PRANKS THAT RANK: TOP TEN AT RICE
The high-octane brains of Rice students have fueled a tradition of high jinks that cut through boredom, pomposity and eggheaded nerdiness. Some silly subliminal, some sublime, these are the pranks that rank.
By David D. Medina
A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Rice students know that better than most. They hit the books, cram for exams, pull all-nighters and camp out in the library. They are too serious to waste time on mindless activities. Maybe that's why when it comes time to throw over the traces, those high-powered brains can create some awesome mischief. Like pigs in mud, Rice students wallow in pranks, stunts and anything that goes against the grain. They love getting back at their roommates, poking fun at authority and playing outrageous jokes on wieners.
These intelligent and creative minds use pranks for a good laugh and as a therapeutic tool. As one serious student puts it, "Mass lunacy is the only way to relieve the competitive pressures at Rice."
Putting over a good one has long been a tradition at Rice. This venerable place of higher learning was only in its second year in 1913, when hazing caught on. The first sophomore class met the second freshman class at registration and made them paint their faces and push mothballs across a gravel walk with their noses.
By the 1920s, Rice had earned a reputation for being the heaviest hazing school in the state, after Texas A&M, with oddball entertainments that included such diversions as watching underwear-clad freshmen march down Main Street in the Slime Parade.
While hazing has seen its heyday, a penchant for zany fun resides in the ever irreverent MOB, the shaving cream-clad streakers of Club 13, the gut-wrenching Beer- Bike, Wiess College's erotic Night of Decadence, the off-the-wall Misclassifieds of the Rice Thresher, dorm roof water fights and, of course, in countless pranks.
Here are some of the most memorable from Rice's long tradition:
The Most Bizarre
Linda Day '62 had it in for her friend, Betsy Miller Winslow '62, a creative prankster with a bent for the bizarre. Miller was a student employee in a biology lab who was conducting experiments on femurs using mouse legs.
"There were a lot of them in the lab, and they assumed interesting positions," she says, only partially explaining why she took a dozen or so of the rodents' feet and surreptitiously distributed them in Day's room.
As Day was getting ready for bed that night, she discovered two mouse feet clutching the edge of the bed cover, as if a little creature was trying to crawl out. Under the cover, she found two hands ( or feet) holding each other, and on the lip of the nightstand drawer two more "hands" were trying to come out. In the restroom before she brushed her teeth, she detected two tiny pink claws clutching her toothbrush.
"It was the funniest thing I'd ever seen," says Day. "It was an invasion of the body snatchers." But she didn't laugh two months after the prank when she slipped on her winter boots and crushed a pair of varmint feet. "I thought it was a big roach!" she says with a cringe.
In retaliation, Day, a chemistry major, made a hydrogen sulfide generator, which she placed on the roof of Jones College with a tube that ran through a window into Winslow's room. Day didn't know it at the time, but hydrogen sulfide, in addition to producing a rotten egg smell, is also a flammable, poisonous gas.
She also didn't realize the generator had pumped enough gas through the window to force the evacuation of the whole dorm! Day got written up by the dean of women and lost her 2 a.m. privileges. (Back then women had a 2 a.m. curfew on Saturdays. )
Worst of all, the prank didn't even work. Winslow had a cold that day and couldn't smell a thing!
Bob Moyer '65 developed aloud voice by yelling at high school football games. At Rice, he once badgered the Aggies so aggressively he left the football game 15 minutes early for fear they would attack him.
Like a gunslinger, "The Mouth" was often challenged to prove himself. Around midnight during finals week, students would line up outside Will Rice Tower, where Moyer resided, and scream as loudly as they could, "Eat it, Moyer! "
Moyer would wait until the night recovered its silence and then shout, "Shut up, you guys, I'm trying to study!" His voice would boom across campus, leaving his opponents awestruck. Students used all kinds of strategies to outshout him. They ganged up six at a time, they used megaphones, yodels, choirs, a cappella fugues. Each time "The Mouth" won.
Then one night, a group of engineering students rigged an amplifier with speakers once used in a small dance hall. Informed sources say that when "Eat it, Moyer" blasted from this system, windows shattered, books fell from their shelves and the ground shook.
