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student Pranks ease the pressure

While at Caltech, both Autumn Looijen and Dr Mason Porter -- editors of Legends of Caltech III: Techer in the Dark, a book about Caltech's famous student stunts -- were active participants in the institution's decades-old tradition of performing pranks, which are gamely tolerated by Caltech's patient administration.

Both graduates believe indulging in pranks was a way to blow off steam and relieve the pressure of life in such an intense academic environment.

"You have a bunch of people who are very creative by nature but they are also being pushed very, very hard," said Porter. "At some point most people really need to deal with that stress and I think pranks are a very healthy way to deal with that."

Porter's class of 1998 was responsible for swaddling the Millikan library -- the tallest building in Caltech and known as the "largest erection on campus", according to Porter -- in Christmas lights.

The mathematics lecturer at Oxford still speaks with admiration about a prank that happened after his departure from Caltech when an enterprising student replaced all of the chairs in an outdoor dining area with used toilets.

In 2005, Caltech students flew to Boston where they posed as MIT students and handed out 400 T-shirts -- emblazoned with the MIT logo -- to incoming freshmen at a reception to honour the MIT president.

"They mingled with the president," said Professor Christopher Brennen. "And it was only after a while that they began to figure out what was written on the back of these T-shirts: '. . . because not everyone can go to Caltech'.

"That didn't take much mathematics but it was quite ingenious and very amusing," he said.

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