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25 Brilliant Halloween Life Hacks

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Halloween season is here, which means a lot of scrambling to find costumes, navigating fake spider webs, and cleaning pumpkin guts off of your kitchen table. If you find yourself getting a little stressed over the festivities, check out these 25 life hacks that promise to make your holiday prep a little less scary.

1. WHIP UP SOME CONVINCING FAKE BLOOD

A smear of fake blood on a white background
iStock

Need some faux-plasma to add to the atmosphere? Check your cupboards: a mixture of corn syrup, red food coloring, and corn flour not only looks like crime scene spatter, but it’s edible, too.

2. MAKE A MUMMY MUG

Mugs are wrapped in gauze to represent a mummy motif
FaveCrafts, YouTube

Who needs expensive novelty cups, when you can conjure up a convincing mummy mug. Simply wrap a regular coffee mug in medical gauze and add googly eyes with a little Elmer’s glue. Want to give a juice box the same treatment? Use some white masking tape and add another pair of eyes. It also works well on Mason jars.

3. SPOOKY WATER BOTTLES

A water bottle features a decorative Halloween label
iStock

To get bottled water in the holiday spirit, just grab some Halloween-themed decorative tape and wrap it around the regular label.

4. A SEVERED HAND IN THE PUNCH BOWL

A hand-shaped block of ice floats in a punch bowl
All Recipes UK, YouTube

Grab a rubber glove, fill it with water, and place it in the freezer. A few hours later, you’ll have a solid block of hand-shaped ice to drop into the punch bowl for your party. (Just remember to cut the glove off first.)

5. GHOST LOLLIPOPS

Lollipops are wrapped in coffee filters for a ghostly appearance
Emma Craig, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Even the innocent lollipop can become a symbol of the undead. All you need are some coffee filters (or tissues) and string: Wrap the filter around the head of the lollipop, then tie it off with the string.

6. A HEALTHY SPOOKY TREAT

Bananas and chocolate chips are utilized for a spooky snack
iStock

Halloween parties are usually overstuffed with cupcakes, candies, and other tooth-endangering treats. For a quick snack that’s still seasonally appropriate, you can take a banana and stuff three chocolate chips in it to make a face. You can also make a deliberate peel so it resembles a flayed banana. (Just eat it quick, before it turns brown. Otherwise, it’s just a rotting banana corpse.)

7. PEPPER DIP BOWLS

Bell peppers sit in a pile
iStock

Hollow out a pepper and use it as a dipping station for your dressings. The orange tint will give off an appropriately Halloween vibe.

8. A CHEAP, EFFORTLESS COSTUME

Reminder notes are pasted on a person for a low-effort costume idea
iStock

Nothing says “I can’t be bothered” more than sticking some Post-It style notes to your shirt and declaring yourself a bulletin board. Still, it’ll work if you’re pressed for time. (And if you have a pair of costume bear ears laying around, go for the Bear Minimum.)

9. GROSS HAND SOAP

Two toy spiders await their chance to freak someone out
iStock

Want to creep out guests who are looking to wash up? Grab some toy spiders and put them inside a clear plastic hand soap dispenser.

10. A BLOODY CANDLE

A bloody candle can be an effective Halloween visual
athomewithcindy, YouTube

A simple but effective trick: Take a white candle, then light a red candle over it and let the wax drip down to create a blood-dripping effect. Make sure to use caution when operating a lighter.

11. DRYER VENT PUMPKINS

A pumpkin made from a flexible dryer vent
FaveCrafts, YouTube

Taking a metal dryer vent and creating a loop leads to a close replica to a pumpkin: You can paint them in any color you desire and add a fake stem using a cinnamon stick.

12. THE FLOATING CHEESECLOTH GHOST

Cheesecloth is used to create a ghostly decoration
CraftKlatch, YouTube

Want to really spook guests with your apparent mastery of the dark crafting arts? Take a piece of cheesecloth and drape it over a solid object like a large soda bottle with some wires to support where the arms would be. Then, spray it with starch to make it stiff. When you remove the bottle, the cloth will look like it’s hovering by itself.

