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Great Hacks and Pranks Of Our Time 315

Luther Blissett writes "There's a history of pranks and hacks in the year-end issue of the Economist, including MIT hacks, the Bonsai Kitten, and the Pentagon hack by my favorite, Abbie Hoffman." From the article: "At Harvard's neighbour, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 'hacks', as the MIT crowd calls them, are more serious. So serious, in fact, that in 2003 the institute's best hacks were assembled in a 178-page book, 'Nightwork'. The pranks at MIT tend to be feats of engineering. They are positively encouraged, because they teach students to work in teams, solve complex problems and, sometimes, get a message across. Mr Peterson's book includes an 11-point code for pranksters: leave no damage, do not steal, do not drop things off a building without a ground crew, and so on. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, at least, student pranks have become an establishment activity."
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Great Hacks and Pranks Of Our Time

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  • prank, you say ? (Score:3, Informative)

    by rfinnvik ( 16122 ) * on Thursday December 29, 2005 @02:40PM (#14359624)
    *cough* check links *cough*
    • Probably a mistake. Now if it had popped up a page with a goatse picture on the other hand....
    • Re:prank, you say ? (Score:5, Informative)

      by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) * on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:13PM (#14359863) Homepage Journal
      Interesting. For reference, here is the original text and links (from before the article "went live", as seen by subscribers):

      Luther Blissett writes "There's a history of pranks and hacks [economist.com] in the year-end issue of the Economist, including MIT hacks [caltechvsmit.com], the Bonsai Kitten [snopes.com], and the Pentagon [mjt.org] hack by my favorite, Abbie Hoffman [wikipedia.org]." From the article: "At Harvard's neighbour, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 'hacks', as the MIT crowd calls them, are more serious. So serious, in fact, that in 2003 the institute's best hacks were assembled in a 178-page book, 'Nightwork'. The pranks at MIT tend to be feats of engineering. They are positively encouraged, because they teach students to work in teams, solve complex problems and, sometimes, get a message across. Mr Peterson's book includes an 11-point code for pranksters: leave no damage, do not steal, do not drop things off a building without a ground crew, and so on. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, at least, student pranks have become an establishment activity."
  • And of course (Score:5, Informative)

    by nizo ( 81281 ) * on Thursday December 29, 2005 @02:41PM (#14359634) Homepage Journal
    Like lemmings we click on the bonsai kitten link to find out more. The snopes bonsai kitten link is here [snopes.com].
  • by heauxmeaux ( 869966 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @02:41PM (#14359638)
    It amazes me that so many allegedly "educated" people have fallen so quickly and so hard for a fraudulent fabrication of such laughable proportions. The very idea that a gigantic ball of rock happens to orbit our planet, showing itself in neat, four-week cycles -- with the same side facing us all the time -- is ludicrous. Furthermore, it is an insult to common sense and a damnable affront to intellectual honesty and integrity. That people actually believe it is evidence that the liberals have wrested the last vestiges of control of our public school system from decent, God-fearing Americans (as if any further evidence was needed! Daddy's Roommate? God Almighty!)

    Documentaries such as Enemy of the State have accurately portrayed the elaborate, byzantine network of surveillance satellites that the liberals have sent into space to spy on law-abiding Americans. Equipped with technology developed by Handgun Control, Inc., these satellites have the ability to detect firearms from hundreds of kilometers up. That's right, neighbors .. the next time you're out in the backyard exercising your Second Amendment rights, the liberals will see it! These satellites are sensitive enough to tell the difference between a Colt .45 and a .38 Special! And when they detect you with a firearm, their computers cross-reference the address to figure out your name, and then an enormous database housed at Berkeley is updated with information about you.

    Of course, this all works fine during the day, but what about at night? Even the liberals can't control the rotation of the Earth to prevent nightfall from setting in (only Joshua was able to ask for that particular favor!) That's where the "moon" comes in. Powered by nuclear reactors, the "moon" is nothing more than an enormous balloon, emitting trillions of candlepower of gun-revealing light. Piloted by key members of the liberal community, the "moon" is strategically moved across the country, pointing out those who dare to make use of their God-given rights at night!

    Yes, I know this probably sounds paranoid and preposterous, but consider this. Despite what the revisionist historians tell you, there is no mention of the "moon" anywhere in literature or historical documents -- anywhere -- before 1950. That is when it was initially launched. When President Josef Kennedy, at the State of the Union address, proclaimed "We choose to go to the moon", he may as well have said "We choose to go to the weather balloon." The subsequent faking of a "moon" landing on national TV was the first step in a long history of the erosion of our constitutional rights by leftists in this country. No longer can we hide from our government when the sun goes down.

    • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:11PM (#14359850) Homepage Journal
      Oh come on mods, reposting an email classic relevant to the discussion of hoaxes isn't exactly flamebait. At worst it deserves to wallow in un-moderation. At best it could earn a +1 funny.
      • The irony of the parent poster's username should not be lost on the audience, esp. in context with the grandparent. In Norse Myth, Ragnarok starts three years after the wolves Skoll and Hati swallow the sun and the moon. Surt ("The Swarthy One") is the leader of the fire-giants who fights the harvest/fertility god Freyr with his sword that shines like the sun. Freyr, having given up his sword as dowery to the giantess Gerdh ("Resplendant") is forced to defend himself with a stag antler. Surt wins and sl
  • by OYAHHH ( 322809 ) * on Thursday December 29, 2005 @02:42PM (#14359645) Homepage
    I have no idea how relations are today, but at The University of Alabama in the mid 80s people who lived in greek houses and those that lived off-campus were constantly at odds over who should be elected to student council.

    Usually the Greeks banded together and block voted their person into office against a normally fractured off-campus crowd.

    So for this particular election season a particular popular off-campus person was running for student council president. He was likely to be elected.

    The ensuing rivalry from all accounts was as bitter as had been witnessed in a long time. Spying, dirty tricks, etc. were frequently reported.

    The student newspaper had withheld judgement but it decided to print a negative article about the greeks' candidate the day before the election.

    All was fair about this, it had been done plenty of times before...

    But, this particular issue of the paper was different.

    It had something incredibly desirable in it. That will be revealed a bit later...

    So the day the paper was printed came upon the campus. The paper was delivered in the night to all the free locations all around the campus.

    Now that particular day two intrepid mates of mine had a very early engineering class, something insane like 6:30 am, maybe 7am at the latest.

    Irregardless of the eaxct early time, my friends went off to their class. While waiting for their class, that took a look at the paper.

    Low-and-behold there was a coupon in it for two whoppers and two frys for two dollars at the local BK. Now that was great in and of itself, but what made this coupon incredibly desirable was that it didn't have an expiration date.

    So, in a pure stroke of pure genious, my friends skipped class and rushed from building to building around campus grabbing all of the newspapers and stuffing them into their light blue rambler.

    By all accounts they managed to grab a fast majority of the newspapers which had been distributed earlier that morning. And they did it without being detected.

    Personally I knew none of this, I had no idea what my two friends had done.

    By midday the fury of the off-campus people was at a boil. Obviously the greeks had stolen all of the newspapers. It was a conspiracy of the grandest nature.

    Of course the greeks were at a loss over the entire matter.

    The news of the greeks supposed theft traveled quickly and the next day the off-campus candidate was easily elected.

    The bad feelings went on until the next year when the greeks probably took back the presidency, I don't remember. I just remember it took a long time for the bad feelings to go away.

    A couple months after the election I happened to be over at my friends apartment and I was offered some BK coupons. I gladly accepted and was lead into one of my friend's bedroom. Lining the walls of this bedroom was the most awesome collection of the campus newspaper I had ever seen. Every wall was lined/stacked from floor to ceiling with newspapers.

    I was personally provided a five foot high stack of papers.

    I ate whoppers off of that stack for easily a year.

    After six, or so, months it was funny to walk into the local BK and they would look at the coupon, see the correct address, and they would ask where I got it from since they hadn't seen one. High-turnover you see. This was before the days of laser printers, etc.

    As far as I know this story has never been told in a public forum, but it actually happened.

  • by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @02:45PM (#14359668)
    ... has to be the Harvard "WE SUCK" prank. It's there for everybody to see, it's during the Yale-Harvard football game when everyone who cares about Yale-Harvard is out in force, it requires a non-trivial amount of planning and good execution, and, last but not least, it is self-inflicted. An absolute thing of beauty. I wish people would do that at a Raiders or Yankees game. Although that might end in a brawl. Which would make it even better. :D
  • by ScaryFroMan ( 901163 ) <scaryfroman@@@hotmail...com> on Thursday December 29, 2005 @02:45PM (#14359669)
    I think the best of them all still has to be the Caltech rose bowl prank. [museumofhoaxes.com] Nothing I've read about even comes close to the level of skill and amazingness that they pulled back in the sixties.
  • Caltech pranks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kelson ( 129150 ) * on Thursday December 29, 2005 @02:50PM (#14359703) Homepage Journal
    Caltech has a long tradition of pranks as well. Not sure if they still do it, and even these stories are second-hand, but senior ditch day was a tradition in which seniors would go off campus and booby-trap their rooms, while underclassmen tried to break in. Depending on the fiendishness of the defenses, the underclassmen would carry out various levels of pranks upon entering the room.

    One example: Someone once poured a concrete barrier behind his door. An underclassman, catching wind of it, messed with the mix beforehand so that it wouldn't set properly and was easily removed.

    My favorite, of course, is the group that disassembled a car and reassembled it inside the room, in working order.
    • The concrete barrier thing was part of Senior Ditch Day, the most wonderful day of the year at Caltech. Ditch Day activities are centered around "stacks", not the usual pranks (called "RFs"). RF stands for either Royal Fuck or Real Fun or whatever other phrase you can find that fits.

