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5 of the Best College Pranks of All Time

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Funny pranks are a fundamental part of the college experience, even though some of them could get you in big trouble. They’re a popular way to get back at roommates and poke fun at professors. While blocking someone’s doorway with phone books or covering dorm room walls with Post-It notes will definitely cause a few laughs, some innovative students take things to an entirely different level. We aren’t recommending that you try any of these yourself, but here are five of the best college pranks in history:

1. CalTech Rose Bowl Hoax

The oldest American college football bowl game, the Rose Bowl is traditionally held on New Year’s Day at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, CA. The 1961 Rose Bowl, in which the University of Washington Huskies played the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, is particularly memorable thanks to a different college. During the halftime show, cheerleaders took the field to lead audience members in an organized card stunt, a common sports routine that involves rising and flipping cards to create recognizable words and images from afar. With careful planning and execution, a group of 14 students from the nearby California Institute of Technology managed to sneakily alter instruction sheets and thousands of flip cards so that the audience held up big block letters spelling out CALTECH. After realizing that had happened, the sports announcers and game attendees burst out laughing. The event was broadcast on national television and is still considered one of the biggest pranks in college history.

Image: CalTech.edu

2. Rice University Statue Prank

The Rice University campus quad in Houston, TX is graced with a statue of William Marsh Rice, the school’s namesake. Willy, as he is lovingly called, is commonly decorated with Santa Claus hats, jack-o’-lanterns and other garb throughout the year to keep him in the holiday spirit, but a group of 11 engineering students put a whole new “twist” on things in 1988. After weeks of planning and testing—which involved a dry run lifting a 2,250 pound Toyota Corolla using the same items built to pull of the statue prank—the group managed to lift Willy and rotate him 180 degrees so that he was facing the campus library. Just one member of the prankster crew was caught, slapped with fines and threatened with felony charges. Even so, students, alumni and community members were so impressed with the prank that they purchased $25 T-shirts to help raise more than enough funds to pay the fees to have the statue returned to its original position by professionals.

Image: Creative Commons, neilfein

3. George P. Burdell: Georgia Tech’s Fake Student

College pranks are nothing new. In 1927, engineering student Ed Smith accidentally received two Georgia Tech enrollment forms and decided to take advantage of the situation. Smith concocted a fictitious student by the name of George P. Burdell and proceeded to enroll him in all of Smith’s classes. Smith did twice the schoolwork, always altering it slightly so professors did not catch on, and even took tests two times—once with his real name and once as Burdell. Georgia Tech’s now-famous fake student managed to earn a bachelor’s degree as well as a master’s. He was a snarky fellow, too. When denied admittance to a fraternity, “Burdell” ordered a truck full of furniture and had it delivered Cash on Delivery to the frat house. To this day, Burdell remains a campus icon with a campus store named in his honor.

Image: Wikimedia Commons, Disavian

4. Best MIT Dome Prank

Massachusetts Institute of Technology is as well-known for its famous hacks, or practical jokes, as it is for its prestigious academics and research. These hoaxes are not endorsed by college officials, but because they undeniably showcase the brains and skills of MIT students, the MIT Museum once included an exhibit featuring famous MIT hacks. The Great Dome atop Building 10 on campus has been the scene of several of the most famous pranks. Over the years, it has been transformed into a Star Wars’ R2-D2 and decorated in a wide variety of crazy ways, but in 1994 a gutted Chevrolet, painted to precisely match an MIT campus patrol car, was placed on top of the Dome—complete with flashing lights and a fake patrolman with coffee and donuts.

Image: hacks.MIT.edu

5. University of Wisconsin Pink Flamingos

A group of University of Wisconsin students known as the Pail and Shovel Party decided to make a lasting impression in 1979 by decorating the campus lawn with over 1,000 plastic pink flamingos that disappeared soon after, confiscated by students who wanted to decorate their dorm rooms with the now-famous birds. This famous prank should be remembered for years to come—according to Reuters, the city council of Madison, WI voted to make the plastic pink flamingo its official bird in 2009.

Image: library.wisc.edu

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.


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