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College campuses are traditionally sites for creative mischief of all kinds, ranging from ho-hum classics such as toilet papering a room to stunts of such ingenuity and large-scale coordination that they raise the bar for the rest of us forever. On this page we shout those instances of this brand of triumph that we are proud to call our own. We keep in mind the need for discretion as we write, lest our champions face persecution for their actions or critical points of access become barred to us.
Pranks represent an ephemeral hole in the fabric of civilization, whose end since its beginning has been to create law and order to protect the weak from the strong. A prank is a fleeting triumph of one or a few clever, brutish, or nutty individuals over a naive target, perhaps a whole community, whose faith in the mundane makes prime grist for levity.
But though these characteristics are what make a prank special, celebrated, so also are why a tension has always and must forever exist between between pranksters and authoritarians, between standards of common decency and whispered adulation of violations of those standards. It is a strife as old as Rome and the Visigoths, as Athens and Sparta, as the first time man discovered how to laugh at his fellow man.
Pranks Involving Computers
She's only programmed to be very nice
But she's as cold as ice
Whenever I get too near
-- Yours Truly 2095, Electric Light Orchestra
- In the middle of October, Brian Hirshman '06 noticed that Johannes Pulst-Korenberg '06 was away from his keyboard. Brian deftly set Johannes's keyboard layout to Dvorak, which is different then the standard QWERTY layout that most people use. Johannes quickly found that his keystroke input was more or less unusable, and demanded that Brian change it back. Johannes vowed revenge, and got some on Halloween (see Pranks involving rooms).
- Williams classic: Many Berkshire Symphony Orchestra parties ended with the host's desktop background set to a tiled image of someone's WSO Facebook picture, guaranteeing confusion when they woke the next morning.
- One time freshman year, Mark Alexander Kelly Matthews '07 left his computer unattended. This was a big mistake. He returned to find Creed playing on a loop on his computer loud enough that his entire entry could hear it. It was his fault for having a Creed song in the first place.
- The sound scheme on a computer can easily be altered so that a a relatively uncommon event (like Windows Critical Stop) or excruciatingly common event (like Menu Open) will be accompanied by a prerecorded sound, preferable one of distinct embarassment.
- Go into Microsoft Word and change the auto correct options. For example, have word auto correct every time it says the word "the" to the phrase "I am the spawn of Satan!" or something to that effect.
- I have only gotten this trick to work on the corner desks in sawyer: if you have a mouse and are sitting next to someone who is working without a mouse at their laptop, connect your mouse to their computer when they get up. it will be quite confusing for them if you can move the mouse in close to, but not quite the direction they are trying to go on their screen
- In December of 2005, Brian Hirshman '06 had to turn in a background chapter of his thesis to computer science professor Duane Bailey. Brian used the random computer science paper generator in order to do so. Good times ensued.
- There is a program called FlyakiteOSX that puts a Mac OSX-like interface on PCs. You can prepare a nice surprise for your PC-using roommate, when s/he comes back from a grueling tutorial session or something.
Pranks Involving Rooms
Nothing reminds a mark of the fragility of existence like a well-placed kick in the crib.
- At the beginning of this school year, Brian Hirshman '06 and suitemate Johannes Pulst-Korenberg '06 decided to mirror-image the room of their fellow suitemate Dan Burns '06. Everything that was on the left side of Dan's room was moved to the right side, and even the books on his bookcase were placed in reverse order. Burns decided that it was too much trouble to switch everything back, and his room has remained in the mirror-image configuration ever since.
- During Winter Study 2006, Sean McKenzie '08 was walking back to his room in Pratt when he discovered his entire room had been recreated in a patch of snow on the lawn outside Mission. Rather than deal with the large effort of carrying all his possessions including desk, bed, and dresser up the four flights to his room, Sean decided to simply get into bed and deal with the whole mess in the morning.
- Over Halloween night, Dan Burns '06 struck back with a vengeance. He turned Brian's room literally upside down. He took the bed and turned that upside down. He took the bookcase and turned that upside down, then proceeded to take the books on the bookcase upside down. He turned Brian's desk upside down, and everything that was sitting on top of it upside down. To top it off, he even went into Brian's closet and turned Brian's clothes upside down, tying shirts to the hangers to make sure that they would stay upside down until Brian returned.
