Caltech’s eggheads deserve PhDs in pranks

Steve Harvey can be reached at (800) LATIMES, Ext. 77083, by fax at (213) 237-4712, by mail at Metro, L.A. Times, 202 W. 1st St., L.A. 90012, and by e-mail at

Caltech’s brainy students have achieved renown for several high-visibility pranks. There was the time they rewired the Rose Bowl scoreboard so that Caltech appeared to be playing in the game. The time they changed the Hollywood sign to read Caltech. The time they took advantage of an “unlimited entries” clause in a McDonald’s drawing to send in more than 1 million entries and win 20% of the prizes.

But those are only a fraction of the stunts they’ve pulled, as “Legends of Caltech III: Techer in the Dark” makes clear.

This is the third book saluting such mischief by the Tekkies, and there seems no end to the stories.


“Legends ... III” recounts many projects I was unaware of, such as:

* The reconfiguring of a Coke machine so that it dispensed everything from beer to lead-filled cans while showing e-mail messages -- including homework questions -- on its display panel.

* The conversion of a dorm hallway known as Hell Alley into an ice-skating rink after one resident said he would get married “when Hell freezes over.”

* The replacing of the chairs in an outdoor dining area with used toilets.

* The infiltration of MIT, where free T-shirts that mocked the Massachusetts school were handed out to unsuspecting students (see photos).

* And finally, the reprinting of the entire text of Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” in microscopic type across the 12 pages of the school newspaper.

Who said “Moby-Dick” is heavy reading?

An emergency or a prank? No telling how many guests at the Hotel Metropole in Hanoi might have been worried to see a wall-mounted fire hose winding through a corridor (see photo).

But, as Bob Padgett of Manhattan Beach reports, it was only a hotel worker watering the plants in the central courtyard.

Unreal estate: Who says the real estate boom is over?

Joann Kropp of Redondo Beach spotted a listing for a $1.9-million property in San Clemente that seemed to be lacking certain amenities, such as walls and a ceiling (see accompanying).

“Duh!” Award winner: In Orange, Duane Carter says that after the city inspected his apartment building and decreed that the community room doors must be kept closed, management posted a perhaps overly helpful sign (see photo).

Great Bargains Dept.: A reader relayed this item from “Half bag of popcorn eaten by Brittany [sic] -- $500.”

I know of another celeb who might appreciate such a snack while she’s in county jail.

Computers insulting humans: As part of our continuing series on today’s smart-aleck machines, Carole Schuricht of Walnut says that when her phone rang the other day, “I answered it with ‘Hello.’ An electronic voice retorted, ‘That was an invalid response.’ ”

miscelLAny: A new biography of L.A. evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson by Matthew Sutton recounts the time her KFSG radio station was shut down by the Commerce Department in the 1920s. The feds accused Sister Aimee’s station of jumping from frequency to frequency.

In response, she sent Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover a telegram that read: “Please order your minions of Satan to leave my station alone. You cannot expect the almighty to abide by your wavelength nonsense. When I offer my prayers to him I must fit into his wave reception.... “

Imagine how the minions at Homeland Security would react to such a missive today.