They can't tell you which house is likely to give out Snickers bars, or which will stick you with raisins.
But a team of local data scientists is helping Omaha trick-or-treaters find the best neighborhoods to hit on Halloween.
Omaha's Contemporary Analysis Network has created an online mapping tool that shows the way to a maximum candy collection by combining census data with retail spending survey data.
With circles of increasing size, the map — it's at canworksmart.com/blog/ — shows which neighborhoods have the highest density of households with children. Accompanying tables show which are home to people likely to spend the most money on Halloween.
The analysts didn't combine the two factors to create a ranking of “best neighborhoods,” not wanting to cause any competition. But it's easy to find neighborhoods that place high on both lists.
For example, Elkhorn and the Rambleridge and Hillsborough neighborhoods in northwest Omaha all are ranked in the top five in both household density and likely spending, suggesting a few Halloween sweet spots.
Using the map, “You can actually have a plan for Halloween night,” said Grant Stanley, the company's chief executive officer. He said families can use it to make the most of a night out that's fun for kids but can leave parents stressed out by long walks in chilly weather.
The idea came to Stanley and chief data scientist Tadd Wood last November when they created the map as a fun way to demonstrate their company's abilities for a meeting of local users of Tableau data visualization software.
Stanley and Wood founded Contemporary Analysis in 2008 as University of Nebraska at Omaha students. The Old Market firm uses predictive analytics and data science to help companies improve their sales and marketing strategies, customer service and management.
Wood used raw census data at the block level to figure out household density, taking into account the number of children, and added National Retail Federation data showing Halloween expenditure by age and income. The results indicate neighborhoods where you don't have to walk very far to collect a lot of good candy, Wood said.
Contemporary Analysis hopes to improve the map next year, controlling for factors such as multifamily housing that would raise neighborhood density without necessarily making for a better trick-or-treating experience.
And with friends demanding a ranking system, next year the scientists plan to include a ranking, even if it ruffles feathers.
Jeremy Brandl, a father of two who lives on a main road through Rambleridge, agreed with the map and said his neighborhood is “better than average.”
But neighborhood association President Diane Mumford said, “It's not like it used to be,” with aging families. On her cul-de-sac, just six children trick-or-treated last year.
This Thursday, she and her neighbors plan to pitch in and all buy candy that they put in one big washtub at the end of the cul-de-sac. With a big tub of candy and few children to compete for it, it looks like the map was right.