11 of the Greatest Class Pranks in History

Any group of subversive students can cover campus trees with toilet paper or make a series of prank calls. These 11 school pranks went above and beyond, and that's what makes them the stuff of mischief legend.

1. Lady Liberty Takes a Soaking

In the spring of 1978, two students at the University of Wisconsin ran for student government as candidates of the facetious Pail and Shovel Party. To their astonishment, they got elected. Like all good leaders, the pair vowed to make good on their campaign promise, which was to move the Statue of Liberty from New York City to Lake Mendota near campus. No one took them seriously until…one day in February, rising up out of the frozen lake was Lady Liberty herself. Her gigantic green head and glowing torch floated above the icy surface. The two pranksters told everyone that they’d had the statue flown in by helicopter, but the cable holding it had broken and Lady Liberty crashed through the ice. The real story: They had the statue built out of wire, papier maché, and plywood and then hauled it onto the lake.

2. Card Trick

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As far as we know, you can’t actually major in pranks at college. But if you attend the California Institute of Technology, you can come close. The school is famous for its brilliantly engineered pranks, and the Rose Bowl Hoax of 1961 is perhaps the crème de la crème.

As usual, the Caltech football team did not stand a chance of actually playing in the storied Rose Bowl game in 1961. But a group of students decided to get Caltech in on the action anyway. They learned that the Washington Huskies cheerleaders were planning a halftime stunt where their fans would hold up colored cards in prearranged patterns to spell out a series of pro-Husky messages. A Caltech student managed to liberate the master plan for the stunt while the Huskies were visiting Disneyland the day before the big game. CalTech pranksters then replaced the plan with their own, revised version.

The next day at halftime, the Washington fans started performing the card stunts. The first 11 stunts were just as the Huskies had planned. Then things went awry: The 12th stunt was supposed to be the team’s dog mascot. Instead, the cards formed the unmistakable silhouette of a beaver, the Caltech mascot. Stunt 13 spelled out HUSKIES, only backwards. In the final stunt, gigantic letters filled the stands—and TV screens across America—with, you guessed it: CALTECH.

3. A Tough Parking Spot

Like Caltech, MIT is famous for its audacious, tech-savvy pranksters. Over the years, students have placed many objects on top of the campus’s 15-story Great Dome, including a fake cow, a piano, a small house, and a giant nipple. In 1994, they managed to park a campus police car, complete with a dummy officer in the driver’s seat, on the curved roof. To do it, they took the car apart, hauled the pieces up the side of the building using a system of rollers, then reassembled the vehicle and even got the lights on the roof to flash. Then they placed a ticket on the windshield, since after all, the car was in a no-parking zone.

4. Politicians Are Animals

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Most college pranks have relatively trivial consequences, but in 1959, a group of students in Sao Paolo, Brazil, managed to swing an election when they got a five-year-old rhinoceros named Cacareco elected to city council. The four-legged candidate won by a landslide, garnering 100,000 votes—one of the highest totals for a local candidate in Brazil’s history to that point. The students had ballots printed up with Cacareco’s name on them and then got thousands of voters to send them in. “Better to elect a rhino than an ass,” commented one voter.

After Cacareco won, the head of the zoo where she lived demanded that the rhino receive a councilman’s salary, but the election was nullified before any paychecks were cut. Today Cacareco’s memory lives on in the expression “Voto Cacareco,” which is used in some parts of Brazil to mean “protest vote.”

5. Flaming Undies

As the Olympic Torch neared the end of its 1,695 mile-journey to Melbourne, Australia in the summer of 1956, it had already faced several challenges, including torrential rains and temperatures so high that the runners carrying it nearly collapsed. But nothing beat what happened when the Olympic flame arrived in the city of Sydney. A champion runner named Harry Dillon was scheduled to carry the torch into the city and present it to Mayor Pat Hills. Some 30,000 people lined the streets, waiting for Dillon’s arrival. At last, a runner came sprinting into the city. The crowd cheered as he made his way to the podium and handed the torch over to the mayor. The mayor quickly launched into his speech without giving the torch a second glance until someone whispered in his ear, “That’s not the torch.” The mayor looked down and realized that he was holding a fake torch, constructed from a wooden chair leg painted silver and a can stuffed with a pair of kerosene-soaked underwear.

By then, the man who had delivered the fraudulent torch had disappeared. He was Barry Larkin, a student at the University of Sydney, who along with eight other students felt that people were overly reverent about the torch and that the tradition was ripe for ridicule. The mayor took the prank in good humor, and minutes later the official torchbearer arrived. Larkin received a standing ovation when he returned to his college along with a “Good job, son!” from the headmaster.

