Halloween's end is smash for pumpkins Contest: Student contraptions employ physics to try to softly land pumpkins after a 100-foot fall. The losers are consigned to the trash heap.

November 02, 1998|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

One by one, they fell 100 feet from the sky -- one immersed in a bag of cherry Jell-O, another resting on a "Love Bed" of egg cartons, a third wrapped in a pink tutu meant to mimic a placenta.

Most exploded on impact, leaving a mess of seeds and, well, guts. Pounds and pounds of fleshy pumpkin guts from sacrifices made in the name of science at the third annual Baltimore Pumpkin Smash.

Students from about a dozen public and private high schools in the Baltimore area competed in the smashing event at the Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson, testing the ability of their homemade devices to protect a pumpkin passenger in a 10-story plunge.

The pumpkins ranged from less than 2 pounds to nearly 18 pounds, and some hit the ground at up to 55 mph. Only seven survived. The losers were scooped up for one more quick trip -- to the trash bin.

The winning device, entered by a team from Baltimore's Polytechnic Institute, was dubbed "The Bushwhacker" by the school's physics teacher, Daniel Conrad. The team suspended its 18-pound pumpkin in a basketball net attached to a triangular contraption made of long shoots of bamboo.

"I drove all the way to D.C. to chop it," said team member Wei Zheng, 18, whose uncle has bamboo growing in his Washington back yard.

A similar bamboo-based device was tried by a two-student team from Dundalk High -- which won with that design last year. But that Dundalk entry took a fatal tilt during free-fall.

Several area physics teachers judged the entries after they were dropped in a roped-off area of the Carver Center parking lot. (Hard hats were mandatory in the smashing zone).

They calculated scores by multiplying pumpkin weight by five, subtracting the weight of the transporting device (with the pumpkin aboard), then multiplying the total by the "exposure factor" -- a number between 1 and 2 proportional to the amount of pumpkin surface visible.

One Dundalk team cooked up 16 boxes of cherry Jell-O in which to sit its pumpkin -- which ultimately landed safely, if a bit sticky.

A team from Towson Catholic made a trip to Kmart to buy an extension cord, green packing crates and hair gel to protect its gourd -- which came to a more unfortunate, and even stickier end.

Some participants spent weeks conceptualizing their device's design, searching for the exact angle for a wing or the right amount of popcorn to pack at the bottom of a plastic trash can fitted with metal wings. The trash-can scheme, from Loyola High, won third place.

At least one team was more spur-of-the-moment: Theodore Baylor, 17, and Tiffany Brown, 14, of Baltimore's Southwestern High entered a pencil-shaped cardboard creation wrapped in duct tape with Styrofoam inside, put together in about 15 minutes -- in the parking lot. Their pumpkin survived.

Another survivor, the pumpkin of the second-place team, also from engineering-specialized Polytechnic Institute, used a self-spinning "gyrocopter" named "Poly's Parrot," whose four foam wings helped transport a 15-pound hanging pumpkin to the ground intact.

"If this thing works it's going to be really cool," said Tal Davidson, 17, before the contest. Later, when the gyrocopter spun to the ground with orange and blue streamers waving in the wind, the crowd was enthralled.

Loudest impact

The crowd also liked Carver Center's "Love Bed," constructed by Chris Metzger and Eddie Ryan, both 16, using pink-painted foam packing wedges, multiple layers of blue egg cartons and four cardboard wings.

Metzger said his physics teacher, Phil Brauer, who co-founded the Pumpkin Smash three years ago, showed them how egg cartons can sustain nearly 100 pounds of pressure without breaking.

Not yesterday: The team's pumpkin split down the middle when it smashed into the ground, earning Carver the prize for "Loudest Impact."

"There really is physics behind it, honest," said Sue Ward, a physics teacher at Loyola High School in Baltimore County and the event's co-founder.

In the 'womb'

The winning team for Artistic Merit, also from the Carver Center, smeared its pumpkin with "ultrasonic" gel -- used in medical procedures -- and then hair gel, placed it in a cushioning bed and wrapped it in a long pink tutu like a placenta.

"The womb is the best protection," said Jocelyn Whitmore, 17, before her team's 1.4-pound pumpkin was dropped. Without injury.

Pub Date: 11/02/98

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