The preparation was inspired, the key players unwavering and a national television audience enthralled.
Caltech made the Rose Bowl.
A small band of ingenious Caltech students made it happen, surreptitiously altering a University of Washington halftime flip-card routine so that it would spell out "CALTECH" in what became known as the Great Rose Bowl Hoax of 1961.
Their leader was Lyn Hardy, mastermind of a stunt that has been called the greatest collegiate prank of all time.
"That was never the intent, to make the world's greatest prank," Hardy says. "The thoughts of football, Rose Bowl and Caltech occurring together probably wouldn't happen, so the idea was to somehow bring those three together."
On Jan. 2, 1961, they did.
Hardy, 69, says the idea had been hatched a couple of weeks earlier as he watched the media buildup to the Pasadena showcase, which in 1961 matched Washington against Minnesota.
Making it happen, he notes, required duplicity, espionage, lock-picking skills and more than a little good fortune.
"There was a lot of luck involved," the retired engineer says during an interview at his home in Torrance. "From a maturity of age looking back, what were the chances of pulling that thing off? I'd say zip. But you don't know that when you're 19."
Hardy, after learning that the Washington band and cheerleaders were staying in dormitories at Long Beach State, showed up posing as a reporter for the Dorsey High student newspaper. (Hardy, a Caltech junior at the time, was a Dorsey graduate.)
The cheerleaders, who organized the flip-card routine, willingly shared the technical details of how it worked.
"Three very nice guys . . . talked me through the whole thing, showed me where they kept everything," Hardy says.
Later, when the cheerleaders left for dinner, Hardy and another of Caltech's so-called "Fiendish 14" broke into their room by picking the lock. Lifting a card-stunt instruction card, they took it back to Pasadena and had some 2,400 copies made.
Early on New Year's Eve, while the cheerleaders were at Disneyland, Hardy's group broke into their dorm room again, this time "borrowing" the master instructions.
Back at Caltech, the Fiendish 14 mapped out their own master plans on graph paper and, recruiting partygoers to assist, stamped out a new set of 2,232 individual instruction cards.
Returning to Long Beach once more, they picked the lock again, reentered the cheerleaders' room and replaced the original master plans in the satchel where they'd found them.
Also, of course, they left behind the new individual instruction cards. The originals, they pocketed as souvenirs.