In 1953, the rivalry between Harvard's two student newspapers was spiced up when Crimson partisans stole a statue that sat atop the Lampoon's office. Not content with Level One mischief, the Crimsonites contacted the Soviet embassy and offered them the statue as a peace offering between nations. The USSR accepted (and was probably somewhat confused). In a brilliant response, Lampoon staffers contacted Senator Joseph McCarthy and demanded that he launch a full investigation of the Crimson for its Communist sympathies and dealings with the enemy. Sadly, McCarthy crashed and burned before he could inadvertently help the students close the Prank Circle of Life.
In 1896, Auburn students prepared for the arrival of the arch-rival Georgia Tech football team (I guess Auburn vs. Alabama was not yet a thing in the 19th Century) by covering several miles of railroad tracks into the campus with lubricants. When Tech's train came rolling into town, it helplessly slid several miles out of town in the opposite direction. Legend has it – although this part may be apocryphal – that the Yellowjackets had to walk back to town in the heat and, exhausted, lost 45-0.
In 1961, Caltech nerds sabotaged the preparations for the Rose Bowl. When fans in the stadium held up cards that were supposed to spell "Washington" (whose Huskies were competing in the game) the TV audience saw "Caltech", which has no football team let alone one that would play in the Rose Bowl.
This week I overheard a group of undergraduates talking about pranking our arch-rival, coincidentally also Georgia Tech, before this year's football clash. One proposal involved swiping the beloved Ramblin' Wreck (a golden 1930 Ford Model A, the school's unofficial mascot) and parading it down the Interstate to our stadium. Ultimately they concluded, and I had to agree, that they'd probably all end up in jail, buried under a hundred charges for trespassing, theft, damage to public property, and so on.
I don't want to get all Andy Rooney "Ya Can't Do Anything Without Someone Suing You Anymore" on you, but I do think it's somewhat sad that college students are no longer encouraged to express their creativity like this anymore. Instead they grew up in a post-Reagan America in which the threat of every incident being blown wildly out of proportion by law enforcement ("Tough on crime! Grr!") is greater than their sense of fun. I mean, can you imagine the Auburn-Tech prank today? Good lord, those Auburn kids would have Homeland Security and a dozen SWAT teams all over them for sabotaging the nation's transportation infrastructure. When we do see "pranks" today they look like malicious acts – like the idiot Alabama football fan who poisoned and killed Auburn's 150 year old oak trees – as often as they look like fun.
So please, restore my faith in humanity and convince me that all is not lost. Use the comment section to recount great pranks from recent years – whether or not you were involved – as well as any clever hijinks you may have observed or engaged in during your college years. I need to believe that the beautiful art of being a clever bastard while doing no real harm is not yet dead.