6. Gotcha, Captcha!

When your college’s mascot is a concrete brick with arms and legs named Wally the Wart, it is imperative that you win the Victoria’s Secret “Pink Collegiate Collection” contest so Wally’s image can grace some fashionable lingerie. Or at least that’s what students at Harvey Mudd College thought when they heard about the contest in 2009. The contest website was set up so that people could cast only one vote a day, which put colleges with large student bodies at an advantage. But the site’s flawed security put colleges with a high quotient of tech wizards who like to pull pranks at an even greater advantage. A group of Mudders went to work and wrote a computer program that bypassed the CAPTCHA and automatically cast a vote every 2 or 3 seconds. Suddenly HMC, with fewer than 800 students, was at the top of the list, with over a million votes. That wasn’t enough for the HMC pranksters. They rigged the voting so that the schools in second through fifth places spelled out the acronym WIBSTR, which stands for “West Is Best, Screw the Rest,” the motto of a famously wild dorm at HMC. Not surprisingly, HMC was disqualified from the contest, and Wally is still waiting for his underwear op.

7. All America Hoaxers

When Steve Noll was a junior at the College of William and Mary in 1972, he and his friends loved college basketball, but they hated the fact that the top honor for players involved being named to All America teams by national sports journalists. The students were just as unhappy that their own school’s top player, guard Mike Arizin, would never make one of those teams. Noll and three friends decided to correct the situation themselves. They formed the Association of Collegiate Basketball Writers (even though none of them had ever penned a word about sports) and they invented the Leo G. Hershberger Award, which they named for a cigar-smoking New York City sportswriter who never existed. The four spent hours poring over player stats to select their team of honorees, which included, of course, Mike Arizin. They designed an official-looking certificate, and stationery bearing the slogan “Serving the Sport.” When every detail was perfect, they told the Associated Press about the award, and soon the news was in every major paper in the country. Then the pranksters shut their mouths. For forty years. They didn’t reveal the award was a hoax until 2013, on the eve of the Final Four tournament. Most of the winners said they were surprised but amused to learn that the award was a fake—and Mike Arzin decided he was “sort of flattered.”

8. Tetris on Steroids

Some pranks make you laugh out loud while others make you grin in quiet awe. The gigantic, playable Tetris game that lit up one side of the 21-story Green building on the MIT campus one April night in 2012 is one of the latter. MIT pranksters had dreamed about achieving this “Holy Grail” of hacks since at least 1993. It took a large team of students more than four years of work to finally pull it off. They installed custom color-changing LED lights in 153 of the building’s windows and connected them wirelessly to a podium where players controlled the game. This game was not for the timid: Upon losing, all the blocks would fall to the bottom of the building and all of Boston could watch the player's failure from across the Charles River.

9. A Pregnant Pause

Aquinas College economics professor Stephan Barrows did not like his students answering their cell phones during class, so he had a rule: If your phone rings, you must answer it on speakerphone. He should have had another rule: No prank calls. On April 1, 2014, students arranged to have a friend call a female student named Taylor Nefcy during class. As required, Nefcy put the call on speakerphone.

“Hi, this is Kevin from the Pregnancy Resource Center,” the voice on the other end said, as Nefcy’s friends switched on their hidden recorders. “Per your request, I am calling to inform you that the test results have come back positive. Congratulations!”

Professor Barrows, who had been smiling until then, suddenly became anxious and suggested that Nefcy might want to “shut that down.” But Nefcy let the call continue and Kevin explained that with the father “no longer in the picture,” the center would provide Nefcy with counseling and maternity services at no charge.

At this point, Barrows attempted to interrupt, and Nefcy politely told the caller, “Thank you, I’ll call back later.” Barrows then launched into a sober apology, but before he could get very far, Nefcy brushed him off: “That’s okay, I’ve been expecting this call,” she said, adding sweetly, “I already know what I’m going to name the baby. The first name will be April, and the middle name will be Fools.” Barrows lost it, along with the rest of the class, and the video promptly went viral.

10. Veterans of Future Wars

In 1936, Congress passed a controversial bill allowing veterans of World War I to receive their war bonuses 10 years early due to the economic hardships of the Great Depression. With another war brewing in Europe, two Princeton University students formed an impromptu group called Veterans of Future Wars. They demanded that draft-eligible men receive $1,000 payments in advance. They reasoned that they would likely be called into the military soon, and they might as well get the money when they could still enjoy it. The idea hit a nerve, and soon there were 500 chapters on campuses across the country. They adopted the group’s satirical salute: an arm outstretched, palm up, towards Washington. Eleanor Roosevelt admired the hoax, calling it a “grand pricking of a lot of bubbles.” But many real veterans did not see the humor. “They’re too yellow to go to war,” scoffed VFW Commander James E. Van Zandt. He misjudged the pranksters, however. The two founders and nearly all members of the Princeton chapter ended up serving in World War II.

11. A Traffic-Stopping Prank

In 2006, students at Austin High School in Austin, Minnesota engineered a prank that capitalized on the unusual architecture of their school. A busy street separates two buildings on the school’s campus. Students can use the crosswalk or an underground tunnel to get from one building to the other. At an appointed time on the day of the prank, 94 students began filing across the street, using the crosswalk. Then they circled back through the underground tunnel and crossed the street again—and again, and again—creating an endless stream of pedestrians. Traffic was tied up for nearly 10 minutes as cars lined up waiting for the students (including one dressed as a cow and another as a chicken) to finish crossing.

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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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

metal fire pit
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
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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
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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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Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

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