13. SURGICAL GLOVE TREAT BAGS

A pair of surgical gloves
iStock

Take a see-through surgical glove (available at most pharmacies) and stuff with treats. The disembodied hand effect is cooler than a standard treat sack and can be tied off at the top to prevent candy from spilling out.

14. SPOOKY SPAGHETTI

Black pasta is presented on a table
iStock

A little black food coloring added to boiling pasta water can transform dinner into a disgusting feast! The spaghetti will stain, but once cooked, it won’t stain your mouth. And you and the kids can pretend to be eating worms.

15. VAMPIRE BATHROOM OCCUPANCY

Fake vampire teeth sit at the bottom of a water glass
iStock

Fill up a glass of water and use it to store toothbrushes—inside the glass, drop in a set of plastic vampire teeth. It’ll look like you have an elderly bloodsucker lurking in your residence.

16. SEVERED FINGER APPETIZERS

A jar of chicken broth
iStock

Grab a Mason jar and fill it with hot soup of your choice—just make sure it’s transparent. (Chicken broth is ideal.) Then, plop in some chicken sausages that have been cooked and perforated—the curled links will resemble severed fingers when submerged.

17. POOL NOODLE WITCH LEGS

A pair of pool noodle witch legs stick out from a planter
Teri Cumming, YouTube

Want to give off the impression that a wicked witch has met a crushing fate? Take a pool noodle, cover two halves with striped stockings, and add shoes. The prop will make it look like your nemesis has been squashed by a TV stand, potted plant, or sofa.

18. SCARY TOILET PAPER ROLLS

Rolls of spooky toilet paper will haunt your bowel movements
iStock

This cheap hack can make your guest bathroom into a veritable haunted location—and not because of the smell. Use construction paper to cut two eyes and a mouth and tape to your stacked toilet paper rolls for a ghost-like appearance.

19. SNACK-O-LANTERNS

Oranges are cut into Halloween designs and stuffed with treats
iStock

Orange skin actually makes for a credible pumpkin carving substitute. After scooping out the insides, you can use a small carving knife to etch out a face and then fill the orange with small candy treats.

20. A PUMPKIN ICE BUCKET

A pumpkin is full of ice
Leaf, YouTube

Nothing says Halloween like a clean pumpkin, stripped free of its sticky guts. If you grab a spare and hollow it out, you can fill it up with ice and use it to keep refreshments cold.

21. DUCT TAPE YOUR PUMPKIN

Pumpkins that have been decorated using tape
Better Homes and Gardens, YouTube

There are endless alternatives to the mess of carving a pumpkin: One of them is to buy decorative duct tape and use it to tape over the surface of the fruit. No cutting, no gutting, and minimal rotting required.

22. SPIRITED MILK JUGS

Milk jugs are used for Halloween decorations
Quinn Dombrowski, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Want a sprawling outdoor display without a lot of work? Take a bunch of galloon milk jugs, draw faces on them, then cut a hole in the bottom. Then, run a string of holiday lights on the ground and place the jug over one of the lights to create a line-up of spooky sentries.

23. DIY SPIDERS

A foam spider with pipe cleaners for legs
Make a Paper Boat, YouTube

Pick up some foam balls, run them through with pipe cleaners for legs, then use some black spray paint. You’ll soon have an army of (somewhat adorable) spiders to do your bidding.

24. PICKLED HEAD IN A JAR

A photograph of a face appears in a jar
Instructables, YouTube

For the ultimate feat of surprise terror, follow Instructables user Mike Warren’s directions on making your face into a pickled head in a jar. Take a panoramic shot of your face (front and sides), then print on a single sheet, laminate, and stuff into a clear jar. Add water with a light green tint and voila—it’ll look like your melon is floating in preservatives.

