Roof and tunnel hackers specialize in knowing How to Get Around MIT. They take great pride in knowing where the most interesting nooks and crannies of the Institute can be found and how to get to classic hacking spots such as the top of the Great Dome. It's fun to find your way into a rumored hacking location such as the bricked-in shower or the Tomb of the Unknown Ladder, or, better yet, to be the first to discover a particular "tomb'' (an interesting, out-of-the-way, unused spot), but the greatest challenge is to do so without leaving a trace of your actions.
Another side to hacking is what is known as "pulling a hack''. A hack, in this sense, differs from ordinary college pranks in that emphasis is placed on cleverness, timeliness, the ability to overcome technical obstacles, and avoiding damage to the object being hacked. Some of the best known hacks in recent years have been the beanie propeller placed on top of the Great Dome, a shower placed in the student center athena cluster (for those who needed it), Mass. Toolpike, in which the Infinite Corridor was transformed into a highway, complete with road signs, a rotary, and a car parked in Lobby 10 (the car was given a ticket by a dutiful Campus Police officer), a working phone booth that was put on the Great Dome, and the famed "Die Hack,'' in which Random Hall turned an enormous cubical metallic sculpture hanging in Lobby 7 into a large playing die. Most famous, however, of recent hacks, was the life-size fiberglass model campus police car placed on the Great Dome, complete with a dummy CP and boxes of Dunkin Donuts. It's a challenge to make your hack difficult for Physical Plant workers to remove (therefore ensuring its longevity), but, in the same vein, it is considered classy to remove your own hack after a suitable length of time.
Hacking has long been an MIT tradition, with a strong emphasis on ethics and ingenuity. You can learn more about hacks by visiting the MIT Museum and asking to see the folders on student pranks in the student activities file. They have several inches of photos and newspaper clippings dating back to 1910, and they welcome any information about current hacks. They hold a talk and slide show every IAP, and have published an excellent picture history of hacks. The book, by MIT hackologist Brian Leibowitz, is called The Journal of the Institute of Hacks, TomFoolery, and Pranks.
Exploring dates back for many years. The oldest known piece of graffiti is from a plumber on the fourth floor of Building 10, dated 1915, found in 1985 by hackers known as Heretic and Circumscribed Triangle. Various groups offer tours during R/O week for interested freshmen, the most notable of which are the Orange Tours, run by East Campus, and the Spelunkers' Tours, run by the Caving Club.
Hacking seemed to nearly die out for a time, but it's now making a comeback. The "Coffeehouse Club'' --- an informal group that meets regularly to go exploring, meeting at the 24-hour Coffeehouse, is still rumored to exist.
Hacking GroupsThe recent resurgence of hacking appears to not be accompanied by the rebirth of hacking groups. The Caving Club does little hacking during the term, and no other hacking groups that are not associated with living groups have been heard from in quite some time.
Delta Kappa Epsilon -- DKE is famous for the balloon hack at the November 1982 Harvard-Yale football game. That hack received more publicity than any other hack in the history of MIT. See Technique '83 for details. DKE has tried to hack the game before, most memorably in the late 1940s when they buried explosive cord in a pattern that would spell out "MIT''. Unfortunately, Harvard discovered the hack and set up a trap. They arrested several students wearing coats lined with batteries. A dean, who had been informed about the hack after the arrest, went down to bail the students out. He pointed out to the detective that the battery-lined coats were only circumstantial evidence. At this point the dean opened his own battery-lined coat and declared "all Tech men carry batteries.''
Jack Florey -- Jack Florey's, Ye Ole. No. 5 East, Roof and Tunnel Hackers is based just under the roof of East Campus's east parallel. Jack is best known for running the Orange tours during Rush week. (If you need to find your way to Baker House, Jack is the person to ask.) Jack's strength has generally been exploration. While his numbers have waned from time to time, Jack remains a prominent figure in the hacking community.
James Tetazoo -- The Third East Traveling Animal Zoo is based in East Campus. They were probably the best hackers during the late seventies, and continue to amuse East Campus residents and the Institute with their antics. During the dedication of building 66 (the triangular Chemistry building), they lowered an anchor over the bow, dropped a banner christening the "USS Tetazoo,'' broke a bottle of champagne across the point, and blasted "Anchors Aweigh'' on their stereos. In exploring they were the first group to sign in under the steps of 77 Massachusetts Avenue. The first week the Arts and Media Technology building (E15) opened, James Tetazoo's Sans Knife appeared overnight to rave reviews. It was a commons tray with plate, tumbler, and utensils except for a knife.
