Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Great Rose Bowl Story – Cal Tech 38, MIT 9

Celebrating the Imagination of the American Nerd

As the results from the football bowl games come in, the New York Times reminds us of a great stunt by Cal Tech students.

No, Not Cal Tech and MIT in the Rose Bowl

This, in the early 1980s, got Kegel and Williams thinking. So, one night after 2 a.m., a small group headed to the Rose Bowl on a reconnaissance mission. When they got into the control room in the press box, they found the circuit diagrams for the scoreboard — an invitation for an electrical engineer with mischief on his mind.

“That sealed it,” Kegel said.

It took more than a year — and more than a dozen trips to the Rose Bowl with friends — before a plan was in place. They built a small computer, placed it in a junction box and routed the wires through it, giving them access to the scoreboard and the sound system. Then on Jan. 1, 1984, they set up a portable computer and a couple of radio modems they had borrowed, and got a glimpse inside the stadium from a nearby backyard of a Caltech graduate as U.C.L.A. set about demolishing Illinois.

In the fourth quarter, a puzzled crowd noticed, “Hi, Mom,” scrolling across the scoreboard. Soon, two Beavers — the Caltech mascot — followed. Then the scoreboard itself changed. It read: Caltech 38, M.I.T. 9. The pranksters also played a raunchy Monty Python song over the sound system, but they had miscalculated the volume.

And the  ending of this story.  In America everything involves lawyers.  So here’s what happened to these merry pranksters.

The stunt turned them into brief celebrities. Kegel received credit for a class project and the mayor of Pasadena complimented them. The only ones not amused were the police. Their lawyer, whose fees were paid by a Caltech alumnus, negotiated a plea of loitering after dark in a public park.

What a great story, and what a great thing it says about America.  And think about these students who for the rest of their lives have to live with a plea bargain where they admitted to committing the crime of loitering after dark in a public park. 

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