Bite-size trick-or-treat strategies

Or, how a kid can maximize the Halloween candy haul with minimum effort.

October 27, 2002|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Sun Staff

It's Halloween, and as usual, those workaholic neighbors on the corner have left a basket of bite-size Snickers on the front porch with a sign: "Take 3."

What's a hobo or grim reaper to do?

Grab them all, naturally. (A slightly less greedy ghoul might follow another Baltimore kid's rule of thumb: Multiply the number allowed by 10.)

Whatever the formula, it's all part of a universal strategy: "To get as much candy as possible," says Isabelle Briggs, 10, of Baltimore. So, if "they let you take more than one, [I] do that."

It's common wisdom that one house's bounty can compensate for another house's slim pickings of pencils, pennies, raisins and popcorn balls -- items that have no place in a self-respecting witch's treat bag.

By the time they reach their pre-teen years, kids have plenty of tricks under their belt -- and game plans -- for optimal candy collecting. Often, their plan requires caretakers willing to drive to neighborhoods known for deluxe offerings: full-sized candy bars, rather than those puny ones, for example.

Kate Mayeski, on the other hand, will stick close to her home near Parkville and map out the best route between candy houses.

In a previous year, Kate, 12, had a ruse that also paid off: She returned to the same house, known for giving out good stuff, wearing three costumes in succession, a "witch, one was the genie, and the other one was a Caribbean girl."

Putting on an act

Come Halloween, allowances must be made. On a holiday that celebrates harmless transgression, it's practically unnatural to expect children to abide by the honor system. It's every banshee for him and herself.

And this year, as it seems in plenty of past years, concerns about children's safety duel with a desire to let them have unfettered fun. For Cynthia Sanders, the mother of two trick-or-treaters, stressful times call for levelheaded thinking: "I feel it is extremely important for the kids to behave normally and observe local community rituals such as Halloween. Anyway, living in East Baltimore, our kids have grown up with assessing their situation for personal safety. For us, it's not a new scary thing."

It's unfair to sully children's holidays with fear, says Sarah Wolfenden, a Baltimore mother of three, including Isabelle Briggs.

In other words, kids deserve one night a year to use their wiles to get the most candy per doorbell, to bilk siblings during post trick-or-treat trading sessions, and to feel a little more powerful than usual.

This year, Rebecca Roe of Washington and her best friend have considered going as the negligent parents played by Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman in the film Matilda. "It's better to do something, to do a little act," says Rebecca, who is 9. A performance usually merits extra candy, she says.

Because she is smaller, Rebecca gets the DeVito role in a fedora and big suit. You want the candy givers "to think you're cute," she says. On each doorstep, she plans, a la DeVito, to ask that "big-butted, busty wife of mine" for "a little smoochie," at which point her friend / wife will say, "Oh, maybe some other time."

In exchange, Rebecca expects lots of loot, if not kisses.

Once home, Rebecca's 11-year-old brother will give her everything with nuts in it. "Evan really, really hates nuts." They will count their candy, and gradually consume it until about January, when it's certifiably stale and their mother chucks it out.

Putting on the squeeze

Other groups of girlfriends have devised their own collective costumes. Isabelle Briggs and her two friends plan to trick or treat as a trio: the Dairy Fairy, Vegetable Fairy and Fruit Fairy. Cynthia Sanders' daughter, Anna Bakker, 12, will be the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland and her friend may be Alice.

Though they share a common goal, different kids have different stratagems. Twelve-year-old Eric Jones of Baltimore advises dressing like a hobo to elicit pity and extra candy.

Antonio Gaines leaves his Greenmount neighborhood of "old people" for Hampden's W. 34th Street, famous for its Christmas decorations. "They have the best candy and give a lot of it," he says.

Other city kids praise the riches to be found in "the county." That would be Baltimore or Howard counties, to hear it from a gaggle of students at Roland Park Middle School.

Over the years, kids acquire a host of tips that rival Hints from Heloise in their practicality. Always double your plastic shopping bags, Jasmine Baker, 12, advises. And aim for homes festooned with seasonal flair. If residents spend money on lights and pumpkins, it's a safe bet they spend it on candy, too, she says.

Jasmine's other rule: Keep one half of the candy for yourself, "the other half you sell."

Kate Mayeski's plotting must continue once she's at home, where she has to find a cranny to hide her candy from her big brother, who no longer tricks but craves treats. "I'm still working on it," she says.

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