Go away, gourds: Destroy pumpkins at the great punkin chunkin

It’s after Halloween, and all pumpkins must die.

You could recycle those leftover gourds like a normal person, but the South Florida Science Center in West Palm Beach prefers to wreak pumpkin destruction using medieval siege weapons.

During Punkin Chunkin in the Park this Sunday, Nov. 5, visitors can hurl their old jack-o’-lanterns 400 feet across an empty field using catapults (a sturdy springboard that shoots big payloads) and trebuchets (like a catapult, except counterweights add force).

It’s all for science, of course, and there’s only one rule in punkin chunkin: Mercilessly fling that orange squash as high and as far as possible, and listen to that satisfying splat as gravity does its thing.

“It’s really fun,” says Chris Pait, Punkin Chunkin in the Park’s organizer and proud advocate of post-Halloween rage. “We wanted to show that science and engineering can be used for fun. Pumpkins are going to get moldy, anyway, so you might as well launch them before that happens.”

Although popular in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and other places where people have plenty of time on their hands, the idea of bludgeoning pumpkins with homemade artillery somehow hasn’t taken off in South Florida. Which is a shame, says Pait, also the museum’s science educator and programs coordinator.

“It’s a Northern thing,” Pait says. “It’s done in Pennsylvania, in places that are rural and colder, by people who have technical know-how and a big back yard to launch those pumpkins.”

Pait says the science center built the wooden trebuchets and catapults this week in Dreher Park, which surrounds the museum. He wagers the weapons can heave the pumpkins between 300 and 400 feet away.

Launching the pumpkins will be free, and visitors can bring their own gourds or use the science center’s arsenal. Registration for competing teams costs $3, and the science center will award prizes in three punkin chunkin categories: small, medium and large pumpkins. Up to three pumpkins can be chunked per team.

Accomplice Brewery and Ciderworks will pour cider brews, and family-friendly diversions include science demos and pumpkin crafts.

Punkin Chunkin in the Park will take place noon-5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5, at South Florida Science Center and Aquarium, 801 Dreher Trail N., in West Palm Beach. Admission is free, $3 for competing teams. Call 561-832-1988 or go to SFScienceCenter.org.

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pvalys@southflorida.com or 954-356-4364

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