Smashing pumpkins and learning at Kinnick
November 2, 2007
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Jaime Johnson never thought she’d see the day when pumpkins fell from the sky. But there it was Wednesday, a flash of orange in a cloudless blue and then … SPLAT!
That was the first pumpkin — the one not wearing a parachute, lovingly swathed in pillows, or buffeted by balloons. This was “what not to do” if you wanted a good grade in teacher Ryan Goodfellow’s high school physics class at Yokosuka’s Nile C. Kinnick High School.
“I like it when they splatter,” said Johnson, picking at the pulpy, seedy mess. The freshman, too young for physics, came to watch pumpkins fly. “I’m definitely taking physics class.”
Why drop pumpkins from 100 feet on Oct. 31?
“Because it’s Halloween, it’s fun, and it’s a great way to analyze acceleration and forces,” Goodfellow said.
His physics students build contraptions to keep their pumpkins intact, either by slowing the acceleration during the fall or cushioning the impact with the ground — or both. The professionals at U.S. Naval Facilities Engineering Command drop them from a lift truck and students are graded on how the pumpkins fare. The largest to survive wins.
In its third year, the pumpkin drop has become somewhat of a Halloween tradition.
Max MacAvoy’s brother was in the inaugural class and passed the pumpkin test with flying colors. Max used a similar design featuring a parachute.
“It worked once before, let’s hope it works again,” said MacAvoy. It did. The pumpkin survived.
Jonica Ladrido was not so lucky. Teammate Akki Brathwaite drew Goodfellow’s likeness on the pumpkin, but it emerged with seedy leaks.
Some swore by bubble wrap, some by stuffing. Team Pumpkin Packers jammed a pumpkin directly into a stuffed toy hamster.
Senior Ron Ceballos said balloons kept his physics grade afloat.
“I must have blown up 40 balloons,” Ceballos said. “I actually got light-headed.”
Junior Jonathan Bollinger’s blanket-wrapped pumpkin cornered the market on skeptical glances. He even called it The Annihilator. But its parachute flung open, and the two balloons taped to its bottom caused it to bounce once before hitting.
“I was pretty surprised it made it,” Bollinger said. “I’m as surprised as everyone.”