Every college has traditions, but the ones at Caltech are pretty unique. Students can choose to opt-into the house system, where they are placed into one of our eight undergraduate houses. Each house has a family-style dinner every weeknight where they sit together in their dining hall and are served by paid student waiters. Each dinner is a little different and is filled with a variety of traditions.
Each house also has unique customs. Fleming House, for instance, fires their cannon several times a year. Every Halloween, Dabney House stages a liquid nitrogen pumpkin drop from the top of Caltech Hall, the highest point on campus. Students will gather around and watch this reproduction of the Millikan oil drop experiment. And before winter break, Lloyd House creates a "light tree" down the front of all nine stories of Caltech Hall.
The houses also each host one "interhouse" party during the year. These are often elaborate events, where members of the house plan food, decor, music, and other parts of the party for the undergraduate student body. Many houses create impressive engineering feats as they create dance floors and elaborate light shows. Houses choose themes ranging from Area 51, to Jurassic Park, to Doctor Who, and beyond. There are no limits to the creativity of Techers!
Pranks are common practice at Caltech, often involving rivalries between student houses. For example, Page house has performed several pranks on Fleming house, most notably when they painted the Fleming cannon their house color, blue. Every Halloween, Venerable students dress up like zombies and attempt to break into Dabney house. Dabney students attempt to bar entry, setting up contraptions to block the doors. Every year, freshmen from Blacker house create a skit prank, performing it in the middle of Ph1a.
Here are some of Caltech students' better-known pranks:
- 1961: Altered the University of Washington's card stunts during the Rose Bowl Game to display "Caltech."
- 1987: Changed the Hollywood sign to read "Caltech."
- 2005: Handed out more than 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: Erected a "Pasadena" sign in the hills above the Rose Bowl. The sign changed to "Caltech" at dusk. Also delivered 700 prank mugs to another school.
- 2017: Helpfully delivered the new "MIT Transfer Application Form" to MIT's Admissions Office.
- 2021: The Physics 1a pranksters struck again, this time recreating Phineas and Ferb.
Ditch day is… tomorrow! 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. Underclassmen never know when it's going to happen, but know it's going to be a ton of fun.