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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In the days that follow Halloween this year, folks in Millsboro, Delaware, will be busy smashing pumpkins. But they won't be doing it by hand. It's the annual Punkin Chunkin Competition, in which contestants use everything from giant sling shots to cannons to catapults to try to shoot a pumpkin the farthest. The event started in 1986 and now draws nearly 30,000 spectators. Last year's winning gourd sailed more than 4,000 feet. The secret weapon: an air cannon that builds up gas pressure. Trey Nelson is a past champion and one of the founders of the competition. He says last year's winner, Joe "Wolfman" Thomas, just got lucky.
NELSON: Well, he had a good pumpkin last year. That's what it's down to now, really, with all the air cannons, it's who's got the best pumpkin.
CURWOOD: And what makes the best pumpkin?
NELSON: One that's about ten pounds and it's a nice round shape, doesn't have any flat spots. And you've got to have one that's pretty firm. You can't have one that's got any soft spots.
CURWOOD: Otherwise, the pumpkin might explode in the cannon. But Mr. Nelson says he can tell a winner when it takes off.
NELSON: It sounds like a --whoosh, gone. And then you can see the pumpkin appear about 200 yards out in front of the machine, and then it gets real small real fast, until you lose sight of it.
CURWOOD: The pumpkins leave craters where they land, and fences are needed to keep the crowd out of the danger zone. Organizers think that this may be the year to set a mile long record, but don't expect any specifics on the machine designs until after the big event. Pumpkin espionage abounds as contestants aim to pass that coveted one mile mark. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.