MIT is a dour, serious place – the kind of place ambitious kids who have ground their way through seven years of middle and high school in pursuit of the perfect academic record discover what real pressure is in a place where the relentless grind is considered a lifestyle choice.
MIT is not like Harvard. Upriver at what one Boston columnist used to refer to as World's Greatest University (WGU), kids have to work just as hard to get in, but are home free afterward, as long as someone pays the tuition bill.
Harvard treats college as the process of nurturing great minds – like cultivating hot-house orchids, except with WASPS instead of flora.
MIT doesn't nurture. It forges minds with heat and pressure and perpetually replenished piles of schoolwork.
At Harvard IHTFP would have stood for something dignified and meaningless in Latin.
Every once in a while, though, MIT busts out in brilliance. Not often, but you can't surpress really top-flight geekery all the time without risking a blowout.
At MIT, fun is accomplished with architecture
With no time for the bars or parties that occupy students of the other 128 universities in the state, MIT students have to bust out in their own way once in a while.
Last Friday night they did it by playing Tetris – turning the 153 windows on one side of MIT's Green Building into the display for a playable, unusually architectural version of the most addictive game ever invented for computer(ish things).
They put a console at ground level to control the game, scrolled TETRIS across the windows at the start of each new game and made each of three levels more difficult by making the colors of each block paler and therefore harder to place as the player advances.
It's not clear how they changed the color of the windows, though PCWorld theorizes it was with wireless LEDs in each window..
It's also not clear who did it, but it's not the first time. Playing Tetris on the Green Building has for years been considered "the Holy Grail of hacks," according to Hacks.MIT.edu, which is dedicated to the history, art and science of the MIT hack.
MIT hacks are to practical jokes as sandlots are to Fenway Park
What MIT calls hacks other schools call "pranks," though the level of planning, creativity, design and execution aren't even on the same planet, let alone the same page in a dictionary.
MIT hacks are supposed to be clever, funny, surprising, difficult to execute and often involve advanced skills in engineering, project planning and management and subterfuge. There are rumors hackers sometimes suborn the loyalty of MIT employees to allow or assist in the hacks, but none have been caught or publicly named
MIT hackers, whose work, do their work under serious threat of arrest and sanction by MIT Campus Police, who are pressed by administrators to control the threat of whimsy at any cost (though administrators and other preventers of mischief brag about each hack after the fact).
- MIT hackers:
- made the MIT president's office disappear in 1990;
- turned the tallest building on campus into the world's largest live stereo audio meter in 1993, to measure the volume of the annual July 4 Boston Pops concert across the river;
- put what looked a lotlike a real campus police cruiser on top of one of the iconic Great Dome in 1994 (with flashing lights, a dummy dressed as a campus cop, a box of donuts, a Campus Police ticket for parking without a permit for the location and a license plate reading IHTFP );
- turned the Great Dome into R2-D2 in 1999;
- landed Dr. Who's TARDIS time-and-spaceship from MIT to CalTech, Berkeley and back again for two different appearances on or near the Great Dome;
- allowed Daleks to respond by appearing atop MIT's Stata Center;
- landed a lunar module atop the Great Dome;
- re-tinted the subway's Red Line as the Infrared Line;
- changed MIT's home page April 1, 1998 to announce Disney was buying MIT;
- recruited freshmen for the Department of Alchemy in 1992;
- caused Middle Earth to overlap with Cambridge, twice, as the One Ring ruled the Great Dome, and the Eye of Sauron came to have a look.
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