Larry West -- Conglomerated around the 41st floor of the western front of East Campus, Larry manages to involve himself in much hacking around the institute. Archnemisis to James Tetazoo and self-appointed champion of Elvis and ????, Larry is an instigator and participant in much mischief around the Institute.
Blue Goose, Incorporated (defunct) -- Blue Goose was founded in 1978 at Nu Delta. They were well known as expert explorers, and their name can be found in many of the more obscure nooks and crannies of the Institute.
Order of the Random Knights -- ORK is a small tightly knit hacking group based in Random Hall. They are mainly an exploring group and are best known for discovering one of the missing half stories in Building Ten. ORK's most famous hack was the die hack mentioned earlier. Although they have been quiet in recent years, they appear to be making a comeback.
Caving Club -- This is an official student activity and thus the easiest to get in touch with (see the Student Directory). During R/O week they run tours that complement the official Institute tours. Tours are also given after meetings and occasionally at other times, although the main emphasis of the club in recent years has centered on trips to horizontal and vertical caves in New York and West Virginia. Because they are official, their on-campus exploring is conservative.
Smoots -- Although not technically a hacking group, Lamda Chi Alpha still repaint the Smoots every year. Just what is a Smoot? Oliver Smoot, an unfortunate pledge of that fraternity in 1959, the first year the marks were painted.
Technology Hackers Association (defunct) -- Reputed to have once been the largest group on campus, THA pulled off several widely known hacks requiring lots of manpower such as the Massachusetts Toolpike in 1985 and the Home on the Dome in 1986.
Hacking TipsThe following tips are based on a document by Keshlam the Seer, Knight of the Random Order. The editors take no responsibility for its content.
Evasion and Escape -- The Eleventh Commandment: Don't get caught. Thou shalt honor it and keep it wholly. On the other hand, if you are caught, the least you can do is accept it with dignity, and have respect for your captor.
Always have two ways to run. If someone comes one way, you can go the other. If possible, run along a path that has many side branches. Your pursuer will pause to check them. Change floors often. Don't start running when someone spots you. Walk around a corner and then run. Remember that the person who sees you must first decide that you are doing something wrong, and running is an admission of guilt. "It's amazing what you can get away with if you don't look like you're getting away with anything.''
It is usually better to talk to a Campus Police officer than to try to run away. If nothing else, ask questions like "Where's the nearest bathroom?'' The proper blend of interest, respect, and a willingness to follow up on the things that are said can do wonders.
If you can become invisible, people give up hunting for you and go away. Keep track of hiding places that you can get into quickly and quietly. If someone is chasing you, don't hide unless you can convince them you kept running.
People are usually unaware of anything above them unless it moves or otherwise calls attention to itself. When hacking, remember to look up periodically.
Planning a hack -- When planning a hack, concentrate on the tools and materials. People are awfully good at figuring how to do something, but they have a hard time imitating a roll of tape. Some feel that the best way to get the manpower needed for a hack is to get several people involved in the planning stage, but it is wise to remember that too many cooks can spoil the soup.
Plan your deployment in excruciating detail, in order to keep the actual "critical time'' during which you are actually putting the hack in position to a minimum. Anything that can be prepared ahead of time should be. The night before lasts, at most, eight hours, and no matter how careful your planning may have been, many of these will be consumed by unforeseen delays.
Exploring -- Try to account for all the space in a building. If a bump in one wall does not line up with a dent on the other side, then there is a space that needs exploring.
Move as quietly as possible. If you can see or hear trouble before it hears you, then retracing your steps should bring you to safety. Trouble tends to come from behind. Walking past someone may arouse suspicion (especially if you're carrying something odd, like lots of rope), and by definition those people are behind you. Periodically check your back side. Enter and exit an area using different routes.
Write your sign-in in places that you are proud to have reached, include the date. This makes the order of re-discovery clear. Other hackers judge you by where they've seen your logo. Use it as a sign of approval and accomplishment.
Always carry a flashlight, but don't panic if you're without one. The human eye is very sensitive if you give it time to adjust. In an emergency use your digital watch to light the way.
General Advice -- Brute force is the last refuge of the incompetent. Carrying master keys is extremely stupid and unnecessary. Things are not always as they appear. This is true of locks, doors, walls, and people.