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Simplest way: attach the clown's hat to the inside of the lid; attach a piece of black fishing line to the top of the lid; run the fishing line up over a pulley or round piece of dowel; pull on the other end of the line when someone walks by.
 

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I hope that helped. A lot of people I have suggested the idea to have laughed, thinking I was joking. But I'm not and it works. You also can't beat the price: free if you check nearby lakes and rivers for pieces of fishing line laying around on the banks.

Some more tips: Paint the fishing line black or white or whatever color will help it blend in with the surrounding area; Put something heavy in the costume under the clown's head. This will help to lower the clown back down and pull the lid shut when you lower the string. Set it up so the lid of the box isn't standing straight up. A little less than 90 degrees will allow it to lower back down easily without you having to go over and push it back down manually.

A little secret that a lot of people don't know about the $10,000 penumatic animatronics you see in professional haunted houses: They break down - a lot. Many haunts have welders there all night long to make repairs. Most eventually take them apart and reweld everything. The real problem is that they require more engineering than is put into them. Many of the air cylinders don't follow the motion of the mechanism exactly and this puts stress on the metal and the welds. Many have cylinders that are too long and every time it is activated it tries to push the mechanism out as far as it (the cylinder) will go. After a while it wins and the weld breaks.
 
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