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15 of the Greatest College Pranks of All Time

College. The word usually conjures up images of all-night cram sessions, never-ending financial aid applications, alcohol-fueled parties and random hook-up sessions. However, there’s another reason to sweat out the early admissions process — the once in a lifetime opportunity to participate in a famous (or perhaps, infamous) college prank. Pulling a fast one on classmates, friends, the administration and the public has become a venerated part of the college experience. From statues painted in opposing team colors to presenting the mayor with underwear on a stick, pranksters throughout history gone to insane lengths to outdo each other — and get a laugh.

The Great Rose Bowl Hoax of 1961


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This prank unfolded in front of 100,000 spectators at the Pasadena Rose Bowl and many millions more who watched all across the country on television. Colored flip cards — as well as detailed instruction sheets — had been placed on seats where hundreds of students were seated. Upon a pre-arranged signal from the cheerleaders, the students were supposed to hold up and flip the cards which, when combined, would display images that would be visible to all those who sat in the stadium.

Once the flip was complete, the flip cards spelled out the word “CALTECH”. This would have been fine, if the tiny Caltech had actually been playing at the Rose Bowl that year (that honor fell upon the Washington Huskies and the Minnesota Golden Gophers).

Apparently, some Caltech students engineered the stunt by posing as reporters and tricking a bubble-headed Washington cheerleader into spilling the details, then breaking into the hotel rooms where the Washington cheerleaders were staying and lifting the instruction sheets. They then wasted several hours (or possibly days) of their lives switching them out for the Caltech cards.

The stunt went off without a hitch, prompting several moments of stunned silence followed by laughter. Washington got the last laugh, though, winning the game 17-7.

Pranksters Perpetrate Poop


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This prank earns its place on the list not for any striking originality but for the way in which the spectacle turned out for the perpetrators. In 1958, a group of students decided that the University of Southern California’s Tommy Trojan statue would look a heck of a lot better doused in manure. Not satisfied with an old tractor or pickup truck, they rented a helicopter to make the big delivery. Unfortunately for them, their cargo was sucked up into the helicopter’s rotor blades, splattering a well-deserved dollop of karma onto the would-be pranksters.

Other assaults on the statue have included painting him in UCLA colors, and even repositioning his sword in what LA Times writer Roy Rivenberg describes as “an uncomfortable position.” In an effort to prevent further desecration of their beloved shrine, USC’s Trojan Knights guard the statue during prank season, and the school has installed a live TommyCam.

Gabe Pruitt and That Girl Victoria From UCLA


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Back in 2006, a star point guard from USC got punked in a majorly embarrassing way. Gabe Pruitt, who went on to play with the farm team versions of the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers before heading to ignominy in Europe, struck up a Facebook friendship with Victoria, a cutie from UCLA.

Thing is, a few mischievous (or downright mean, depending on how you look at it) students from UCLA decided to play Lori Drew to the unsuspecting Smilin’ Gabe’s Megan Meier.

What this means is that Victoria was completely made up. However, an unsuspecting Gabe was smitten and soon decided to give up the digits — which were turned into a courtside taunt when fans of the opposing team decided to chant them. Gabe, who had been shooting 79% at the free-throw line that season, was only three of thirteen from the line that particular game.

Who Knew the Batcave Had a Pool Table?


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Get used to seeing MIT on this list. A small but quirky subset of Massachusetts Institute of Technology students pride themselves on coming up with innovative college pranks, called “hacks” at MIT. Just last spring, visitors who had come for the annual Campus Preview Week found a stunningly detailed replica of a gentlemen’s club lounge, complete with a pool cue, billiards and what appeared to be a cat napping in a leather easy chair.

Sound like the old college replace-all-the-furniture-outside standby? Well the hackers stood this one on its head—literally. All of the furniture and props were hanging upside down from the Media Arch.

MIT Students Put Subway Car on Great Dome


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Hackers, “pranksters” in MIT jargon, installed a solar-powered Boston MBTA-style subway car riding on the wall around MIT’s Great Dome on April 27, 2009. On April 28, 2009, with a large crowd watching and cheering, the subway car started moving.

