The Light Side

Light Friday: Halloween by the Numbers

Oct 29, 2010

Plus: Corporate Zombies, Management Monsters, Ghost Phones, Scary Science and Self-Destructing Robots.

This week we looked at workplaces inhabited by monster bosses and the living dead, plus sweet facts about candy, the science of fear, zombie computer outbreaks and more. Today's Light Friday offers a look at what didn't make it into this week's Halloween-themed IMT issue.

By the Numbers: Halloween

Halloween is more than just a holiday for costume parties and hordes of trick-or-treaters taking to the streets — it also means big business for many of the nation's retailers and goods manufacturers. Here's a look at some spooktacular Halloween statistics for the United States:

148 Million

Estimated number of Americans planning to participate in a Halloween celebration this year

Source: National Retail Federation's 2010 Halloween Spending

$5.8 Billion

Total expected Halloween-related spending in 2010, up from $4.75 billion in 2009

Source: Ibid


Average amount Americans will spend on costumes, candy and decorations this year, up from $56.31 last year

36 Million

Estimated number of potential trick-or-treaters — children aged 5-13 — in the U.S. last year

Source: U.S. Census Bureau's Halloween Facts for Features

31.7 Percent

Percentage of parents who plan to take their children trick-or-treating this year

Source: NRF

72.2 Percent

Percentage of people who plan to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters this year

Source: Ibid

40.1 Percent

Percentage of Americans who plan to don a costume this year, compared to 33.4 percent in 2009

Source: U.S. Census Bureau


Number of costume rental and formal-wear establishments in the U.S. in 2008

Source: Ibid

$0.8 Billion

Total amount expected to be spent on children's costumes in 2010

Source: NRF


Most popular children's Halloween costume for the sixth consecutive year, with 4.3 million children expected to wear it in 2010

Source: National Retail Federation's 2010 Top Costumes

$1 Billion

Total amount expected to be spent on adult costumes in 2010

Source: Ibid


Most popular adult Halloween costume this year, followed by vampire and pirate

Source: Ibid

11.5 Percent

Percentage of people who plan to dress up their pets in costumes this year

Source: Ibid

$0.2 Billion

Total amount expected to be spent on pet's costumes in 2010

Source: Ibid


Most popular Halloween costume for pets this year, cited by 10.3 percent of owners

Source: Ibid

$1.8 Billion

Total projected amount of spending on candy this year

Source: Ibid

24.3 Pounds

Candy consumption per capita in the U.S. last year

Source: U.S. Census Bureau


Number of U.S. manufacturing establishments making chocolate and cocoa products in 2008, employing 38,369 people

Source: Ibid


Number of U.S. establishments manufacturing non-chocolate confectionery products in 2008, employing 16,860 people

Source: Ibid

33.3 Percent

Percentage of Americans who plan to throw or attend a Halloween party this year

Source: NRF

20.8 Percent

Percentage who plan to visit a haunted house this year, up from 17 percent last year

Source: Ibid

46.3 Percent

Percentage of Americans planning to carve a pumpkin for Halloween

Source: Ibid

931 Million Pounds

Total weight of pumpkins harvested from major pumpkin-producing states, led by Illinois, in 2009

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Whether you're planning to go as a princess, a witch, a pirate or something more original, be sure to enjoy this Halloween with some sweet treats. But not too many — children's Dental Health Month is coming up in February.

Robots Designed to Self-Destruct

Earlier this month, we wrote about a Solvenian laboratory's attempts to break Isaac Asimov's First Rule of Robotics, which states that a robot may not injure a human being. But what about breaking Asimov's Third Rule of Robotics: A robot may not harm itself.

Electronic engineering firm SparkFun recently hosted a contest to find the most entertainingly self-destructive robots. The machines in the competition were designed to "attempt menial tasks and destroy themselves while failing spectacularly at accomplishing their goals," Popular Science reports.

The robots were graded according to four criteria: their level of inefficiency, the pointlessness of the task, the dramatic nature of their death and the completeness of their self-destruction. Robots attempting the most trivial goal using the clumsiest method possible that results in colorful ruination won the highest scores.

Here are a few of this year's entries, including a teddy-bear birthday gone wrong, an incompetent LEGO-brick bank robber and a hapless robo-chef:

Did You Know? Edison's Telephone of the Dead

In recognition of Halloween, we highlight a renowned scientific figure's possible obsession with the paranormal later in his life.

In the 1920s, reports emerged that Thomas Edison, by then one of the world's most successful inventors, was developing a special phone that would allow the living to communicate with the dead. According to General Electric, Edison's "spirit phone" was the inventor's response to a period of rising spiritualism in the U.S., represented by a slew of other pseudo-mystical inventions, such as the ouija board. Moreover, the country was still reeling from its losses in World War I, making the prospect of communicating with the dead an appealing idea.

"The result was a national craze. Most of the major newspapers and magazines in the country leapt to cover this astounding new 'invention.' And the magazine that broke the story received over 600 letters to the editor from people obsessed with the device," G.E. explains. "These letters range from offers of help with the design to claims that such a machine already existed — and at least one gentleman wrote to ask how he could place a call once he reached the afterlife, since he expected to die shortly."

Communicating with the dead is thought impossible, so why would a renowned thinker like Edison mention the idea to numerous publications? Many believe it was an elaborate prank intended to mislead reporters and the public. The Museum of Hoaxes states that supposedly "the machine was a 'photo-electric cell' that produced a beam of light that revealed the spirits. Of course, after a half hour, no spirits were ever conjured..."

Although no prototypes or schematics for the device exist, this doesn't necessarily mean that Edison thought the "spirit phone" was just a preposterous hoax. According to Gerald Fabris, the curator of sound recordings at Thomas Edison National Historical Park, "Edison considered thinking about something to be serious work."

Have a safe and happy Halloween, folks!