It's time again for violence against pumpkins! We're using sharp knives to carve them into jack-o'-lanterns and mashing them to a pulp for pie. But some folks do something really devilish to pumpkins every November: They hurl them hundreds of feet through the air. (This ends, inevitably, in a splat of orange goo.)
Not possible? Ask the Maryland kids who once heaved a pumpkin more than 800 feet, the length of almost three football fields.
"You just have to have the right equipment," said Meghan Hughes, 16, of Stevensville, east of Annapolis, patting the big, orange, steel-and-aluminum catapult in a neighbor's back yard. Meghan and a group of friends, who made the device they call Little Feats, are junior experts in this fiendish sport of pumpkin-tossing.
She and teammates Tyler Parkinson, 13; Zach Dukes, 16; Amber Dukes, 12; and Meghan's sister Grace Hughes, 12, all from Stevensville, will be competing in the World Championship Punkin Chunkin on Nov. 4, 5 and 6 in Millsboro, Delaware.
They are the defending champs of youth pumpkin-catapulting, having placed first in the age 11-17 division the past three years. In 2002, they hurled one 808.84 feet, their best ever.
At the Punkin Chunkin, people compete for pumpkin-tossing glory using all kinds of crazy contraptions: giant slingshots, huge cannons powered with compressed air, devices that look like fast-spinning windmills.
Contestants compete in each category, for the best hurl by a catapult, or an air cannon, etc. In the competition's first year, 1986, the winning catapult "throw" was 128 feet. Things changed after air cannons were added in the 1990s -- last year's winning distance was 4,224 feet.
Organizers say the Delaware chunkin was the first such event and that it's the largest. Typically, about 40 kid teams and 60 adult teams compete. Last year, more than 30,000 people watched as nearly 5,000 pumpkins were chunked.
Why hurl pumpkins? "It is just so cool to get one to go so far," said Tyler, who went to the 1999 Chunkin and told Meghan afterward, "We could do this!"
Not all chunkins go as planned. Sometimes, the pumpkin explodes in midair. Little Feats tries to avoid "pie in the sky," as it's called, by using a tougher, white-skinned type of pumpkin.
Last year, Little Feats had some troubles. Part of the catapult broke and the first throw went backward. The second throw "pied." The third try produced a winning throw of 558.49 feet.
The team is hoping to throw better this year, perhaps by changing the kind of springs on the catapult. "But mainly," said Meghan, "our goal this year is to not have anything break!"
-- Fern Shen