Sorry to interrupt...this will only take a moment.
This site is an independent reader-supported project.
Because you have viewed at least a few articles now...
Can you give a small donation to keep us online?
We can give you e-books and audiobooks and stuff.
This site is an independent reader-supported project.
The cost of keeping it running are considerable.
If you can spare a few dollars it would help us enormously.
We can give you e-books and audiobooks and stuff.
×
×
Experimental Feature

Select 'Atmospheric Audio' from the Audio menu to add subtle background audio to certain portions of the article.

The Great Rose Bowl Prank of 1961

Article #34 • Written by Alan Bellows

The Rose Bowl is arguably the most famous annual college football game there is, often referred to as "The Granddaddy of Them All." Every year, it is attended by tens of thousands of fans, and watched on television by millions. This was also true forty-four years ago, in 1961.

On that particular year, on January 2nd, the Minnesota Golden Gophers were taking on the Washington Huskies. The Rose Bowl stadium was filled to capacity, and almost 10 million viewers tuned in to NBC's live coverage from homes, restaurants, and bars. The game itself was not particularly remarkable, and would have become just another smudge in the blur of history were it not for the unexpected events which unfolded during the halftime show. That day's game has lived on in infamy ever since.

The Rose Bowl stadium was just a stone's throw from a little technical college in Pasadena called Caltech. The Caltech football team occasionally played in the Rose Bowl stadium, but despite their proximity and merit, their college (and its mascot the beaver) had never been represented in the hype that surrounded the game each year. A group of fourteen Caltech students, unhappy at being left out of the famous annual event, took it upon themselves to correct the unjustified oversight.

The group sent one of their members to speak to the head cheerleader for the University of Washington. Operating under the guise of a reporter for a local high school newspaper, he asked the head cheerleader how their school intended to execute their half-time flipcard show. The flipcard show is the classic method of showing huge images in a stadium by having a block of students hold large colored cards of over their heads to form images visible to the rest of the stadium, and to the television viewers. The Caltech spy learned that Washington's plan called for a series of fifteen images to be created by the flipcard-wielding students, and that each of the 2,232 seats involved would have a set of colored cards and a specific instruction sheet.

In the days that followed, when the Washington cheerleaders left their hotel to spend the day at Disneyland, a handful of Caltech students snuck into the hotel and broke into the cheerleaders' rooms-- disturbing nothing-- and hunted until they located the stack of instruction sheets. They slipped away with a single sheet to use as a guide, and smuggled it to a local printer where they had 2,232 copies made. Back at Caltech, their co-conspirators awaited their arrival, at which time the fourteen students began the long, carefully planned process of altering each seat's instruction sheet by hand. It took a better part of the day, and there was some concern over the fact that the new sheets were considerably less worn than the originals. Once the task was complete, three Caltech students were sent back to the hotel to sneak into the cheerleaders' room and swap the original stack of instruction sheets for the modified ones. They were successful, managing to get in and out before the cheerleaders returned from their outing. Their changes had been complex and hasty, so naturally the fourteen students were nervous about how their prank would play out.

Game day soon arrived. At the end of the first half, the Washington Huskies were ahead 17 to 0, and the University of Washington marching band marched onto the field to begin the halftime show. NBC trained their live camera directly towards the flipcard bleachers as the flipcard show began.

As the band accompanied with music, the first image was met with approval from the Washington fans, having been unmodified by the pranksters. The second, third, and fourth were met with similar enthusiasm as the huge, colorful images materialized at the cheerleaders' beckoning. It wasn't until the twelfth image that something appeared awry. The image-- which was supposed to look like a husky-- had rounded ears and buck teeth. This distressed the cheerleaders, who attributed the malformed image to their own design error, and they gave the signal to change to the next image.

Image number thirteen was even more distressing. Rather than proudly displaying the word "HUSKIES," the text had somehow been reversed to read "SEIKSUH," in full view of the entire stadium and millions of television viewers. Mortified, and hoping that subsequent images would be without embarrassing errors, the cheerleaders signaled the next image as the band played on.

The subtle modifications to all previous flipcard images had been a buildup to the fourteenth. When the image materialized, the crowd's cheers fell silent. The band's music quickly petered out. The television commentators were momentarily speechless. The stadium was gripped in an unnatural silence as a single word towered over the field, and was displayed on millions of TV sets across the country: "CALTECH."

There was a long pause as the crowd absorbed this, but soon the silence was broken. The band marched off the field to the sound of laughter, refusing to signal for the next image (which, as it turns out, was unmodified by the Caltech pranksters). The football teams returned to the field, and the game ended with Washington winning 17-7.

The fourteen Caltech students who organized the prank came to be known as the Fiendish Fourteen. Their prank was so beautifully orchestrated-- and in front of such a large audience-- that it has become the yardstick against which all other college pranks are now measured. Despite the ingenuity of Caltech's subsequent efforts, the Great Rose Bowl prank is still unequaled.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 26 October 2005. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

For more science, history, and psychology, follow us:
SHARE

More Information
Related Articles


20 Comments
alipardiwala
Posted 19 December 2005 at 07:05 am

Not bad at all. That took a lot of work.


Asshe
Posted 28 May 2006 at 11:39 pm

I heard a modern version of this, but it involved Harvard and some other team... anyway long story short, Harvard got pranked.

But this damn interesting article has got me wondering if this modern version was just a hoax...


