When you rip hundreds of young people from their childhood homes and thrust them into the endless torture machine of college life, it’s a certainty that they will find a host of ways to let off steam. Some students party a little too hard; others pour themselves into their studies, eschewing all social activities and habitual bathing.
Then, there are those who conspire against their academic oppressors, devising evil schemes to create campus chaos and disorder. Those brave young men and women are college pranksters. Some pranks are simple and amusing, others are complicated and cerebral. But they’re a part of college history, and some of them deserve to be honored for their sheer hilarity and genius. Here, in no particular order, are some of the best.
1. Carleton College’s giant R2D2
Students at Minnesota’s Carleton College draped the campus conservatory in spray painted sheets to make what could be the world’s largest Star Wars character replica.
2. University of Wisconsin-Madison’s field of flamingos
On September 4, 1979, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Bascom Hill was decorated by the campus’s Pail and Shovel Party. More than a thousand pink flamingo lawn ornaments graced Bascom Hill, greeting students as they made their way to campus that morning. It was a silly ploy to gain seats in the school’s student government. And it worked: they won 29 seats.
3. Harvard’s Theft of the Sacred Cod
There’s still some debate over which is more ridiculous: the existence of a Sacred Cod or its theft. The consecrated fish presided over the Massachusetts House of Representatives chamber until it was stolen by members of the Harvard Lampoon in 1933. After two days of panic, the cod was returned to its rightful place.
4. Great Rose Bowl Hoax of 1961
This one’s a doozy: it takes serious guts to hijack a college football game viewed by millions, but fourteen students from the California Institute of Technology managed to pull it off. With a daring operation that involved altering a crowd sign that was supposed to spell “Washington,” but instead spelled “CalTech.”
5. Doctor Who’s TARDIS visits MIT
Nerds pull the best pranks, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) produces some of the world’s best nerds and pranks, so you’ll see them more than once on this list. A full-size replica of the Doctor’s phone box spaceship was perched on top of Building 7 on the MIT campus. You can find this and other pranks on the university’s page dedicated to such exercises in humor.
6. Cornell University’s Hugo N. Frye
This obscure but nevertheless valiant hero and patriot never existed, but that didn’t stop several politicians, including a United States vice president, from praising him. (No, it wasn’t Joe Biden.)
7. Rice University’s Statue Switch
This prank must have taken a lot of elbow grease: students managed to move the 2000-pound statue of founder William Marsh Rice 180 degrees—the first time in 58 years that the statue had been moved. The amount of planning and experimentingthat went into the prank is astonishing.
8. MIT’s Bonsai Kitten
It’s important to remember that this is a joke; no animals were ever harmed in this prank. MIT shows up on this list again for the complicated and ingenious “bonsai kitten” method of growing cats. Check Wikipediafor a more complete explanation.
9. University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Lady Liberty on Lake Medota
Remember that scene from the original 1968 Planet of the Apes when Charlton Heston discovers an abandoned and sand-covered Statue of Liberty? The campus’s celebrated Pail and Shovel Party borrowed the idea, constructing an underwater Lady Libertyon Lake Medota.
10. Hamilton College’s varsity streaking team
Because dudes running through campus naked will always be funny, a brave group of “athletes” decided to create Hamilton College’s first first varsity streaking team. They never played a rival streaking team which, one imagines, is for the best.
About the author: Jesse Langley is a freelance editor and blogger operating from the Midwest. Langley is writing on behalf of Colorado Technical University.