Bring your Halloween jack-o'-lanterns to life with these tech hacks

Halloween is just around the corner, and it’s time to plan your pumpkin carving. Kitty-cat pumpkin? Bo-ring. Skeleton? Meh. Traditional spooky-faced jack-o’-lantern? What are you, your parents? This year, step it up a notch. Here are some easy hacks to create jack-o’-lanterns with a tech twist.

3D-print a pumpkin

If you have access to a 3D printer, consider printing your own already “carved” pumpkin. You’ll miss out on roasting pumpkin seeds, but printing your own is 99.9 percent less messy than digging around in a real pumpkin. Plus, it will never rot, so you can keep it for next year. Thingiverse and other 3D-printing marketplaces have lots of free templates to choose from. We made a cat, a skeleton, and a creepy-faced pumpkin—because we’re that excited about Halloween.

For glow, we’re opting for LED “throwie” lights, a geeky alternative to candles. It’s a button cell battery with LED lights attached—just tape the pieces together, place them in your pumpkin, and you’re set for days. If you’re adventurous, add a resistor to make the lights glow brighter the darker the night gets.

Someone’s watching you

To give trick-or-treaters a real thrill, add movement to a normally stationary jack-o’-lantern. We rigged two red LED lights and placed them inside our pumpkin’s carved eye sockets, and they move back and forth when triggered. We set ours to respond to light, too, so the eyes turn on in the dark. (Alternatively, you could attach a motion sensor to the Arduino in place of the photoresistor to activate the pumpkin when people walk by.) This petrifying pumpkin appears to look around, eyes glowing red. Though we rigged this setup inside one of our 3D-printed pumpkins, it will work the same way in a real pumpkin, too.

Things we used:

An Instructables build-your-own-nightlight guide sparked the idea for this pumpkin, but we modified it a bit. The photoresistor reads light levels and triggers the eye action when the area gets dark enough—or when someone walks by and blocks the sensor. Use the servo’s library to program the motions you want, or follow this Arduino tutorial.

Another tip: Hook up the wires using a breadboard circuit. This approach allows you to connect wires and test how well they work before you solder them together. Heat-shrink tubing also comes in handy—just put it around the connection before you solder, then slide it over the soldered connection when you’re done, and heat it with a heat gun, a lighter, or even a hair dryer. It shrinks and forms around the connection to prevent exposure. If that sounds too complicated, a hot-glue gun can work just as well for this type of insulation.

Light up the night

Interactive pumpkins are a lot of fun, especially for young kids. This not-so-scary pumpkin is rigged with push-button lights that we made ourselves. Place the lights in different areas of your pumpkin, and carve small divots in the top of the pumpkin for the buttons to rest. (We opted for the ears and whiskers of our cat creation.) Finally, push the buttons to illuminate different areas of the design.

Things we used:

  • Strip of LED lights
  • Single LED lights
  • Push-button switches (normally open, so when you press the button you close the circuit)
  • 9-volt battery and terminal, or button cell, depending on how many LEDs you’re using

Another tip: Wire up the batteries to the positive and negative parts of the LEDs, with the switch in between one of those connections. (The longer wire coming out of the LED is the positive end.) Be careful with a 9-volt battery and single LEDs without resistors, as they can burn out in seconds. It’s best to use 9-volt batteries when using strips of LEDs, and button cell batteries when using single LEDs.

Everybody scream!

What’s Halloween without a chilling sound? We recorded a horrifying howl for our scariest jack-o’-lantern to holler. Just rig a recording module with a two-pole push button, and place it inside the pumpkin, near its mouth. As with the light-up pumpkin, carve a small divot for the button to rest, and then push. Are you shaking in your boots yet?

Things we used:

Another tip: One button on the module records anything you say for 20 seconds, and the other plays the sound back. We removed the playback button and soldered two wires to the contacts it connected so that we could place the button wherever we wanted in the pumpkin. If you want lights and sound with a single button, set up a two-pole push-button switch with two sets of contacts: One set completes the circuit for the light, and the other completes the circuit for the recorder-module playback button. As two-pole buttons aren’t as common as regular single-pole ones, you can opt to wire them individually.

Have any other Halloween hacks? Share your ideas below!

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