Dispensing tricks of the trade for maximum treats

Halloween is a big day in our family, trailing only Christmas in loot accumulation and therefore in popularity. Every year before sending my kids out into the trick-or-treat world, I try to pass along a few tips on how to get the good stuff.

I discuss the various options in booty carriers -- plastic bags, paper sacks, and the omnipresent plastic jack-o'-lantern.


I tell them of the importance of "the greeting." How a timid "trick or treat!" often results in smaller servings of inferior candy.

And I remind that the proper closing to a candy exchange is a clear "thank you." It makes the candy giver feel good, and sometimes even shakes loose a second helping from a previously tight-fisted candy dispenser.


For years I have kept these trick-or-treat tips a family secret. I thought of them as insider information. A legacy of loot that a dad, who once led his neighborhood in candy accumulation, could pass along to his offspring.

The trouble is that my audience doesn't seem to recognize the value of this information. When I tell my kids the stirring "Tale of Tootsie Rolls," how one Halloween night I netted more of my favorite candy bars -- the full-size models, not today's sawed-off pieces -- than I could eat, my kids roll their eyes in boredom or disbelief. The 11-year-old tells me the appeal of Halloween is no longer the candy, it is clothes. The 7-year-old has plans of his own. So since I am unappreciated at home, I am going public with these tips.

First, carefully choose your candy carrier. The basic jack-o'-lantern, an orange plastic sphere decorated to look like a pumpkin with stage fright, is good for the beginners. It has a sturdy handle, and doesn't tip easily.

Its big drawback is that it is simply too small to hold serious spoils. It fills up before you finish shaking down one block, and that is much too fast. It is the compact model of candy carriers.

The intermediate model is the plastic bag, the kind that comes from the grocery store or drug store. Its advantages are that it is lightweight, comes with handles, and has two-to-three block capacity for booty.

Its drawback is its tendency to tear. You get a stick, say from a candied apple or lollipop, wedged in the bottom corner of your plastic sack, and you've got trouble. Soon there will be a hole, and spoils will be spilling on the sidewalk. It doesn't look professional.

Then there's the tool of preference for serious pillagers, the big grocery bag made of thick paper. Often, veteran trickers will find such a sack a few days before Halloween and set it aside for the big night.

The big bag is not easy to carry. It may look a little clunky. But, man, can it haul candy!


You can work two or three blocks with a big paper bag, and it doesn't even bulge.

Moreover, since the sack has a lot of candy-carrying capacity, it invites the candy dispensers to be generous. If you present an overstuffed plastic sack to a grown-up passing out Reese's Pieces, he is likely to drop only one piece of candy in. But if you present a great big sack, one that still has empty spaces in it, he is more likely to drop two or even three pieces into the void.

As for the greeting, I have had best results with a a cheerful, clear "trick or treat!"

When pillaging in a group, you get best results if you form a single file, with the shortest in the front of the line. The single-file approach tends to make the candy dispenser feel that you are an orderly lot, not a mob.

Just as an opera isn't over until the fat lady sings, a candy exchange isn't over until the pillagers say a loud, clear, "Thank you."

Such shows of politeness, however feigned, have a benign effect on adults. In other words,it makes them less grumpy and they give you extra candy.


When I was kid on Halloween night I worked the neighborhood with my cousins. The cousin my age was Dan, and the oldest of his four little brothers was Mike. Instead of going door-to-door with the "little kids," Mike insisted on working with us "big kids." Mike was a pest, but he had a terrific "thank you."

As we approached the big houses, the ones with a reputation for giving out candy bars, we always put Mike first in line. His "thank you" was good -- clear, touching, with good eye contact. Sometimes Mike even tossed in the name of the dispenser: "Thank you, Mrs. Neal."

Finally, there is the matter of displaying the spoils of Halloween. You have worked hard, you out-pillaged your peers, and you want to show off. The question is: how?

I suggest dumping the loot in a plastic bowl and putting the bowl on the kitchen table. Viewers can pass by the bowl and admire your loot. You can easily sift through it.

And when you go to bed, your parents can easily raid it.