Places Not On Your Freshman Orientation Tour

You've heard the saying, "Where there's a will, there's a way"? Well, where there are bored college kids, there are ways. At many campuses across the United States, students have managed to wiggle into underground maintenance tunnels or skulk up roof access ladders. This practice is known in some circles as tunneling, roof and tunnel hacking, urban spelunking or vadding. The tunnels, set up to channel steam and other utilities (that T1 line has to come from somewhere) are filled with pipes and machinery and typically lined with scrawls of graffiti from past travelers. Stories of these tunnels are made of both truth and legend...

Miskatonic (Bradford)

The ghost hunters at HollowHill.com claim that the tunnels at Bradford College (now defunct) are not only haunted, but also have a famous connection with H.P. Lovecraft. According to legend, Lovecraft dated a girl at the college who helped him bury the real Necronomicon in an unused tunnel that ran under the pond. The tunnel was sealed off and the exact location of the evil book is unknown.

Hey, Free Uranium! (Columbia)

Columbia University continually vows to lock and guard their extensive underground tunnel system. Understandable, given that in 1987, freshman Ken Hechtman and his merry band of tunnel hackers (known as ADHOC: Allied Destructive Hackers of Columbia) used the tunnels to steal uranium-238 from Pupin Hall. Despite the tunnel lockdown, student spelunkers still manage to sneak into the labyrinth - which winds around the 19th century Bloomingdale Insane Asylum, abandoned bomb shelters, and Manhattan Project research facilities - to throw parties.

Exterior Decorating (MIT)

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Freshmen at MIT can take an Orange Tour led by upperclassmen who know their way around the roofs and tunnels. It's an important tour to take, because MIT students are infamous for the pranks they pull by hacking university buildings. The IHTFP Hack Gallery documents all types of structural hacking. The Great Dome on the McLaurin building, for instance, has been transformed into a giant R2D2, the one ring to rule them all (above), and most famously, a parking spot for a police cruiser.

Underground Creek (UCLA)

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UCLA's six mile network of tunnels is allegedly one of the cleanest, and connects to all major buildings on campus. The tunnels mask an underground room 100x200 feet wide with a thirty feet drop lined in brick, dubbed "The Bridge" because it once served as one. A creek used to run across campus, but was later dammed up and filled in for construction purposes. When it rains, the tunnels sometimes still flood with water. Rumor has it that the system was so extensive it even reached the residence halls, but that these tunnels were sealed up for security reasons when UCLA's dorms served as the Olympic Village during the 1984 summer games.

Be the Ultimate Underground Dungeon Master

Due to sensationalist journalism in the late 1970s and early 1980s, skulking in steam tunnels is also associated with Dungeons & Dragons and Live Action Role Playing (LARP). These urban myths claim that hardcore role playing gamers traipse into the steam tunnels while prancing about hitting each other with sticks and pretending to be paladin elves and sorcerer dwarves. The disappearance of Michigan State student James Dallas Egbert is often used as an attack on RPGs. Many misconceptions about the dangers of roleplaying gaming and LARPing stem from stories of these steam tunnel incidents.

The alt.college.tunnels newsgroup and defunct sites Steam Tunnels and Infiltration all have information about college steam tunnels. Specific campuses have student-run sites as well, which can be located on Facebook and through Google searches.

Oh! The places you'll go! (Or not. You're not really supposed to.) Obviously, the areas hacked are restricted, so you'd be, er, trespassing and definitely violating university policy. That said, if you do ever venture down the campus hidey holes, be sure to wear long sleeves and the proper footwear, and take plenty of water and a flashlight. Do not go alone, do not go inebriated, and understand there are dangers like sudden drops, heatstroke, burns, electrocution, and asbestos, just to name a few.

These are just some of my favorite stories about little-known places and tunnels at universities "“ I know every college has its secrets. Does your school have any interesting tunnel lore?

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These Sparrows Have Been Singing the Same Songs for 1500 Years
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iStock

Swamp sparrows are creatures of habit—so much so that they’ve been chirping out the same few tunes for more than 1500 years, Science magazine reports.

These findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, resulted from an analysis of the songs of 615 adult male swamp sparrows found in six different areas of the northeastern U.S. Researchers learned that young swamp sparrows pick up these songs from the adults around them and are able to mimic the notes with astounding accuracy.

Here’s what one of their songs sounds like:

“We were able to show that swamp sparrows very rarely make mistakes when they learn their songs, and they don't just learn songs at random; they pick up commoner songs rather than rarer songs,” Robert Lachlan, a biologist at London’s Queen Mary University and the study’s lead author, tells National Geographic.

Put differently, the birds don’t mimic every song their elders crank out. Instead, they memorize the ones they hear most often, and scientists say this form of “conformist bias” was previously thought to be a uniquely human behavior.

Using acoustic analysis software, researchers broke down each individual note of the sparrows’ songs—160 different syllables in total—and discovered that only 2 percent of sparrows deviated from the norm. They then used a statistical method to determine how the songs would have evolved over time. With recordings from 2009 and the 1970s, they were able to estimate that the oldest swamp sparrow songs date back 1537 years on average.

The swamp sparrow’s dedication to accuracy sets the species apart from other songbirds, according to researchers. “Among songbirds, it is clear that some species of birds learn precisely, such as swamp sparrows, while others rarely learn all parts of a demonstrator’s song precisely,” they write.

According to the Audubon Guide to North American Birds, swamp sparrows are similar to other sparrows, like the Lincoln’s sparrow, song sparrow, and chipping sparrow. They’re frequently found in marshes throughout the Northeast and Midwest, as well as much of Canada. They’re known for their piercing call notes and may respond to birders who make loud squeaking sounds in their habitat.

[h/t Science magazine]

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18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
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Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

Rosé Wine Glass
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

Find It: Amazon

2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

Nerf SurgeFire
Hasbro

Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

Find It: Hasbro Toy Shop

3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

plant
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

Find It: Amazon

4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

Doughnut float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

Find It: Amazon

5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

American flag spatula
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

Find It: Amazon

6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

MLB San Diego Padres Hot Dog BBQ Brander
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Take your hot dogs, sausages, brats, and more out to the ballgame without ever leaving your grill. These branders from Pangea Brands are dishwasher-safe and made of ceramic-coated cast iron.

Find It: Amazon

7. UNA GRILL; $139

grill
MoMA Shop

Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

Find It: MoMa Shop

8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

Find It: Amazon

9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

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Amazon

Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

Find It: Amazon

10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

Bendy Straw Inflatable Pool Float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

Find It: Amazon

11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

Find It: Amazon

12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

Vintage Snow Cone Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

Find It: Amazon

13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

Dog Corn Holders
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

Find It: Amazon

14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

Find It: Amazon

15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

Bluetooth speaker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

Find It: Amazon

16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

Rollors Backyard Game
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

Find It: Amazon

17. HAMMOCK; $174

hammock
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

Find It: Amazon

18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

Emergency Survival Tent Outdoors
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

Find It: Amazon

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