      This Wikipedia blurb on Caltech pranks [wikipedia.org] mentions some of the more well-known RFs. And of course, when it comes to Caltech vs MIT [caltechvsmit.com] in pranks, Caltech rules!
    • Re:Caltech pranks (Score:3, Informative)

      by kf6auf ( 719514 )

      Caltech has a long tradition of pranks as well. Not sure if they still do it, and even these stories are second-hand, but senior ditch day was a tradition in which seniors would go off campus and booby-trap their rooms, while underclassmen tried to break in. Depending on the fiendishness of the defenses, the underclassmen would carry out various levels of pranks upon entering the room.

      We still do it, though we give them puzzles to solve now too, so they can chose whether or not they want to break in the

    • a tradition in which seniors would go off campus and booby-trap their rooms, while underclassmen tried to break in.

      Wasn't that an episode of MacGyver?

    • I think my favorite CalTec prank that I heard about from someone who attended came from a physics prof of mine.

      One of his classmates decided to go home to Huston the week before finals to spend time with his girlfriend. The other people in the building decided to leave a bit of a surprise for him to find upon his return.

      He opened the door and saw that his room was now filled with about a foot of sand and, in the middle of the room, contained a room-height scale replica of an oil derek made from rebar.

      • He had a room where the door opened out?

        That's more than slightly unusual. If it opened in, I very much doubt his (or anyone else's) ability to open a door against a foot-thick layer of sand.
        • You forget the fact that it would be possible to set up a barrier for the sand (say made of wood or plastic) which would keep the path of the door clear of sand while allowing the rest of the room to be filled.
  • It's a shame... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheOneAndOnlyOzzy ( 876070 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:00PM (#14359765)
    It's a shame that so many schools discourage pranking. At my college, a big prank usually resulted in kids getting booted out. My highschool started expelling kids who pranked after my physics class turned all the trophy display cases into fish tanks.

    But, I understand that a lot of pranking can easily get out of hand... still it's a shame.

    • Re:It's a shame... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Alex P Keaton in da ( 882660 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:08PM (#14359814) Homepage
      My experience with colleges/universities (I went to 4- 2 undergrad, one masters, one Doc) has always been that (for non felonies) uniqueness is what gets you kicked out. For example, getting drunk and hurting someone (fistfight, whatever) won't get you kicked out... underage drinking wont get you kicked out... Common things.
      But urinating off the top of a 4 story dorm will get you booted.
      They have to boot some people out to set an example. But they cant boot you out for something common, because they need the tuition....

      • I think it's more basic than that - it's unpredictability that scares people. Try something original and new and people will be shocked all over again, even if it's something much much less offensive than others that are tolerated (your four story urination vs. drunken brawl).

        And don't forget the double standards. If a guy urinates off a building, people will frown. If a girl did it - they'd send her to counselling.
    • Agreed... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @06:25PM (#14361031)
      Reading some of these stories makes me think than noone has ever been caught. That there are no consequences. If you don't feel like reading my post it can be summed up as: Don't do pranks on the computer. Do something physical and do it intoxicated.

      I've been booted, I have to say that it's disrupted my entire life. It hasn't been a fun experience. I went to a small engineering college in Indiana. My sophomore year was the year that the Olsen twins were choosing where to go. At this time the fake CNN news generator was out.

      We recieved an e-mail from admissions that the Olsen twins thing was a joke (apparently they had a huge issue with alumni believing this.) On the way home from dinner my roomates and I sketched "Welcome Olsens" into the snow on the lake in 30' letters. Then I thought it would be a funny prank if I photoshopped the Olsen twins in front of one of our buildings. [exstatic.org] It was a quick and dirty job. I never intended for anyone to believe it. Not to mention the best photo I had found had them in the wrong age frame.

      Our school had a "allstudents" e-mail address, however it could only be accessed by a few people. In addition it required a *.instudent.*.edu address. I did some scanning and found some computers that were turned off at night. I spoofed my MAC address and sent out the e-mail from the person that had originally sent the "it's not true" e-mail.

      Nothing. No e-mail recieved. Nothing. A week later the dean of students called me into his office. They suspected me of sending the e-mail. What happened was the attachment was too big and bounced back to the woman I spoofed. She freaked out and contacted computer services. I guess how they caught me was my computer requested an old IP address in the DHCP negotiation. The dean forwarded the case onto the "Computer Use Policy", their ruling was that I had committed a felony: identity theft [exstatic.org]

      I put up a fake news story [exstatic.org] on my away message to relay what had happened to my friends. At this point I wasn't suspended, but I was on probation.

      One day the DHCP servers went down, so I did what any intelligent person would do: I set everything up on manual. The way I had done it a year before when the SAME THING happened. I got a call from the dean again. I had violated my probation, I was stealing IP addresses [exstatic.org]. This has elevated my case, and I was suspended by the Dean. I appealed, but on my appeal there were a few more 'charges' than a fake e-mail and a stolen IP address. Somehow someone forwarded on the fake news story on to the dean; in addition a year before I was running BitchX on my shell account. I eventually went before all of the faculty to beg (literally) not to kick me out. Explain to a room full of very intelligent Ph D engineers that know very little about computers (other than the CS/CO teachers) how 'BitchX' is nothing more than a chat client, how manually assigning an IP address is not stealing it, etc.

