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Fuzzy Math: How Much Halloween Candy are We Going to Give Out Tonight?

Halloween is the best night of the year, end of story. Costumes are applied, tricks are played, horror movies are snuggled up in front of, but most importantly, children will go door to door adorably threatening to start doing property damage unless their demands for a sugary ransom are met swiftly and surely. Whatever else happens tonight, from ice storms to hurricanes to the raising of the dead, kids are going to get a lot of candy from people just like you. How much, exactly, though? Well, we don’t know precisely how much candy we’ll give kids tonight, but we’ve run some numbers on this matter, and you can find our conclusions after the jump.

Speaking with the Chicago Tribune, a spokesperson for the National Confectioners Association provided an estimate of about $2.4 billion in candy sales this Halloween. However, that doesn’t tell us how much candy will really end up piled high on living room carpets and stashed in sock drawers tonight. For that, we need to do some some quick and dirty math.

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that math was never my finest subject in school. My finest subject was “Drawing Badass Skulls and Band Logos In Notebook Margins,” with math rather low on the list, somewhere between “Showing Up For P.E.” and “Pretending I’d Read the Chapter In English.” Thus the following equations are not to be taken seriously except as a very rough estimate based on the limited but best data available.

At a nearby Walgreens, a Reese’s variety pack went for $5.99 for a 30 piece sampler of Reese’s Pieces, weird-but-tasty fun size Fast Break bars, and Peanut Butter Cups, the number one with a bullet gold standard for Halloween candy. That last fact is not up for debate, as while I am not so good at math, I have spent the best years of my life determining what candy is best and am something of an authority in the field. At about $6 a bag, that $2.4 billion translates to about 400 million bags of candy. That in turn becomes about 12 billion individually wrapped snack size candies, or roughly 417, 500,000 pounds or chocolatey, peanut buttery deliciousness.

Now using the Census Bureau’s best estimate of 41,131,310 kids between the ages of 5 and 14 in the United States, we can estimate that each kids’ plastic pumpkin or, when you’re older and doing it right, pillowcase, contains about 10.1 pounds of Halloween booty. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but that feels like it would have been a pretty light haul for me back in my Halloween heyday. That said, during my Halloween heyday, people could still buy a moon pie and a penny whistle for a dime and have enough change leftover to see a double feature at the Odeon, so maybe consider the source.

It should be noted that we can’t account for several factors that will affect the overall candy haul for kids this evening. These include:

  • People who still give out awful things like pennies, fruit, or worst of all, miniature toothbrushes to trick or treaters, presumably because they despise fun and goodwill and don’t get the point of Halloween, and are therefore so monstrous as to not even warrant our pity.
  • Those occasional great houses where people are giving out the holy grail of Halloween, full-size candy bars, or the lovable saps who have left a sign reading “Please Take Only One,” because sure, that’s going to work.
  • The wide variety of treats of varying heft, from the fun-size Tootsie roll to the burlier Snickers bar.
  • Kids who don’t get to go trick or treating, whether due to illness, family misfortune, parents who are weird about it being a Satan’s holiday thing, or those who simply don’t have anyone to take them trick or treating. The fact that the last one is even a thing is reason enough for us to direct anyone who wants to help alleviate that situation here.
  • Candy bags snatched by bigger kids. Remember this Halloween — bag snatching is not just the purview of movies and sitcoms, but a real scourge that ruins Halloween for countless children every year. If you see a bag snatching in process, do not alert the authorities. Just do the right thing and apply an atomic wedgie to the offending juvenile before hanging him from his underwear from the nearest available tree. This is your duty as a citizen, and it makes us a better, stronger America.
  • Candy tax levied by parents, as the first step of any successful return home on Halloween is Mom or Dad taking 10% off the top, and often the sweetest plums of the loot. Cruel as this practice may seem, it’s an important lesson of Halloween that even when something seems free, one should expect to render unto Caesar, not mourning the loss, but better appreciating what remains.
  • Perhaps most seriously, we don’t know if that $2.4 billion dollar sales estimate includes candy purchased at a drastically discounted price tomorrow. This factor has the potential to skew my results the most, as I budgeted a not insignificant sum of paycheck each year for this express purpose, and I know I am not alone.

If anyone better at math than us wants to take this and run with it, we would be very interested and forever grateful, even if it’s just to demonstrate how pitiful my math skills really are. Further, if anyone wanted to take the next reasonable step and look at how much candy it takes to produce a tummy ache or a weird post-Halloween nightmare, we think it would make a great thesis and would look forward to nominating it for the Nobel Prize for which it would no doubt be a mortal lock.

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