Category Archives: Popular Science

Modern Halloween…Sanity?

I might goof on Halloween articles from old issues of Popular Science in the last few Halloween countdowns, but I should be fair and show some modern examples of their material. After all, things are certainly much safer (and saner) nowadays, right?

Sadly, Halloween articles seem to be few and far between these days and what few they do publish are very short. This page from the October 2003 issue has a write-up about a nifty $50 motion sensing gadget that can record up to 20 seconds of sound effects. It’s a great all-in-one device for those who don’t want to build their own motion-sensing device using plans found on places the Monsterlist (which cost less and can be connected to a CD player so you can play longer clips).

The “Scare Tactics” article from the October 2006 issue has more meat on its bones despite the single-page length. The tutorial about how to make scary sound effects go off when a person walks by a certain area using a Mac laptop, webcam and a few downloads is very cool. The only remotely bad part (other than the seeming uselessness of the article to PC laptop owners) is the suggestion of where to download sound effects. I’m shocked that they don’t tell Mac owners to take advantage of the free sound effects available through imovie (which came free with most Mac products at the time of that article’s writing) rather than dump them onto some “free sound effects” site that was probably the first result in a quick web search on the matter. Since they didn’t do it, I will…link to a preview of Keith Underdahl’s Digital Video for Dummies that tells how to do so (which also tells how to record a few sound effects of your own).

But the three bonus “Haunted Hacks” at the bottom are a different story. The one about ripping off the face of a robotic chimp and using it as a creepy face mind sound crazy, but it’s not that bad of an idea. Just imagine how this would look in dim lighting. I know of a guy who did something similar with a modified, skinned Furby for a home haunt and the results were pretty creepy. Sadly, the instructions for turning an old laptop into a projector in order to cast horror movie scenes are far too short to be of any use and there are no warnings about handling or keeping people away from the dry ice fog necessary for the projections (dry ice can be dangerous, but nowhere near as dangerous as stuff from old-school Popular Science article). Speaking of old-school Popular Science Halloween articles, the suggestion to mix liquid soap and liquid nitrogen to make a bubbling witch’s brew is a bizarre flashback to those days. I guess it really is true that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Still More Vintage Halloween Insanity

For the last two years that I’ve do this, I always think I’ve found the most dangerous and foolhardy Halloween how-to and will never find anything that will top it…only to then find something that does so. This year was no exception.

When I first read the “Mechanical Halloween Pranks” article from an October 1918 issue of Popular Science, I thought I wouldn’t have a good “Vintage Halloween Insanity” this year. The homemade lanterns were only somewhat unsafe, although use of a flashlight, LED or glowstick would make modern usage of the plans safe, while the window posters were fine. But just when I thought I had mined vintage Halloween stuff for all it was worth, then came the instructions for a witch’s cauldron scene. Although wisely telling the reader to only use real fire (and flame powder that produces colored bursts of light) outdoors, the “safe” indoor alternative of a light bulb covered by wads of tissue paper is anything but.

However, the star of this entry did not appear until I chanced upon an article called “A Halloween Chamber of Horrors” from the November 1916 issue of Popular Science. Not only is it worthy of note due to its dangerous ideas, but it’s also the earliest example of a haunted attraction that I know of, homemade or otherwise! The fact that such things existed in the early 1900’s must be a huge shock to home haunters and Halloween enthusiasts. Amazingly, this haunt was not simply a “blindfold someone and have them touch bowls full of icky-feeling items”-type deal. No, this was an honest-to-goodness walk-through attraction with several electrical effects!

The first page of the article details what one would see and experience if they had been at the haunt. Numerous “moderately severe shock[s]” are administered to visitors, with visible electrical sparks that even the writer noted would be dangerous to touch appearing at one point. Oh, and did I mention that visitors also have to kiss a baby’s skull? Don’t worry, it’s just a small fake. They weren’t THAT crazy back then. Still, I’m impressed that they came up with something that sick. Speaking of “sick,” I wonder how many diseases were contracted due to all those people kissing the same skull in the exact same spot?

The next page is filled with behind-the-scenes secrets, such as how patrons were hit in the face with raw meat and football bladders! The final page reveals more secrets, such as the use of a Crookes’ Tube (which give off cancer causing x-rays) for lighting and the use of live snakes. Said snakes (and bare skin) were covered in homemade glow-in-the-dark paint made from crushed match heads! Do I even have to explain why that’s a terrible, terrible idea? If the previous installments are any indication of the future, then I’m going to find one hell of an unsafe tutorial for the 2011 countdown…