Haunted Houses Can Be Homework

Have you ever done something fun, and wished it could count as your homework? Last semester, my final project consisted of running haunted houses.

How is that even possible? I asked myself the same question. The answer I came up with is that science can be found in everything we do, even in haunted houses. In October 2015, Florida Tech Residence Life hosted a Halloween event known as Treat or Treat. The event offered the opportunity for local children to have a safe place to enjoy Halloween and Trick-or-Treating.

The main attractions at Treat or Treat are the three haunted houses. Each house has its own level of scariness so that children of all ages can enjoy. The three haunted houses were themed as Toy Story (little to no scariness), Phantom of the Opera (slightly terrifying), and The Mummy (too scary for me).

Each year, students spend hours creating decorations and story lines to make these haunted houses a success. I was fortunate enough to help run the event this year.

Andrew McBean reads a Halloween story

Andrew McBean reads a Halloween story

Treat or Treat spurred one of my semester long projects. At the time, I was taking a class that focused on a computer programming in ARENA. ARENA is a software that helps you visualize a process. Imagine that you’re at an amusement park. Everyone around you is on the computer program that logs the people walking from ride to ride all day. In the real world, it would take a lot of manpower to record when everyone arrives at each ride, how long they were on the ride and when they left. By doing this for a few days, you can create a computer program. This program can run several different options, and then can be used to predict traffic. Using this program, we can then look at a ride, and say that, if everything goes according to plan, you should be able to put “x number” of people on each ride cart, and the ride should be running “y number” of carts at a time.

[pullquote]Hosting a haunted house can be fun, but it can also be a lot of work.[/pullquote]

Taking this technology, we created a computer program for the Treat or Treat event. We treated each of the haunted houses as a ride. We could predict the number of people and the number of groups that should be allowed into each of the houses at one time. The program would provide the resident advisors running the houses the knowledge needed to optimize line time and efficiently spend the actors time.

Before we could put the program to use, we had to create the haunted houses. Hosting a haunted house can be fun, but it can also be a lot of work. We started planning Treat or Treat in September, and we worked for seven weeks straight to make sure that we had enough decorations, costumes and fun planned for the event.

It starts with planning out the simple routes and plot lines. Do you want to follow the movies? Did you like Toy Story 1, 2, or 3 better? Then, you add on characters and costumes in different locations throughout the house. The next 4 weeks are intense crafting. You get to create costumes and wall decorations to transform white cinder blocks into an Egyptian pyramid. Finally, you add in props made from simple items, like a hula-hoop made into the Opera House Chandelier. On opening day, you can see how much the kids enjoy it, but where is the science that makes families scream?

At the entrance to Treat or Treat, we recorded the ages and times that different guests arrived. Guests were given a map of the event. Each part of the map was marked off when the person traveled to that station, recording their path. Times and group sizes were also recorded at the start and end of each haunted house. All of this information was then stored in blocks on a program similar to the one shown in the picture.

Treat or Treat Modifying Program

Treat or Treat Modifying Program

The computer ran several different simulations, changing the number of people per group entering the haunted house and how often a group could enter. Eventually, each of the haunted houses was able to be brought to an average five-minute wait, using the haunted houses at there optimized levels.

In the grander scheme of things, this study can then be reapplied to theme park lines and power efficiency. Further studies can then be conducted looking into different ways to minimize wait times for rides.

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