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Hackers amused the MIT community this spring and summer with a flurry of “modest current-event-driven hacks,” reports hack tracker Deborah Douglas, science and technology curator at the MIT Museum.

On the morning Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released, the image of a skull with a snake coming out of its mouth glowed in green lights on the roof of the student center. This rendition of Lord Voldemort’s “dark mark” was presaged by the appearance of a broomstick parking area, complete with broomsticks and sign, in the Stata Center. Hackers attributed the dark mark to the “followers of the dark lord” in an e-mail to the Institute’s emergency and business continuity planner David Barber, who acts as a liaison to the hacking community.

IHTFP appeared in Killian Court at commencement, as five banners declaring “I’ll Have Thesis Finished Pronto” unfurled between the columns of Building 10. And during an end-of-term lecture by Randall Munroe, the creator of the online comic site Xkcd.com, almost 1,000 playpen balls dropped from hatches in the ceiling (a reference to one of his strips, titled Grownups). The hack was reminiscent of several historic MIT pranks: In 1990, as the Class of 1994 posed for a photo in Killian Court, a sign urging the freshmen to smile materialized just before 1,994 smiley-faced Superballs fell behind them. And in 1983, 1,600 pink and green Ping-Pong balls dropped from Lobby 7’s domed ceiling.

“There was a lot of tension when the students broke into the faculty club,” notes Douglas, referring to an October 2006 incident after which criminal charges were filed (and later withdrawn). “So a rash of more-benign pranks seems like an effort at redemption.”

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Credit: Eric Schmiedl ’09

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