CAMBRIDGE, MA, April Fools Day morning, 1998--"Disney to Acquire MIT for $6.9 Billion" read the headline on MIT's home page website this morning, with an illustration of Mickey Mouse pointing to the MIT Dome with Mickey Mouse ears on it.
"I knew it was a hack as soon as I saw the price," said MIT spokesman Ken Campbell. "Only $6.9 billion? Much too cheap!"
The joke elicited quite a few e-mail messages -- almost all positive -- to the MIT News Office.
He noted that the Mickey Mouse Club theme song had long been a tradition at the MIT Sloan School of Management, with the spelling of Mickey's name replaced by this summary of the value of an MIT degree: "MIT ... Ph.D. ... M , O, N, E, Y..."
MIT's administration kept the "hack" on the web page throughout the day, in tribute to MIT's 120-year history of anonymous and clever engineering pranks. Recent hacks include the 185-foot Electric Oscar awarded Mar. 24 by MIT students to "Good Will Hunting," the Oscar-winning film about a South Boston mathematical genius who is a janitor at MIT. The anonymous students lit the windows on a high-rise building in the form of the Oscar statuette.
In 1994, students put the shell of a police car on MIT's Great Dome which overlooks Killian Court, a 10-acre park where the commencement ceremony is held.
In 1982, in one of the most famous hacks, the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity secretly dug a trench in the Harvard football field and inflated a black weather balloon at the 50-yard line during the Harvard-Yale game. The headline the next day was, "MIT 1, Harvard-Yale 0," although the football game was won by Harvard 45-7.
The "How to Get Around MIT" guide defines the hack: "Hacks at MIT tend to differ from your average college pranks through their emphasis on originality, humor value, technical brilliance, and, most important of all, benign intent (which means not harming, physically or otherwise, the people and/or structures being hacked)."
The MIT Museum has many of the pranks on display, and has published two paperbound books about the hacks at MIT. The first book, the "Journal of the Institute for Hacks, Tom Foolery and Pranks at MIT" says, "Hacks are not performed by any one kind of MIT student. Many hacks are perpetrated by living groups, student organizations, informal organizations formed specifically for hacking or by small groups of individuals.