Susan wins with her 7:07 a.m. Tuesday guess "It's the Rose Bowl hoax of 1961, when 14 Caltech students changed the Washington Huskies halftime card stunt to read Caltech."
Sure enough, in the photo above, unsuspecting Washington Huskies football fans hold up flip cards they believe spell out "HUSKIES" during halftime ceremonies at the Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 2, 1961*.
But the joke was on them because several Caltech students, calling themselves "The Fiendish Fourteen," hatched a week-long plan for carrying out a brilliant hoax in front of a sold-out stadium crowd and an estimated 30 million television viewers.
The University of Washington football team, shown here with their coaches, had no idea the stunt was being planned.
Details of the hoax are much too long and complicated for me to run down here on my humble little blog.
According to Caltech, "It has emerged as the standard against which all other pranks are compared, and has never been equaled, let alone surpassed."
The complete, most accurate background is available on the Caltech website here.
The hoax made the cover of Caltech's Engineering and Science publication that month:
That article made local news that was picked up by the Associated Press, which led to the background on the hoax being printed in newspapers around the world.
Excerpt from the Jan. 25, 1961, AP article:
The secret of how California Institute of Technology pranksters tricked University of Washington students into spelling out "Caltech" for a nationwide TV audience at the last Rose Bowl game was laid bare Thursday.The article goes on to report the sequence of events, which began before Christmas.
The current issue of Caltech Magazine, engineering and science, carries a story by Lance Taylor, class of 1962, which outlines the almost incredible preparation and ingenuity required.
Here's the cover of the program for the 1961 Rose Bowl Game.
The Huskies must have taken some comfort from winning the game 17-7. The Huskies have had seven Rose Bowl wins.
Caltech students have been renowned for their pranks over the years:
• In 1977 Caltech grad Bruce Montgomery inscribed "DEI/FEIF" onto the valve package he designed for each of the Voyager missions. It was a nod to the long-time Dabney Eats It/Fleming Eats It Faster fraternity rivalry.
• In 1984 some students hacked into the Rose Bowl Game scoreboard at halftime and changed it to read "Caltech 31, MIT 9" (UCLA was playing Illinois).
• In 1987 Caltech students modified the Hollywood Sign:
• In 2005 Caltech students stealthfully superimposed the names of hundreds of illustrious scientists onto stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in honor of a commemorative U.S. postage stamp of late Caltech physicist Richard P. Feynman.
Many thanks to Pasadena Public Library, Caltech and the Tournament of Roses Association
* Whenever Jan. 1 falls on a Sunday, the parade and game are the following day.