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In comic relief, Doonesbury's coming to MIT

Alex Doonesbury, 17-year-old cartoon offspring of "Doonesbury" cartoon dad Michael Doonesbury, will be attending MIT this fall, thanks to the Institute's victory over Cornell and Rensselaer in a straw cyber-poll launched Monday, May 15, by Doonesbury Town Hall, a feature in Slate, the online magazine.

In the April 12 "Doonesbury" strip, creator Garry Trudeau drew Alex ripping open the envelopes telling her she had been "accepted" by all three colleges. She described MIT as her "reach school" and herself as a "fairy princess on steroids," due to giddiness from her success.

Doonesbury Town Hall (DTH) invited its readers to choose their favorite among the three top-flight academic futures for Alex. The Straw Poll is a fey, weekly affair -- hardly prepared for the techno-voting tsunami that ensued.

The flood began at night.

As DTH insiders told the tale, an MIT student put up a "Doonesbury Voting Hack" web site, which "enabled would-be-ballot-stuffers to spew out over a million votes in a single night." The DTH election-watchers denied the MIT network access to their server, but did take into consideration the "thoughtfulness" of the hacker and of his culture.

After all, DTH pollsters noted, "By tradition, engineers, hackers and techfolk will assume that in a problem-solving situation of this nature, there is no box out of which they are not expected to climb. The will, chutzpah, and bodacious craft of the voting public will be respected."

Rensselaer partisans also tried hacking, but only "several hundred thousand votes bounced off our servers," the DTH summary said.

Cornell bloggers indicated that students there were watching the "fray," but were trapped in exams and had no time to write a Cornell spamming script. Instead, "students and alums managed to post many passionate, articulate, humorous, and convincing posts about why Alex should head to Ithaca," DTH wrote.

"Doonesbury" began publication in 1972. It now appears in about 1,400 newspapers.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 7, 2006 (download PDF).

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