      However as some people have posted, anything alcohol related is overlooked. Indiana Excise Police busted a party 3 weeks before I was suspended, however nothing was ever in the papers about it. My sophomore year someone, drunk, used an entire fire exinguisher in our dorm. It set off the fire alarms and everyone was evactuated at 3 am. Nothing ever came of it than a slap on the wrist. Someone 'stole' a fork lift that had its keys left in it and rammed it into one of the monuments on campus. Again. Nothing happened. People fear computers.

      It's still upsets me when I think about what I was kicked out of school for: An e-mail prank, a fake news story among friends, a stolen IP addresses, and an IRC client.

      It has disrupted my entire life. My ex girlfriend and I had a hard time with the distance. I lost quite a few credits and had to repeat course
  • MIT Hacking (Score:5, Informative)

    by Xeth ( 614132 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:07PM (#14359811) Journal
    They are positively encouraged, because they teach students to work in teams, solve complex problems and, sometimes, get a message across.

    Not really.

    The recent MIT administrations have a very two-faced policy toward hacks. While they pretend to extoll the virtues of such creative acts (sending out a picture of the Wright Flier hack as part of the alumni literature), they also discipline any students involved harshly (As in the aformentioned Wright Flier case). I suspect that this is one of the reasons that the hacking culture has gotten weaker lately.

  • by Geoffreyerffoeg ( 729040 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:07PM (#14359812)
    The pranks at MIT tend to be feats of engineering. They are positively encouraged, because they teach students to work in teams, solve complex problems and, sometimes, get a message across... and how to run from the authorities.

    The recent Wright Flyer hack - the same one that gave the university much positive publicity [mit.edu] - resulted in severe consequences [mit.edu]: the students have a mark against their permanent record, and were fined $50. They were about to change the fine for being caught on the roof to a maximum of $500, but the students succesfully petitioned to change that to 10 hours of community service [mit.edu] - because students said that if there was a possible $500 fine, hackers would be more willing to run and seriously injure themselves than risk getting caught by the police.

    Of course MIT has the legal responsibility if someone falls from a roof, but there ought to be a way to cover that without punishing the same hackers that the university celebrated. A house divided against itself cannot stand.
    • ...It's a school project.

      The whole point is to do things that are mildly wrong and get away with it. If you're allowed to do it, what the heck is the attraction? Of course you might get caught, but good hackers know where the line is and stay within it (e.g. no destruction, no injury, etc).

      $50 and a warning is, let's face it, a tiny slap on the wrist. I'd question whether anyone so concerned with their "permanent record" really has the stomach for pranks in the first place.
      • $50 and a warning is, let's face it, a tiny slap on the wrist.

        Unfortunately, MIT agrees with you [mit.edu]. They've taken the $50 through some crazy inflation calculator to say that they might fine students up to $500. Definitely not a slap on the wrist anymore. And these are college students at fairly expensive school - they have much better places to be spending $500 on.

        Ever heard the phrase "chilling effect"?
    • by slashname3 ( 739398 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @06:05PM (#14360925)
      students have a mark against their permanent record,

      OH NO! Not a mark on my permanent record! How will I ever find a job!

      The permanent record belongs in the myth category.
  • by xacting ( 810789 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:10PM (#14359841)
    In this video [mit.edu], MIT's Samuel Jay Keyser discusses the culture and history of hacks at MIT; he's for them. You can read excerpts from the Nightwork book on the MIT alumni [mit.edu] site.
  • Good prank (Score:4, Funny)

    by joeytmann ( 664434 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:11PM (#14359854)
    One of the best pranks that I ever heard of was one done by a bunch of my cousins friends in high school. Now, he graduated in the late 70's and the lockers all had external combination pad locks, by the time I got there 10 years later all the locks were mounted in the doors. What they managed to do was to steal the master key for all the locks(this part of the story left out as there is too much lore into how and where he lost the janitor), hideout in the school until everyone left for the night. Then the few hiding in the school opened up the doors for the rest of the group and then proceeded to take the locks off and switch them....not just one or two down, but from one locker bank in one part of the school to a locker bank on the other side of the school. Oh yeah, all done at the start of finals week in the spring. Good prank, and they spent the summer sorting out locks as punishment.
    • the lockers all had external combination pad locks ... What they managed to do was to steal the master key for all the locks

      Why would combination locks have a master key in the first place? Is this some weird European type of lock we never had back in the day?
  • Although it wasn't really a prank, it could be up there with the all-time hyped events that had little or no climax to them. People thought that on January 1, 2000 all the electricity and communication grids were going to shut down and the world was going to turn into the Planet of the Apes.