Prince
Posted 28 May 2006 at 11:58 pm

Why did they make 2232 copies and then change them, why not change one, then copy it 2232 times?

all in all, a brilliant prank.


wh44
Posted 29 May 2006 at 01:56 am

Prince said: "Why did they make 2232 copies and then change them, why not change one, then copy it 2232 times?

all in all, a brilliant prank."

Each cheerleader has their own instructions, otherwise they'd always end up presenting a solid color field.


sligocki
Posted 29 May 2006 at 02:20 am

Prince said: "Why did they make 2232 copies and then change them, why not change one, then copy it 2232 times?"

It would appear that rather than having 14 flash cards per fan (and thus simple instructions), the Huskeys had the same set of colored cards at each seat with instructions on which color to show at each of the 15 frames. Thus the instructions for each seat would be different.

From the official Caltech account: "Everyone who sits in the card section has (and usually sits on) several large cardboard squares in a variety of colors. With the cards come an instruction card (something like a 3" by 5" card), telling which color each individual is to hold up for a given stunt.

The stunts are sequentially numbered. An individual instruction card might read:

1--RED

2--BLUE

3--WHITE (etc.)"

The quoted site gives considerably more technical detail for those interested.


sligocki
Posted 29 May 2006 at 02:24 am

Asshe said: "I heard a modern version of this, but it involved Harvard and some other team… anyway long story short, Harvard got pranked."

This would be Yale's "We Suck" Prank in November 2004.


patag
Posted 29 May 2006 at 09:35 am

i agree with the well orchestrated part... but poor caltech for not being in on the fun of rosebowl :P


Chory
Posted 29 May 2006 at 11:53 am

Brilliant, just brilliant.


S Mirza
Posted 29 May 2006 at 01:38 pm

Another Damn Interesting article. The logistics of that must have been amazing for just 14 people...


Hayley
Posted 29 May 2006 at 06:48 pm

That is so cool....

Gotta try that against Lehigh some time.


another viewpoint
Posted 29 May 2006 at 07:59 pm

My boss having served in the army and spent some time in Viet Nam, came to describe many an incident. Naturally, in any branch of the military, you don't get things done by going through normal channels or following prescribed instructions. Where there's a will, there is a way. When the going gets tough...the tough get going. And all that kind of jazz. In the end, I coined for him the phrase ...S.C.S...sneaky, cunning and sly. Fits the Caltech prank to a T! (also works in Corporate America too).

No apologies necessary for reruning an old article. Thanks DI and keep up the great work!


schuylercat
Posted 31 May 2006 at 09:59 am

That's awesome - it reads almost like urban folkllore! Great story, and cool prank!


dr H
Posted 31 May 2006 at 07:29 pm

There's a story about an MIT student who spent an entire summer going to the Harvard football field every day wearing a black and white striped shirt, walking up and down the field for ten or fifteen minutes throwing birdseed all over the field, blowing a whistle and then walking off the field.

At the end of the summer, it came time for the first Harvard home football team, the referee walked onto the field and blew the whistle, and the game had to be delayed for a half hour to wait for the birds to get off of the field.


rezophonic
Posted 06 June 2006 at 07:11 am

sligocki said: "It would appear that rather than having 14 flash cards per fan (and thus simple instructions), the Huskeys had the same set of colored cards at each seat with instructions on which color to show at each of the 15 frames. Thus the instructions for each seat would be different."

If every instruction sheet had to be different, how did they pull it off by stealing only the one sheet? It still stands to reason that they could have made the changes and then copied the instructions. Nevertheless, an excellent execution of a good scheme.


blueracoon
Posted 15 June 2006 at 09:36 am

i wonder how they got so many little tiles to fit together just to say CALTECH

what kind of idiot would go thru the trouble just for that


Nytmare
Posted 22 June 2006 at 12:05 am

You could try reading the article, blueracoon, instead of just looking at the picture.


eatmydust57
Posted 02 December 2006 at 05:12 am

thats stuped! why not 69 copies.not 2232


Jeffrey93
Posted 16 March 2007 at 12:27 pm

This is nothing. I heard this one guy stole a rival school's mascot one night, it was a pig. He split some malt liquor with it. The pig became quite ill. It also didn't seem to like having it's tail played with non-stop. The mascot thief found this incredibly hilarious. "Curly, straight. Curly, straight." He would say.

The Dean of the school heard the pig fall over because of the malt liquor, and the jig was up.

The pig was airlifted out to a local animal hospital.

Greatest prank ever.


Locifer
Posted 09 March 2009 at 03:54 pm

Jeffrey93 said: "This is nothing. I heard this one guy stole a rival school's mascot one night, it was a pig. He split some malt liquor with it. The pig became quite ill. It also didn't seem to like having it's tail played with non-stop. The mascot thief found this incredibly hilarious. "Curly, straight. Curly, straight." He would say.

The Dean of the school heard the pig fall over because of the malt liquor, and the jig was up.

The pig was airlifted out to a local animal hospital.

Greatest prank ever."

Watched the Simpsons to many times? :)


Robert Halfpenny
Posted 14 December 2014 at 09:36 am

Prince said: "Why did they make 2232 copies and then change them, why not change one, then copy it 2232 times?

all in all, a brilliant prank."

I think the reason is that each "card flipper" has different instructions which is what makes each picture different.


END OF COMMENTS
Add Your Comment

Note: Your email address will not be published, shared, spammed, or otherwise mishandled. Anonymous comments are more likely to be held for moderation. You can optionally register or login.

You may use basic formatting HTML such as <i>, <b>, and <blockquote>.