individual and corporate donors—relies on teams of local volunteers around the country, who work together to build costumes for children in their communities. To be considered for a costume, families fill out an online application, which provides the nonprofit with a kid's biography and a description of their desired ensemble.

After receiving automatic email confirmation that Magic Wheelchair has received their materials, recipients are selected on a first-come, first-serve basis, although kids with life-threatening conditions do get priority. The rest are placed on a waitlist until a local volunteer team is able to complete their build. This process can take a few months or a few years, depending on whether there's an available team in the region.

Once kids make it off the waitlist, they meet with volunteers to discuss their vision. After that, the teams work anywhere from 100 to 500 hours, from start to finish, to construct the commissioned costume. The final product is kept under wraps so Magic Wheelchair can surprise the lucky recipient at a grand unveiling.

One of these kids was 13-year-old Cassie Hudson, a fan of comic books who hails from North Plains, Oregon. Cassie, who has spina bifida and other related health issues, first heard about Magic Wheelchair in 2015 when she noticed a flyer for the nonprofit hanging in the lobby of Shriners Hospitals for Children.

The non-profit was new at the time, so Cassie and her mother, Tess Hudson, figured they wouldn’t have the resources to provide the teen with her dream Halloween costume. But in 2016, Magic Wheelchair approached a physical therapist at Shriners and asked if they knew anyone at the hospital who would be interested in receiving one of their custom creations through a big reveal at the upcoming Rose City Comic-Con. “She was like, oh my goodness, I know exactly the kid!” Tess tells Mental Floss.

Cassie’s favorite fictional superhero is Green Arrow, who appears in comic books published by DC Comics. “I just think he’s super cool—he’s one of those superheroes that doesn’t have any powers and just wants to help people because he feels the need to,” Cassie says. She wanted Magic Wheelchair to transform her chair into his motorcycle. The costume the volunteers built lights up, makes noises, and looks so much like an actual motorcycle that at one comic-con Cassie attended, security teams initially said she couldn't bring it into the building.

A custom Halloween costume created by Magic Wheelchair for 'Star Wars' fan Bryce Amiel.
A custom Halloween costume created by Magic Wheelchair for 'Star Wars' fan Bryce Amiel.
Courtesy of Magic Wheelchair

Designing custom costumes for wheelchairs does pose a unique set of challenges: For one, "these kids need their chairs," Weimer says. "Our volunteer teams don't have the chair to build on, so they take measurements and pictures and build off of those."

Also, Weimer says, "you definitely have to consider what the kiddo is capable of, where [the costume] is going to be stored, and where it's going to be transported—because they're big." Costumes, which wrap around the wheelchairs, range anywhere from 2.5 feet by 4 feet to 5 feet by 8 feet and are sometimes constructed in pieces, which makes moving them around much easier. Like pieces of a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, these parts fit together on the wheelchair's base and are secured in place with brackets, plastic and metal pipes, zip ties, duct tape, and specially designed metal mounts.

These obstacles don't interfere with Magic Wheelchair's goal to build what Weimer calls the "biggest, baddest costumes" imaginable for kids. "The sky's the limit," he says. "The only limitations are what's OK with the family and the kiddo." One particularly ambitious recent build was for an Atlanta resident named Anthony. "He loves cooking, and so [the volunteers] built him this chef's kitchen around his wheelchair, with a stove," Weimer says. "There was even food—a turkey, and different dishes on the stovetop."

In just a few short years, Magic Wheelchair has grown from six volunteer teams, with anywhere from one to 10 members, to around 50 teams. This Halloween season, they plan on constructing around 50 costumes—a far cry from the seven or eight ensembles the nonprofit first produced in 2015. And it's poised to become just as big and bad as the costumes it creates. “We have a complete board of directors now,” Weimer says. “We were also able to get to the point where we have hired a fundraiser and some part-time staff. This just help us to keep on growing.”

For more information on volunteering with Magic Wheelchair, or to make a donation, visit their website.

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