8 Ways You Can Use Science to Improve Halloween

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Halloween is all about embracing the supernatural, but science shouldn't entirely fall by the wayside during the spookiest of holidays. Here are eight ways it can actually improve your holiday, from making trick-or-treating easier to fooling your brain into thinking you're eating tasty treats even though you're nibbling on candy cast-offs.

1. SLOW DOWN THE DECOMPOSITION OF YOUR JACK-O'-LANTERN.

A Halloween display of five jack-o-lanterns
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You don't have to be an expert gardener to keep your jack-o'-lantern looking fresh all Halloween season long. While scouting out pumpkins, pick hard, unblemished ones and steer clear of those with watery dark spots. These splotches indicate frost damage.

Hold off on carving until right before Halloween so your gourds won't rot—but if you can't resist, try squirting their exteriors with lemon juice after you're done slicing and dicing. This inhibits pumpkin enzymes, which react with oxygen and cause browning. A light misting of bleach solution will help keep fungus at bay. Some apply vegetable oil or Vaseline to prevent shriveling and drying. We experimented with various techniques in a Facebook video—check out our results.

For extra TLC, you might even want to bring your jack-o'-lanterns in at night if temperatures dip; if you live in a hot and humid area, extend its life by placing it in the fridge overnight. Try using glow sticks or LED lights instead of flesh-singeing candles.

2. USE TECH TO PLAN THE ULTIMATE (AND SAFEST) TRICK-OR-TREATING ROUTE.

Three children in Halloween costumes trick-or-treating
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Thanks to technology, trick-or-treaters (and their hungry adult companions) can now scout out which neighbors are doling out the best candy and which are sticking with Tootsie Rolls, bubble gum, and toothbrushes. Simply download the app for Nextdoor, a neighborhood-based social network, to check out an interactive "treat map" that lets users tag whether their home is handing out treats, and what that treat is.

Since safety is far more important than sugar, guardians should also consider adding a tracking app to their arsenal come Halloween, especially if their kid's venturing out alone. The Find My Family, Friends, Phone app gives the real-time locations of trick-or-treaters, provides alerts for when they turn home, and also comes with a "panic" button that provides emergency contact details when pressed.

3. OPTIMIZE YOUR CANDY'S FLAVOR—EVEN THE DISAPPOINTING LOOT.

Hard candies and gummies strewn across a table
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Not crazy about this year's Halloween loot? Fool yourself into thinking those black licorice pieces and peanut chews taste better than they actually do by eating them after you scarf down the chocolate and Sour Patch Kids. According to a 2012 study published in Psychological Science, being aware that these items of candy are your very last candies actually tricks the brain into appreciating them more (and thus thinking they're tastier than they really are).

Meanwhile, a 2013 study from the same journal found that creating a candy-eating ritual enhances flavor and overall satisfaction. Nibble the ridged edges off a Reese's peanut butter cup before tackling the creamy center, sort the M&Ms by color, and take your time unwrapping a chocolate bar.

4. CRANK UP YOUR HOUSE'S SPOOKY FACTOR WITH SCIENCE.

Dry ice in a glass bowl
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Save money at Party City by creating your own fog machine at home. When dropped in water, dry ice—or frozen carbon dioxide—creates a gas that's a combination of carbon dioxide and water vapor, but looks like the fog you'd see rolling through a haunted graveyard [PDF].

5. EAT HEART-HEALTHY HALLOWEEN CANDY—IT'S GOOD FOR YOU! (KIND OF.)

A stack of dark chocolate chunks on a dark stone background
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Halloween candy isn't always bad for you. While shopping for this year's trick-or-treat bounty, steer clear of sugary confections and milk chocolate mini-bars. Opt for dark chocolate treats instead. Research suggests that our gut microbes ferment the antioxidants and fiber in cocoa, creating heart-healthy anti-inflammatory compounds. Plus, dark chocolate or cocoa also appears to help lower blood pressure for people with hypertension, decrease bad cholesterol, and stave off cardiovascular disease and diabetes, among other benefits.

6. USE DATA SCIENCE TO GIVE OUT CANDY THE NEIGHBORHOOD KIDS ACTUALLY LIKE.

Source: CandyStore.com.

Thanks to data science, you can make sure you're giving out the best treats on the block. Bulk candy retailer CandyStore.com combed through 10 years of data (2007 to 2016, with a particular focus on the months leading up to Halloween) to gauge America's top-selling sweets. They created an interactive map to display their results, which includes the top three most popular Halloween handouts in each state, as well as in Washington, D.C. Be prepared for plenty of stoop-side visitors and adorable photo opps.

7. TAP INTO KITCHEN CHEMISTRY TO BAKE BETTER HALLOWEEN TREATS.

Frosted Halloween cookies shaped like ghosts and pumpkins
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Cooking is essentially chemistry—and depending on your technique, you can whip up chewy, fluffy, or decadent Halloween treats according to taste.

Folding chunks of chilled butter into your dough will give you thick, cake-like cookies, as will swapping baking soda for baking powder. Curious why? When butter melts, its water converts into gas, which leaves lots of tiny holes. If the butter flecks in question are colder and larger, they'll leave bigger air pockets. As for the baking powder, it produces carbon dioxide gas both when it's mixed into the dough and when it's heated up. For an extra boost in texture, you can also try adding more flour.