25. A CLIP TO KEEP CANDY FRESH

A paper clip is used to seal an open candy wrapper
iStock

If you're left with opened bags of treat-sized candy? Clip the open side of the wrapper with a paper binder to save it for a future binge.

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25 Things You Might Not Know About Home Alone
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20th Century Fox

On November 16, 1990, what appeared to be a fun-filled little family yarn about a kid left to his own devices at Christmastime and forced to fend off a couple of bungling burglars, became an instant classic. Today, no holiday movie marathon is complete without a viewing of Home Alone, the movie that turned Macaulay Culkin into one of the biggest kid stars of all time. And while you may be able to recite its dialogue line for line, here are 25 things you might not know about the John Hughes-penned picture. So settle in and enjoy, ya filthy animals. 

1. WITHOUT UNCLE BUCK, THERE’D BE NO HOME ALONE.

The idea for Home Alone occurred to John Hughes during the making of Uncle Buck, which also starred Macaulay Culkin. Always game to play the precocious one, there’s a scene in which Culkin’s character interrogates a potential babysitter through a mail slot. In Home Alone, Culkin has a similar confrontation with Daniel Stern, this time via a doggie door.

2. THE ROLE OF KEVIN WAS WRITTEN SPECIFICALLY FOR MACAULAY CULKIN.

But that didn't stop director Chris Columbus from auditioning more than 100 other rascally pre-teens for the part. Which really was all for naught, as Culkin nailed the role.

3. MACAULAY WASN’T THE ONLY CULKIN TO APPEAR IN THE FILM.


20th Century Fox

Macaulay;'s younger brother Kieran also landed a part as Kevin’s bed-wetting cousin, Fuller. Though the film marked Kieran’s acting debut, he has since gone on to build an impressive career for himself in movies like The Cider House Rules, Igby Goes Down, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

4. CASTING CULKIN TAUGHT CHRIS COLUMBUS A VERY IMPORTANT LESSON.

Since Home Alone, Columbus (who also wrote the scripts for Gremlins and The Goonies) has gone on to become one of Hollywood’s premier family-friendly moviemakers as the director of Home Alone 2, Mrs. Doubtfire, and two movies in the Harry Potter franchise. But one lesson he learned from Home Alone is that when you agree to work with a kid actor, you’re also agreeing to work with his or her family.

“I was much younger and I was really too naive to think about the family environment as well,” Columbus told The Guardian in 2013. “We didn't know that much about the family at the beginning; as we were shooting, we learned a little more. The stories are hair-raising. I was casting a kid who truly had a troubled family life.” In 1995, Culkin’s parents, who were never married, engaged in a very public—and nasty—legal battle over his fortune. 

5. THE FILM IS A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD HOLDER.

In its opening weekend, Home Alone topped the box office, making $17,081,997 in 1202 theaters. The movie maintained its number one spot for a full 12 weeks and remained in the top 10 until June of the following year. It became the highest grossing film of 1990 and earned a Guinness World Record as the highest-grossing live-action comedy ever domestically.

6. THE MOVIE’S UNPRECEDENTED SUCCESS LED TO ITS TITLE BECOMING A VERB.


20th Century Fox

In his book The Big Picture: Who Killed Hollywood? And Other Essays, two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman admitted that the unexpected success of Home Alone contributed a new phrase to the Hollywood lexicon: to be Home Aloned, meaning that other films suffered at the box office because of Home Alone’s long and successful run. “More than one executive said to me, ‘My picture did 40, but it would have done 50 if it hadn’t been Home Aloned,’” wrote Goldman.

7. IT SPAWNED MORE THAN A SEQUEL.

While all of the main, original cast members reprised their roles for Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (with Columbus again directing a script by Hughes), the success of the original led to a full-on franchise, complete with four sequels, three video games, two board games, a novelization, and other kid-friendly merchandise (including the Talkboy). 

