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Tinkering with Halloween: Making a Hack-o-Lantern with Paper Circuits and Automata Mechanisms

Updated: Nov 19, 2023

Each year the Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium invites people to join in the process of making "hack-o-lanterns" where you are encouraged to drill, solder, carve, and augment traditional jack-o-lanterns to add a tinkering twist. I took up the invitation to "let your pumpkins glow with LEDs, copper tape, coin cell batteries, switches, and motors" to create my hack-o-lantern.

I was inspired by an idea that Saman, a workshop participant in the automata tinkering workshops that I co-facilitate through the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, came up with – use the rotating cam on an automata to close a circuit and make a light turn on.

Here's my hack-o-lantern in action:

I decided to use a craft pumpkin from Michael's because I wanted to be able to save the pumpkin for next year and display it as a decoration. Here are the other materials I used:

  • pieces of Stephen Guy's cardboard cam box kit (this is one of the kits we use in the automata tinkering workshops)

  • conductive fabric tape, coin cell batteries, and a green LED

  • Box cutter to cut into the craft pumpkin

  • Misc craft materials like dried seeds + string to create the "guts", acrylic paint + sharpie to decorate the pumpkin

A closer look at the mechanism inside of the hack-o-lantern:


This project supports:

  • experimentation with engineering and design processes to create novel systems

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