    "You see, they wrote all this software and to save space, they put 98 instead of 1998. So I go through these thousands of lines of code and, it doesn't really matter. I don't like my job. I don't think I'm gonna go
    • Yeah - I remember laughing my ass off in a machine room while all the PHBs who had "concerns" were partying their asses off. I still chuckle when I think about it to this day.
    • by Pope ( 17780 )
      Did you ever stop to think that the reason "nothing happened" was because of all the work done to prevent such a thing from happening?

      I mean, duh...
      • Typically, no one notices the disasters that get prevented, only the ones that actually hit. How many times did people dismiss the need to improve the levees above New Orleans?
  • As the submitter ... (Score:5, Informative)

    by LutherBlissett Dec05 ( 942099 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:21PM (#14359908)
    Don't fix the links! Doh! It's a serious part of the post, not just a prank or hack. And it's not like I didn't warn them. Here was my original submission, for posterity:
    [EDITORS: IMPROVED VERSION! CLICK THE LINKS! Possibly the most inspired post ever ...] There's a history of pranks [economist.com] and hacks in the year-end issue of the Economist, including MIT hacks [caltechvsmit.com], the Bonsai Kitten [snopes.com], and the Pentagon [mjt.org] hack by my favorite, Abbie Hoffman [wikipedia.org]. They end with an invitation: "... we invite readers to nominate their contender for the finest prank in history, explaining in 750 words why it deserves the title." Slashdot readers, can you hack the contest?
    • Slashdot readers, can you hack the contest?

      no, but the editors can...
  • by Iphtashu Fitz ( 263795 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:22PM (#14359919)
    Can be found here [mit.edu]. Unfortunately it ends in 2004...

    One of the favorite ones that I witnessed firsthand was the police car on top of the MIT dome [mit.edu].

    I also get a kick out of all the hacks that MIT has pulled off at the Havard/Yale football games. One at least one of those occasions the local papers stated that MIT had won the game. (In fact I seem to recall they DID win, technically, by hacking into the scoreboard and changing the score during one game)
  • by SnappingTurtle ( 688331 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:31PM (#14359982) Homepage
    So... suppose that, in the course of getting a heavy vehicle down off the roof, a member of the Civil Defence Force had fallen and died. Would it still have been considered a great prank? Same actions, different outcome.

    When I was a teenager some friends and I climbed up onto the roof of the local high school, just 'cause, y'know, it seemed the thing to do. One of the janitors, wanting to catch us, so he climbed up on the roof. He did indeed catch us and, seeing as how the cops also showed up, we followed him back down off of the roof. As we all climbed down, I realized that this not-too-coordinated janitor could easily tumble down the rickety drain piping. I had visions of having the book thrown at us because some janitor was as stupid as we were.

    Pranks are great, but I would personally avoid anything that might incite people to climb or move large, heavy objects. In general, I would avoid anything that someone else has to repair.

  • Roadworks (Score:5, Funny)

    by jamesots ( 214246 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:34PM (#14360005) Homepage
    When I was at Warwick Uni I heard about this prank which supposedly happened a few years earlier, although I can't confirm it:

    There were some roadworks going on near the Westwood campus, so the students phoned up the foreman and told him that some students, dressed up as policemen, were going to come and try to stop them. Then they phoned the police and told them that some students, dressed up as workmen, were digging up the road.

    And as they say, hilarity ensued.
    • Re:Roadworks (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Leontes ( 653331 )
      When I was on Slashdot.Org I heard about this prank which supposedly happened a few years earlier, although its a marvelous urban legend [snopes.com]. Believing something as true makes it a much better story, admittedly, but it's very interesting how the urge to believe leads us to retell rumors and stories as if they were true. Human nature fascinates me. Are the best pranks we can come up with ones where we have to invent and personalize the story?
    • by bladesjester ( 774793 ) <slashdot AT jameshollingshead DOT com> on Thursday December 29, 2005 @05:04PM (#14360549) Homepage Journal
      Along a similar vein, quite a few years ago, a group of people I knew prepared for their prank by stealing road cones, barrels, and even a few detour signs and hiding them in a wooded lot.

      One night, they removed all of the collected items from the lot and used it to make a detour route for a non existant road works project. The detour literally led people around in circles. I guess it took quite a while before the cops figured out what was going on.
  • by F_Scentura ( 250214 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:36PM (#14360015)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joey_Skaggs [wikipedia.org]

    He's pulled some *GREAT* hoaxes on the media and general public.
  • My Yale prank (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kongjie ( 639414 ) <kongjie@NOsPaM.mac.com> on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:46PM (#14360074)
    It was in the early nineties, on April Fools' Day. Warning: a bit of explanation is required.

    Like most grad students in liberal arts, I spent an inordinate amount of time in Sterling Memorial Library. A wonderful building but at that time still fairly antiquated: the electronic book database didn't extend to pre-1975 titles, there was no air conditioning in the stacks (meaning book rot was even more accelerated) and there were two systems a book could be indexed under: Library of Congress or the "Yale system," a maddening combination of letters and numbers that was sure to send you in the wrong direction.

