This piece marks my third by-line in Popular Science. It opens the “Manual” section of the October 2015 issue. Besides designing the circuit, writing the copy, and building the solder-free breadboard-based device shown in the photo, I also carved the pumpkin. Fun fact: Halloween magazine content has to be in bed in the summer, when nobody is selling pumpkins. There is, however, a high quality brand of carve-able fake pumpkin, called a Funkin, which is apparently the industry standard for this sort of thing. It carves easily with a special tool which is somewhere between a paring knife and a fine-tooth hacksaw.
I’m indebted to Lenore and Windell at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories for the two circuits on which the electronics are based. My breadboard is really just a simple mash-up of their dark detecting jack-o’-lantern and solderless flickery flame designs. Their online store remains the best place to buy candle-flicker and other specialty LEDs in the known universe, as well as tons of other cool open-source electronics you can’t get anywhere else.
Here’s Popular Science Projects Editor Sophie Bushwick building the project on camera:
I was late off the block for Halloween this year, and didn’t really plan to celebrate, but the sudden attention recently afforded to my 2009 costume on MAKE’s Facebook page inspired me to sponge Cthulhu off and pass out candy on Monday night. My last-minute decor consisted of painting “Happy Halloween” on the door in bloody red washable tempera and making my round porch light up like a Jack-o’-lantern. I use orange “bug light” CFLs year-round, anyway, so all I had to do was add black patches for eyes, nose, and mouth. I’m pretty pleased with the result.
I drew the face on, free-hand, with a Sharpie (the image I used for inspiration is in the gallery, below), then taped over it with bits of black electrical tape trimmed to the lines with a hobby knife. Electrical tape works great for this because it has some elasticity and can be smoothed flat on a round surface.
The costume was a big hit. One young man, dressed as a super hero, turned and ran when I opened the door. His mother intercepted him at the edge of the porch and veered him back around to face me, and I immediately took the mask off and apologized, saying, “I meant to scare you, but not that much.” His mother laughed, thanked me, and assured me he’d be fine. His little sister, meanwhile, was apparently unphased, taking advantage of the opportunity to hit up the candy bowl for seconds and thirds.