Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Everyone Loves a Good Prank

Wizbang and OTB readers will surely enjoy this diversion from ordinary political wrangling:

Today's Boston Globe contains an amusing story concerning the re-establishment of a good-natured rivalry between MIT and Cal Tech in the Great Prank department:

When MIT students recently heisted a cannon from archrival Caltech's campus and
transported it cross-country to Cambridge, the pranksters weren't the only

MIT's opening salvo in a war of pranks delighted a
high-ranking Caltech administrator and some students, who had feared that such
activities were on the wane.

The rivalry dates back to the 1930's, but had apparently begun to wane until some students from Cal Tech and its neighbor Harvey Mudd College re-invigorated their end (MIT continued their pranks solo).

This is a good thing, and it got me to recollecting some truly outstanding pranks that I witnessed during my years at a New England boarding school of international repute:

The Great Utensil Pilferage (circa 1972)

One thousand students head to the Commons building one weekday morning for breakfast to find that they must use plastic knives and forks. During the night before, students had gained entry to the building and removed every knife, fork and spoon from the building.

After a two-day campus-wide search turned up no
corpus delicti, one of the perpetrators secretly signalled the administration to look on the roof of the Commons building, where the utensils were neatly arranged and stored.

The Standing Ovation (circa 1971)

At the weekly "assembly," all students are required to meet in the school's George Washington Hall for announcements and the like. "GW" was an impressive auditorium containing a main stage, orchestra pit and benchrows of large, very heavy oak-framed, leather upholstered seats. With aisles on each side of the main floor, the center row benches contained about twenty seats apiece.

One day the student body arrived for Assembly to find that the first twenty rows of benches missing. This feat required unbolting, lifting and removing each of the benches which weighed hundreds of pounds each.

Assembly was cancelled and a massive search for the valued benches ensued, to no immediate avail. Yet the benches had not (necessarily) gone far. The mainstage contained a center platform that could be lowered to the basement below, where the set-design department and "drama lab" were. The benches had been moved on the platform to below and stacked along the wall behind the heavy black stage curtains.

These hijinx served as excellent training for aspiring pranksters eager to matriculate to MIT and other top-shelf universities.

MIT's tradition of pranking is essential to its very identity -- so much so that the students
maintain a website devoted to their escapades. There, you will see that MIT's Great Dome is the frequent victim, once turned into a giant replica of R2D2, another time turned into a giant beanie.

However, MIT's best work is hard pressed to rival Cal Tech's finest prank -- what has been renowned as the greatest prank of all time, The Great Rose Bowl Hoax, expertly recounted at the link.

The tradition and lore of pranking on college campuses has been chronicled in at least one published work, If at All Possible, Involve a Cow: The Book of College Pranks, by Neil Steinberg. While the book is apparently out of print, Amazon indicates that a few copies are available to collectors for as little as $50.00. That might just be someone's idea of a joke.

But for the price of nothing, I recommend reading this, a description of the ten best college pranks, including The Theft of the Sacred Cod from the ceiling of the Massachusetts House Chamber by Harvard students in 1933, and the apparent sinking of the Statue of Liberty into the icy waters of Wisconsin's Lake Mendota by U. Wisconsin students in 1979.


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