    If I recall, and it has been a while, the library has 6 floors accessible by elevator and within those 6 more "between-floors" accessible only by twisty staircase. You would find your book's call number on the main floor (especially since the few computers within the stacks were either malfuctioning or being used) and then delve into the stacks.

    To guide you on your way, there were one-page charts posted throughout the stacks and in the elevators that indicated which floor your book could be found, based on its call number. It was a common sight to see a confused student looking at the chart, then at the paper in their hand, then back at the chart, ad infinitum.The library also left a handy stack of these guide charts by the front desk for students to take.

    I took a chart home and set about changing the floors for about half of the call number groups on the chart. Since this was way back when I worked off a grayscale Powerbook 520 with no Photoshop etc., I had to use exacto knife and photocopier.

    I printed off a shitload of the fake call number charts and then, first thing in the morning on April 1, replaced every posted chart in public areas throughout the library, including within the two elevators. Then, for good measure, I replaced the helpful "take one" stack with my own version.

    I left a few clues on the chart--for those who had looked for their books and then returned to look again, more carefully--indicating that it was a prank. By April 2 all the bogus charts had been replaced, but I had gotten a good laugh out of it, even though it was a subtle prank that didn't have a large, noticable payoff.

  • Cornell Pumpkin (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Big Bob the Finder ( 714285 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:48PM (#14360086) Homepage Journal
    I'm a little surprised nobody has mentioned the Cornell Pumpkin [cornell.edu] story yet.

    I had a co-worker that was at Cornell at the time, and claims to know the perpetrators. Further inquiries were met with vague comments about the statute of limitations.

    • Re:Cornell Pumpkin (Score:2, Informative)

      by dulles ( 86837 )
      Recently somebody attempted to repeat the prank, but with a globe / disco-ball thing. I don't think anybody could make it out too well, but I'm pretty sure it was a big disco-ball.

      Cornell had it removed, as this one wouldn't just "rot off" like the famous pumpkin of old.

      There's always talk around campus of how the pumpkin prank was done, and everbody's agreed that you'd need at least...

      a) a stolen key
      b) a pumpkin
      c) lots of rope
      d) lots of climbing experience
      e) balls of steel

      The details of the prank have neve
  • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:54PM (#14360132)
    While not high on the complexity level, my favouite segment was when they asked some people to deliver a large box (which was actually empty) to a specific office. The box was sized to just make it through the office door. The delivery people were distracted while they were in the office, and a small addition was made to the door jam so the doorway was just that much smaller. The delivery people were then told they had the wrong office. Hilarity resulted when they tried to get the box out the same door that they had just entered. They *knew* they had just come in that door, but couldn't figure out why the box wouldn't fit any more.
  • My favorite was taking a screen shot of the open Pegasus mail program (at full screen) and then saving it as the desktop wallpaper. The student council president, who approved the purchase of this first computer for the 2-year college's student senate, could not figure out why he could not open his messages, or close the program!

    It stayed that way through the entire second semester. He even mentioned his disappointment with the computer during his final address to the senate. After he left the room, the rest of us all looked around in shock--most people figured it out rather quickly, but our poor president never used the email program all term...

    I wonder if anyone ever told him.

    • Another related good one: write a quick replacement for whichever of the standard windows games your target likes to play. For example, minesweeper. Make the replacement minesweeper game lose every game on the first move. Place your phony game in place of the standard executable. Hilarity ensues the next time your target tries to play minesweeper.
  • One of the best I've seen was Alan Sokal's experiment with cultural studies [nyu.edu]. Sokal is a physicist at NYU who wrote a completely ridiculous paper entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" and managed to get it published in a reputable social science journal. While hilarious, the prank has a very serious message. The cultural studies fields are far too preoccupied with making themselves appear scientific rather than actually following the scientific metho
  • by aquatone282 ( 905179 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @04:12PM (#14360237)

    A co-worker thought he found blood in his stool and went to the Air Force clinic. The doc told him it was probably nothing, but to be sure scheduled him for a lower gastrointestinal at the big Air Force hospital at RAF Lakenheath. For the next two weeks we heard nothing else from this guy but how much he was dreading having a camera inserted into his rectum.

    When the big day arrived we were all treated to a graphic and minutely-detailed (and hilarious - the guy was funny at least) account of having his bowel snaked by a nonplussed female buck sergeant medical technician.

    After my co-worker left for the day (he worked day shift and I worked swing-shift on my own), I realized an opportunity existed that simply could not be passed up. Back in the day, we used large sheets of back-lit plexiglas and grease pencils to track the status of our aircraft and ground-support equipment. One section of the plexiglas board was reserved for phone messages. In this section I wrote:

    SSgt W: Lakenheath hospital called - problem with your test results call ASAP to schedule new test 293-1033

    I didn't say anything to the mid-shift controller when he came in and had almost forgotten the whole thing when I arrived the next afternoon for my shift. As I entered the building SSgt W was leaving our workcenter. When he saw me he rushed me and threw me into the nearest wall.

