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MIT student blogger Laura N. '09

Tricky Questions by Laura N. '09

A follow-up entry to answer all of the 50 million comments I got about the hack photos I posted.

I had lots of stuff planned for you guys, but my friend Ben (not Admissions Ben) was awesome enough to send a link to my blog in to the webmaster of (because of stuff like this already posted on that site). All of a sudden, the hack pictures were all over the internet- on gaming forums, random livejournals by people halfway across the country, all those sites where people submit interesting links…it was crazy! Needless to say, this generated a lot of comments, so I decided to hold off on some interesting pictures I have for you so I can follow-up to the hack entry and answer some questions about it if I can. (Plus I don’t really feel like editing all the pictures I took…)

First, the easiest question:
Pete: Where in NJ are you from?
I’m from Middletown, New Jersey. It’s in Monmouth County, in the central shore region of the state. Exit 114. =)

Now, on to the hack:

After like an hour and a half of editing photos, my brain fried and I forgot to give full credit where it was due: most of the pictures I posted are mine, but I borrowed a couple from rcg, who is a pretty cool guy and an awesome sport about the fact that I basically stole his intellectual property. Way to be. =)

Now for the questions and comments:

Adnan: Cool! Just wondering how they have the time to do these hacks. I mean, considering someone is awake at all hours of the night. This one was around 4:00AM, must have taken a while to set up, right? How were they able to set it up quickly enough? It must have taken quite a few people, right? What happens if faculty/security or even students walked in on them while they were setting it up? Would they get in trouble?

Please do provide details =).

Aalap Dighe: I was curious can they take action like suspend students for a hack? I hope not. Anyway, it would be cool to do a hack getting some of the faculty involved too! Or maybe you could convince some security gaurds beforehand to turn their back on you. After all, hacks are pretty harmless and so much fun. And with that kind of cooperation, you could do some serious hacks. But the Mario hack was cool too! Go MIT!!
Yikes. Like so many of the questions that have been posted here over the past few days, these are totally awesome questions but I can’t answer all of them. When it comes to hacks, some things are tricky and involve lots of shades of meaning, some things I’m not qualified to answer, and some things are just plain secret. =) But I’ll do my best to answer all of your questions and direct curious parties to extra information.

So Adnan, Jessie already answered some of your questions. This particular hack involved a lot of people, but they still ran the risk of getting caught. I can’t think of any students that would turn hackers in, unless they really hated one of them or something. As for faculty, it really depends. The thing is, you can’t just convince the Campus Police to look the other way! While on the surface, hacking really is just harmless fun…think about it a little deeper. It usually involves climbing around high places (like the Great Dome), being on rooftops, etc- and these can all be potentially dangerous. Imagine a hacker was up on the Great Dome assembling some whimsical creation, and they fell and got seriously hurt or even died. That would suck. Now imagine that beforehand they had convinced campus security to look the other way while they did it. I’m sure you can see how many problems that would cause! Hackers are really cautious, and they rarely get seriously hurt, but it’s not like MIT can condone the behavior. That said, lots of “official” people really appreciate a good hack when they see one- like admissions counselors. I’m sure if Ben or Matt walked in on a hack in progress, they’d find it amusing. But one of the deans who might be the one to have to answer lots of tough questions if hackers get hurt….maybe not so much.

As for how they find the time without getting caught…well I don’t know much about it and what I do know I’m not sharing. There are tricks of the trade that you’ll just have to become a hacker to find out. *grin*

If you really want answer to that, I will say this: luck. And lots of it. Not all hacks get put up on lucky days. Sometimes people get caught. They may be fined if they are found on a roof, and sometimes these messy things called disciplinary hearings happen. I don’t know much about those, and I don’t think anyone’s ever suspended, but I do know that people get in trouble in vague and mysterious ways I don’t understand. n fact, I don’t think anyone really understands what happens when hackers get caught. I guess you’d have to actually get caugh to figure it out, which I don’t reccomend.

Harish Alagappa: Cool hack! Do you guys rate hacks? I’ve heard about the MIT balloon popping up at half-time during the 100th anniversary Harvard v Yale Football Game (American football). But I got that from wikipedia, and hence cannot assume it to be true.

Hacking Harvard is a popular favorite, and the hack you mention did in fact happen. The MIT Museum has an entire collection of materials on hacks, but I don’t think it’s available on-line, so you’ll have to stop by if you ever visit. For more information on famous hacks, visit the IHTFP Gallery and try to find some of these books on hacks.

Aalap Dighe: Hi, Can anyone please tell me what the E1337 thing is? I didn’t get that…I am applying RD to MIT this year. And the Mario hack has really made me want to get admitted. You guys are so cool, you obviously study like hell and still get time to do such fun things. I mean it’s awesome!!

AnnaKot: Aalap Dighe, E1337 is also 31337. Along with elite, it can be noted as a standard port for BO troy program :)
Wow. Um….to prospectve students who are worried that they don’t know what that means: I don’t know what that means, and I tricked admssions into accepting me, so there’s hope for you too. =P What I was going to say (which several commenters beat me to, but I figure it’s worth repeating) is that 1337 means “leet” in “Leet Speak”, which is a nerdy way of saying “elite.”

