Forget touchdowns, engineers score with pranks

-January 31, 2013

Folks across America are gearing up for this weekend’s big game, but there was a team of engineers from the California Institute of Technology back in 1961 who did the ultimate prep for a major football game, even though the school didn’t have a team at the time.

It wasn’t the Super Bowl, but the Rose Bowl, at which a group of engineers known as the “Fiendish 14” pulled the ultimate prank on the two teams playing, Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Washington Huskies.

During half-time at the Pasadena, Calif, game, a section of stadium attendees had been cards to flip over when the cheerleaders shouted numbers 1-15. The fans had corresponding instruction cards that told them what card to hold up when the cheerleaders shouted a specific number.

Calls 1-11 went as the cheerleaders had planned, with the fans’ cards spelling out words like “HUSKIES” or portraying images of the team’s mascot. But come call 12, well, the prank kicked in.

The flip cards started portraying a mascot that looked less like a wolf and more like a beaver, Caltech’s mascot. With the game being aired live by NBC and the announcers bewildered, the cheerleaders continued. A call had the cards spell out “CALTECH.”

The prank was far from child’s play. Caltech engineers had posed as reporters to interview the cheerleaders on the plans for the flip cards, then broke into their hotel rooms to change the instruction cards -- all 2200 of them.

Caltech should offer a minor in pranking. In 1984, engineers from the school once again pranked the Rose Bowl. Two Caltech students hacked into the electronic scoreboard as part of a class project. From a remote location, they made it clear who was winning the real game. UCLA and Illinois were removed from the screen and the scoreboard read “Caltech 38, MIT 9.”

MIT, by the way, has its share of jokers. In 1982, the Harvard-Yale game was interrupted when a weather balloon popped out from under the grass field. It was painted with the letters “MIT” and continued to inflate until bursting. The pop unleashed an explosion of talcum powder. Proudly, MIT displays bits of the balloon in its museum.

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