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The Third East hackers plunged ahead. In February, the brass-rat group began designing the ring, which it made in March with the help of MIT machine-shop employees. The hackers also launched their e-mail campaign in March and, to raise more money, acquired www.mitcannon.com, through which they would sell commemorative T-shirts once the cannon arrived on campus. Meanwhile, six hackers prepared to travel to California and “appropriate” the cannon.

On Friday, March 24, the cannon group traveled to Pasa­dena, where it spent the weekend casing the location and building a large wooden frame to protect the cannon during transport. Shortly after 5:00 a.m. on March 28, in less than 15 minutes, the six-person team of hackers hitched the cannon to the back of a black GMC truck. At 5:28 a.m., Caltech security stopped the truck. The driver produced a seemingly genuine work order from a fictitious moving company, authorizing a temporary move of the cannon while a more permanent display platform was being constructed; security let the truck go. Twenty minutes later, a service mechanic reported to security that the cannon was heading east on California Boulevard, away from Caltech. Security searched the area, but the truck got away. Once off campus, the hackers packed the cannon in its protective crate, expecting to hand it off to the professional movers. There was just one problem: the movers backed out upon discovering how much the cannon weighed. A hastily found replacement wanted more money than the first movers, prompting another, last-minute round of e-mail fund-raising. The cannon started its long trip to Cambridge on March 29.

At Caltech, no one knew what had happened. People speculated that the cannon snatch was a prank, given that the 20th anniversary of the Harvey Mudd prank was March 29. (The MIT hackers claim that this was purely coincidental.) A theft report was filed on March 30. Some Caltech students wondered if it was an inside job, a conjecture endorsed by an editorial in Caltech’s student newspaper, which proclaimed the theft “obviously a hoax.” But Caltech officials weren’t convinced. Insiders would have kept school security in the loop, they reasoned, but security head Gregg ­Henderson had not been forewarned of the hack. He did, however, receive an anonymous phone call telling him the cannon was safe and that its whereabouts would soon be revealed.

The cannon arrived at MIT on March 31 but was kept in hiding until Campus Preview Weekend. Early on the morning of April 6, the cannon appeared in front of the Green Building, the giant brass rat perched midway up its barrel.

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