That's life

By the numbers, Halloween style

• 90 percent of parents sneak goodies from their kids' trick-or-treat bags.

• 55.8 percent of American consumers plan to participate in Halloween activities.

• $41.77 is the average projected consumer expenditure on Halloween items, including decorations, costumes, candy, and greeting cards.

• 20 million pounds of candy corn are made for Halloween.

• 48.6 percent of adults ages 18 to 24 will attend or host a party.

• 80 percent of Americans hand out candy or go trick-or-treating.

• 69.2 percent of consumers plan to shop for Halloween merchandise at a discount store.

Source: National Retail Federation and National Confectioners Association.

Pumpkin popularity enjoys orange glow

Despite a proliferation of artificial pumpkins - made from plastic, foam, and other materials - the good ol' natural variety is not on the decline. American farmers have actually tripled their pumpkin acreage to between 70,000 and 80,000 acres since 1982, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Feeding the expansion is the rising popularity of fall festivals and urban pumpkin patches, which give city dwellers a connection - even if tenuous - to rural life.

Although pumpkins are grown in virtually every state, Illinois, the home of Libby's, the nation's largest manufacturer of pumpkin-pie filling, leads the nation in pumpkin-growing acreage. Rounding out the top five are California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

Incredible hulks of the pumpkin patch

Giant pumpkins are the sumo wrestlers of the garden. Their girth makes them virtually unmovable. A dozen adults were needed to weigh a 900-pounder at the Topsfield Fair in Topsfield, Mass.

Getting to the scales can be worth it to growers who compete in growing contests. Steve Daletas, a pilot from Pleasant Hill, Ore., recently won $5,900 for his 1,180-pound entry at the World Championship Great Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay, Calif. He didn't bother bringing a bigger pumpkin - 1,385 pounds - that had set a new world record the week before.

One variety, the Atlantic Giant, dominates the record books, according to Don Langevin, author of "How-to-Grow World Class Giant Pumpkins." He also reports that the weight race has taken off since a 400-pounder held the world record less than 20 years ago. Surprisingly, most of the giants are now grown in small backyard gardens.

So how does a person cultivate a pumpkin so big that it gains 25 pounds and four to six inches in circumference in a single day and yields enough filling for hundreds of pies?

As Mr. Langevin explains on the "backyardgardener" website, it's a combination of good seed, soil preparation, pruning, and an early start (preferably before July 10). Plus, of course, plenty of fertilizer, but not so much that the pumpkin grows too fast, causing it to break from the vine and explode.

Halloween hangouts

If you think the US Census Bureau is all about numbers, think again. Here are the bureau's suggested destinations for getting into the Halloween spirit:

• Transylvania County, N.C.

• Tombstone, Ariz.

• Pumpkin Center, N.C.

• Pumpkin Bend Township, Ark.

• Cape Fear township (one in both New Hanover and Chatham counties, N.C.)

• Skull Creek township, Neb.

Don't chuck the surplus candy

The Internet offers a host of recipes well suited to incorporating leftover loot. One on the Razzle Dazzle Recipes website is, in fact, Leftover Halloween Candy Cake. A dozen fun-size candy bars are melted and mixed with milk, then swirled into the batter. See www.razzledazzle recipes.com/halloween/desserts.htm.

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