MIT hackers play TETRIS on a whole building

153 windows become game displays for playable version of building block game

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.

That's one reason the unofficial student motto is IHTFP (for a variant of I Hate This Place), though even ironic student slogans are more practical and hardworking at MIT than elsewhere.

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, 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).

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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