Pumpkin toss a smash hit
Anyone planning to go smash pumpkins this Halloween has a chance to get it out of their system early. Pumpkins of all shapes and sizes will be launched 100 meters across the UA Mall at the third annual Tucson Pumpkin Toss on Sunday.
This year, 15 teams made up of high school students, middle school students and other contestants with a burning desire to build catapults and destroy pumpkins will be competing to win the pumpkin-launching event.
Bruce Bayly, a UA associate professor of mathematics and a co-organizer of the event, said the initial idea came to him when he was sifting through thoughts of what to do with pumpkins come October. The most obvious idea, of course, was to build large wooden catapults and launch the seasonal orange vegetable as far as it could go. A simple concept, but one that required some planning.
“There’s a lot of preparation and design beforehand,” Bayly said, adding that building the catapults requires some knowledge of math and physics. “The reason why I started is that, as a professor, I wanted to get more people interested in math and science to eventually build cool stuff and see how it works.”
The event will be monitored by a team of Raytheon engineers, who will inspect the catapults before their initial launches to make sure the triggers, structures and small moving parts are all tweaked and ready to go. Raytheon Company is sponsoring the event in conjunction with The Physics Factory, the UA and the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement program.
This year, the pumpkin toss will host 15 teams and catapults, a bigger turnout than last year, said Brian Lapham, a founder of the contest and judge.
“I am basically a glorified traffic cop,” said Lapham, talking about his duty to make sure passersby and participants are safe from flying pumpkins.
Since returning teams have had an entire year to tweak their catapult designs, some are expected to launch pumpkins over 100 meters. Other catapults will launch pumpkins about 10 to 30 meters, Lapham said.
“The biggest reaction we’ve received has been, ‘I want to do this, too,’” Lapham said. “If I had a nickel for every time someone said this, I would be rich.”
Leonard Vance, a co-organizer of the event, estimated that more than 100 pumpkins will be thrown across the Mall on Sunday — for a good cause.
“It’s all really about education and getting kids to learn, while having some … fun,” Vance said.
Contestants will begin moving their catapults onto the Mall early Sunday morning, where engineers and the organizers of the event will inspect the catapults for safety reasons.
From noon to 1 p.m., the field will be open for the public to come walk around, view the catapults and talk to competitors. The toss itself will begin at 1 p.m. After the launches have been measured, judges will meet to calculate their scores and determine the champion of the competition.
The grand finale will involve demolishing a giant rolling castle with melons, pumpkins and other large and destructive vegetables.
Pumpkin remains will be collected from the field at the close of the event by Compost Cats, an organization run by the Associated Students for the University of Arizona’s Students for Sustainability. The remains will serve as compost material for gardens around campus.
“The funnest part is just the enjoyment on everybody’s face when a successful shot is made,” Vance said.
Follow Casey Knox @Knox_Casey