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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Get Your Trebuchet Ready, It’s Time For Punkin Chunkin!

Some of the Pumpkin Launching Contraptions Found at Punkin Chunkin (image:

Some of the Pumpkin Launching Contraptions Found at Punkin Chunkin (image:

The staples of the Thanksgiving holiday are ingrained in our brains and we prepare accordingly year after year. The turkey in the oven, full of stuffing and gizzards. Pumpkin pie cooling on the counter while the Detroit Lions find a way to lose on yet another Thanksgiving day game. Family and friends gather to celebrate togetherness and give thanks for the good things in their lives. Somewhere, an air cannon launches a pumpkin several thousand feet into the air, the crowd cheering as it comes crashing to the ground. Ah, Thanksgiving. Wait, what was that last one?

The Thanksgiving tradition takes a little twist up in Sussex County, Delaware with the annual Punkin Chunkin World Championships. Since 1986, the annual festival is held to benefit the St. Judes Children’s Research Hospital and Childhelp® organizations. The festival is a three day event where hardened engineers and D.I.Y. garage gurus build all kinds of wicked contraptions with one common goal. To launch pumpkins as far as possible. For the second year in a row, you can catch all the pumpkin destruction this Thanksgiving on the Science Channel. With two specials airing on Thanksgiving night, Science Channel isn’t skimping on the pumpkin launching coverage. Both specials are hosted by Mike Senese and Zach Selwyn, who you might remember from the Science Channel show Catch It, Keep It.

The first special The Road to Punkin Chunkin airs at 8pm EST on Thanksgiving. The show follows Senese and Selwyn as they travel around the nation to visit the headquarters of some of the competitors for a behind the scenes look at building the pumpkin launching machines. The seed splattering fun continues at 9pm EST with the Punkin Chunkin event itself. While the press release stuff is all well and good, I wanted a first hand opinion of the event, so here’s some first person perspective from Mike Senese.

I’ve been following Punkin’ Chunkin for a while, and this year I can’t be more excited to be attending in person. I got a small preview a month ago when I visited with a few teams that were building and tuning their chunkers - the size and force of the machines is awesomely impressive when you experience it in person. One thing that is particularly exciting this year is watching the evolution of the sport - there are a few teams that are bringing brand new machines that push the traditional catapult and trebuchet designs into revolutionary territory, redesigning the mechanism with highly engineered designs and never-before seen systems. The distances are staggering (closing in on 2000′ for trebuchets, over 3000′ for torsion catapults, and air cannons hitting just about 4500′), and pretty soon someone will break the mile, which will be an amazing moment. And at the end of the event, they roll a cargo truck out onto the field and let all the teams blast it to pieces. With pumpkins. Awesome!

For more, check out Mike’s website for a great program to simulate launching with a trebuchet. Or head over to Science Channel for a behind the scenes tour of some of the best machines and a look at the other events at the festival including the chili cook-off (no festival would be complete without it,) contests and concerts. There are also some minor time wasting puzzles and games as well. What? You need some video? Got it.

The Road to Punkin Chunkin and the Punkin Chunkin special air Thanksgiving night, starting at 8pm EST on the Science Channel.