How Cool is This: page 1


MIT Student Pranks


The word hack at MIT usually refers to a clever, benign, and "ethical" prank or practical joke, which is both challenging for the perpetrators and amusing to the MIT community (and sometimes even the rest of the world!). Note that this has nothing to do with computer (or phone) hacking (which we call "cracking").


I got started on this page on December 17, 2003: the anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight. These two pictures and captions appeared on the Boston Globe website:


"A cyclist speeds past the MIT dome in Cambridge, where pranksters honored
today's 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight with a model
biplane. Stealthily hauling large objects to the top of the dome is a long-
standing tradition at the university."



"MIT employees Gary Cunha (left) and David Barber climb up to check out the
students' handiwork."

I thought this was great. Really terrific. A harmless prank, indeed, that takes a lot of time and planning, secrecy and effort, hurts nobody, and entertains immensely.

So I looked at the MIT hacks website. Here were a few more, taken verbatim from their pages:

Location:W20 elevators
Date: Registration Day, Fall 1998
Perpetrators: unknown

The normally quiet (or, at least, inarticulate) elevators in the Stratton Student Center (W20) began announcing the floors. Hackers had, apparently, tapped into the elevator floor signalling to provide a more informative (or amusing), audible cue to the current destination of the elevator.

Each of the two elevators apparently had its own personallity.

Floor East Elevator says... West Elevator says...
Basement Video arcade, post office, bowling alley. There's a basement? Who knew?
First Floor First floor: Ice cream, groceries, empty storefronts, and the real world. Expensive groceries, expensive banking, expensive clothing, expensive food.
Second Floor Greasy food, student art, and the airport lounge. Black leather, twisted art, and pango-pango wood.
Third Floor Addictions. Caffeine, sugar, Athena 24-hour coffeehouse. Hours may vary.
Fourth Floor APO, ESP, MTG, SFS, SWE, *LSC*... Charity, religion, truth, fiction, Assassins.
Fifth Floor It's not too late to turn back now. If you lived here, you'd be home now.
Random (bonus) This is not the hack you're looking for.

Rumor has it that, a campus police officer stepped into the East elevator on the second floor shortly after the hack had become operational. Just then, the elevator decided to announce: ``This is not the hack you're looking for.''

Shown below are pictures of the hack electronics which physical plant found in the elevators.

On the first day of spring finals and two days before the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, students arrived on campus to find the Great Dome transformed into a likeness of R2-D2, the famous droid from the Star Wars saga. (


This one has to be my favorite: particularly the box of donuts. That just cracks me up.

Location: The ``Great Dome'' (Building 10)
Date: Monday May 9, 1994 (The last day of classes)

Throughout the years, one of the favorite sites of hacks has been the ``Great Dome,'' the large classical dome that sits atop Building 10. In May of 1994, inspired hackers created what might just become one of the most famous Dome hacks of all time, by placing what appeared to be a real MIT Campus Police cruiser on top of the dome, complete with flashing lights.

The car turned out to be the outer metal parts of a Chevrolet Cavalier attached to a multi-piece wooden frame, all carefully assembled on the roof over the course of one night. The hackers paid special attention to detail. Not only had the Chevy been painted to look just like a Campus Police car from all sides, but a dummy dressed up as a police officer sat within, with a toy disc gun and a box of donuts. The car, numbered ``pi,'' also sported a pair of fuzzy dice, the license number ``IHTFP,'' an MIT Campus Police parking ticket (``no permit for this location''), and a yellow diamond-shaped sign on the back window proclaiming ``I break for donuts.''

People first began noticing the hack early in the morning, just before sunrise, when passers by spotted the flashing lights on top of the building.

To see more of these pranks, try, or