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Black-Clad Jacks Lead Orange Tours, Share Lore

By Dan McGuire
Associate News Editor

We sneaked carefully onto the roof of the east parallel of East Campus. "Freshman?" asked a gruff voice. "Sophomore," I answered.

The hacker glanced at me. "Freshman," he said again, and then pointed to the left where a large crowd was already gathering. I followed obediently.

Small groups of black-clad veterans sat along the edges of the building, talking softly among themselves.

"Hello, my name is Jack Florey," said a figure, clambering on top of the roof entrance. "We're going to take you on a trip to Baker House."

"We're going to take a rather circuitous route, and we may find ourselves, say, on the Pyramids, or on the Little Dome, or in a steam tunnel," he said.

Jack then went on to explain steam tunnel safety procedures (hold your hand above your head so you don't burn your forehead), and introduced his co-workers, who were, curiously enough, all named Jack Florey.

We were divided up into groups, each supervised by a head Jack. The head Jack was ably assisted by herder Jacks and tail Jacks, making a group of about 10 people who knew what they were doing leading 30 clueless freshman around the bowels of the Institute.

Our first scenic tour was to the top of the pyramids, the pyramidal roofs that cap the river side of Buildings 1, 2, 3, and 4.

We were led through the basements of several buildings before ascending a staircase to the top floor of the building. We kept on going up, out onto the roof of the building.

Don't trip on chimneys

I stared down four stories to the garden below. Several other freshmen wandered over to the edge, stared down, and then backed off.

"Now listen up," said the head Jack for my group. "This roof has things sticking off of the top of it. Please look down to make sure you don't trip over things like these."

He pointed his flashlight down at a small tube that projected maybe three inches from the gravel roof. It was encrusted with something green.

We crept stealthily across the roof, or at least tried to, before closing in on a small, glowing, upward projection. A skylight. In the gloom beyond loomed a pyramid.

Some Jacks had thoughtfully provided a ladder for the less athletic of us to use to scramble to the top of the pyramid.

Once up there, we were rewarded with a commanding view of the Boston skyline. It was quiet while we all took in the view and estimated the distance between us and the ground below.

"There's something at MIT called Green-speak," said a Jack, breaking the silence. "It's the MIT version of Pru-speak: the times when people use the lights on the Prudential to spell out things."

"At one point, a group called the Boston Red Sox - I've been informed that they are a baseball team - was in the running for the pennant."

"The Prudential, in a fit of civic pride, changed the lights," so that they formed a gigantic number one, Jack said. "Then, as they often do, the Red Sox lost."

"MIT hackers, being concerned with preserving accuracy, turned lights on in the Green building to give a more accurate version of the team's status: number two," he said.

Entering the tomb

We took a strange route through several buildings that I did not know existed before delving deep into the bowels of some random building. "We're in the sub-basement," one Jack explained.

We entered a cavernous cement chamber filled with ventilation equipment. "This is a tomb," explained one of the Jacks. Architects overestimated the space that they would need for machinery to provide some margin for error, she said.

As a result, there was some space available for to exploit for students so inclined. We were shown the "Tomb of the Unknown Tool," a small alcove with a working light, chair, and table, where legend has it that one student spent many long problem-set filled nights.

Hands on your head

We were then led through the sub-basement to another machine-filled room. Instead of containing ventilation systems, this room housed pounding motors and pipes. I was amazed to find that the one-foot-thick concrete slab on which I was standing was vibrating.

We were then led to another vent, and descended into a steam tunnel.

The steam tunnel struck me as very similar to a house of horrors. Both are badly lit and things can leap out and try to get you. In haunted houses, these things are generally neon green plastic monsters, but in the steam tunnels they are large pipes filled with hot steam that emerge from the gloom.

"You don't want to run into any of them," Jack said, "because people would be asking you how you got a burn mark on your forehead for the rest of the week."

We emerged into a cool garden, where the Jacks spoke to us about what we would be doing next on our detour on the way to Baker House.

There would be a trip to the top of the Little Dome over Building 7, and later more hacking stories back at the courtyard at East Campus.

But it was at this point that I decided to take my leave of the Orange Tour. I'd seen the roofs and plumbed the depths, and now I really, really needed to sleep. Content with what I'd seen, I took leave of what remained of our hardy group.