Saturday, October 31, 2009

Projectile Pie

My fascination with pumpkins extends beyond gastronomy into aerodynamics. Each year, during the Pumpkin Challenge, I also read up on the popular past time punkin chunkin, or its Anglicized name pumpkin launching. The premise of this sport is to construct a device that flings pumpkins the farthest. Many competitions offer separate categories for slingshots, cannons, trebuchets and catapults.

I first heard of the fine sport of pumpkin launching, or punkin’ chunkin’, from my Uncle John, who was lucky enough to attend the 2005 contest in Marion, Illinois. He remarks, "The contraptions designed by engineers, Cub Scout Troops, drunk guys in garages, and serious pumpkin aeronautical professionals inspired the imagination of the crowd. The biggest cannon shot a pumpkin over 4000 feet! And some of the "sling shots" backfired and nearly bombarded their designers."

What is perhaps most exciting is that several physics classes in the country have embraced the sport, participating in competitions and creating their own. Yesterday, I sojourned to the Illinois Institute of Technology, my granddad's alma mater, and stood in the rain with the science geeks (and what I believe was a high school physics field trip) to witness IIT's 5th annual competition. Most of the 8 machines were trebuchets, but there were a few others including The Robotics Team's machine that utilized springs. While the weather did nothing to deter scientists from the noble pursuit of destroying stuff, sadly it did handicap the competition, particularly the loading of the pumpkin launching devices. At first, things were somewhat anticlimactic with several of the machines simply plopping the pumpkin a foot in front of their respective machines. One professor remarked loudly for the crowd to not worry; the very same students that made the failing machines would soon be graduates making our nation's bridges! Thankfully, one trebuchet did fling a pumpkin 185 feet! All in all, it was a fun time capped with free apple cider.

The sport appears to be celebrated all across the United States. Next year, search for the closest competition near you! Or go straight to the top: The World Championships have been held in Delaware since 1986!

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