Hack Madness: The MIT Tournament of Hacks—Round 3

by Jay London on March 7, 2014 · 14 comments

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

Click image for updated tournament bracket.

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

Welcome to Round 3 of Hack Madness–the once-crowded field of 32 has been narrowed to eight.

Third-round voting is closed. View previous round results in the updated tournament bracket then vote in the polls below or on the Alumni Association’s social media pages.

Are you new to Hack Madness? Read a primer of the tournament’s first two rounds below then visit the  Hack Madness official page for the full schedule and more information.

The tournament: Hack Madness, a two-week contest that invites the MIT community to vote for their favorite hack. The tournament began on Monday, March 3, and more than 16,000 votes have already been cast. See the original field of 32.

The early favorites: The 2006 Caltech Cannon heist, which has received more than 90 percent of the vote in each of the first two rounds, and the 1982 Harvard-Yale football game, which has received the highest total number of votes (more than 1,400).

The Cinderella stories: The tournament’s oldest entry, the 1928 hack that put a cow on the East Campus dorm, advanced to the final eight. On the other side of the bracket, 1968’s snow shower hack—which fooled the Boston Herald into a front-page story—has quietly overwhelmed difficult competition in the first two rounds.

Round 3’s toughest matchup: Two of the most well-known hacks, Smoots and the campus police car on the Great Dome, face off to advance to the round of 4. Plus, can the old-school cow hack continue its run against the “Holy Grail of Hacks”—2012’s Tetris on Bldg. 54?

View the interactive tournament bracket for details one each hack. Check back to Slice of MIT on Monday, March 10, at noon to see which hacks advanced to the round of four.

Vote by region:

Edwin Phortey Region

Harvard-Yale Game vs. Snow Shower

In 1982, two groups of hackers inflated a weather balloon near the 50-yard line that spelled “MIT” before it burst, spelled “M-I-T” with their bodies at halftime, and tricked fans into holding “M-I-T” signs in the stands.

In 1968, students faked a blizzard by filling shower stalls with snow, opening windows, and turning on the shower. They told the Boston Herald that they invented snow-making shower nozzles. The paper ran the story on their front page.

James E. Tetazoo Region

Smoot vs. Campus Police Car

In 1958, Seven students calibrated the Harvard Bridge using a 5’7″ freshman named Smoot. The bridge’s length: about 364.4 Smoots, give or take an ear. Today, Smoots are recognized in the dictionary and by Google.

An MIT police cruiser appeared on the top of the Great Dome in 1994. The car was equipped with flashing lights, a dummy police officer, donuts, a parking ticket, and plate number “IHTFP.” The hack received national and global television coverage.

Jack Florey Region

Cannon Heist vs. Lunar Module

In 2006, students—posing as the Howe & Ser Moving Company—traveled cross-country to rival Caltech and transported the school’s three-ton cannon back to MIT. They also fashioned an over-sized Brass Rat for the cannon’s barrel.

In 2012, hackers commemorated the 40th anniversary of the first moon walk by placing a half-scale Apollo Lunar Module and an American flag on the Great Dome.

Institute Historian T.F. Peterson Region

Tetris vs. Cow on Dorm

In 2012, Bldg. 54 was transformed into a giant game of Tetris. Players controlled the blocks from a console in front of the building and, upon defeat, the blocks crashed to the bottom.

In 1928, students transported a live cow to the roof of the six-story Class of 1893 Dormitory (now East Campus dorm). The Boston Herald reported that the cow went up to the roof easily but a “small army” was needed to bring her down.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

lu french March 8, 2014 at 7:32 am

Cow on the roof has to win. That’s just plain genius.


TGull March 8, 2014 at 7:38 am



Rachel Thurston March 8, 2014 at 9:16 am

My votes are for the Harvard-Yale game, the Smoot, the Cannon Heist, and Tetris.


Anne V Williams March 8, 2014 at 9:43 am

How come we only received notice of this today, in time for round 3. Terry thinks this tournament has been hacked.


Lorenzo Sadun March 8, 2014 at 10:58 am

This is a fun tourney, but you’ve made it way too East Campus centric, especially in naming the divisions. Hey, the rest of us knew how to hack, too! I’m also disappointed that the Great Breast of Knowledge didn’t make it to the dance. (How often does MIT make it to the pages of Playboy?)


Charles March 9, 2014 at 4:35 am

political correctness, and the presence of women at MIT precludes this ever being mentioned again, unless we go back to the good old days when gender quotas were not present.


Ryan Q. March 8, 2014 at 1:42 pm

While legendary, I think Smoot wasn’t technically a hack. More of a peculiar frat initiation that stuck and became tradition. The police car actually took some impressive engineering (it was assembled on the dome). As for the cow on the roof.. hacks with live animals just seem to me more like frat pranks than engineering feats worthy to be called hacks. Unless, of course, it involves the painstaking Pavlovian conditioning of pigeons at the Harvard stadium..


Tina Srivastava Dear March 8, 2014 at 2:18 pm

This tournament’s a brilliant idea. What a great way to get us alums engaged (albeit at half-time). Brought back a slew of memories.


Jim Mc Gurn March 8, 2014 at 2:40 pm

MIT. Hacks are the most ingenious!


David Sternlight March 8, 2014 at 3:56 pm

What about spreading nitrogen triiodide on Ames St., letting it dry, and calling the fire dept? Or releasing n-butyl mercaptan in 10-250? Both early 1950’s exploits before “hack” was coined, almost pre-computer. The first caused micro-detonations as tires rolled over the street; the second smelled like decaying corpses (for the non-chemical among readers). In those days EE students would hack the Bell system and then on summer internship at Bell Labs, develop countermeasures.


Keg March 8, 2014 at 4:37 pm

It seems so many people participated in the Harvard-Yale game, several hacks operating at one event, and it was so successful it is the greatest hack.


Paul Epstein March 8, 2014 at 4:39 pm

I was there for the “snow in shower.” I don’t remember whose idea it was to call the newspaper, but it was a cool idea and they fell for it hook, line, and sinker. And the story was picked up by wire services and ran around the world. Best part was the sub-head of the front page story in Boston. Under the headline about MIT students making snow in the shower was a pseudo chemical equation one of the Baker gang gave the reporter. Went something like:
Cold Air + Steam => Snow


Bob Weggel March 8, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Thanks for the memories.


Jeff Lepes March 9, 2014 at 7:18 pm

I was the one holding the skis for “snow in the shower”. A little bit of history: I believe that Jerry Grochow ’68 thought it would be a good hack to call the newspapers. Only the Herald took the bait and sent a photographer. It was a slow night because we had just returned to campus from intersession. We thought it would be interesting to build a snowman in the Baker House second floor west lounge. Someone pointed out that the TV room was directly below the lounge and we did not want melting snow to somehow leak through the floor and ruin our only good TV. Thus the snow gathered from outside was taken to the safety of the shower room. Unfortunately, the snow was too dry to make a good snowman so we figured that heating the area up with steam would do the trick. Instead we got fog. We opened the window to clear the steam and the fog got worse. That’s when some genius suggested that the newspapers might take an interest in our endeavors. The photographer wanted us to throw snowballs at him. We did and his camera lens got nailed with a perfect shot………..


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