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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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  • 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 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 nizo ( 81281 ) * on Thursday December 29, 2005 @02:44PM (#14359658) Homepage Journal
    Probably a mistake. Now if it had popped up a page with a goatse picture on the other hand....
  • by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:02PM (#14359777) Homepage
    Hey, irregardless of his spelling, grammar, and punctuation, low and behold, he still managed to get his message across. ;)
  • by Mille Mots ( 865955 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:05PM (#14359801)
    Unlikely as it seems, that happens in a 'fast majority' (sic) of /. posts.
  • 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.
  • by dr_dank ( 472072 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:11PM (#14359855) Homepage Journal
    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.

    Ah a prank before our very eyes. A UNIVERSITY in ALABAMA?

    A talking unicorn would've been more feasable.
  • by squidfood ( 149212 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:12PM (#14359856)
    Actually (quoth the article "Even Adolf Hitler claimed to have been a prankster in his youth."), my favorite was the invasion of Poland.
  • by gcauthon ( 714964 ) * on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:25PM (#14359938)
    no fucking cookie?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:26PM (#14359945)
    ...expelling kids who pranked after my physics class turned all the trophy display cases into fish tanks.

    Well, there's your problem. You pranked the sports trophy cases. If you would have stayed with the math and spelling trophy cases then everyone would have had a good chuckle. Otherwise, you were making a statement about academics being more important than the school's sports programs. They had no choice but to quash those who had stumbled onto the truth.
  • 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.
  • by deacent ( 32502 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:36PM (#14360017)
    Something a bit similiar to this happened at my college, NJIT. The campus, located in Newark, NJ, has a very diverse student population. There is a large number of students from outside the US, as well as a number of students from the suburbs and the local cities. While the diversity can be enlightening, it also creates a challenging environment for harmony.

    During one semester, when the atmosphere had become particularly tense, a friend of mine had an opinion piece published in the October edition of our school paper. The letter was about the religious background of Halloween and showing tolerance towards people who have different beliefs. I was lucky enough to get a copy of this edition untouched, but before noon, every copy of the paper left the bins had the letter cut out of it. Naturally, it was thought that someone had taken offense to something in this letter and there was a lot of grumbling about censureship. That evening, I saw my friend and asked him about it and he started to laugh. He explained that his roommates were the ones who had taken all of the papers, cut his letter out of each, and returned them to their bins. They had taken the copies of the letters to wallpaper his dorm room with them. Every last square inch.
  • 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 29, 2005 @03:57PM (#14360145)
    I'm udderly moo-ved by your comments.

    You hit the nail on the hoof.

    Bully for you.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • by lampiaio ( 848018 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @04:19PM (#14360265)
  • 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 b0r1s ( 170449 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @04:43PM (#14360409) Homepage
    Has nothing on the HMC v. Caltech Cannon heist []

  • by bladesjester ( 774793 ) <slashdot@jamesh[ ... m ['oll' in gap]> 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 Culture ( 575650 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @07:33PM (#14361369)
    That nothing. When Buckaroo Bonzai and I were working on our doctorate degrees at MIT in 1989 (it was my third), we made a tinker-toy and lego anti-satellite missile powered by coke cans that were shaken vigorously before launch. The missile rode a flashlight beam that was shone on the satellite using a tracking device modified from a Mattel EZ-bake oven. We did not consider this an evil prank as the warhead was a moon pie.

    Unfortunately, we hit a secret Israeli spy satellite instead of the American commercial satellite that we intended to prank (it was broadcasting the Yale-Harvard game). Unfortunately, the Mossad was put on our trail. After we killed 5 Mossad agents in three hours of hand-to-hand combat on the Khumbu glacier, peace was negotiated, and we agreed to launch no more missiles. It was a wild ride.

    Has anyone seen Buckaroo lately? Last I heard he was working on some transdimensional teleportation device.

  • by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @07:52PM (#14361462) Homepage
    Exactly.. life is a sine wave.
  • by TERdON ( 862570 ) on Thursday December 29, 2005 @08:06PM (#14361531) Homepage

    Lots of pranks are done at Chalmers [] 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 []...

    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 [], the mascot of the newly started computer engineering programme. And there probably is a whole bunch of them that I totally forgot, too.

  • That's park bench thing is an old gag. A painter named Hugh Troy did it in New York back in the 30s sometime, in Central Park of all places.

    He actually kept letting himself get arrested, and charged, and taken to court, and then producing the bill of sales, greatly pissing off the judges, who would then invent something to fine him for. When the police started ignoring him, he too had random people leap into action and start moving real park benches around, although not for any purpose.

    Meanwhile, other people, intent on securing their place in history, apparently actually started stealing the things, realizing that they would be mistaken for him.

    Net result? Troy was banned from Central Park, and they still arrest people who move park benches around.

    His most famous prank, however, is the 'a rhinoceros fell through ice into the lake' prank. He punched a hole in the ice over a lake, used a rhinoceros foot wastebasket through Cornell University's campus, and managed to convince people one had fallen in. They actually dredged the bottom of the lake to find it, because that was the water supply and no one wanted to drink rhinoceros.

    Why'd they believe that absurd story? Well, a rhinoceros had escaped from a zoo a few days earlier. Or, at least, that's what the newspaper article Troy had planted said...

If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. -- Isaac Newton