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Into MIT’s Hidden Places: Follow the Orange Florey

By Eun J. Lee


Okay, I’ll admit it. When I was a freshman, I was totally clueless.

During orientation, I yoinked a promotional plastic cup from the Fleet table on Kresge Oval after what I felt was an adequate one minute mock inquiry with the middle-aged lady behind the table about Fleet’s banking services. In my hasty grab for that coveted green plastic booty, I failed to notice a small orange sliver of paper hidden inside.

It wasn’t until a little later while sitting on the Student Center steps that I noticed the strip of orange.

“Meet in the East Campus courtyard tonight at midnight to glimpse MIT from a slightly different view,” the paper read.

I looked up wide-eyed and suspiciously, eyeing those around me. Who had slipped this message into my cup? Surely not the Fleet lady. I looked at her shiftily across the lawn talking to more students. I looked around the oval, but everyone else seemed innocent. It was an eerie feeling.

I’d like to say that I made the rendezvous point that night, but I didn’t.

Trekking all the way to the other side of campus where I didn’t know anyone was pretty intimidating, and I also had no idea what would await me there. I learned soon after that night the significance of the message’s color.

This past Tuesday night, three years after receiving that first message-in-a-Fleet-cup, I finally took the infamous Orange Tour during my last year as an undergraduate at MIT.

“I’m not here... but call me Jack”

Through the years, I’ve heard the typical stories about the Orange Tour, its smaller citrus sister, the Tangerine Tour, and its harder-core brother, the Spelunkers’ Tour. Yet, I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at EC ten minutes late with a group of close friends.

We milled around for a few minutes before we were approached by two people wearing black shirts, one of which read “I am not here.” They escorted us through the basement of Building 66 and into tunnels that lead to the Green building. We soon arrived at the starting point for the tour -- the all-too-familiar lecture hall, 54-100.

We were one of the first groups to arrive, and as we sat and waited in the front row, a steady stream of tour takers accompanied by black shirts trickled in until 54-100 was around three-quarters full.

Someone in a black shirt stood on top of the table at the front of the lecture hall and raised one hand, and members of the audience followed in suit. This signal for silence was reminiscent of my elementary school days, and it was used during the tour throughout the night.

It turned out that the name of the person who spoke was Jack. Jack Florey, to be exact. It also happened that all the other dozens of black shirted guides who had congregated at the front of the hall went by the same name.

As I looked closer, I saw that most of them were wearing the same shirt with a mocked up Jack Daniel label that instead read “Jack Florey” and “Old No. 5 Roof and Tunnel Hacking.”

Originally, every Florey wore an orange jumpsuit to distinguish themselves, hence the name Orange tour, but MIT Police quickly caught on and a new tradition of black was born.

The rules of hacking

Our orientation in 54-100, where we were told rules we had to follow during the tour, lasted over half an hour. I was impressed with the level of organization and obvious consideration for everyone’s safety. But while it was amusing hearing what to do if we happened to run into an MIT police officer, I was happy when our group of close to 40 embarked on our tour.

Our first stop was the small dome over Building 7. We eventually got there through the tunnel out of building 54, basement of the Infinite, and climbing up and down to different levels at various points along the Infinite until we ascended a particular stairwell to the roof.

Even though it was an overcast night, the Boston skyline reflected brightly across the river, and Mars shone intensely through the gaps in the clouds.

We followed the Jacks up the base of the dome, where more Jacks holding ladders were waiting for us. Once we got to the curved part of the dome, we were on our own climbing up the curve other than a murmur of advice I heard that “it’s easier to climb up on your butt.”

I’m not usually scared of heights, but those first few steps up the dome were scary (I opted for the non-butt-first option). It had rained earlier, and I was scared my shoes would slip off the narrow ledges I was holding onto for dear life. Fortunately, though, it got much easier towards the top, and it was well worth it. The view was spectacular, and while we sat there, we were told stories of past MIT hacks by one of the Jacks, including some of the more famous Dome hacks like “the one ring to rule them all” and “Lobby 7 cathedral.”

Our next stop was atop one of the four rooftop pyramids flanking Killian Court. It was much easier to climb up, but it was hard to resist the urge to stand up so we wouldn’t be spotted. Once on top, we had another great view of Boston, and we were told more hacking stories and Tech stories with topics including Green building speak and I.M. Pei ’40.

Our final stop was through the steam tunnels under the Infinite through a bunch of machines and two “tombs.”

“Tombs” are what the hacking community call empty unused space they discover in Institute buildings. As we slunk into the first tomb past whirring machines and puddles on the ground, we looked around at the space around us. On the walls were large murals in tribute to the major hacking communities -- the Jack Florey logo was there next to James Tetazoo III’s “Hackito ergo sum,” J. Arthur Random’s #17 Sailboat, and TEP’s logo.

On the ceiling were various signatures, known as “sign-ins.”

“There’s a difference between hackers and hacking,” one Jack said during the tour. Hackers are the ones who pull those wholesome pranks that we hear about, while hacking is just another term for exploring spaces in buildings on campus. Also, “sign-ins” are different from graffiti because they are meant to mark some sort of accomplishment like gaining access into somewhere that is hard to get to.

Painted on the wall of the last tomb we entered were rules to hacking, which included not destroying property, not stealing, and not hacking alone just to name a few.

Definitely a different view

While I’m glad I went on the tour, I feel as though it would have been much more exciting if I was a freshman and didn’t know where I was going.

Also, at one point I felt like the mysterious mood of the tour was broken when one of my companions pointed our her research lab on the way to the steam tunnels. On the plus side, though, I did learn a new entrance into 54-100, which will probably come in handy this winter.

I also realized that I’ve come to take for granted what a unique and cool place MIT is. Where else do snowmen appear on rooftops in July or people traipse around steam tunnels? It almost brings a tear to my embittered senior eyes.

I finally got home close to 4 a.m. after stopping back at East Campus after the tour for some free doughnuts and orange juice. I had to pass on staying longer for more stories and a chance to visit the “bonus location,” which I hear is usually the top of the Green building. After three years at MIT, getting to spend more than five hours in my bed is bonus enough for me.