Prefer chewier cookies? Start out with melted butter in the dough, and stick with plain old baking soda.

And for extra fragrant and flavorful baked goods, opt to use dark sugars—like molasses, honey, and brown sugar—as they're filled with glucose and fructose instead of plain old sucrose. As cookies bake, they undergo two processes: caramelization, in which the sugar crystals liquidate into a tasty brown liquid, and then the Maillard reaction, which is a chemical reaction between the dough's proteins and amino acids (flour, egg, etc.) and the reducing sugars.

8. USE MIND TRICKS TO ENJOY HAUNTED HOUSES WITHOUT GETTING TOO SCARED.

A brown-haired woman in a red polka dot blouse standing with a frightened expression next to a spider web.
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Halloween can be tough for people with anxiety or low thresholds for fear. While visiting a haunted house or watching a scary movie, remember to take deep breaths, which fends off the body's flight-or-fight response, and re-frame your anxiety as "excitement." It's also a good idea to schedule spine-chilling activities after an activity that triggers feel-good endorphins—say, after a walk to check out your neighbors' awesome Halloween displays.

The 10 Best Stores to Shop for Deals on Black Friday

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iStock.com/svetikd

It’s that time of year again: Black Friday is almost upon us. That means killer deals—if you can manage to snag them. Getting good discounts during the shopping melee requires planning, since not every store offers the same sales, and not every Black Friday purchase represents a great deal. Before you start your shopping list this year, you may want to check out WalletHub’s new list of the best stores for Black Friday deals across the country.

WalletHub sifted through 7000 deals advertised in 2018 Black Friday ads from 35 major U.S. companies to figure out where you should concentrate your shopping energy this season.

While you might hear a lot about Black Friday at major retailers like Walmart and Best Buy each year, this data shows that focusing on smaller, regional department stores can net you the most savings. Stores like Belk (located across the South), Meijer (a Midwestern superstore), Fred Meyer (based in the Pacific Northwest), and Shopko (Wisconsin) all offer some of the steepest discounts, outpacing bigger corporations like Target and Kohl's. Stage, based in Houston with stores in 42 states, is offering some of the biggest discounts this year in four of the 11 categories WalletHub studied.

That said, this data is only looking at discount rates, not overall price, so it’s possible that outlets like Amazon that already offer lower base prices may be a better overall deal. With that in mind, here are the 10 stores with the highest overall discount rates:

1. Belk (68.91 percent)
2. JCPenney (65.13 percent)
3. Stage (62.08 percent)
4. Kohl's (60.76 percent)
5. New York & Company (54.52 percent)
6. Payless ShoeSource (50.34 percent)
7. Dick's Sporting Goods (49.94 percent)
8. Macy's (48.74 percent)
9. Fred Meyer (45.30 percent)
10. Shopko (45.23 percent)

These are the top five stores for consumer electronics discounts:

1. Fred Meyer (51.96 percent)
2. Academy Sports + Outdoors (46.28 percent)
3. Staples (42.26 percent)
4. Belk (41.32 percent)
5. Walmart (39.61 percent)

And the top five stores for discounts on phones and computers:

1. Lenovo (40 percent)
2. JCPenney (39.24 percent)
3. Office Depot and OfficeMax (37.94 percent)
4. Target (36.82 percent)
5. Kohl's (35.82 percent)

These are top 5 for appliances:

1. Stage (59.50 percent)
2. Belk (56.64 percent)
3. Fred Meyer (52.50 percent)
4. Big Lots (50.02 percent)
5. Newegg (46.17 percent)

And, last, the top five for toys:

1. Stage (55.78 percent)
2. Belk (53.89 percent)
3. JCPenney (47.41 percent)
4. Jet.com (43.91 percent)
5. Meijer (43.48 percent)

For the full rankings, head to WalletHub.

Don't Be Fooled By Facebook's 'Secret Sister' Gift Exchange Scam, Authorities Warn

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iStock.com/nito100

The season of giving is upon us, and scammers are already finding ways to take advantage of it. To avoid wasting money and putting their personal information at risk, authorities are warning people to keep an eye out for the "secret sister gift exchange"—a chain letter scheme that's making the rounds on Facebook, USA Today reports.

The scam presents itself as a secret Santa-type gift exchange. If six people agree to take part in the fun by sending a $10 gift to their "secret sister," the posts read, they will receive six to 36 gifts in return.

The set-up sounds appealing, but it's actually just a spin on the classic pyramid scheme. The first person to share the post may get some free gifts, but most people who respond will mail out their items only to get little to nothing back.

If the scam sounds familiar, that's because it's been circulating on Facebook around the holidays for at least the past four years. Many people haven't even started shopping for their own families for the holidays yet, but the secret sister gift exchange has already resurfaced for the 2019 season. This year, authorities are hoping more users will recognize it as a scam, with the Better Business Bureau warning consumers to use caution when signing up for online gift exchanges.

The fact that it doesn't pay off isn't the only reason to avoid the scam. Whether they're shared through social media or by mail, pyramid schemes are illegal "if money or other items of value are requested with assurance of a sizeable return for those who participate," according to the BBB. The gift exchange could also lead to identity theft, with many posts asking for personal information such as your phone number and home address.

No matter what time of year it is, you should always be mindful of scams when browsing email or social media. Here are some of the most common ones to look out for.

[h/t USA Today]

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