Mapping the ultimate Halloween candy haul route: Sweetest use of Big Data ever?

Computer scientist and son plot ultimate trick-or-treat route using big data analysis

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Credit: Samantha Bilodeau

I know Big Data and Data Science are important and increasingly difference makers for enterprises around the world. But there's just something about the terms that usually make my eyes glaze over.

But not in the case of Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani's sweet account of his son's Halloween candy haul this year -- and more importantly, his scheme for next year.

The co-founder of North Carolina big data and predictive analytics startup Predictify.me, Usmani shares his tale on the blogging site Medium, starting off this way:

Dad, can you help get more candy this Halloween?” Abdur Rehman, my 12 year old asked me last Friday. His simple question got me thinking of how I, as a data scientist, could optimize his path for collecting candy.

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From there, Usmani goes into excellent detail -- complete with colorful graphics -- of how his son collected data ("Data Candy") on the candy type, quantity and source (street address) at each stop along his 3-hour, 100+ house trick-or-treat route.

While the data wasn't going to help young Abdur Rehman this fall, it should enable him to plot a highly efficient route next Halloween, when as a 13-year-old, he's still a legit trick-or-treater. I suspect he'll draw a pretty good crew of pals to go with him.

After his son the Halloween vampire did the initial dirty work, Usmani started exploring the data further, doing plenty of dirty work of his own (Note that Usmani is no stranger to food-related research, having investigated herd behavior in supermarkets as part of his master's thesis work).

He populated a spreadsheet with his kid's data, then enriched it with relevant information from Google Maps, Zillow and public data sets, revealing findings about home values, political affiliations and more.

Big data candy Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani

Useful data uncovered included that about a quarter of the homes along the route did not give out candy -- they'll be avoided as part of next fall's optimized route. ("Here is an optimization strategy for finding out a house’s probability of participating in Halloween. If the wife is aged between 41 to 50, and the husband 51 to 60, there is 100% chance that you will get a treat. It dramatically reduces down to 25% if the wife is older than 51 and husband has passed his 60th birthday. Similarly, if either of the couple is aged more than 71, you are less likely to get any treats.")

Usmani's family lives in a neighborhood where lollipops were the top giveaway, but by breaking down data to figure out which homes had more daughters, he was able to learn which sorts of candies were more likely to be given out in those homes. Next year, his son can avoid homes that tend to give away KitKat bars vs. say a favorite, such as Dove chocolates or Twix bars.

Usmani was also able to get a feel for what kind of candies are doled out by Republicans vs. Democrats.

Another finding that's obvious once you see it: Newcomers to a neighborhood tend to be more generous on the candy front. They're trying to suck up to existing neighbors of course.

Usmani acknowledges that the level of detail that he was able to get into bordered on creepiness. But what the heck, it was Halloween.

{Thanks to University of North Carolina student Katlyn Kahn for the tip.}

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