Have you ever seen a police car on the roof of a university building? How about a police car with its lights flashing and an officer sitting inside holding a box of donuts?
Well, if you were a student at MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) one day in May, 1992, that scene would have greeted you as you arrived on campus.
What appeared to be a fully functional campus police car with a dummy police officer inside was sitting on top of MIT's great dome.
In actual fact, it was just the exterior of a Chevy Cavalier, assembled on a wooden frame.
And what was the car doing up there? It was put there by students as a "hack."
At MIT, the term "hack" refers to a campus prank - specifically one that is difficult, complex, and creative - and the school has seen some legendary ones over the years.
The school's administration doesn't support the tradition.
According to the MIT Hacks website, "hackers who are caught may face legal penalties and fines." But they say, "this does not stop the administration from appreciating a good hack - after the fact."
Here are a few of the best hacks that students have pulled off over the years. To see more, check out this article from Wired.
The Way-Back Hack
Technically, this doesn't count as a hack - it happened about 30 years before students started using the term. But the spirit is the same.
In 1926, a group of MIT students decided it would be a good idea to hoist an actual car up the side of a building - the Class of 1893 Dormitory, to be precise. Pity whoever had to drive it back down.
The Football Balloon
Normally, a prank at a college football game would be perpetrated by students from one of the schools that's playing. Not this time.
Back in 1982, Harvard was playing Yale at Harvard Stadium when a giant black balloon suddenly inflated at the 46 yard line. Written on it were three telltale letters: MIT.
Apparently, hackers from the school had snuck into Harvard's stadium at night over the course of several weeks to set up the balloon, which used a vacuum cleaner motor and a hydraulic press. The balloon inflated until it burst. Hack: achieved.
This one is from 1999, just before the opening of 'Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace'. It may not be quite as complicated as getting a police car onto the roof - but it's a perfectly logical use of a dome-shaped object.
No word on how the students felt about the movie.
The Tetris Wall
This one is from just last year, and it's a dream come true for video game fans. Hackers managed to transform MIT's Green Building into a giant game of Tetris.
All 153 windows on the building were fitted with custom-built LED boards that lit up in different colours. They were controlled wirelessly, allowing somebody to play a huge video game.
And although the hack got lots of positive attention - MIT's student paper called it "the holy grail of hacks" - no one ever found out who pulled it off.
The New Unit Of Measurement Hack
What kind of measurements do you prefer? Imperial? Metric? How about Smoots?
Way back in 1958, MIT freshman Oliver Smoot let his fraternity brothers use him to measure the length of Boston's Harvard Bridge. He lay down again and again along the bridge, and his brothers marked off each Smoot-length as they went.
It turns out the bridge is 364.4 Smoots long - a fact you can check to this day, because the Smoot markers have been faithfully repainted every year since then. As for Oliver, he's a member of the American National Standards Institute now. Obviously.
The Office Bulletin Board Hack
Here's how you welcome your school's new president: on his first day at work in October 1990, incoming MIT President Charles M. Vest had a problem. He couldn't find his office.
That's because some enterprising hackers hid it behind a giant community bulletin board. Probably good preparation for the kind of stuff that any MIT president will have to deal with on a regular basis.