This isn’t the first time MIT students put a multi-ton vehicle on top of the Great Dome. Fifteen years earlier, a group of extremely committed pranksters (read: students who didn’t have sex or extracurricular activities to keep them occupied) put a campus cop car on the roof of Building Ten. This begs the question: what exactly were the MIT Campus Police doing that was so absorbing that it allowed a bunch of (most likely drunk) nerds to abscond with a cop car?

The Crimson Vs. The Lampoon


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Harvard University can boast of several publications, with the Crimson and the Lampoon being two of the oldest. While the Crimson is a “serious” publication, boasting of several alums who went on to win Pulitzers, the Lampoon is more along the lines of the Onion.

Anyway, the two papers which were established in the mid-nineteenth century have a notorious rivalry, which frequently manifests itself in pranks against one another. One of the best ones went down in 1953: Crimson staffers stole the Lampoon‘s Ibis, the large bird statue perched on top of their office. They then sent it to the Soviet embassy in New York. The Soviets, who happily accepted the gift, had been led to believe that the statue was a gesture of American friendship.

Eager to get even, the guys down at the Lampoon wrote to delusional Commie-hunter, Joseph McCarthy, asking for a complete investigation as they insisted that the prank indicated Marxist leanings on part of the Crimson’s staff.

The Clock That Plays Dueling Banjos


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If you ever watched the Jon Voight/Burt Reynolds classic, Deliverance, you most likely remember the iconic scene in which a sixteen-year-old Billy Redden and Ronny Cox played Dueling Banjos. This instrumental duet between the two actors went on to become one the creepiest — and most compelling — uses of music in modern American cinema.

Now imagine darting across a leafy green college campus in Louisiana on your way to class. Suddenly you hear the opening bars of said song. The hairs on the back of your neck are standing up, your heart is pounding, and, without even meaning to, you find yourself looking over your shoulders for the inbred hillbillies that are coming to sodomize you. Now imagine hearing this unsettling music once an hour, every hour for several hours. This is exactly what happened on the campus of Louisiana Tech University. Apparently, a student there rigged it to play and gave more than a few of his classmates the heebie-jeebies. Of course, after the first two hours, it probably begins to make the transition from creepy into really annoying.

Like They Don’t Get Enough Flak Already


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It might not be too strange to hear a referee say “Penalty, unsportsmanlike arrogance” at a football game, but the “Stanford sucks” that followed it left fans in an uproar. Little did they know that University of California supporters had hacked the ref’s microphone system as part of a century-spanning history of antagonism between California and Stanford. Fortunately, the situation was diffused before the torch-and-pitchfork crowd could complete the referee’s decapitation.

Arizona College Students and the Unidentified Laundry Bag Caper


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Back in the sixties, a group of bored University of Arizona college students decided to prompt a scare in Tuscon with some man-made UFO’s. The problem was, they decided to use a combination of laundry bags, coat hangers, candles…and natural gas. Luck was on the pranksters’ side that night — no one got burned to a crisp and the cops graciously declined to make any arrests.

Streaking Sports Team


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Imagine taking a peaceful stroll on the campus of some prestigious small college in New England. You hear one, then two, then an entire group of people running up behind you. You think nothing of it — probably the cross country team getting in some more practice before the next meet — until the runners pass you. Bare. Ass. Naked.

Hamilton College’s Varsity Streaking Team regularly plays out this scenario for startled Yankees at colleges like Amherst, Tufts, and Wesleyan. They became so renowned for their antics they even got a movie, Streak To Win, which was made to commemorate their bits and pieces.

53 Teabaggers Get Towed at UCF


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While most of the pranks on this list are elaborately staged, this one worked by virtue of being simple, and probably took little more than an hour to plan and execute.

Fifty-three whackjobs — er — Tea Party Members, trekked to Orlando to listen to their leader Glenn Beck pontificate about how Obama has a “deep-seated hatred of white people”, or how Al Gore is using Nazi tactics to brainwash people into accepting the existence of the very real phenomenon of global warming… or even how he fantasizes about killing Michael Moore, ad nauseum.