Lee Gearhart, ’76: Laura, thanks for posting this, with all the photos! While being a pre-Mario generation alum makes me miss some of the references, I certainly appreciate the planning, time, and effort that went into this. Your photos were well done, and help preserve that time and effort for other’s enjoyment.

To me, “Jack Florey” always meant Fifth East. Has the nomenclature evolved?

Oh, and tell your hacker friends that if they want a hack to last, try adding exhibits to the Hart Nautical Museum. Jim Tetazoo did that in ’79, and it went unnoticed for 3 months.
That’s a great point. Jack Florey definitely does refer to Fifth East, and Jim Tetazoo still refers to Third East, and there’s still ORK and THA and other old favorites, as well as some new ones like the WHO (Western Hacking Organization). However, in my experience, Jack Florey has always been the most famous in more mainstream culture. If you’ve heard of hacks at MIT, you’ve probably heard of Jack Florey. If you’re actually an MIT student, you know he’s not the only one. In fact, this particular hack involved people from all over campus. But since my audience here is actually prospective students, I used Jack Florey in hopes that the name might ring a bell for a few people. And I will pass on the tips about the Nautical Museum. =)

Ed Minchau: Doesn’t anyone do stuff like put a Volkswagen on top of the dome anymore?
The thing about hacks is you can only pull them once- then you have to come up with new ideas. The car on the dome had been done, so a couple of years ago then went with airplane instead. =) This is probably the most famous recent hack.

Chris: Awesome. So is anyone ever going to update the online IHTFP hack gallery? I get the impression these happen on a smaller scale all the time, but no one’s sharing them with the outside world.
As far as I know, the IHTFP gallery is maintained privately, meaning by one person who dedicated himself to the task. I heard through the grapevine that major updating was to be done soon but…who knows.

Anonymous: Damn. I missed the first hack while I was here … and such a cool one. My phone does the Mario song … damn, I’m so sad. From what I hear, I only missed it by about an hour! I thought these things were generally left intact for a day or two?
If you read through stories in the hack gallery or listen to your campus tour guide when you visit MIT, you usually hear things like “One morning, a [random object] appeared on the great dome. When they went up to remove it, they found full documentation about how safe the structure was in winds up to 150 mph, so they decided to leave it up for the day.” About this Mario hack, the story I heard was that MIT spent quite a bit of money renovatng Lobby 7 several years ago, so they’re rather sensitve about anything in that area.

Also, Michael left a great comment with lots of useful information. Hopefully this will at least give you a glimpse of another point of view other than my own:
Michael: Thanks for the posting Laura. Reminds me of the old days. Phone dome, home on the dome, die hack….

Some background info:

Security has been known to watch a hack finishing, but only if it’s taking place in accessible areas.

Hacking per se doesn’t get you in trouble — being on a roof or behind a door that is supposed to be locked does. however the policies change over the years.

If you want to read about some of the classics stop at the MIT museum — they keep a hack archive. Hopefully someone will donate these pictures to them.

The MIT balloon at The Game did indeed happens. There are photos. Visit the archives at the MIT Museum.

Hope you all enjoyed the pictures I posted. Finals are over (yay!) so I’ll be updating again shortly with pictures from the last few days of class.

8 responses to “Tricky Questions”

  1. Dionysian says:

    Why are you guys calling them ‘hacks’ when they seem more appropriately called ‘pranks’? Friends of mine were also put off by the use of ‘hack’ for real-world adventures and social-engineering, and they use ‘hax’ or ‘haxxed’ to denote the difference.

  2. Dionysian says:

    Why are you guys calling them ‘hacks’ when they seem more appropriately called ‘pranks’? Friends of mine were also put off by the use of ‘hack’ for real-world adventures and social-engineering, and they use ‘hax’ or ‘haxxed’ to denote the difference.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi!!! I just need a help.There was a mistake with my application fee because the fee waiver was selected by mistake,I realized that I was not eligible for fee waiver.I didn

  4. Aalap Dighe says:

    Hey thanks for that Laura, I explored you link and now I know what leet actully is. Cool!

  5. Hi my name is Dan Tecker, of and I was curious as to what was up with your blog name?

  6. Dionysian,

    Aren’t hackers the people that break into computer networks?

    Maybe to the rest of the world.

    Many of us at MIT call those who break into (crack) computer systems “crackers.” At MIT, a “hacker” is someone who does some sort of interesting and creative work at a high intensity level. This applies to anything from writing computer programs to pulling a clever prank that amuses and delights everyone on campus.

    More here:


  7. Tom Galloway says:

    While the balloon did erupt from the field in the middle of a Harvard-Yale game, it was in 1982, the 99th Game. The 100th game was played in New Haven in 1983.

    Rather sure of this, since while I didn’t see the balloon go up, I was in Harvard Stadium at the time running the other hack(s) that were going on at the same game. See the archived as a pdf Tech article at

    for mostly accurate details (and yes, the fake card stunt was semi-replicated by Yale students last year. I got in touch with the organizers of that, and learned that 1) they knew about us and 2) it was fortunate that they had, since enough Harvard alums also recalled it that they had to show the fake Harvard IDs they’d made just in case someone remembered it and demanded proof of Harvard status).

  8. Masha says:

    I HEART wikipedia.