ZBT launches rocket at Harvard-Yale game
By Katherine Shim
With eight minutes and 56 seconds remaining in the third quarter of the traditional Harvard-Yale football game last Saturday, a rocket erupted from the sod at the zero-yard line, shooting over the goal post an 81/2 by 31/2 foot banner with the letters "MIT" on both sides.
Police spent several minutes tugging at the banner, trying to take it down from the goal posts.
Three members of Zeta Beta Tau, Praveen P. Tipirneni '91, Andrew M. Heafitz '91, and Christopher M. Mayer G, claimed responsibility for the hack.
"We put a mechanism in the ground at approximately the zero-yard line with a rocket engine that shoots a banner over the horizontal bar of the goal post," said Tipirneni. "The mechanism was activated by about 480 feet of wire that ran underneath the field and connected with two metal bleachers of the stadium."
The wires ran under the sleeves of Heafitz, who detonated the rocket at an "appropriate time" with the battery pack he carried in the inner pocket of his jacket. The rocket was set off just as Yale prepared to score a field goal, which sailed wide.
Design of the hack began in September, Tipirneni said. "The whole thing was tested at a local high school early in the fall, but because of the amount of work that goes into laying a wire into a hole three feet deep and three inches wide in diameter,
we decided to go right ahead and put everything in place at the Harvard stadium," he continued.
The group encountered a setback in mid-October, when either the Harvard Campus Police or the Harvard grounds crew discovered the wires and removed the entire apparatus from the ground. To better conceal the hole, the trio was forced to use butter knives when laying down the wire.
Harvard police guarded the stadium
The vigilant watch of the Harvard police made preparation for the hack extremely difficult, according to Tipirneni.
"Getting into the stadium itself was really hard," he said. "Especially in the weeks right before the game. The police were guarding the stadium all night.
"We had to get the timing just right between their shifts," Tipirneni explained. "Getting in basically involved one of us climbing over a fence with spikes, crawling through a hole in a fence, and running through the stadium, radioing to the others if the coast was clear."
"After the cops found the wires in the field, the stadium was kept open at one end, guarded by a row of police cars with their headlights on," he added.
In the days before the game, the group took care to not leave any footprints on the field, and the entire apparatus was tested in a "particularly elegant" manner, Tipirneni said. "We turned the wires on, and placed a multimeter between the two metal bleachers, completing a circuit."
"Then we checked for the resistance between the two bleachers," Tipirneni continued. "If the multimeter read 3 ohms, we knew that we were okay. We never had to actually go onto the field in order to test the system."
Tipirneni estimated the costs of the entire hack to be about $300 per person.
Similar hack attempted
at Yale last year
ZBT attempted a similar hack at the Harvard-Yale game last year in New Haven. The hack would have involved four MIT banners erupting near a goal post via four rockets run by timers.
The hack fizzled, however, when one rocket detonated 12 hours too early, and campus police, startled by the explosion, found two of the three remaining rockets. The one surviving rocket did detonate during the game, but did not attract much attention.
"Part of our failure last year had to do with the fact that too many people were involved in it," Tipirneni said. "Last year, it was an effort of the whole fraternity. People were telling other people about it. This year, the hack was basically kept a secret between the three of us."
The last successful hack of a Harvard-Yale game took place in 1982. The members of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity set up a large weather balloon that rose from the turf near the 46-yard line during a break following a touchdown in the first quarter. The balloon, which had "MIT" written all over it, inflated to six feet in diameter before bursting.
In 1978, the Yale grounds crew discovered a remote-control spray paint apparatus that would have painted the letters "MIT" onto the turf. Also, in 1948, a primer cord used to ignite dynamite was found beneath the turf of the Harvard football field. The cord would have burned a large "MIT" onto the ground.