1984 Rose Bowl Prank: Part Deux

1984 Rose Bowl Prank: Part Deux

The 1961 Rose Bowl prank involving Caltech and the flip card switch is absolutely legendary. College pranks are notorious and engineering schools seem to produce some of the best of the bunch. With the introduction of electronic scoreboards, the ability to introduce a whole new genre of technology oriented pranks were opened up wide; especially when considering the genius of those attending a tech college. Overcoming the 1961 ordeal has become a badge of courage and, in 1984 Caltech did it again.

In 1983, the president of Caltech, Even Murph Goldberger, taunted the students that they should never rely on the past results of those that were their predecessors to prove their worth. The ‘Techers’ were not going to stand by and let this challenge go and so they took it on, full force.

While security in the technology world is considered tight, the electronic scoreboard arena should have been watched like a hawk. Everyone is aware that it is a beacon for all to see and an obvious target for any prankster. Unfortunately, it had been so many years since anything had been attempted that there were all kinds of entrances available for those that had the intention. Power and television shafts were open and a lithe student could easily sneak in and out of them to get to the control area of the electronic scoreboard.

The students at Blacker House had been talking about an electronic scoreboard for years and now they began plans to do something about it. They carefully planned visits to the scoreboard to trace cables and wiring and turn on the rather old computer system that controlled the scoreboard. They planned on creating a device that would actually sit on the cable between the scoreboard and the computer, with the idea of changing information on the message area and team name only. Tampering with scores or timing was not an option they considered appropriate. The remote control signals would be sent via a portable laptop and, in the case of any power problems would revert back to the normal scoreboard controllers.

The coding for the prank that they intended was fairly complex. A command set was planned for transmission in ASCII-text or dot matrix pictures and they had included the ability for shifting and controlling the buffers for the light bulbs that were on the scoreboard. The scoreboard cable junction box was located twenty feet off the floor of the basement and, since it seemed a very remote location, it was there that they decided to install their device. Members of other houses joined in to get involved in the testing process, including rappelling down the sides of the wall to install the device.

By the time the day of the game had arrived, The Techers had an elaborate plan of transmission which included adding their illustrious name to the display and adding a nice bit of additional audio. The recording of “The Ride of the Valkyries” played along with the words “Caltech– changing the world to suit its needs” . The Techers were a mile away, when they heard the crowd yelling in the stands as the word “CIT” appeared and the fans yelled “Go-Cal-Tech, Go-Cal-Tech”. They finalized their presentation with the pictures of two beavers, which are the mascots of both MIT and Caltech. In fear of what might crop up next on the board, the officials had the power cut.

The onslaught of controversy that the prank caused created months of writing and arguing. The two main pranksters, Dan Kegel, ’86 and ‘84’s Ted Williams received numerous job offers.

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