At 4 p.m. on Nov. 15, the first of many Harvey Mudd College pranksters left Claremont en route to Pasadena with one goal in mind: pranking the California Institute of Technology — again.
It had been seven months since the HMC Prank Club pranked Caltech’s famous cannon last April by constructing a concrete monument adjacent to the cannon with a plaque that read: “Fleming Cannon, On Extended Loan From Harvey Mudd College, Dedicated in Honor of the 11 Mudders Who Bravely Relocated this Cannon in 1986.”
This time, the Mudders were on a mission to broadcast the opening of the “Harvey Mudd College Pasadena Campus,” overtaking the Seeley W. Mudd Laboratory of the Geological Sciences building at Caltech with Mudd-themed balloons, posters and banners, all announcing a faux new HMC campus.
The prank had been in the works since the summer when Prank Club presidents Aely Aronoff HM ’21 and Howard Deshong HM ’21 scoped out the location.
They got the idea after a friend suggested pranking Pomona College’s own Mudd building. Instead, they took it a step further, remembering that there’s also a Mudd Laboratory at Caltech.
“We found Mudd labs, and we just thought we had to do it here,” Aronoff said.
The prank was highly organized with special task forces to ensure the success of the prank. The teams included full-day stay, south wall, west wall, balloons, indoor postering, lookouts, big seal and drivers.
Each team had a leader, and each leader was responsible for their team’s task being completed and relaying their progress to Aronoff, the prank leader. Leaders were also responsible for ensuring no Mudder was left behind.
The full-day stay crew was the first to arrive on scene at 5 p.m. Waiting casually outside the lab for students to leave, Mudders were able to enter unnoticed. Full-day stay students hunkered down and laid in wait to let in the morning pranksters, who arrived at approximately 3:15 a.m. the next day.
The balloons and indoor postering teams were able to successfully decorate the lab, complete with celebratory black and gold decor on the walls, hallways, staircases and rooms. The west and south wall groups hung up 6-foot tall HMC promotional posters that said messages like “Harvey Mudd is Happier than You,” accompanied by a picture of several people smiling and giving thumbs ups.
The next task force placed a big seal on the exterior of the lab. It read: “Harvey Mudd College Pasadena Campus,” and is where the pranksters took their final triumphant photos before heading back to campus.
A significant amount of work went into the prank, including a practice session beforehand to prepare the crew for a task Aronoff described as “not for the faint of heart.”
With the help of HMC’s engineering department, Katie Johnson HM ’23 and Jonathan Lo HM ’23 were able to print the posters. Lo organized volunteers and transportation logistics.
But despite its elaborate planning, the prank had its moments of peril — “literal blood, sweat and tears at points,” said Aronoff, who jokingly lamented the splinter he sustained during the prank’s execution.
Anshul Kamath HM ’23 improvised to save the prank from getting taken down when Caltech students (Techers) saw the posters soon after they had been put up and pretended to be a Techer himself.
“Ten Techers … were walking past, and we couldn’t do anything,” Aronoff said. “[Kamath] went up to them and got them to leave. And not just that, but convinced them not to take down the prank, because they were about to.”
The group was suspicious of Kamath, but he wore Caltech gear and told the Techers he lived in the nearby Page House. He persuaded them that taking the posters down would be too time-consuming and that “pranking them back” would be a better alternative, according to Aronoff.
The date Nov. 15 was also carefully selected. Rumors had been swirling that MIT was planning to prank Caltech on Nov. 22, according to the Caltech Confessions Facebook page.
“We had to do it first,” Deshong said. “If we did it at the same time, the MIT prank might overshadow ours, and if we did it after, it might look like we’re try-hards, just trying to copy MIT.”
Prank participant Mavis Stone HM ’23 was proud of her participation in the momentous prank and said it helped her feel more connected to Mudd’s culture.
“I was definitely looking for a prank culture, because I am a trickster myself,” she said. “As a [first-year], I would definitely say that this has improved my impression of Mudd. It has made me all the more excited and proud to be a Mudder.”
Aronoff spoke to the importance of high quality pranks as a form of self-care and creative expression as well as their ability to bring the Harvey Mudd community together.
“We talk a lot about work-life balance and what we do to make our time at Mudd meaningful, healthy, de-stressing,” Aronoff said. “I think that pranking — particularly good … legal pranking [that follows the Honor Code] — is a really healthy outlet and a really good way to build community.”
Prank Club is gearing up to take more action, but they’re reluctant to give any hints as to what their next hit will be. Aronoff did have one message, though: “No institution is safe.”