An MIT “hack” is an ingenious, benign, and anonymous prank or practical joke, often requiring engineering or scientific expertise and often pulled off under cover of darkness—instances of campus mischief sometimes coinciding with April Fools’ Day. Indeed, hacks have been said to express the essence of MIT. For help getting into a fooling mood, here is a top ten list of hacks and pranks at MIT from Nightwork.
1. The Case of the Disappearing President's Office Hack: On President Charles Vest's first day on the job on Monday, October 15, 1990, Vice President Constantine Simonides escorted him to his office on the second floor of Building 3. When they arrived, however, there was no office to be seen, only a large bulletin board, flush against the wall and covered with newspaper clippings, including several about the search that lead to his selection as president, and also clips from The Tech Headlines, “Vest Takes Over on Monday.”
2. When MIT Won the Harvard–Yale Game Hack: The year was 1982. Harvard had not scored against Yale since 1979, but now, with 7:45 minutes remaining in the second period, it had just chalked up its second touchdown. The atmosphere in the stadium was charged. Suddenly a weather balloon burst from the turf at the 46-yard line. As it inflated to six feet, the spectators in Harvard Stadium could make out the oversized white letters that spelled “MIT” before the black balloon burst in a cloud of talcum powder. This hack was the first of three MIT plays.
3. The Campus Police Car on the Dome Hack: In this 1994 legendary stunt, passersby began to notice a campus police car on the MIT Dome as dawn broke, but many campus authorities first heard about the hack on metro-Boston traffic reports. Positioned on the Great Dome, as if atop a grand auto showroom dais, sat the shell of a Chevy Cavalier painted to look like a campus police car, its roof lights flashing. A dummy dressed as a police office sat behind the wheel with a half-eaten box of donuts. The car was number π and bore a parking ticket with the offense “no permit for this location.”
4. Campus Preview Hack: At the start of Campus Preview Weekend in 2010, a distinctive hack appeared high in the air on the underside of the Media Lab arch: An inverted lounge furnished with chairs, sleeping cat, whiskey bottle and glasses, potted palm, and pool table that was complete with cues, balls, and plans for a hack on the Great Dome. “Pretty awesome!” one visiting prefrosh commented.
5. John Harvard Hack: In the Halo videogames, the main protagonist, Master Chief, is named John. As the highly awaited Halo 3 arrived in September 2007, MIT hackers realized that the character was based on John Harvard, and they suitably transformed the famous statue on that other Cambridge campus. At dawn, John Harvard wore the game’s helmet, carried the game’s assault rifle, and had a Beaver emblem on one shoulder.
6. Lobby 7 Hack: In 1986, when graduate students in the architecture department’s Building Technology Group suspended a space station prototype in Lobby 7, the Order of Random Knights hacking group wrapped it in 1,600 square feet of cloth, turning it into a massive six-sided die.
7. VOMIT Hack: The morning that the Stata Center was dedicated in May 2004, one high wall was labeled with a mammoth MIT Property Office sticker complete with a barcode that lacked any right angles, just like the building itself. In 2006, hackers added a matching “V” and “O” to the stainless steel “MIT” sign in front of the Stata Center, “perhaps to express their opinion of the architecture, or perhaps as a commentary on the start of term,” the IHTFP Hack Gallery notes.
8. Why Sleep Through A Class When You Can Hack It Hack: In 1982, industrious hackers reversed all 199 seats in the 2–190 lecture hall so that they faced the back of the room. The prank was all the more ambitious because the seats are bolted to the floor.
9. “Please Wait to Be Served” Hack: During orientation in 1993, “Cannibals at MIT” offered frosh an alternative dining experience. A “cannibal” in a chef ’s hat stirred an enormous cauldron while a table nearby was set for dinner. “Please wait to be served,” patrons were instructed. Towering over the entire tableau was an enormous sign: Cannibals at MIT ... We would like to have you for dinner! Wearing club T-shirts, the cannibals darted through the crowd measuring freshmen in search of the “perfect specimen.” Those who passed muster were carried over and stuffed into the pot. When the pot was full, the Cannibals danced around it.
10. Hack Removal Team Van Hack: Inevitably, the hackers eventually decided to hack the hack removal team itself. The Confined Space Rescue Team (CSRT) carried the rescue equipment in a converted ambulance. Whenever they were in the midst of “hack removal” activities, the vehicle would be parked nearby, so it came to be synonymous with the CSRT. One morning the vehicle had been transformed into a Hackbusters mobile. The hackers had adorned the converted ambulance with clear appliqués (1- to 2-feet tall, and several feet in length) identifying it as the Official Hackbuster vehicle in the style of the vehicle used in the Ghostbusters movies. “Hack” was circled in red and had a diagonal line crossed through it. True to the attention to detail that hackers are famous for, the Hackbusters hack came complete with a note that included instructions on how to best remove the decals. The note even detailed the makeup of the materials used in the hack, explaining that they were safe and would not harm the paint on the vehicle.