A little more than one-third of Americans told Gallup in 2006 that they “usually” celebrate Halloween by carving a pumpkin. And, if Google search data is to be believed, some of us have a more natural knack for making faces out of orange gourds than others.
Consider the map accompanying this story. It plots the relative volume of searches for the phrase “how to carve a pumpkin” between 2004 and 2016.
That phrase is a pretty useful proxy for pumpkin-carving ineptitude: Search it yourself, and you can see the top results include how-to’s from the likes of Martha Stewart (“Tip: Prevent exposed areas of the pumpkin’s flesh from turning brown by applying a film of Vaseline”), extremepumpkins.com (“I personally use power tools and extreme techniques, but many of the methods that I use to carve pumpkins apply to anyone”), and the New York Times (“An annual tradition like carving a jack-o’-lantern can become a mindful moment by cultivating what is known as beginner’s mind”).
In other words, people Googling “how to carve a pumpkin” need help with the basic mechanics of the task, like stabbing, cutting and the scooping-out of guts.
According to Google, the states most lacking in this fundamental knowledge are clustered mostly in the South – Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi all lead the nation in how-to pumpkin carving searches. North Dakota and Hawaii also stand out as places with a relatively high interest in pumpkin tutorials.
On the flip side, New England, the Great Lakes region and parts of the plains show a relatively low amount of these searches, suggesting that folks in these places are able to get right to it without needing to consult an instruction manual.
To put it another way, Google’s numbers show that somebody in Kentucky, Louisiana or Mississippi is more than twice as likely to seek online help for pumpkin carving than a person in Vermont or Oregon, the states with the lowest volume of these searches.
I suspect some of the geographic divide in pumpkin know-how is related to the distribution of pumpkin farming – some of the places with high Google searches don’t have a lot of native pumpkin cultivation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
As always with Google data, it’s worth pointing out that these are indicators of relative search volume, not raw numbers of searches. We don’t know exactly how many people are searching for pumpkin-carving help in any state.
But we can compare the results for “how to carve a pumpkin” with other searches to get some sense of this. For instance, the broader term “pumpkin carving,” which yields results related to inspiration and carving ideas, gets about 20 times the search volume that the more specific “how-to” search does. This suggests that most of us already have a firm grasp of the basics and are ready to move on to more advanced questions, like which Minion design to use this year.
In 2015, growers in the six leading states produced about 754 million pounds of pumpkins, according to the USDA.
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