Home Page of Yankee Siege Trebuchet, Greenfield, New Hampshire
...at Punkin Chunkin
by Steve Seigars, Yankee Seige Team

        The following is intended for those whom are new to Punkin Chunkin. The seasoned veteran of Punkin Chunkin is probably already following these rules.

        Punkin Chunkin can be a very intense event, filled with emotional ups and downs, with many distractions. Good preparation will help you to smoothly jump all the hurdles with the fewest mistakes. Remember, at Punkin Chunkin, you only have three throws in the whole competition. You have to make every throw count!

        Yankee Siege has used the following strategies to maximize our chances of winning.

 Ten Rules to Help you Win

        1. Practice, practice, practice.  Practice well ahead of the competition. There will always be technical difficulties with every machine, especially with a new machine. It will take many throws to "tweak" and "tune" for optimum performance. Don't think you can tune your machine the weekend before the competition. Three to four weekends of practice (50 to 60 throws) is probably the minimum time needed to tune for optimum distance. (Treb simulators may reduce this number somewhat).

        2. Setup at Punkin Chunkin two days before competition
.  Setup can present its own set of problems. Parts may not fit the same way they did at "home". Things sometimes get bent, broken or lost in transport. It could be quite stressful if you wait to the last minute. A two day buffer can give you the time you need for emergencies. Punkin Chunkin will usually allow you to setup on Tuesday. This gives you a little time to practice under actual field conditions.

        3. Bring extra parts
.  Breakage of a critical part can shut you out of the competition. It can be very disappointing to travel all the way to Delaware and be sidelined. If you have parts that can't be purchased at you local hardware store, bring an extra part. Fellow Punkin Chunkers are another source for help. Most teams are quite willing to help out a disabled competitor. Some teams bring welders, extra rope, cable, steel, tools, lubricants, etc...

        4. Get on the books.  Since there are only three throws, it is important to get off one good throw as soon as possible. Your first throw should be a "safe" conservative throw. Don't "go for broke" on your first throw. Do exactly what has worked well in your practice sessions. Once you're "on the books" with one good throw under your belt, then you can try more risky moves.

        5. Don't try a radical move.
  Most radical changes do not produce a greater distance. Radical changes could lead to breakage of your machine, pumpkin pie, or a throw backwards. Make only incremental changes in your machine. Remember what worked in practice. One exception: if you are well ahead of the competition and can't lose, then "go for broke".

        6. Keep records of your practice sessions.  It is very hard to remember what has worked in practice. Record the sling length, finger angle, counterweight, pumpkin weight, wind, etc. so that it can be referred to later on. There are so many parameters that can be changed, that it is impossible to remember what you did weeks ago. With proper records, you may even be able to decipher patterns developing that can lead to new insights or directions that you may want to explore.

        7. Don't get distracted.  You practice sessions were probably quiet events. In competition there is a lot of noise and people talking. It is easy to get momentarily distracted and forget to do an important task. One critical mistake could shut you down. Sometimes it is so noisy that you can not hear the normal noises and groans that are coming from your machine. Be observant of spectators and don't allow spectators around any team member that can lead to them not being able to do their job properly.
        I can remember several times hearing an air cannon fire in the background and thinking that our machine was breaking apart!

        8. Make a checklist.  It's awfully easy to make a mistake, especially if the tasks must be done in the right sequence, for example, cocking the machine or firing. A checklist will eliminate most errors.
        Over the years, we have forgotten to disconnect safety chains and pull down ropes.
        Also, watch out for new team members that were not part of your regular practice sessions. These new members are not as familiar with the machine and this can lead to mistakes.

        9. K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple!  Having an extremely complicated machine and release mechanism can lead to unreliable performance. Complexity and reliability are two incompatible parameters! Yankee Siege has been quite reliable because it is simple. Enough things can go wrong with a simple machine, so why complicate things more.