8. POLAND LOVES THE MCCALLISTERS.

Showings of Home Alone have become a Christmas tradition in Poland, where the film has aired on national television since the early 1990s. And its popularity has only increased. In 2011 more than five million people tuned in to watch it, making it the most watched show to air during the season. 

9. THE MCCALLISTER HOME HAS BECOME A MAJOR TOURIST ATTRACTION.


A Syn via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Located at 671 Lincoln Avenue in Winnetka, Illinois, the kitchen, main staircase, and ground-floor landing seen in the film were all shot in this five-bedroom residence. (The dining room and all other first-floor rooms, with the exception of the kitchen, were shot on a soundstage.) In 2012, John and Cynthia Abendshien, who owned the home when it was used as one of the film’s locations, sold the property for $1.585 million.

10. KEVIN’S TREE HOUSE WAS NOT PART OF THE DEAL.

Kevin’s backyard tree house was not originally part of the property. It was constructed specifically for the movie and demolished once filming ended. 

11. ALL OF THE FILM WAS SHOT IN THE CHICAGO AREA.

Though the main plot point is that that McCallister family is in Paris while Kevin’s back home in Illinois, the production was shot entirely within the Chicago area. The scenes supposedly set at Paris-Orly Airport were shot at O’Hare International Airport. And those luxurious business class seats they’re taking to Paris? Those were built on the basketball court of a local high school—the same school where the scene in which Kevin is running through a flooded basement was filmed (the “basement” in question was actually the school’s swimming pool). 

12. ROBERT DE NIRO TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF HARRY LIME.


Getty Images

As did Jon Lovitz. Then Joe Pesci swept in and made the part his own. Bonus fun fact: The character is a slight homage to Orson Welles. (It was the name of Welles’ character in Carol Reed’s The Third Man.) 

13. JOE PESCI GOT ALL METHOD ON MACAULAY CULKIN.

In order to get the most authentic performance possible, Joe Pesci did his best to avoid Macaulay Culkin on the set so that the young actor would indeed be afraid of him. And no one would blame the young actor for being a bit petrified, as he still bears the physical scar from one accidental altercation. “In the first Home Alone, they hung me up on a coat hook, and Pesci says, ‘I’m gonna bite all your fingers off, one at a time,’” Culkin recalled to Rule Forty Two. “And during one of the rehearsals, he bit me, and it broke the skin.” 

14. PESCI WASN’T USED TO THE WHOLE “FAMILY-FRIENDLY” THING.

Considering that Pesci’s best known for playing the heavy in movies like Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino, it’s understandable that he wasn’t quite used to the whole family-friendly atmosphere on the set of Home Alone—and dropped a few f-bombs as a result of that. Columbus tried to curb Pesci’s four-letter-word tendency by suggesting he use the word “fridge” instead. 

15. DANIEL STERN HAD A FOUR-LETTER WORD SLIP-UP, TOO.


20th Century Fox

And it wasn’t cut out of the film. He utters the word “s***” when attempting to retrieve his shoe through the doggie door (look for it at the 55:27 mark on the DVD). 

16. IN REAL LIFE, HARRY AND MARV MAY NOT HAVE SURVIVED KEVIN’S ATTACK.

BB gun shots to the forehead and groin? A steaming hot iron and can of paint to the face? A flaming blowtorch to the scalp? The Wet Bandits endure an awful lot of violence at the hands of a single eight-year-old. So much so that neither one of them should have been walking—let alone conscious—by the end of the night. In 2012, Dr. Ryan St. Clair diagnosed the likely outcome of their injuries at The Week. While a read-through of the entire article is well worth your time, here are a few of the highlights: That iron should have caused a “blowout fracture,” leading to “serious disfigurement and debilitating double vision if not repaired properly.” And the blowtorch? According to Dr. St. Clair, “The skin and bone tissue on Harry's skull will be so damaged and rotted that his skull bone is essentially dying and will likely require a transplant.” 