- Cover the outside of someone's doorframe with newspaper, duct tape, TP, etc. Or stretch a piece of clear packing tape, sticky side in, across the doorframe at chest level. Wait for the victim to wake up and try to leave their room. If newspaper or some other continuous material (i.e. dozens of stretched facebook images of a person feared by the victim) is used to cover the doorframe, the intervening space between the paper and door can be filled with small objects that will spill into the room when the door is opened (note: particularly effective if you happen to unearth your victim's secret cotton ball phobia). This technique was used to great effect by Lisa Lindeke '06 against Esa Seegulam '06 in his freshman year.
- During the Winter Study of 2003, Robert Hahn '05 traveled to the remote Galapagos Islands, leaving his key in the care of trusted suitemate Matthew Spencer '05. Teaming up with nearby friends Justin Brown and Jenni Simmons '05, these three filled the room floor to ceiling with red balloons to await. They were sure to make their move only the day before Robert's return, so that minimal deflation would occur before he arrived to appreciate it.
- Steal all of someone's clothes except for their tuxedo and then send them on a campus-wide treasure hunt to locate said clothes, creatively prolonging said treasure hunt so that the victim is forced to wear said tuxedo to breakfast the next morning. For more information, contact Lisetta Shah '06 or Eric Cheung '06.
- Cover the room's floor with dixie cups filled to the brim with water. Leave just enough space for the door to open, but nothing else. The victim will have to remove the cups one by one.
- Wrap every single item in saran wrap. Or aluminum foil. Or wrapping paper. Just like Christmas morning.
- During the spring of 2002, Chris Holmes '03 and Jesse Dill '04 got into a prank war. Among the pranks exchanged were:
- Filling the space between the Chris's mattress and the fitted bedsheet with a single layer of packing peanuts.
- Taking a ~15-foot tree branch, recently knocked down onto the Odd Quad lawn by a storm, and putting it in Jesse's room. It spanned the entire room, going between two opposing corners.
- While Chris was out writing an essay, Jesse and Dan DeMoss replaced all of the contents of Chris's room with Jesse's. Wall decorations, clothes in the wardrobe, furniture, the works.
- Having decided that the prank war was something to be shared, Jesse and Chris conspired to set up a trash bag full of packing peanuts inside the door to ('04) Sarah Croft's room. When the door opened, so did the bag, and Sarah got deluged in polystyrene.
- Halloween '05 - The lovely ladies of Poker 'A' snuck into Poker 'B' and stole their manly neighbors' beloved Dinosaur named Sinclair. Sinclair was hung by the neck off the porch and covered with 'blood'. In response, the boys of 'B' waited until late Sunday night/early Monday morning to steal the toilet seats from the two bathrooms in 'A'. For three long days the 'B' boys enjoyed their victory as the 'A' girls built their leg muscles doing some squat-sits over the toilets.
A truly good prank is always in season. You don't wait for St. Paddy's Day to drink Guinness, do you?
- Dining Services serves an excellent Harvest Dinner, at which the most anticipated and beloved dish is surely the lobster. Though a ticket system attempts to ensure that each student can get only one lobster, in 2002 a few Deviant mischief-makers managed to collect enough from helpful friends to arrange a little tableau at the Log, where a number of noise complaints had been called in earlier that semester. Four lobsters were posed playing a hand of poker, and others were set up playing beer pong (using apple juice in the cups, so as to not break open-container rules =) ). The perpetrators called in two noise complaints from public phones, using the names "Red Skelton" and "Rod Stewart." This would have been the end of the story, except that Security looked up the name "Stewart" in the student directory and headed over to Lehman, where they woke up a very confused freshman named Robin Stewart and interrogated him until they understood that he had absolutely nothing to do with the prank.
- In the fall of '03, before the Harvest Dinner, several enterprising freshman from Lehman Hall decided to replace the dining hall's publication of "How to eat a lobster" that had been placed in all the dining halls in preparation for this great feast with the equally informative brochure "How to eat a human." As the format was the same, many people did not notice. Political motivations, though absent, were suspected.