    "You son-of-a-bitch! I can't believe you did that to me!" he yelled and then began laughing. He told me when arrived that morning and saw the message he thought it had to be a joke. But nobody knew anything about it so he began to think maybe it was true - maybe the there was a problem and he would have to go through the terrible experience of having a camera shoved up his butt again.

    He refused to call the number for two hours, instead accusing everyone around him of setting him up. The other day shift workers told me he became quite frantic. Of course, nobody knew anything about the message but me. When he finally did call the number, he got the Burger King that had just opened at RAF Lakenheath.

  • UBC (Score:3, Informative)

    by ces ( 119879 ) * <christopher@stefan#gmail@com> on Thursday December 29, 2005 @04:27PM (#14360314) Homepage Journal
    University of British Columbia and espcially the Engineering students are well known for pulling various pranks.

    A favorite target of theirs is the Lion's Gate Bridge across the Vancouver harbor. Two I've heard about were suspending a car from the underside and setting the marker lights to flash out a message in Morse code.
  • by npcompleat ( 942042 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @04:41PM (#14360394)
    The best one I've heard was when someone left three (harmless) snakes in a student's room. The real killer was the note left prominently on the bed: 'There are four snakes in your room.'
  • by belmolis ( 702863 ) <billposer AT alum DOT mit DOT edu> on Thursday December 29, 2005 @05:00PM (#14360523) Homepage

    I did my thesis research at Bell Labs. There was a postdoc in our group who was just learning to use computers. One day, two of us hacked his account. We arranged for him to be immediately transferred to another machine. Then we changed all of the standard commands so that they did one of two things: either they printed their normal output but with every printing character replaced with an s or they printed the error message "s-inode overflow" followed by screenful after screenfull of s's. We did this one night and came in early the next morning so as to be sure to be there when he logged in.

    We waited and waited but no outburst came. We hung around all day, wondering when he would log in, but nothing happened. We were terribly disappointed. Finally, the next day, around noon, we found him huddled with a technician. It turned out that the previous day he had logged in, noticed the weird behavior, decided that it was just one of those days, and logged out, figuring it would probably clear up! He was so mild-mannered and so inexperienced with computers that he had not reacted as we expected him to.

    The other hack we did that year went better. One of the statisticians had a Monroe calculator in his office. For the younger generation, a Monroe calculation was a large electromechanical calculator, like an adding machine, but able to multiply and divide, and able to handle more digits, 16 I think. We used to go up to his office at night and play with it. It made a lot of noise as it calculated: kachunk-kachunk-kachunk-kachunk-kachunk-ching! Different calculations would make it play different "tunes".

    One night we lugged the thing down to the speech lab, set it up to play a particularly nice tune, and recorded it. We then modified the C compiler so that when invoked itwould play the Monroe calculator sound over the loudspeakers. People were surprised at the new auditory indication of how their compile was going.

  • This prank is fairly easy to pull off, and is cheap to boot.

    Buy some tylenol or other medicine with a separable halves dissolving gel coating.

    Unscrew halves, dispose of medicine.

    Fill halves with red (cherry) coolaid powder. Rescrew halves.

    If you have the patience, make some double sealed by squeezing the resulting pill inside of another set of gel halves.

    Take approximately 6 single walled and 4 double walled coolaid pills, and a wrench to your female neighbor's apartment (prank designed for on campus colle
  • Hacking at MIT was dealt a serious blow when the trespassing fine was increased to $500 [mit.edu] from a more tolerable $50. Many of the more famous hacks involved placing large objects or decorations on MIT's iconic domes. The main motivation according to MIT's authorities is "safety".
  • ...was with a pal back around 1990 - "The Christian Crusade to Stamp Out Science Fiction". My pal and I wrote up this completely ridiculous loaded flyer - how SF was ruining our children's lives, causing teenage pregnancies and bad grades, and instructing people to get together with community and church leaders and "stamp out science fiction!" We put a bogus name on it with a real P.O. box, and dropped them off at a couple of SF cons in the southeast.

    We got tons of letters from all over the country over the
  • So, where's CalTech? (Score:4, Informative)

    by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @06:48PM (#14361164) Homepage
    CalTech is so well known for pranks, that there are two books, Legends of CalTech and More Legends of CalTech about them. One of my favorites comes from the '30s, I think. In those days, on the rare occasions CalTech won a football game, the students would build bonfires in intersections. Needless to state, the Pasadena Fire Department took a dim view of this and put them out. Once, some pranksters put some asbestos sheeting down on the pavement, put some blocks of Calcium Carbide on it and built the bonfire on top of that. No problem, until the FD started hosing it down. The water hit the carbide and released acetylene. The resulting flames were enough to melt the insulation on the power-lines going overhead!
  • by gnovos ( 447128 ) <gnovos@@@chipped...net> on Thursday December 29, 2005 @07:31PM (#14361359) Homepage Journal
    The only serious prank I ever did ended up as a one-liner in Time magazine. I has set up an elaborate system of personalities on all the "What it IT?" type websites (people trying to figure out what the segway was before it was revealed). It was full of secret insiders posting information, other "real" insiders negating what was said and posting the slightly more believable "truth", fake PR people from Dean Kamen's companies playing down the hype, invisible agents from major industrialists and venture capitalists offering bribes for more information, with cryptic responses, janitors who happened to "see something", bitter recriminations flying back and forth between both sides of my "regulars" and "hoaxers"... Man, it was great fun. In the end I had thousands, if not more, convinced it was a kind of flying surfboard looking thing that used very little power and would alter EVERYTHING.

