On the night of the recent lunar eclipse, when all eyes were on the vanishing moon, the hackers of MIT were hard at work, constructing a giant red and white beanie with a 50-foot blue propeller on top of the Great Dome of MIT, 120 feet above Killian Court.
It was the hit of radio drive time last Friday morning, visible to helicopters, motorists and morning DJs ensconced in the high-rise offices of the Prudential Building and other Boston sites. "It's great," said one radio host. "It looks as though it's poised to take off and take the top right off of MIT."
A 15-page, 11-diagram treatise, "Document for Project Beany," to show Physical Plant's Confined Space Rescue Team how to remove it safely, was left for authorities. The manual said that the two propeller blades, made of aluminum, plywood and blue parachute fabric, had been tested in the wind tunnel. After describing its failsafe construction, however, the author or authors said, "Unless the structure has already failed, it is considerably safer to leave it installed than to attempt to remove the structure, especially if there is any noticeable amount of wind."
With a breezy morning forecast, the team played it safe and began to take it down shortly after 8am.
But that wasn't the end of it. The rescue team's truck was sporting a new sign, "MIT Hack Removal Team," along with a Hackbusters logo on the back, a "We brake for hacks" inscription and the icons of hacks previously retrieved by the team. The unoffending decorations could be removed, according to a sign left on the windshield, with the help of some warm water.
News reporters asked MIT officials if the school was upset. "As long as they adhere to the hacker's code that it doesn't hurt anybody or damage property, and it demonstrates engineering skill and a sense of humor, how could we possibly object?" said MIT spokesman Ken Campbell.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 2, 1996.