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caltech weenies

about a week ago, a couple of mit kids pulled the first spectacular hack i’ve seen during my short tenure here.

the kids sacrificed their spring break to travel to caltech (which shares a pranking rivalry with mit) to “appropriate” this:

it’s a 3-ton cannon that’s been a fixture on the caltech campus for decades. a friend told me that caltech students would shoot spaghetti out of it during finals week.

this wasn’t the first time the cannon was stolen: harvey mudd (that lovable engineering school) lifted the piece of artillery in the mid-1980s. there’s an enjoyable retelling of that story here.

so to commemorate the 20th anniversary of that heist, the mit pranksters shlepped over to california and hatched the following scheme. they formed the howe & ser moving company (a play on the word howitzer?) and wrote up fake work orders. the mit’ers then simply walked onto campus, flashed the work orders at some befuddled security guards, and quickly absconded with the cannon.

there was nothing fancy, though, about getting the cannon back to mit. i hear it cost something like $4K to hire a legitimate moving company for the shipment of a 3-ton antique. (where do these kids get this kind of money? perhaps they solicit funds from wealthy alumni hackers.)

in any case, the hack has been considered a great success around here and everyone’s been living vicariously through it. for a while, caltech couldn’t even figure out who took the cannon. harvey mudd was initially accused; i guess people didn’t think to look 3000 miles across the country for their missing gun. and for good reason: i went over to see the cannon the other day and was amazed by how big the thing is – it looked to be about 10 feet tall.

the cannon was also adorned with this classy brass ring:

in the end, caltech got its cannon back. their solution, however, wasn’t nearly as elegant.

word on the street is that caltech initially threatened some kind of prissy legal action. to save face perhaps, a couple of caltech students decided to counter-prank mit by stealing the cannon back themselves. unfortunately, they did a pretty lousy job of it. their first misguided plan involved a helicopter and was ultimately deemed infeasible. the second couldn’t even get past campus police. tails between their legs, the caltech students were finally “given” the cannon back in broad daylight. they were even being chaperoned by a caltech vice president.

i imagine the howe and ser movers still get the last laugh – they didn’t have to pay the return shipping costs.

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One Response to “caltech weenies”

  1. on 14 Apr 2006 at 8:53 am Anonymous

    heh, that a pretty awsome prank (i dont know how that qualifies as a “hack” though…

    also that ring looks more like gold plated aluminum rather than brass :)


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