Announcing Hack Madness: The MIT Tournament of Hacks

by Jay London on February 28, 2014 · 6 comments

in Alumni Life, Arts, Campus Culture, Hacks, Modern Geekhood, Remember When..., Student Life

Update: We have a winner! See who was named Hack Madness Champion.


“Hacking is the students reminding the administration that they are smarter than them.”
– Former MIT administrator Ben Jones


According to the seminal anthology Nightwork, an MIT hack is ingenious, benign, and ephemeral mischief pulled off under a cloud of secrecy or misdirection.

Some hacks—like ones that interrupt a football game or misplace a police car—receive national attention. Others, like a nerd cathedral or a building-size video game, are purely for the enjoyment of the MIT community.

To honor this tradition, coupled with the tournament-mad month of March, the MIT Alumni Association announces Hack Madness: The MIT Tournament of Hacks, a two-week contest that invites the MIT community to vote for their favorite hack. View the full interactive bracket. Tournament voting is now closed.

The five-round tournament began on Monday, March 3. Votes can be cast on Slice of MIT and the Alumni Association’s social media pages. Jump to the official tournament page for the schedule and voting details.

Choosing the hacks was difficult and subjective—some favorites will be left out. The 32 selected hacks cover nine decades of pranks at more than 20 MIT locations plus, of course, off-campus classics at Harvard and Caltech.

But there are hacks for all kinds, like a cross-country cannon heist, a new unit of measurement, and a cow on a roof. Vote to help your favorite hack advance.

The bracket was compiled based on input from the elusive Institute of Hacking Theatrics and Fugacious Pranks (IHTFP) with invaluable research culled from Nightwork, the MIT Museum’s Institute for Hacks, Tomfoolery, and Pranks, and the online MIT IHTFP Hack Gallery. The tournament would not be possible without those resources.

In a nod to history, each region of the tourney honors infamous hacking legends: Jack Florey, James Tetazoo, Edwin Phortey, and Institute Historian T.F. Peterson.

Check back with Slice of MIT and the Alumni Association’s social media outlets each day to vote. Visit the Hack Madness official page for the tournament schedule and more information.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Ken M February 28, 2014 at 4:59 pm

I cannot imagine winning this bracket given the stiff competition, but I am honored to have been part of a hack (“MIT Students Claim Harvard as a Colony (1982)”) that made it into the initial 32.


Stacey Nakamura March 3, 2014 at 7:58 am

Please add a note/link on this page to the Round 1 Slice of MIT Survey Tool – There are 3 Slice of MIT “articles” on the Hack Madness, one of which is the Round 1 voting article, and most folks will simply go to the other 2 articles because that is where they found out about the Hack Madness. Right now, they will not find the Round 1 voting tool article from those other 2 articles.


Jay London March 3, 2014 at 9:46 am

Thanks Stacey–I’ve added links to each page that directs the reader to the voting tool. Thanks again for the helpful feedback, and of course, thanks for voting!


Henry Hall March 3, 2014 at 5:16 pm

I’ve been at the Institute since September 1966, and have seen and appreciated much in the way of hacking. Never has it seemed a matter of comparing one with another. And since when has hacking at MIT been a contest. You do not “honor this tradition” of wildly individual acts of creativity by presuming to pick a “greatest”. If you want to do these efforts justice: invite stories, anecdotes, unknown details–from the perpetrators, or those who were there, or those who took inspiration. See if you can illuminate and build. But why denigrate even one little heartfelt prank by presuming to rank the un-rankable. Popular appeal notwithstanding, entertaining that notion has the look of inviting followers to judge genius. You used the word “favorite”. Can’t you stop there.

Not personally interested in comment on this opinion.


Emil M Friedman March 3, 2014 at 9:06 pm

If write-ins were available I would vote for the time that the crimson tables at the Harvard commencement breakfast spelled out “M I T”.


Heather Wilkinson Rojo March 18, 2014 at 9:23 pm

What?! No cow on the dome? That hack was much more famous than the cow on the dorm.


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