        10. Don't get cocky!  Things go wrong! Just because you're in first place after the first throw, don't assume you will win. Things can change quickly.
        Just because you have won for years in a row, never be complacent. A new machine that is better will always come along soon or later.
        Just because nothing has broken on your machine before, don't be cocky.  Sooner or later something will break, or something will be overlooked. Be forever vigilant!
        In the fall of 2007 our trigger failed on Yankee Siege and sent one of our team members flying!

 Ten Rules for Pumpkins

        1. Don't throw an orange pumpkin.  Almost all chunkers throw Lumina pumpkins. This is a smooth skinned, relatively spherical, thick walled, and dense white pumpkin. It will not pie easily. Beware of other white pumpkins (Casper, Snow White, etc...). These are not good throwing pumpkins. Learn to recognize Lumina - farm stands often do not know what variety they are selling. Don't assume because it is white it is Lumina. Lumina seeds may be purchased from Harris Seeds if you decide to grow your own.

        2. Same weight.  Find out what weight pumpkin your machine throws best and practice only with that weight. Remember, the difference in weight between a 8 and 10 pound pumpkin is 25 percent, a huge difference.

        3. Choose spherical smooth pumpkins.  A spherical smooth pumpkin will generally throw further than an odd shaped pumpkin. (Rough surfaces and "cheese shaped" pumpkins are very unpredictable and often curve right or left). They are ballistically challenged.

        4. Don't pick too soon.  Choosing pumpkins too far ahead of time can lead to problems. As soon as the pumpkin is picked off the vine it starts to lose weight through evaporation. It can lose an ounce or two per week depending on storage conditions. Anticipate weight loss and pick one slightly overweight.

        5. Pick slightly immature pumpkins with no blemishes.  Check out pumpkins for cracks, rot, wounds, scratches, leakage, soft spots, etc... Don't pick overripe pumpkins.  A slightly immature pumpkin is less likely to rot. (An immature pumpkin will often exhibit a mild green striping).

        6. Storage.  Store pumpkins at 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 50 percent relative humidity. Treat any blemishes or scratches to the skin by rubbing Captan fungicide powder on these wounds to prevent fungal growth which leads to rot.

        7. Check the pumpkin's temperature.   A pumpkin can look perfectly fine on the outside but be totally rotted on the inside. Rot is caused by fungi. As they ferment the inside of the pumpkin, the interior will heat up. A small portal of entry of the fungus is easily overlooked.
        Pumpkins should be wrapped in a bath towel and stored overnight.  (Wrapping in a towel will trap excess heat and any temperature rise will be easy to detect the following morning). Don't use any pumpkin that shows any rise over ambient temperature. Any rise in temperature indicates active rot. This will severely weaken the pumpkin. Do not throw, it will pie!

        8. Water test.  Only throw your densest pumpkins. Dense pumpkins fly further. Pumpkins are 90 to 95 percent water. If you have several choices of good pumpkins to throw, then do the "dunk" test. Place all of your best pumpkins in a pail of water. The one that submerges the most is the most dense - throw that one. "Archimedes would be proud of you!"

        9. Bring extra pumpkins.  Bring extra pumpkins with you to practice with and to trade. You may have good Luminas that are not the perfect weight for your machine but may be perfect for another machine. Chunkers are always looking for the perfect pumpkin. Try trading some of your pumpkins with another competitor.

        10. Bring a scale.  As mentioned before, pumpkins lose weight with time. You need to know the exact weight of your pumpkin the day of the competition. Buy a postal scale. Remember to throw only the exact weight that you have used in practice.

How to win at Punkin Chunkin
Images In This Pane Enlarge When Clicked
The World Championship trophy
The 2006 Punkin Chunkin World Championship trophy, Trebuchet division

Preparing a Lumina pumpkin to throw at the 2006 Punkin Chunkin championships
Preparing a Lumina pumpkin for a competition throw
To download a copy of this guide in Microsoft Word (.doc) format,
click here.