17. THE ORNAMENTS THAT MARV STEPS ON WOULD CAUSE THE LEAST AMOUNT OF DAMAGE.

"Walking on ornaments seems pretty insignificant compared to everything else we've seen so far,” said Dr. St. Clair. “If I was Marv, I'd be more concerned about my facial fractures.” Fortunately, the "glass" ornaments in question were actually made of candy. (But just to be on the safe side, Stern wore rubber feet for his barefoot scenes.)

18. THE TARANTULA ON STERN’S FACE? YEP, THAT WAS REAL.


20th Century Fox

At one point, Kevin places a tarantula on Marv’s face. And it was indeed a real spider (Daniel Stern agreed to let it happen—but he’d only allow for one take). What wasn’t real? That blood-curdling scream. In order to not frighten the spider, Stern had to mime the scream and have the sound dubbed in later.

19. JOHN CANDY WRAPPED IN ONE DAY.

But what a long day it was: Twenty-three hours to be exact. Candy was a regular in many of John Hughes’ movies, and Gus Polinski—the polka-playing nice guy he plays in Home Alone—was inspired by his character in Planes, Trains & Automobiles. 

20. KEVIN’S OLDER SISTER IS A JUDO CHAMP.

Two years after appearing in Home Alone, Hillary Wolf—who played Kevin’s older sister Megan—landed the lead in Joan Micklin Silver’s Big Girls Don’t Cry… They Get Even. She also appeared in Home Alone 2, but hasn’t been seen on the big screen since. But there’s a good reason for her absence: In 1996 and 2000, she was a member of the Summer Olympic Judo team for the U.S. 

21. DON’T BOTHER TRYING TO FIND ANGELS WITH FILTHY SOULS.

The Jimmy Cagney-like gangster movie that Kevin channels as his inspiration throughout Home Alone? Don’t bother searching for it on eBay. It’s not real. Nor is its sequel, Angels With Even Filthier Souls, which is featured in Home Alone 2. 

22. OLD MAN MARLEY WASN'T IN THE ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY.

Kevin’s allegedly scary neighbor, who eventually teaches him the importance of family, wasn’t a character in the original script. He was added at the suggestion of Columbus, who thought the film could do with a stronger dose of sentimentality.

23. THE LYRIC OPERA OF CHICAGO BENEFITED FROM THE MOVIE’S SNOWFALL.

When filming of Home Alone wrapped, the production donated some of the artificial snow they had created (the stuff made from wax and plastic) to the Lyric Opera of Chicago. It has since been used in a number of their productions.

24. MARV WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE GOTTEN A SPINOFF.

Greg Beeman’s 1995 film Bushwhacked, which stars Daniel Stern as a delivery guy on the run after being framed for murder, was originally intended to be a spinoff of Home Alone. The storyline would have been essentially the same: after giving up a life of crime, Marv would have been framed for the same murder.

25. IF YOU BELIEVE THAT ELVIS IS STILL ALIVE, THEN YOU MIGHT BELIEVE THAT HE IS IN HOME ALONE.

No hit movie would be complete without a great little conspiracy theory. And in the case of Home Alone, it’s that Elvis Presley—who (allegedly?) died in 1977—makes a cameo in the film. Yes, that’s right. The King is alive and well. And making a living as a Hollywood extra.

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5 Things You Should Know About Chinua Achebe
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Often referred to as the “father of African literature,” author Chinua Achebe was born in Ogidi, Nigeria on this day in 1930. Though he passed away in 2013, Google is celebrating what would be his 87th birthday with a Google Doodle. Here are five things you should know about the award-winning writer.

1. HE HAD PLANNED TO BE A DOCTOR.

Though he was always an avid reader and began learning English at the age of eight, Chinua Achebe hadn’t always planned to become a beacon of the literary world. After studying at Nigeria’s prestigious Government College (poet Christopher Okigbo was one of his classmates), Achebe earned a scholarship to study medicine at University College in lbadan. One year into the program he realized that writing was his true calling and switched majors, which meant giving up his scholarship. With financial help from his brother, Achebe was able to complete his studies.

