Traditions and Pranks


Traditions abound at most colleges and universities, but at Caltech, they don't center around the typical fight songs and mascots. Common to many of the student houses is the tradition of sit-down dinners served by student waiters. The houses also each host an "interhouse" party during the year. Each house also has unique customs. The Flems, for instance, fire their cannon several times a year; every Halloween, Dabney House stages a pumpkin drop from the top of Millikan Library, the highest point on campus; and before winter break, Lloyd House constructs a "light tree" on Millikan Library.


Pranks are common practice at Caltech, often involving rivalries between student houses. Techers have been known to take their hijinks off campus, as well. Here are some of their better-known pranks:

  • 1961: Caltech students altered the University of Washington's card stunts during the Rose Bowl Game to display "Caltech."
  • 1984: Students rewired the scoreboard during the Rose Bowl Game to show that Caltech was trouncing MIT (actually, UCLA was playing the University of Illi2014 Caltech Prank Mugsnois).
  • 1987: Our students changed the Hollywood sign to read "Caltech."
  • 2005: Caltech students handed out over 400 prank T-shirts at MIT's preview weekend.
  • 2012: Upperclassmen pranked the frosh Physics 1a class, as is tradition. This year, they converted a small closet to a TARDIS.
  • 2014: The Prank Club erected a "PASADENA" sign in the hills overlooking the Rose Bowl; at halftime during the BCS Championship game, the sign changed to read "CALTECH" in bright orange lettering. 
  • 2014: The Prank Club distributed heat-sensitive coffee mugs to MIT's admitted students.
  • 2016: The Physics 1a pranksters strike again, this time recreating Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
  • 2017: Our students helpfully delivered the new "MIT Transfer Application Form" to MIT's Admissions Office.

Ditch Day

It's Senior Skip Day meets The Amazing Race, brute force versus finesse, seniors versus underclassmen. Welcome to Ditch Day, Caltech's annual undergraduate challenge and one of our oldest traditions. On an agreed-upon date, seniors leave campus for a day of fun and frolicking. Underclassmen, annoyed at being left behind, try to get into seniors' rooms and wreak havoc. In order to discourage this behavior, seniors leave theme-based scavenger hunts ("Stacks") for the underclassmen. These Stacks are complex, imaginative puzzles that are carefully planned for months or even years in advance in order to occupy the underclassmen throughout the day. Did we mention that the seniors don't share the date in advance? That makes sure other students are all prepared for it to happen at any time. After all, "Ditch Day is tomorrow!"