Hack Madness: The MIT Tournament of Hacks—Championship Final

by Jay London on March 12, 2014 · 4 comments

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

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

Click image for updated tournament bracket.

Click image for updated tournament bracket.

After 10 days and nearly 28,000 votes, MIT Hack Madness has been narrowed to its final two hacks.

The 2006 Caltech cannon heist and the 1982 Harvard-Yale football game face off to decide the MIT community’s favorite hack. Voting is now closed. The champion will be declared on Friday, March 14 (Pi Day).

Arguably the tournament’s “top seeds,” the cannon heist and football game won each of their four matches by an average of 65 percent. View results for all 30 matches in the updated bracket then return to Slice of MIT to see who was named the Hack Madness champion.

Will it be the Harvard-Yale Game? The three-hacks-in-one-game escapade, which took four years to plan, included two different hacking groups and completely disrupted the nationally television football game. According to MIT Technology Review, CBS broadcaster Brent Musberger mistakenly announced that a bomb had floated down from the stands and exploded.

From “That Hack, 25 Years Later,” MIT Technology Review:

“This is the only hack that I have consistently been called about during my eight years at MIT,” says MIT Museum science and technology curator Deborah Douglas, whose curatorial responsibilities include hacks. “It is certainly in the top five hacks, and I rank it the greatest. It transcended ­categories and connects with the past better than almost any other hack.”

Will it be the Caltech Cannon Heist? More than 30 hackers—some posing as the fictional Howe & Ser Moving Co.—played a role in transporting Caltech’s three-ton cannon more than 2,500 miles from Pasadena to Cambridge. Upon arrival at MIT, hackers placed a custom 21-pound replica Brass Rat on the cannon’s barrel and designed a plaque to commemorate the prank.

From “Secrets to the Caltech Cannon Heist Revealed,” Slice of MIT:

With help from fake documents, uniforms, maps, and a doctored tow truck, they convinced the security guard that Howe & Ser were legitimate contractors. The security guard even provided directions and offered traffic cones.

“We left a bunch of details out of this story,” Mr. Ser says. “There’s a lot we’ll never reveal. But for the record, we did not rent a helicopter.”

View the interactive bracket for more details or read about the original field of 32. Check back to Slice on March 14 at noon to find out the MIT Hack Madness champion.

Harvard-Yale Game vs. Cannon Heist
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 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.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay London March 12, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Fixed and thank you!


duncan hughes '83 March 12, 2014 at 7:13 pm

The cannon is so very cool, that even the caltechers I have bumped into, think it was pretty cool. Unofficially, no attribution, but still cool.
And, it’s more recent.
I was around for the balloon, and it was great.
Cannon rules.


Ken M March 12, 2014 at 7:36 pm

At the time, I was told (by friends who should have known..) that two separate groups hacked the stadium audio system and managed to bork it badly enough that the unauthorized modifications.

I counted at least 3 different groups trying to hack the game, but let’s be honest, the buried weather balloon was a seriously impressive piece of work.

Only thing better would have been if the 1948 hackers had been able to explode the detonating cord (plastic explosives in a thin tube) buried in the shape of MIT’s letters. These days, it would be considered a terrorist threat, but back then, it was just a somewhat over the top hack.


m88 March 18, 2014 at 5:38 am

That’s amazing test! I wish I could be there. MIT – I miss you so much!


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