2. JOYCE CARY’S MISTER JOHNSON INSPIRED HIM TO WRITE, BUT NOT IN THE WAY YOU MIGHT THINK.

While storytelling had long been a part of Achebe’s Igbo upbringing in Nigeria, that was only part of what inspired him to write. While in college, he read Mister Johnson, Irish writer Joyce Cary’s tragicomic novel about a young Nigerian clerk whose happy-go-lucky demeanor infects everyone around him. While TIME Magazine declared it the “best book ever written about Africa,” Achebe disagreed.

“My problem with Joyce Cary’s book was not simply his infuriating principal character, Johnson,” Achebe wrote in Home and Exile. “More importantly, there is a certain undertow of uncharitableness just below the surface on which his narrative moves and from where, at the slightest chance, a contagion of distaste, hatred, and mockery breaks through to poison his tale.” The book led Achebe to realize that “there is such a thing as absolute power over narrative,” and he was inspired to take control of it to tell a more realistic tale of his home.

3. HE DIDN’T THINK THAT WRITING COULD BE TAUGHT.

Though he studied writing, Achebe wasn’t all too sure that he learned much about the art in college. In an interview with The Paris Review, he recalled how the best piece of advice he had ever gotten was from one of his professors, James Welch, who told him, “We may not be able to teach you what you need or what you want. We can only teach you what we know.”

I thought that was wonderful. That was really the best education I had. I didn’t learn anything there that I really needed, except this kind of attitude. I have had to go out on my own. The English department was a very good example of what I mean. The people there would have laughed at the idea that any of us would become a writer. That didn’t really cross their minds. I remember on one occasion a departmental prize was offered. They put up a notice—write a short story over the long vacation for the departmental prize. I’d never written a short story before, but when I got home, I thought, Well, why not. So I wrote one and submitted it. Months passed; then finally one day there was a notice on the board announcing the result. It said that no prize was awarded because no entry was up to the standard. They named me, said that my story deserved mention. Ibadan in those days was not a dance you danced with snuff in one palm. It was a dance you danced with all your body. So when Ibadan said you deserved mention, that was very high praise.

I went to the lecturer who had organized the prize and said, You said my story wasn’t really good enough but it was interesting. Now what was wrong with it? She said, Well, it’s the form. It’s the wrong form. So I said, Ah, can you tell me about this? She said, Yes, but not now. I’m going to play tennis; we’ll talk about it. Remind me later, and I’ll tell you. This went on for a whole term. Every day when I saw her, I’d say, Can we talk about form? She’d say, No, not now. We’ll talk about it later. Then at the very end she saw me and said, You know, I looked at your story again and actually there’s nothing wrong with it. So that was it! That was all I learned from the English department about writing short stories. You really have to go out on your own and do it.

4. HE WAS WARY OF MACHINES.

Though typewriters, followed by computers, were ubiquitous, Achebe preferred a “very primitive” approach. “I write with a pen,” he told The Paris Review. “A pen on paper is the ideal way for me. I am not really very comfortable with machines; I never learned to type very well. Whenever I try to do anything on a typewriter, it’s like having this machine between me and the words; what comes out is not quite what would come out if I were scribbling. For one thing, I don’t like to see mistakes on the typewriter. I like a perfect script. On the typewriter I will sometimes leave a phrase that is not right, not what I want, simply because to change it would be a bit messy. So when I look at all this … I am a preindustrial man.”

5. HIS DEBUT NOVEL REMAINS ONE OF THE MOST TAUGHT PIECES OF AFRICAN LITERATURE.

Achebe’s status as the “father of African literature” is no joke, and it’s largely due to his debut novel, Things Fall Apart. Published in 1958, the book—which follows the life of Okonkwo, an Igbo leader and wrestling champion—has gone on to sell more than 10 million copies and has been translated into 50 different languages. Even today, nearly 60 years after its original publication, it remains one of the most taught and dissected novels about Africa.

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