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The Levitating Halloween Pumpkin

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YouTube / The Royal Institution

Let's enjoy a little Halloween science, shall we? In this short video from The Royal Institution, we're treated to a tiny pumpkin with a superconductor inside, levitating its way around a track. It's adorable, and you do get a brief explanation of the actual science:

Last year, the same team did something far creepier with jack-o'-lanterns:

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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How to Make Sure Your Child’s Halloween Costume is Safe
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For kids, Halloween is a time to let their imaginations run wild and offers them chance to inhabit some of their favorite characters. For parents, it’s a time to make sure their children don’t gorge on candy and that costumes don’t pose any unnecessary dangers. Owing to poor production quality or design, some outfits and masks hold the potential for tripping, skin irritation, or—very rarely—becoming a fire hazard, ABC News reports.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are a few ways to mitigate those risks. When shopping for costumes, look for nylon or polyester materials or tags that indicate the material is flame-resistant. Flimsy fabrics, particularly in outfits with long sleeves or big skirts, might brush up against candles and ignite.

Mobility is another concern: If a costume has a long skirt, it shouldn’t interfere with walking. Masks shouldn’t significantly obstruct vision and should provide ample ventilation; kids should be advised to lift them up when crossing streets to make sure they can see crossing traffic. For trick-or-treating after dark, reflective stripes on treat bags can help visibility for passing motorists.

Kids who get together to try on one another’s costumes pose a less serious, though potentially troublesome, hazard: head lice, which can be passed from sharing masks and costumes. If your child plans on exchanging disguises, sealing the costumes in plastic bags for 48 hours or drying them on high heat for 45 minutes should kill any pests.

[h/t ABC News]

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