(Roughly) Daily

“Loki’d!”*…

January 2, 1961: 100,000 spectators filled Pasadena’s Rose Bowl stadium to watch the Minnesota Golden Gophers take on the Washington Huskies in the New Year’s Day game (played that year on January 2 because the 1st fell on a Sunday). Millions more watched around the nation, crowded in front of tv sets in living rooms, restaurants, and bars.

NBC was providing live coverage of the game. At the end of the first half the Huskies led 17 to 0, and the audience settled in to watch the half-time show for which the Washington marching band had prepared an elaborate flip-card routine.

Sets of variously colored flip cards and an instruction sheet had been left on seats in the section of the stadium where the Washington students were located. When the students heard the signal from the cheerleaders, they were each supposed to hold up the appropriate flip card (as designated by the instruction sheet) over their head. In this way different gigantic images would be formed that would be visible to the rest of the stadium, as well as to those viewing at home. The Washington band planned on displaying a series of fifteen flip-card images in total.

The flip-card show got off to a well-coordinated start. Everything went smoothly, and the crowd marvelled at the colorful images forming, as if by magic, at the command of the cheerleaders. It wasn’t until the 12th image that things began to go a little wrong. This image was supposed to depict a husky, Washington’s mascot. But instead a creature appeared that had buck teeth and round ears. It looked almost like a beaver.

The next image was even worse. The word ‘HUSKIES’ was supposed to unfurl from left to right. But for some reason the word was reversed, so that it now read ‘SEIKSUH’.

These strange glitches rattled the Washington cheerleaders. They wondered if they might have made some careless mistakes when designing the complex stunt. But there was nothing for them to do about it now except continue on, and so they gave the signal for the next image.

What happened next has lived on in popular memory long after the rest of the 1961 Rose Bowl has been forgotten. It was one of those classic moments when a prank comes together instantly, perfectly, and dramatically.

The word ‘CALTECH’ appeared, held aloft by hundreds of Washington students. The name towered above the field in bold, black letters and was broadcast to millions of viewers nationwide.

For a few seconds the stadium was plunged into a baffled silence. Everyone knew what Caltech was. It was that little Pasadena technical college down the road from the Rose Bowl stadium. What no one could figure out was what its name was doing in the middle of Washington’s flip-card show. Throughout the United States, a million minds simultaneously struggled to comprehend this enigma.

In fact, only a handful of people watching the game understood the full significance of what had just happened, and these were the Caltech students who had labored for the past month to secretly alter Washington’s flip-card show…

More on one of the great pranks of all time: “The Great Rose Bowl Hoax,” via The Museum of Hoaxes.

See also this explication of one of the more successful imitators.

* Tom Hiddleston

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As we treasure tricksters, we might recall that on this date in 2006 the City Councils of Reykjavik and its neighboring municipalities agreed to turn off all the city lights in the capital area for half an hour, while a renowned astronomer talked about the stars and the constellations on national radio.

(Ten years later they dimmed again to allow unpolluted viewing of the Northern Lights.)

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Written by LW

September 28, 2020 at 1:01 am

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