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Hot Caltech Prank Nails MIT Cold

Caltech's Prank Club mugs the entire visiting day campus preview of rival MIT

Published on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | 12:48 pm
A team of thirteen Caltech undergrads led by Julie Jester distributed 800 prank coffee mugs to a gathering "prefrosh" students and parents at rival MIT last Thursday. When cool they read "MIT the Institute of Technology," and when hot they turn orange and read "Caltech the HOTTER Institute of Technology" with a palm tree. (Photo by Greg Izatt)


Those budding young geniuses at Caltech have struck again.

A team of thirteen Caltech undergrads traveled to MIT’s Campus Preview Weekend last Thursday to mug the rival institute’s annual “pre-frosh” gathering of hundreds of students and parents touring the Massachusetts institute.

A Caltech undergrad hands out a prank coffee mug to an unsuspecting pre-frosh student at MIT on Thursday, April 10, 2014.

How? With a lovely parting gift—800 prank coffee mugs.

When cool, the mugs read, “MIT the Institute of Technology,” and when filled with a hot beverage, they turned orange to read, “Caltech the HOTTER Institute of Technology” along with a palm tree.

The mugs, which contained a special printing element, were printed in Southern California and then delivered to a Caltech grad living in the MIT area.

“It’s been a couple years since we had a good MIT prank,” said current Prank Club leader Julie D. Jester (that’s her real name). She told The Tech, MIT’s campus newspaper, “We enjoy our prank rivalry with MIT. We wanted to rekindle that relationship.”

The “prank war” between Caltech and MIT is one of long standing, with each one trying to out-do the other each year.

In 2006, a group of MIT students came to Caltech and “borrowed” Fleming House’s 130-year-old, 1.7-ton cannon, taking it back to MIT.

Pranks are, in fact, an integral part of the Pasadena campus’ history. The most famous was in 1961 at the Rose Bowl Game. It came to be known as the Great Rose Bowl Hoax.

Washington was playing Minnesota, and led 17–0 at halftime. The Washington cheerleaders took the field to lead the attendees in the stands in a card stunt, a routine involving flip-cards depicting various images for the audience to raise, to form a large picture. Caltech student altered the card stunt, culminating in the display of the word “CALTECH.”

The prank was masterminded by student Lyn Hardy, who disguised himself as a reporter for a local high school, and interviewed Washington’s head cheerleader. He learned that, by changing the 2,232 instruction sheets, they would be able to trick unsuspecting Washington fans into holding up the incorrect signs.

The students broke into the dorm rooms where the Washington cheerleaders were staying, and removed a single instruction sheet from a bedroom. They printed copies and altered each page by hand. On New Years’ Eve, three Caltech students reentered the cheerleaders’ dorm building, and replaced the stack of old sheets with the new.

The prank received national attention, as the game was broadcast to an estimated 30 million viewers across the United States on NBC. Author Neil Steinberg said, in his 1992 book, If at all Possible, Involve a Cow: The Book of College Pranks, “Few college pranks can be said to be more grandly conceived, carefully planned, flawlessly executed, and publicly dramatic” than the Great Rose Bowl Hoax.

Then during the 1984 Rose Bowl game with UCLA against Illinois, Caltech students rewired the Rose Bowl scoreboard to read “Caltech 38, MIT 9”

The Caltech Pranksters: Christina Meyer, Talia Minear, Greg Izatt, Justin Koch, Jesse Salomon, Michael Jensen, Nicholas Schiefer, Samantha "Pixie" Piszkiewicz, Jeff Picard, Julie Jester, Jeff Rosenberg, Grace Park, Brandon Robinson.

Although the first rule of the informal Prank Club is “Don’t talk about Prank Club,” we have learned that the organization is formally recognized by the school, and that the school and alumni also provide funds for some of its activities. Jester “assumed” the leadership of the organization this year, when the preceding president graduated.

“I was pretty much the most involved,” she said, “so I just stepped up.”

So, as the happy and unsuspecting pre-frosh—admitted but not yet committed to MIT—left an evening welcome gathering on the Cambridge campus on a chilly April 10, the mugs were distributed to the grateful young students, who likely filled them with hot coffee soon after, and another Caltech (if that’s its real name) prank was in the history books.

We just walked onto the campus, and waited outside the event,” she revealed to Pasadena Now. “Some of us had MIT T-shirts on as well. No one suspected anything.”

She added, “They probably didn’t find out until the next night, and I’m sure there are still some students who have the mugs on their desks, and still don’t know.”

“Pranks are a big element of the Caltech culture,” continued Jester (if that’s her real name). “We like doing spontaneous cool things. You know, you can look back at the time, in the ‘70s when a bunch of Caltech students ran to the Hollywood sign and made it say ‘Caltech’, and that was awesome. So, we always look back at these fantastic ones. We’re just a small institution, but we feel that our impact is really bigger than our size. We do cool stuff because we can.”

Caltech’s own Pre-frosh Weekend is this Thursday through Saturday.

Asked about a possible retaliation, the Prank Club president said, “We don’t think (MIT) will be able to get here fast enough with something, but we are hoping they’ll continue the war, and come back next year with something good.”

Christina Meyer, Talia Minear, Greg Izatt, Justin Koch, Jesse Salomon, Michael Jensen, Nicholas Schiefer, Samantha “Pixie” Piszkiewicz, Jeff Picard, Julie Jester, Jeff Rosenberg, Grace Park, Brandon Robinson made up this year’s prank team.


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