An April Fools’ Day Look Back at a Few of Caltech’s Best Pranks

Published : Monday, April 1, 2019 | 4:54 AM

It’s April Fools’ Day, and in Pasadena, there’s no better day to cast a wary eye at Caltech and recall some of its students greatest pranks over the years.

The Institute’s website even alerts student applicants that Caltech’s traditions don’t center around the typical fight songs and mascots. Pranks, it informs, are common.

Caltech students greatest coup might have been the ‘61 Rose Bowl Game between the Washington Huskies and the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Among the greatest-ever Caltech prank: the great flip-card changeout during the 1961 Rose Bowl game.

Organizers for the Huskies had prepared an elaborate stunt where fans at the stadium would flip cards at a prearranged signal from the cheerleaders during the game, so the cards would spell out the word HUSKIES on the stands when the stunt is complete.

Apparently, a group of enterprising Caltech students had learned of the plan and tricked one of the cheerleaders to spill the details.

The night before the game, 14 of the students broke into the cheerleaders’ hotel rooms and changed the cards.

Before over 100,000 spectators at the Rose Bowl and many millions more who watched the game on television on New Year’s Day, fans flipped the Washington Huskies cards at the cheerleaders’ signal, and the word CALTECH soon formed at the stands.

The prank was so perfectly executed that the crowd gaped in silence as they stared at the word. CALTECH?

It soon became clear it was a Caltech prank,

It dawned on the crowd: they’d been pranked! The crowd roared with laughter.

Wait! The Beavers lead MIT in the Rose Bowl? 1984 New Year's Day game fans fall prey to Caltech pranksters, again.

At another Rose Bowl Game, in 1984, Caltech students rewired the scoreboard to show that Caltech was trouncing its arch-rival, MIT, when the game was actually UCLA playing the University of Illinois.

And in 1987, Caltech students did another sign prank: the iconic HOLLYWOOD sign fell prey to the enterprising would-be Einsteins, who transformed it to read “Caltech.”

In 2005, Caltech students slipped into MIT’s preview weekend and gave out 400 prank T-shirts to prospective students. The T-shirts had MIT in front, but at the back read “Because not everyone can go to Caltech.”

In 2012, upperclassmen at Caltech pranked the frosh Physics 1a class, as is tradition, and converted a small closet into a TARDIS device.

The iconic HOLLYWOOD sign, interrupted briefly by Caltech students in 1987.

Then in 2014, the Caltech Prank Club erected a “PASADENA” sign in the hills overlooking the Rose Bowl; at halftime during the BCS Championship game, the sign changed to read “CALTECH” in bright orange lettering.


See a Caltech student hand out fake mugs to MIT pre-frosh: Hot Caltech Prank Nails MIT Cold


That year as well, Caltech students again slipped into MIT’s preview weekend gave away heat-sensitive coffee mugs that had the letters MIT to new students; when they poured hot coffee into the mugs, the letters turned to CALTECH.

In 2017, Caltech students helped deliver new MIT Transfer Application Forms to MIT’s Admissions Office, only that the forms were fake.


See the form: Caltech Pranks MIT with Fake Transfer Forms


The forms listed reasons for transferring to Caltech instead of enrolling at MIT. Some of the reasons listed: “MIT Isn’t challenging enough,” “Can’t figure out Boston traffic,” and “Snow.”

Parents who posted photos of the fake forms on Facebook were especially amused at one other reason: “Lack of good boba.”

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