Halloween 2020

Nov, 01 2020
3 Minutes

I'm 100% mailing it in today.

I had some things I felt like writing (topics on deck: Pace Layering, "What comes before discipline?"), but I just didn't get to it.

Instead, I figured I'd share some "learnings" from Halloween this year.

With covid cases on the rise and the weather cooling down, repeatedly opening the door to a bunch of super spreader younglings was the last thing I wanted to do. But, my parents had just moved into a new neighborhood and we felt that it'd be a good idea to contribute to Halloween, even if it'd be in some form of socially distant form.

So, we set up a "self-serve" station:

Our Halloween self-serve station

Let's zoom in on the text:

Take 3 pieces of candy sign

I decided to try an experiment to see if the text "Smile, you're on camera!" would deter kids from taking more than the recommended amount. Sadly, there was no camera - but my Mom was watching.


As far as automation is concerned, this is pretty great. We buy candy, dump it into a bin, put up some signs, and the kids can help themselves. We had enough candy to refill the station once.

Now, the problem with this setup is all too apparent - there are bad actors out there.

I wish I could share video footage of what my mom and I observed (mostly my mom, I lost patience of watching this setup after the first couple trick or treaters came by) but, like I mentioned, there was no camera.

Anyways, my mom noticed some amusing trends:

  • Some kids are greedy (obviously)
  • Most kids don't take too much (surprising)
  • Older kids come out later and the greedy ones are shameless (sometimes camping out by the bin, picking out their favorite chocolates, while their friends quickly take their few pieces and watch on, in disgust. Behold, a transformation into Augustus Gloop before our very eyes)
  • Kids who went with their parents were more likely to follow the rules, although not always (and some parents even took more than 3 pieces of candy themselves 😂)
  • One little girl read the instructions out loud, counted her candy one piece at a time, waved hi to the "camera", and wished us "Happy Halloween!". Obviously, she was our favorite

We didn't tally the number of kids who were able to visit the station, but I wouldn't be surprised if some kids took upwards of 20 pieces. Fistfuls upon fistfuls. All in all, we had to refill the station after about 1 hour, and the reinforcements only lasted another hour or so.

Had the rules been followed, the candy reserves should have been enough for about 80 kids. I'd guess we saw closer to 30 trick or treaters before it ran out.


If I could do it again, I'd set up a legit camera the next time, directly visible - just to make sure the kids knew for sure they were being watched.

In any case, I take solace in the poetic justice inherent in gluttony. The greedy are rewiring their brains to crave sugar and sweets even further. That's a slippery slope that leads nowhere good.

Human nature is fascinating. It's always reassuring to see that most people are good actors. But it's always the 20% that cause the rest of us to dedicate our lives to incentive design.

Just your daily reminder that everything in life obeys a Power Law.