Not even an owl was stirring when Moyer erupted like a volcano. His yell may not have outdone the amplified shout, but no other human mouth on campus could have done better.
Today, "The Mouth " has toned down some. "I don't even yell at the kids," he says softly.
Vernon Baird '42 knew he had to run a mammoth campaign to beat well known engineering student Robert Wommack '42 for Rally Club president. Wommack had brought a Brahma bull to campus to play up the western theme he was emphasizing.
Not to be outdone, Baird went to the Houston Zoo and talked the zookeeper, an old friend of his, into borrowing an elephant. Early the next morning, as students gathered at the Sallyport, Baird stood next to a male pachyderm carrying a large sign that read, "This is no bull: Vote for Baird. "
The elephant trick apparently worked. Baird won.
In 1966, another poor soul was out one night when a group of students broke into his Wiess dorm room and rigged his radio to allow them to pipe their own signal in from a nearby "control room." Around 2 a.m., the students woke their victim up and told him that the United States had just "dropped the big one" on Vietnam.
"Let's turn on the radio," they suggested, to hear the latest news.
Mimicking the president's voice and those of several prominent senators, the pranksters speculated convincingly about the chances of Russian retaliation. Music came on as the station resumed its regularly scheduled programming, only to be interrupted with frequent news updates. Then it happened.
"Russia has just launched a series of missiles, and seven U.S. cities have been identified as prime targets," the broad-caster warned. "One of those cities is Houston, and we advise everyone to seek cover. "
The student, frightened out of his wits, ran with his pillow and bed sheets, desperately looking for the Wiess basement, bewildered that no one else had heard the news.
At 2 a.m. the day his art project was due, Barry Nicholson '86 was struck with a flash of inspiration. He grabbed three of his buddies, armed them with wrenches and led them to a classroom in Sewall Hall, where he met for a course titled "Art and the Mind." The four proceeded to unbolt the elongated desks that stretch some 30 feet across the room and weigh 300 to 400 pounds apiece and turn them around to face the back wall.
In the morning, when the professor walked in ready to give a slide presentation as part of the final exam, he did a double take before realizing he was looking at the backs of his 30 students.
Nicholson wound up getting a "B" for his project after explaining to the visiting professor that his work was inspired by apiece of art called "Chinese Contemplating A Wall."
The Most Disgusting
If you were a freshman or a sophomore in 1964, chances are you stood outside the student health center with a container filled with your own urine. After all, that's what you were instructed to do.
Gregory Curtis '66 and two friends purloined some stationery from the student health center and used it to mimeograph a letter to all freshmen and sophomores, requesting that they appear at the center at 1 p.m, Thursday. The letter said to bring a urine sample no less that 14 cubic centimeters in volume.
Some students brought theirs in Coke or beer bottles; others wanted to be more precise and brought them in laboratory beakers, A few embarrassed women hid their samples inside their purses.
Shortly after one o'clock, the head nurse returned from lunch and saw a long line waiting outside her door. All hell broke loose when she angrily announced that the letter was a fake. The students, feeling ridiculous, began pouring their samples on each other, and in the pandemonium that ensued, stampeded every which way to escape being splattered.
The Best Revenge
Bill Merriman '67 swore he would get even with his roommate, Steve Frakes '68, who had bombarded him with pillows during a late-night raid, Merriman, a former cartoonist, dreamed up a "win-a-date-with- Frakes" contest and printed 600 flyers caricaturing his roomie as "Wiess College's own Rudy Valintino" (sic), Merriman only distributed his dirty work on campus, but other pranksters took it a bit further and sent 2,000 flyers around the country.
About 80 entries came back, some from as far away as Berkeley, California. The winner was a Rice coed who confided that she had an uncontrollable desire to corrupt innocent boys, ROTC members honored the winner with a sword salute as she walked out of Jones College and into a limousine that drove the lucky couple to a Rice dance.
Many years later, while Frakes was traveling across Europe on a train, he was telling a friend about the prank. To his surprise, a Chinese man sharing the compartment with them put down his newspaper and exclaimed, "So you're the famous Steve Frakes we heard about at Harvard!"
