Flying Fruit and Other Matter

Kids have been engineering catapults since the dawn of time.  Whether they build a contraption, or simply used a paper clip and a rubber band to launch a grape, toy soldier, marshmallow, or other weapon of choice, catapulting objects fosters creative play may lead young STEMists to engineering.  Local festivals often have catapulting or trebucheting events that gain the interest of even the older STEMist crowd.


Here are three catapult events to look for a high-flying good time:

 #1 – Watermelon Launch

Watermelon is a favorite summertime snack, but have you considered launching a watermelon with a catapult?  Flying fruit is certainly a thrill for anyone to see!  Be on the lookout for wayward watermelons at the next summertime festival you visit. Check out a favorite in Fort Wayne, Indiana—Catapult Chaos competition hosted by Science Central at Three Rivers Festival in July.  These watermelon launching events can be super fun, but as seen in this Amazing Race video of “watermelon girl”, a watermelon launch can backfire. So, don’t try this at home.

#2 – Punkin Chunkin

Launching pumpkins is a popular contest held at fall festivals around the nation. Believe it or not, the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association (WCPCA) does exist—in Bridgeville, Delaware. The nonprofit WCPCA believes that Punkin Chunkin cultivates the odd, challenging, and competitive quest for distance that inspires creativity, ingenuity, teamwork, and passion—a STEMist and STEM instructor’s dream! Last year’s event drew a crowd of more than 20,000 people with a total of 72 teams who competed to see whose pumpkin was catapulted the furthest distance.  This spectacular event raised more than $100,000 for local Delaware youth charities.

John Ellsworth, one of the founders of WCPCA, remembers that co-founder Trey Melson’s bow with a catapult arm broke all day that first year (1986).  “It broke on every throw and every time it broke, the pumpkin went further,” said Ellsworth. Since then, the catapult contraptions have improved, which is evident with last year’s longest launch having reached 3,000 feet – a great difference in distance from the first Punkin Chunkin launch of 136 feet.

More Catapulting Fun: Water Wars with Water Balloons

For summertime fun, San Diego Kids Party Rentals offers a Water Wars Game Water Balloon Launcher where families can beat the summer heat with a bit of friendly competition. San Diego Party Rentals ensures spectators of the sport will be squealing with delight and victory as they cheer on their favorite competitor or team. And, if you don’t live in the San Diego area, encourage your STEMists to build their own catapult to launch water balloons for summertime cool.

Teaching children to use science and engineering skills to launch, hurl, catapult, sling, toss and chuck can propel your STEMists to the next level in understanding the science behind the distance traveled in relation to the tension used to launch an object.

Photo © 2009, World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association


Check out “Out to Launch,” if you have a child who is fascinated with flying fruit or other objects. Our monthly subscription service puts the “fun” in learning STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

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