Hack Madness: The MIT Tournament of Hacks—Round 4

by Jay London on March 10, 2014 · 6 comments

in 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 4 of Hack Madness,  the Alumni Association’s quest to determine the MIT community’s favorite hack. After three rounds and more than 25,000 total votes, the tournament has been narrowed down to the final four hacks.

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

New to the tournament? Here’s what you missed in Round 3:

  • More strong showings from the the Harvard-Yale game and the Caltech cannon heist. The two hacks have overwhelmed their opponents by an average margin on 72 percentage points over the first three rounds.
  • A down-to-the-wire battle between two of the most well-known hacks, the Smoot and police car on the Great Dome. Smoot advanced to the final four by a scant two percentage points.
  • A fond farewell to the Hack Madness’ Cinderella story, the cow on the dorm. The 85-year-old prank—the likes of which we’ll probably never see again—was finally defeated by the more recent Tetris on Bldg. 54.

Can Smoot stop the down-field momentum of the Harvard-Yale game? Is a massive game of Tetris—the so-called “Holy Grail of Hacks”—enough to plug the cannon heist?

Visit the Hack Madness page for the full schedule, view the interactive tournament bracket for details on the final four hacks, or learn about the original field of all 32 hacks. Check back to Slice of MIT on Wednesday, March 12, at noon to see which hacks advanced to the championship.

Harvard-Yale Game vs. Smoot

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

Cannon Heist vs. Tetris

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.

At 2012’s Campus Preview Weekend, Bldg. 54 (the Green Building) 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.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Ryan Q. March 10, 2014 at 7:33 pm

I swear Tetris on the Green Building was done well before 2012..


Jay London March 11, 2014 at 9:41 am

Hi Ryan,

We’ve heard many rumors of Tetris on the Green Building pre-2012, too, but have never been able to confirm! Please let us know if you hear any more info!


IHTFP March 13, 2014 at 5:07 am

There was “one-dimensional Tetris” in 1993.


Fred Anderson March 11, 2014 at 1:43 am

I was surprised by the absence of several hacks I thought I’s heard about. (These would all have been before 1970 shortly after I graduated.) Are the following apocryphal, or have others heard of them, too?
(1) The guys who dressed up as flagpole painters and, by that ruse, managed to steal the Durgin Park flag (which appeared the next day jammed at the top of Kresge Court’s flagpole).
(2) The use of a powerful projector to project a Playboy playmate of the month many stories high on the side of the Green building.
(3) The large group who kept the trolley driver busy at 77 Mass. Ave. until he noticed that he had seen several of them before (they were entering at the front, paying their fare, then getting off at the back to repeat the trip). And while he was kept busy, their confederates had thermited (i.e., welded) the trolley to its tracks. (This one, obviously, a long time ago.)
(4) The hydrogen-filled weather balloons with lit cigarette fuses taped to their side before they were released over the Charles at night. (Terrorized a number of residents of Back Bay). (Luckily, nobody killed themselves!)
(5) The organized one hundred & one students — each with a can of yellow spray paint and an assigned digit — who, on cue, dashed into the middle of
Mem. Drive and emblazoned it with Pi to 100 places.
(6) The use of two powerful (and carefully coordinated) loud speakers at opposite ends of Building 6’s roof then targeted on selected windows in the East Campus Dorms to shatter them. (This was before Building 18 existed.)
(7) The hack wherein, one morning, the John Harvard statue was discovered to have a slide-rule welded into one hand.

And while it wasn’t a hack, per se, it was a funny story: When a NorEaster flooded the basement of the Hayden Library and shorted out the control circuitry of the elevator. The elevator then became trapped in a repeating cycle of going to the basement, opening its doors, filling up with muddy water, closing its doors, proceeding to the fourth floor, opening its doors, dumping its load, closing its doors, and heading to the basement to repeat the trip. As I recall, maintenance had to quickly fashion a plywood dam across the fourth floor opening to keep this “sorcerer’s apprentice” from flooding the place.

Are these just figments of a 70 year old’s imagination? Or did they actually happen?


Paul Epstein March 11, 2014 at 6:32 pm

What’s this “the bridge’s length: about 364.4 Smoots, give or take an ear”? Maybe that was after they renovated the bridge and repainted the Smoots. The early version (I first saw the Smoots in the 1960s) had no such approximations. It was definitively: “364,4 Smoots + 1 ear.” Pretty good precision for the slide rule days when only three significant digits were considered precise. The Smoot guys got 4 significant digits, perhaps 5 if you count the ear.


IHTFP March 13, 2014 at 4:57 am

My favorite hack was the bogus artwork titled “No Knife” set up at the List Visual Arts Center in 1985.


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