Journal of IHTFP a joyful account of MIT hacksPOSSIBLE HED:
THE JOURNAL OF THE
INSTITUTE FOR HACKS,
AND PRANKS AT MIT.
By Brian M. Leibowitz '82.
The MIT Museum, 158 pp., $19.95.
By PRABHAT MEHTA
MY BRIEF CAREER IN HACKING began and ended during Residence/Orientation Week my freshman year. One night, towards the end of rush, I embarked upon a surreal journey of sorts -- the spelunkers' tour. Under cover of the night, I joined about 20 other wide-eyed freshmen and a couple of guides to criss-cross the forbidden catacombs and roofs of the Institute. We would all later be rounded up by Campus Police officers while on top of the Great Dome over Lobby 10.
Sleepy, with stuff still in the corners
of my eyes, I showed up at the Campus Police station the next morning at 7 am to pick up my ID. I was slapped on the wrist; told that if I got into any more "trouble," I would actually have to pay the requisite $50 fine; and sent back to consider the ramifications of my delinquency. At the time, I was worried that my record would be tarnished. Needless to say, my hacking days were behind me.
But my will proved indefatigable, and as the atmosphere of MIT began to penetrate my soul later that year, I gladly took a job which my advisor, MIT Museum Director Warren A. Seamans 'HM, offered me in the collections department. My mission: to organize the piles of information the museum had collected over the years on hacking at MIT. The information, I was told, would be used for slide presentations and, possibly, a book. For the next four months, I sifted through piles of photographs depicting everything from coed streakers running across Kresge Oval to mischievous Senior House residents brewing their own spirits during the darkest days of Prohibition.
And so when Brian M. Leibowitz '82 came by The Tech a couple weeks ago with the final version of his hack book before it was to be printed, I took an eager preview, and anxiously awaited the arrival of the review copy. I wasn't disappointed. From beginning to end, The Journal of the Institute for Hacks, TomFoolery, and Pranks at MIT (IHTFP!) proves to be a joyful ride through our school's rich history of good, clean fun. It moves thematically through the biggest capers of MIT's only real tradition (the first recorded hack took place in the mid-1870s, Leibowitz notes
in the introduction), with an emphasis
on showing the reader what actually happened with big, truly memorable photographs.
It is perhaps with the photographs that this books marks its greatest success. Photographs of hacks are generally of poor quality. This, Leibowitz says, is because of the "clandestine" nature of the activity. But the photographs used in this book have been carefully chosen from the museum's collection, which contains many third-hand reproductions. The cover photograph of the "Great Pumpkin" hack -- in which the Great Dome was dressed up to represent the Jack-O-Lantern of Peanuts character Linus' dreams -- was masterfully retouched by an artist who poured the appropriate color of paint into each crack. The result is a beautiful red-orange depiction of the Institute coming to life on Halloween night, 1962.
The "Great Pumpkin" hack is just one of the wonderful photographs in the "Buildings" chapter, which I consider to be the best. Like the pumpkin, other hacks on MIT buildings have attempted
to give them personalities or alternate purposes. My favorites include the 1972 "George" hack on the Small Dome -- in which the entire structure was covered by black polyethylene sheeting. Two eyes are painted to give the impression of a scared little giant peering over the 77 Massachusetts Ave. entrance to the Institute. Others might prefer the "nipple" hacks -- in which structures were placed on the tops of the domes to depict "Mamma Maxima Scientiae" (Great Breast of Knowledge) -- but I found it to be uncomfortably realistic. (Imagine the Institute as your mother. . . .) Of course, building hacks have not been limited to the domes. One classic caper which took place in the Infinite Corridor was the 1985 "Massachusetts Toolpike," which included road signs, yellow lines, and even a car parked in Lobby 10.
Other sections of this book cover the freshman picnic, Hahvahd, and the now nearly defunct humor magazine Voo Doo. The Hahvahd chapter includes the infamous Harvard-Yale game hack of 1982. Leibowitz interestingly points out that the media attention focused on Delta Kappa Epsilon's balloon hack neglected two other MIT hacks that day. The MIT marching band managed to get onto the field and spell the letters "MIT," and placards that unknowing Harvard fans raised in hopes of spelling "BEAT YALE" in the fourth quarter in fact spelled out "MIT." There can be no doubt who really won that game.
There is so much more to be said about this book, so many moments of sheer MIT brilliance to discuss. But I have neither the space nor desire to keep telling you about them. You'll just have to go out to the museum or the MIT Museum Shop on the first floor of the Stratton Student Center and buy the book for yourself. Flipping through one last time as write this review, though, I can't help but tell one final story. "As you read The Journal . . . you will see that even the president of this august institution is not immune from the hacker's thrust," writes President Paul E. Gray '54 in the "nextword."
I wondered what he meant for a while until I reached a photograph on page 71 of two young men on one of the roofs of East Campus. Nothing special, except that both are on a car, and one would go on to become the 10th president of MIT. He was the late James R. Killian Jr. '26, hacker extraordinaire.