While the teabaggers were listening to Beck’s lunatic ravings, a couple of fraternity brothers of Kappa Sigma were very quietly getting the cars towed out of their lot — a lot they had previously advertised as free parking to the teabaggers.

Was this a tongue-in-cheek protest of the Tea Party political agenda, an elaborate scam to get kick-backs from the tow company, or just the way that a bunch of southern frat boys passed the time before the next kegger?

Who cares? This prank was brilliant!

Pink Flamingos at the University of Wisconsin


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In 1978, a group of departing seniors decided to line up more than 1,000 plastic pink flamingos on the front lawn of Madison’s campus of the University of Wisconsin. Maybe they were trying to be ironic. After all, the temperature only goes above ninety degrees in that part of the world for about two weeks out of the year. Or maybe these students were just trying to righteously piss off the maintenance staff. Either way, The Class of 1978 started a tradition that continues to this day.

The 1975 McDonald’s Datsun Z Giveaway


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The irrepressible students at Caltech make the list a second time with yet another prank. Flash forward fourteen years to the time when afros, bell-bottoms, and butterfly collars represented the height of fashion. This time, the Caltech prank involved primitive IBM computers, $320 in printing fees, and a few bored computer nerds.

McDonald’s was offering up a year of free groceries as well as the one of the uglier cars that rolled off the Nissan assembly line. Enter the guys at Caltech. They took advantage of the rule stating that people could enter the contest as many times as they liked. They wrote up a computer program that created entry coupons. The program, which ran for three days, resulted in more than one million entry blanks.

Because the guys at Caltech rigged the contest so spectacularly, they did end up winning the stupid car. They also prompted such public outrage that McDonald’s felt compelled to issue a new car to a non-Caltech winner…and institute new rules that limit the number of entries per person.

Arm the Homeless


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In 1993, a not-for-profit group calling itself Arm The Homeless (ATH) issued a press release that read in part: “An ATH ‘Empowerment Crew’ will be in San Luis Obispo to perform outreach, fund raising, firearm safety training and to distribute donated firearms and ammunition to local homeless people.”

ATH, the brainchild of three Ohio State University students, was roundly denounced — both mildly, as an incredibly stupid idea, and more vociferously as a public menace — before being exposed as a hoax about a day later. As silly as it sounds, the three Ohio State students managed to get CNN, Rush Limbaugh, as well as the local news station to cover the story before it was debunked.

The resulting news coverage didn’t stop more people from fooling yet another round of reporters with his own version of the hoax in California and Arizona in 1996 and 1999, respectively.

Giant R2-D2


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While science geeks, sports fans, and athletes dominate our list of college pranksters, this practical joke was pulled off by (obviously) patient artist types. The yet unknown pranksters draped pre-decorated sheets over the Goodsell Observatory on Minnesota’s Carleton College earlier this year, creating a giant replica of R2-D2.

We have one word to describe it: cool!

Two Bonus Pranks

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So that was 15 of the greatest college pranks of all time. But we heard about two more from our readers that we just couldn’t leave out…

Bonsai Kittens


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Type the words “Bonsai Kittens” into Google and you’ll get about 34,000 results. The results, which don’t denounce the cruelty of anyone who would turn kittens into objets d’art, are the results warning people that the whole thing was a hoax.

It was dreamed up by a bunch of MIT students, who incidentally didn’t cause any harm to any of the kittens it photographed for its phony website back in 2000. That didn’t stop committed animal rights activists (or run-of-the-mill morons) from filing complaints with the FBI.

This hoax has become a full-fledged internet meme, and there are results from as late as 2008 asking for petition signatures to ban the Bonsai kitties.

The Olympic Underwear Relay


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The 1956 Olympics were held in Sydney, Australia. A group of college students, annoyed at how much reverence was being shown to the Olympic Torch during its 2,730 kilometer (1,695 miles to every one in the United States and a few small countries in Africa) trip to Sydney decided to steal it and replace it with a torch of their own.

They rigged up a wooden chair leg, a metal pudding can, and kerosene-soaked drawers and passed it to the unknowing mayor. By the time the mayor realized what had happened, the veterinary student Olympic torch bearer had long since melded with the crowd, not revealing his identity to the public for many years.

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