Punkin Chunk Festival, York, Pennsylvania, USA Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Punkin Chunk Festival, York, Pennsylvania, USA

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Held annually since 1999 at the York Expo Center's field every October, the 'Punkin Chunk' is a special fund-raiser for the Farm and Natural Lands Trust of York County, Pennsylvania.

The premise is simple, teams of physics students, engineers and others who love the weapons of the Middle Ages construct a catapult to see which one can hurl a pumpkin the furthest. The competition is divided into three divisions - sixth through eighth grade, ninth through 12th grade and an adult category.

The most common design is based on the trebuchet that was common in seine warfare during the Middle Ages. The trebuchet relies on a heavy counterweight to provide momentum to fire its projectile.

The event in York is held at the York Fairgrounds in the infield of the racing track there. Competitors have two minutes before they are given the order to fire. In that time, they can wind, coil or otherwise prepare their device to launch their pumpkin.

Believe us, there's something compelling about watching a bright orange orb hurtling end-over-end through a crisp blue autumn sky. It's enough to inspire smirks and giggles at the very least. If you're unable to make it to the Punkin Chunk fun in York County, there's another in south-central Pennsylvania in Millersville at Funk's Farm Market and Garden Center.

But these events (and dozens of others across the USA) are small-time compared with the grand-daddy of them all in Lewes1, Delaware.

In Lewes, the festival draws 25,000 spectators from all over the world and is held the first Saturday after Halloween. In addition to traditional catapults, high-powered air cannons are also used to launch pumpkins into the atmosphere.

More than 70 teams compete, generating more than $100,000 in ticket sales which go to fund scholarships for higher education, in the fields of engineering, science and (what else) agriculture.

Origins of Punkin Chunkin'

The 'sport' of punkin chunkin' is thought to have developed in Lewes, Delaware in 1986. Unsurprisingly, it began with a bunch of guys arguing about who could throw an anvil the furthest. Somehow, the conversation devolved from anvils to pumpkins and soon thereafter an annual tradition was born.

That first year the furthest shot (which was fired by Trey Melson and Bill Thompson) went a meagre 126 feet. The very next year, they returned to defend their crown with a centrifuge-based device which hurled their pumpkin 1600 feet. The next year they won again with a launch of more than 2000 feet.

In 1994, Melson introduces the first pneumatic cannon which produced a launch of 2500 feet. Recent years have seen pumpkins launched more than 4000 feet. And everyone is eagerly anticipating the first mile-long launch.

'Experts' say that muzzle velocities on these air-cannons can reach 600mph. Some predict that exceeding this will cause the pumpkin to explode and that the mile-barrier is nothing more than an impossible dream.

But there's always next year...

1Pronounced 'Lewis'.

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