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Pumpkin Party Turns Gourds into Missiles

Millsboro, Del., recently hosted the 20th-anniversary Punkin Chunkin contest. Thousands of people show up every year for what participants call the world's largest tailgate party.

But the truth is that this gathering is all about hurling pumpkins in the sport's world championship contest. Machines built just for this purpose toss pumpkins as far as 4,000 feet.

The field of contestants is filled with giant, high-tech air cannons, centrifuges and trebuchets. People of all ages stand behind these machines as they toss pumpkins across an empty field.

Although the machines could hurl any number of large objects across a field, the contest requires teams to use eight- to 10-pound pumpkins as ammunition.

John and Connie Kenny of Lewis, Del., brought friends from Virginia to the event. They found it tough to follow the flight of a pumpkin that's been hurled close to 4,000 feet out of the barrel of an air cannon.

One of the most complicated entries was the centrifuge named "United Flingdom" -- something akin to a very powerful ferris wheel. It was built completely from scrap by a British team. It was powered by a 6-cylinder diesel school bus engine and features nine drive shafts, a hand-crank engine and hydraulics.

The trebuchets -- once used as weapons to hurl rocks at castles -- are less complicated.

Throwing pumpkins isn't the easiest thing for machines built to toss boulders. The first shot out of the "Yankee Siege" trebuchet was "pie," according to team member Chuck Willard. Pie is the disintegration of a pumpkin as it comes out the machine.

The Yankee Siege was designed to throw objects as heavy as 300 pounds. Tossing a pumpkin is a more delicate task.

The payoff for all of this effort -- besides a good day of tailgating -- is a spiffy 14-karat gold pumpkin-shaped ring for the winners.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Allison Keyes is an award-winning journalist with almost 20 years of experience in print, radio, and television. She has been reporting for NPR's national desk since October 2005. Her reports can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition Sunday.