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 Pasadena, CA, 4/18/2006

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Salvo fired in nerd war
Cannon prank tit-for-tat between rival tech colleges
Elise Kleeman Staff Writer

PASADENA - For decades, a 100-year-old cannon has been a part of undergraduate traditions at Caltech and a regular stop on campus tours.

Then, last Tuesday, it disappeared. But Thursday morning, the truth was finally revealed: The 1.7-ton cannon had been safely transported 3,000 miles to the campus of rival school MIT.

The large gun had become the unwitting subject of a prank in retaliation for one that Caltech students played on the East Coast college a year ago.

"It validates what we did last year; it was worthy of a great response," said Tom Mannion, Caltech's assistant vice president of student affairs.

The cannon disappeared in the pre-dawn hours of March 28. Earlier that morning, Caltech security had stopped a flat-bed truck carrying the large gun on Wilson Street, which runs along the eastern edge of campus. A group of about seven people in their twenties claimed they were hired to move the cannon across campus.

"The people that stopped them were presented with some very valid looking documentation," said Caltech's head of security, Gregg Henderson. "The person who was the spokesperson or foreman of the job was very convincing."

Security watched as the movers deposited the cannon and left. But when the officers returned, it was gone.

With no sign of the cannon by late the next day, Henderson filed a report with the Pasadena Police Department.

"Their initial reaction, to be quite honest, was that it was a prank. I mean, Caltech is known for pranks," Henderson said.

Caltech undergraduates have engaged in elaborate pranks in the past, including, famously, changing the Hollywood sign to read "Caltech," but are required by the school honor code to leave a note when they do.

In addition, the undergraduates consider certain items of importance to student traditions - including the cannon - off-limits.

Undergraduates at nearby Harvey Mudd, one of the Claremont Colleges, were also suspect. They had stolen the cannon in a nearly identical manner -


down to the fake construction crew with phony documents - almost 20 years ago to the day.

Nobody on the Harvey Mudd College campus had heard anything about a repeat attempt, though, Henderson said.

Then came a break in the case.

"I received a telephone call Tuesday of this week, anonymous, saying everything's fine," he said. "Two days later, it's in Cambridge, Massachusetts."

"It's finally definite retaliation for what we did last year," Mannion said.

Last April, Caltech students had carried out a number of pranks at MIT.

They distributed folded, shrink-wrapped shirts to visiting prospective students that said "MIT" on the front and "because not everybody can go to Caltech" on the back, and also used a low-powered laser to spell out CALTECH across the top of a prominent campus building.

For now though, MIT students have the last laugh.

The cannon, which usually sits in front of the Fleming undergraduate house on campus and is fired with blanks several times a year to mark important dates, now sits in the middle of the MIT campus.

Students, staff and alumni are already planning for its return, and how to stage a clever retaliation prank of their own, Mannion said.

Just knowing where it is is enough relief for now, Henderson said.

"It's all in good spirit, but it did cause me some sleepless nights."

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