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Video Pick: Jack-O-Lantern 2.0

IRA FLATOW, host: Up next, Flora Lichtman is here with our Video Pick of the Week.


FLATOW: Seasonal?

LICHTMAN: Seasonal, less controversial than our last topic...


LICHTMAN: ...because this week's video pick is about pumpkins.

FLATOW: Pumpkins. How could you not like a pumpkin?


FLATOW: How could it be controversial, a pumpkin?

LICHTMAN: Well, I don't know if it can be controversial, but these actually are no ordinary pumpkins. This is not your sort of typical jack-o-lantern. We are talking jack-o-lantern 2.0, designer pumpkins, call them what you will. These are really fancy pumpkins. We went and talked to master carvers. Now, these two guys are living in - or they're working in Bushwick in Brooklyn. And in their basement they have 50 pumpkins. They're carving hundreds of pumpkins every fall, and they end up as real - as works of art.

FLATOW: Yeah. And they gave you some hints about how to carve a pumpkin, what to do the right way?

LICHTMAN: Yes. So - OK. So there are a few things that we learned that I thought that kind of, you know, blew my pumpkin out of the water, a lot of things that I took for granted in carving.

FLATOW: Such as?

LICHTMAN: For example, when you are taking - when you're scooping it out, don't carve off the stem. Why? Because apparently the stem is providing the pumpkin some nutrients. So if you actually carve that hole where you're going to scoop out the seeds and stuff from the back, your pumpkin will last longer. So they don't carve the stem.

FLATOW: Don't get rid of the stem, and don't pick it up by the stem so it breaks off, right?

LICHTMAN: Another tip. They said they see it all the time, people picking it up by the stem. Don't do that.

FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR, here with Flora Lichtman, our multimedia editor, talking about our new Video Pick of the Week. It's up on our website. Gorgeous pumpkin carving. It's artwork really.

LICHTMAN: It really is art.

FLATOW: Science and art on this one.

It really is science and art. I mean, there are portraits. They have a very spectacular Michael Jackson portrait on one of the pumpkins that you can check out on the video.

And they have (unintelligible) Michael Jackson. They have a special one related to the program.


LICHTMAN: And if that's not enough, they even have a SCIENCE FRIDAY pumpkin for us...

FLATOW: There you go.

LICHTMAN: ...that they've carved on the spot. So let me give you some more tips...


LICHTMAN: ...because, you know, people are getting ready.

FLATOW: Yes. Absolutely. This is the season.

LICHTMAN: So one thing that they do - they don't really carve through the pumpkin. They etch, actually, and they keep the pulp there. So they carve - first they sort of etch it out and it's going to be the photo negative, right, or the negative of this.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: So where they go deeper, it will be brighter. And one thing that they do is they carve first and then scoop, and this is sort of another prolonging the lifespan. But this is my favorite tip. They - and this is one that you can do after you've carved the pumpkin.

MARC SORIA: There's little tricks that you can do to rejuvenate your pumpkin too. You know, sometimes if you're making a salad and you have some limp lettuce or something in the fridge, you can shock it in some ice water. You can do that with a pumpkin. If it's starting to look a little sad, you fill a big bucket or tub with water and ice and plunge the pumpkin in there. If you leave it in there for a few hours, it will really perk back up, and it's kind of awesome.

LICHTMAN: That was Marc from Maniac Pumpkin Carvers. He's one of the founders, along with Chris. So I never knew that.


LICHTMAN: Not that, I mean, most people feel that strongly about keeping their pumpkins.

FLATOW: Right. What do they say, what kind of light - you know, people put candles in there. They put light bulbs. What's the best thing?

LICHTMAN: This is truly a geek moment. They use candelabra CFLs. There's actually a wire coming out of the back of the pumpkin, and these gives them not only more light - but they've tried incandescents, and they said that when they put the incandescent in, it got really hot. And so it starts to smell like pumpkin pie, which was pleasant but the pumpkins would just dissolve after a few days.

FLATOW: Very Benji.


FLATOW: Very, very Benji.

LICHTMAN: Boy, that's a word that - in case new people aren't catching that, that's a word we've coined on SCIENCE FRIDAY for geek...

FLATOW: Yeah. Much better than geek.

LICHTMAN: ...at Benjamin Franklin.

FLATOW: Yes. Right. Right.

LICHTMAN: Yes. So it's very Benji.

FLATOW: And so they gave you more hints? Any more hints?

LICHTMAN: Any more hints. One thing they do is they seal their pumpkins with Vaseline. I mean, this is really taking it to the next level.


FLATOW: This is geek. This is pumpkin geek, serious geek stuff, man.

LICHTMAN: And the reason that they - that this has become important to them is because these pumpkins aren't cheap. I mean, each pumpkin is a couple hundred bucks. And so they don't really end up on the stoop. Usually they're in advertisement. Tiffany's did an ad with a $3 million diamond in one of their pumpkins.




FLATOW: I hope they took the seeds out.

LICHTMAN: High/low, you know? It's very in. And they end up in Yankee Stadium and on album covers. So these are, you know, not your sort of typical thing, but I'm excited to go home and carve.

FLATOW: Yeah. And if you want to see our Video Pick of the Week, you want to see how these pumpkins are carved and what to do to prepare it, to keep it fresh...

LICHTMAN: Give it a bath.

FLATOW: Give it a bath?


LICHTMAN: Another tip.

FLATOW: You need to wash it, right?

LICHTMAN: Because it could get infected. Just like if you're doing surgery on anything, you want to clean it first.

FLATOW: That's right. It's up there on our website, @sciencefriday.com. You guys laugh now...


FLATOW: ...but you'll laugh even more when you see this video...


LICHTMAN: Yeah. That's right.


LICHTMAN: The laughing has just began.

FLATOW: And it's funny, but it's also very geek and very - and it's so gorgeous. The artistry in this is amazing.

LICHTMAN: No. I mean, we should say, I - when I saw this, I was blown away. I definitely wasn't - I think what they do is really amazing. These guys are professional illustrators who basically turn their time - turn their medium to pumpkin when October rolls around, and they do this mostly because they want to have an artistic project. It doesn't sound like they're, you know, making huge bucks.

FLATOW: And the photo - if you're on Facebook, the scifri Facebook page, you can also see the photo up there of the pumpkin, and a special added photo of yours truly in the pumpkin coming up on the website.


FLATOW: Thank you, Flora.

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: Flora Lichtman, our Video Pick of the Week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.