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A Hack Retrospective

At first, the History and Lore of Pranks and Hacks at MIT presentation at McCormick Hall felt like a prank itself. Alumni and friends had to navigate around a horde of graduates lined up for commencement and then convince security guards to let them pass through a roped-off area. But it wasnt a prank; it was just unfortunate scheduling. Those who did reach McCormick Hall, however, were rewarded with an entertaining session about hacks of the past.

Edmund Golaski 99, SM 01, who worked on Nightwork, the MIT Museums recent book about hacks, presented a slide show of images from the book. He also described infamous hacks, such as a foiled attempt to set off explosives that would spell MIT in the turf at Harvard Stadium. According to Golaski, police apprehended MIT students carrying incriminating batteries but had to let them go when a dean explained that all Tech men carry batteries. Golaski also told of lesser-known pranks, such as the time students used a catapult to hurl air conditioners onto the presidents lawn and a performance hack inspired by the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey that involved students dancing in monkey suits, music, and a large box painted black.

After the presentation, alumni reminisced about hacks they had either seen or heard about. Some, like the one Bruce Schreiber 74 described, could just be myth. One year, Schreiber says, MIT students trained pigeons to descend and feed on the grass at Harvard Stadium when they heard a whistle. At the first football game of the season, a referee blew a whistle, and suddenly hundreds of pigeons swooped from the skies onto the field. Hackers intentional anonymity blurs the line between history and lore, but thats the point, says Golaski: Some of the stories are an oral tradition that we dont like to record.

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