    Even in the wee hours of the morning, after Time and Newsweek had published thier international copy on the web, people were still convinced that it was all part of a HUGE elaborate conspiracy to keep the true nature of IT concealed until the very last second.

    Sigh, good times.
  • by TERdON ( 862570 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @08:06PM (#14361531) Homepage

    Lots of pranks are done at Chalmers [chalmers.se] too. My favorite is when a couple of chalmerists went to the city public parking dept and asked to buy a park bench. The answer, of course, was no. But after some nagging, ultimately, the students got to buy a bench. They got a receipt and all.

    The students started to carry the bench all over the city. Of course, the suspicious behavior made the police stop them. Multiple times... Finally, there was a broadcast on the police radio "there are two chalmerists carrying a park bench. DO NOT stop them - they have bought it and have a receipt". Of course, the radio amateur students were listening to the police radio at the time, and all the park benches in the city were carried by two students each (not the original ones) and all put on Götaplatsen [wikipedia.org]...

    There are many other good pranks from Chalmers though, like welding a tram to its track (if that hadn't cost really lots of money as the tram broke catastrofically it would have been great), or exchanging the messages of the speed radar notifications (mere notification, no speed cameras) outside town in the eighties for references to Woody Woodpecker [wikipedia.org], the mascot of the newly started computer engineering programme. And there probably is a whole bunch of them that I totally forgot, too.

  • by rickwood ( 450707 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @09:33PM (#14361901)
    Bob went to Gonzaga University [gonzaga.edu] in Spokane, Washington. Even in the early Seventies, when so many of the nation's college campuses were in turmoil, this was a quiet, Catholic Jesuit college. The most famous alumnus of Gonzaga is Bing Crosby [gonzaga.edu], and he made many donations to his alma mater, including a substantial collection of memorabilia. The crown jewel of this collection was his 1944 Oscar for "Going my Way".

    Even this serene campus in Washington had malcontents though, one of which was Bob's roommate. The powers that be had done something to offend him, and so they hatched a plan to get even. They would steal Bing's Oscar.

    Having seen too many episodes of "It Takes a Thief", they had an elaborate scheme for getting into the case where the Oscar was housed involving ventilation ducts, suction cups, and ropes and pulleys. In the process of casing the museum, one of them leaned against the case and it simply slid open. Astonished, they looked around and saw they were alone in the room, and then looked back at each other. Without a word, Bob stuffed the statue into his jacket and they walked out fore-and-aft with the statue between them, past all the folks at the student center in broad daylight.

    They then went back to their room, which faced the building where museum was, and waited. Not too long afterward they heard sirens, and when the police cars showed up, the old lady in charge of the museum came running out with her hand to her head and collapsed dramatically in a way that women don't do much anymore. Soon it was all over the campus, the Oscar was gone.

    After a couple of days, the pair released a "hostage photo" to the school paper, making a set of ridiculous demands. This only intensified the search for the guilty, and when the heat got to be too much, they dropped the Oscar into the mailbox, ending the "Great Oscar Scandal of 1972."

    Not quite ending, as it turns out. Several weeks later, Bob was called into the college president's office. Knowing what was coming, he swallowed hard and just went in. He got the expected lecture about, "I know it was you", "stealing is a sin", and "respecting the rights of others". Then at the end, the President made a confession: When he had been a student at Gonzaga, he resented the ass-kissing that the college gave the old crooner, and had always wanted to steal the statue. "How did you do it", he asked. Bob tells the story, and the old man just chuckled and sent Bob away with a stern warning.

    Months later, when Bob goes to the Registrar to pay for the next semester, he realized that there had been some kind of mistake involving the tution check from his parents, and started scrambling to come up with the money. The registrar stops him: His tuition had been paid in full, as he was the recipient of a full presidential scholarship.

    I know my old econ prof doesn't read slashdot, so he's unlikely to post his own story. I've called him "Bob", to protect the guilty. A quick Google search [google.com] appears to confirm that the prank happened. Whether or not it was really my prof that did it, I can't say. The proceeding is my butchered recollection of his tale as told to me in his backyard many years ago, that almost certainly contains errors of fact and leaves out crucial details.

    At the time though, it was hands down, no bullshit, the God damned funniest story I had ever heard.

No amount of genius can overcome a preoccupation with detail.