Engineering and physics have made amazing contributions to the world, but I'm not sure where launching pumpkins far across a field ranks. Regardless, every year teams of people gather with their homemade machines to compete at launching a pumpkin the furthest. Punkin Chunkin, put on by the Discovery and Science Channels, shows this competition and the people behind the machines -- and watching it has become an annual Thanksgiving tradition for me.

The World Championship Punkin Chunkin contest, held in Delaware, has six categories: centrifugal, catapult, tortion, trebuchet, human powered, and air cannon. Each team builds a giant device (resembling siege devices -- which are the template for many of the machines) to send their pumpkin flying as far as possible. Teams have three minutes to prepare their machine for the launch, then the pumpkin is sent flying! (Hopefully: Sometimes the pumpkins break apart -- called "pumpkin pie" -- and sometimes they roll off before launch.) Each team gets one shot a round, and there are three rounds. The teams' best time is counted, and whoever has the furthest distance in their category wins "the world's biggest trophy."

Punkin Chunkin also has backgrounds on many of the teams (the reigning champions, the underdogs), different guest hosts (this year featured Kari Byron, Grant Imahara and Tory Belleci, the "Build Team" from Mythbusters), and the tailgate-style party atmosphere among the fans.

While using technology to hurl pumpkins through the sky isn't a... traditional sport, it is an impressive competition. The competitors both know how silly it is (team and device names include Second Amendment Too, Hormone Blaster (an all-female team), Chunk Norris, and Chucky III) and also put tremendous time and planning into their quest for victory. While the show is somewhat manipulative by only showing and giving background on certain competitors, there's also a sense of tension as the top three fight for the top spot: Sometimes the difference between first and second place is only 10 or 20 feet, and some times push their machines literally past the breaking point in a last-ditch attempt to come from behind. Punkin Chunkin is an odd and enjoyable celebration of American ingenuity, silliness, and competition.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

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