- For April Fool's Day 2002, some students raided the central clocktower on campus. On the east face they placed a large yellow sheet with a smiley face spray-painted on it; on the north face were two plexiglass mickey-mouse hands, attached to the tips of the clock hands; on the west face were two plexiglass replicas of the clock hands, but facing in the opposite direction.
- During the winter reading period of 2001, twenty-odd students dressed in full cold-weather gear (and carrying a few scattered umbrellas) gathered in the open space just inside the entrance to Schow library. "Let it Snow" started playing on a boombox, and the students danced around while hundreds of paper snowflakes dropped from the skylight.
- In early 2001 several Fay 1 frosh ('04s) distracted their JA long enough to put a tarp on the floor of his room, haul a bunch of snow into the entry, and build a snowman in his room.
Williams Pride Pranks
Amherst, Amherst, don't be blue,
Oedipus loved his mother too!
-- Williams Marching Band cheer
- In the Winter of 2005, a small group of students, Odd Quadders and Deviants all, visited Amherst on the morning of a fresh snowfall, and graded our ancient rivals in the white canvas on their athletics field.
Pranks of Rumor and Legend
Did they happen? We'd like to think so, but though stories of the below pranks circulate by the proverbial water coolers, they may be actual triumphs of students, or mere sources of inspiration for future triumphs.
- This prank happened at a high school far away from here, but it is perfect for a country school like Williams. As a senior prank, students released three chickens on school grounds, each wearing a little shirt with a number on it. The numbers were 1, 2, and 4. The rest of the day involved the administrators and facilities people frantically searching every corner of the school, dismantling heating ducts and cooling vents, in a search for the elusive (and nonexistent) chicken number 3. This prank is also rumored to have happened at a separate high school, except involving rented llamas. Llama 1, llama 2, and llama 4. Llamas just make it so much better.
- This prank also happened at a high school far away from here. The school had recently built a new library that had a large staircase leading into it. The senior class led a cow up the stairs into the library. Cows can only walk up stairs; they are incapable of walking back down. Hilarity ensued.
- This prank happened at the Harvard Football field a couple years ago. Taking a page from the playbook of behavioral psychologist Pavlov, an MIT student spent one summer training hundreds of pigeons to flock to the Harvard field whenever they heard a referee's whistle. The student did this by going to the field every day to blow a whistle as he scattered bird seed all over the field. Eventually, just like Pavlov's dogs, the pigeons learned to associate the sound of the whistle with the promise of food. When Harvard's football team eventually came back to train during the fall season, they found that just one whistle-blow would cause hundreds of pigeons to descend onto the field, making the field unplayable.
- This prank happened at a friend's brother's girlfriend's cousin's high school in Alabama. Some creative seniors bought an old car from a junkyard and managed to cut it in half. They then wrapped the two halves around the school's flagpole and welded them back together. Hooray!
- This actually happened at my high school - orchestrated by my class the wonderful class of '05, although I did not participate. In the middle of the night, a group of seniors for their senior prank broke in to the school and outsmarted the motion detector by placing a piece of paper over it - not breaking it, as was maliciously claimed by the headmaster the next morning. They then removed virtually all the desks from one wing of the building, carried them down to the soccer field and arranged them into a painstakingly calculated "2005". It was a thing of beauty - although it only lasted until approximately 8:15 the next morning, when every senior was snatched out of class and made to bring all the desks back in. There were some great pictures though.
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley, [Go oft awry]
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
-- "To a mouse," Robert Burns
Please include only pranks that were actually attempted, though unachieved, and not pranks that were merely planned. Sure, we've all imagined awesome pranks -- the list of those would be endless -- but the real thrill of hearing a good prank story is being, in your mind, right there beside the people who carried it out.
- The Great Pumpkin Steal: During Halloween 2005, a giant pumpkin was placed in each dining hall, each weighing over 150 pounds and over a yard in diameter. Several students successfully stole one of these pumpkins out of Driscoll Dining Hall one evening without the dining staff noticing. The pumpkin was found several hours later in the back of one of the students' cars. While they were unable to place the pumpkin on top of Schow, as was planned, they did manage to amaze Security with their ingenuity and skill. Remarked Dave Boyer, "That's the funniest thing I've ever seen. Don't do it again." The editors note that, technically, the pumpkin was within the "one piece of fruit" limit for dining hall take-out.