Nightwork: A History of Hacks and Pranks at MIT by Institute Historian T. F. Peterson

The Massachusetts Institue of Technology has been host to the leaders of innovations in many fields: Artificial Intelligence, media and communication technology, open source development, and on and on. One of its lesser known areas of bleeding-edge innovation has been pranks and hacking. Well, Institute Historian T. F. Peterson is here to set that straight with Nightwork: A History of Hacks and Pranks at MIT.

NightworkLong before the term “hacking” was associated with computers (and pejoratively by the popular press), it was an MIT institution. MIT undergrads used the term to describe any activity that took their minds off studying and stress. In Nightwork, the best of the best of the history of MIT hacks is documented, photographed, and explained in great detail.

Some of the best (and most visible) hacks at MIT involve The Great Dome. For instance, to celebrate the 2001 release of the movie The Lord of the Rings, MIT hackers made a gold ring around the dome with red Elvish script, “authentically inscribed with Tolkien’s text.” In the same spirit in 1999, two days before the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the dome was made up to look like R2D2 (pictured below).

Nightwork covers these more obvious hacks as well as the long history of pranks at MIT dating back to the 1940s: Interesting Hacks To Fascinate People. And lest the reader think this is all just mindless fun, a collection of explanitory and philosophical essays is also included.


[photo by Terri Iuzzolino Matsakis]