In the early '50s, there was a student who liked to carry his dorm room keys attached to his belt. A group of Rice students considered this a nerdy thing to do. So they broke into his room, took his bed out and hung it from a nearby tree with a rope tied to the doorknob. Then they took the hinges off the door.
When the unsuspecting student turned his key in the lock, the weight of the bed yanked the door from its frame and dragged him across the room by his keychain. Rumor has it the poor student clawed the door full of scratches frantically trying to free himself.
A week before the 1947 Texas A&M game, the Aggies invaded campus and splattered Willy's statue with red paint. Carroll "Curley" Lewis '49, a former World War II pilot, didn't take kindly to the insult. "Back then," he says, "feelings between the two schools were pretty strong."
To make the Aggies pay for their arrogance, Lewis got his chemical engineering buddies to develop a stink bomb made from "butyric acid and lots of other stuff." Then he bought a 100-pound bag of rice.
Lewis and his bombardier, graduate student John H. Miller, loaded the cargo into a PT -19 open-cockpit, two-seat airplane rented from the now defunct South Main Airport. Miller gingerly cradled the bomb, resting inside a cake tin for safekeeping (one teaspoon of this stuff could smell up a whole block), and, dressed in aviator jackets and parachutes like two war heroes, they winged the 90 miles to College Station.
The two were confident they would hit their target. For a whole afternoon they had practiced with water balloons, bombing the gazebo at a Missouri City racetrack. Coconspirators hid under the gazebo and communicated the results to Lewis through walkie-talkies.
Swooping into Aggieland, they dropped the bomb while students were coming out of the mess hall compound to start the Friday night pep rally. They circled the campus once, tossing out the rice, and then zoomed back to Houston. Miller says he wanted to stick around for the reaction, but he saw a plane taking off from a nearby airfield.
"It's against the law to drop something from a plane, so I thought it was best to leave," he says. The crew landed safely, but there was one hitch. The plan sort of backfired when bombardier Mille got deadly airsick from catching whiffs of the bomb fumes.
In 1988, a group of students pulled off the biggest prank at Rice. They rotated the 2,000 pound statue of William Marsh Rice 180 degrees, making Willy face Fondren Library for the first time in 58 years.
"We were sitting in the pub drinking beer, and we decided something had to be done," says John Q. Smith '86, who helped mastermind the operation. After two futile attempts, the pranksters decided the third time had to be the charm.
Three electrical engineers, two mechanical engineers, a civil engineer, a mathematical scientist, a biochemist, a chemist, a physicist and an English major put their brains and brawn together to carry out the elaborate scheme.
Using plans of the statue taken from Fondren Library, they simulated the transfer load through a computer model. They built two 24- foot A-frames, which they painted black to blend with the night, and put a beam on top that supported a three ton hoist in the middle and two one ton hoists on the sides. The A-frames were tested at an off-campus garage by lifting a 2,250-pound Toyota that was swung back and forth to simulate rotation. A pair of Houston police officers looked on after being told the car hoisting was "a senior research project. "
These same police officers stopped the students as they were hauling the A-frames back to campus. Convinced it was only a school project, the officers gave the students a police escort to Entrance 8.
Lookouts and decoys positioned themselves around the Quad and communicated to each other through walkie-talkies using code names from the X-Men comic book series. The light on Anderson Hall had been turned off every night for the two previous weeks. Each morning the pranksters reconnected the light so that physical plant people would not replace it.
In the early morning hours of Tuesday, April 12, 1988, before the sun came up, Willy sat facing the library. Only one student was caught, Patrick Dyson '88, and was made to pay the cost of turning the statue to its rightful position.
Students rallied behind Dyson and sold T -shirts that read, "Where There's A Willy, There's a Way. " More than enough money was collected to pay the cost of restoring Willy to his familiar perspective.
What took the pranksters one hour and cost $400 to do took professional movers three hours and a rumored $1,500-$2,000 to remedy. The students were blamed for breaking a guide pin underneath the statue, but they claim the professional movers did that.
Reports of the prank quickly spread across the country with the help of the media.
"People are going to have a hard time beating this one," comments a contented Smith.
Well, maybe. But Rice students don't have excellent minds for nothing and they know quite well that a masterminded prank is a terrible thing to waste.