Web Stories: Lots and Lots of Pokémon!
by Mason A. Porter '98
Some Techers become distinguished alums when they graduate; others become radio DJs, bums, or even mathematicians. As part of this last category, after grad school I took a faculty position at Georgia Tech. (Well, it was really a postdoc, but who's counting?)
Georgia Tech's math department (like most academic departments) has display cases with pictures of the faculty, graduate students, and staff — a sort of "Field Guide to Local Professors" that allows enterprising undergraduates to greet even the most reclusive professors by name in the hallways. At Georgia Tech, we even had separate display cases for different groups within the department.
In fall 2003, one of my colleagues made the mistake of telling me that his group kept their display case unlocked. He found this out quite by accident — he'd wanted his picture to upload for his web page and had waited until the appropriate staff member was around (and he overcame his own inertia), only to find out he could have just done it on his own!
This piece of information gave me a moral imperative. I cut into my work time a bit to figure out how to best take advantage of this unexpected opportunity. Inspired by the seizures of 600 Japanese children (caused by the flashing lights in one episode of the Pokémon cartoon), I decided to cover up the faculty pictures with Pokémon — lots and lots of Pokémon!
I needed pictures, but that turned out to be trivial. A simple Google search uncovered color Pokémon art, which I proceeded to download in droves. I came to campus on a Sunday to print out 150 or so of my favorite Pokémon on the math department's color printer. (To be safe, I informed our sysadmin [system administrator], a fellow faculty member, of my plans for the color printer. I was given a thumbs-up, told to go and have fun, and given the very sound advice that it is often better to apologize afterward than to ask permission beforehand.)
Thankfully, nobody else was in our computer lab that day.
A couple of weeks later, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to take the Metro to campus. I had spent several hours the night before cutting the white space from the pictures because I wanted to maximize the number of Pokémon I could use — clearly a productive use of my time!
The prank was not difficult to pull off; it was simple but elegant. I opened up the display case and started pasting the Pokémon pictures one by one over faculty (and grad-student) pictures. It took several hundred thumbtacks and about three-quarters of an hour. At one point, I heard footsteps from the second floor, but luckily no one appeared. After I replaced the pictures in the display case, I taped a slightly modified Pokémon group picture on the wall next to it, signing it "Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow" (in honor of another Caltech legend1) so that with a little thought, they could figure out that I was the one responsible.
Once I was done, I figured I should get some work done while waiting for the on-campus Starbucks to open. The department head and several staff members arrived on campus, and I wondered whether they even noticed that I was on campus before them … for the first time ever. If they thought about it at all, perhaps they'd think I had pulled an all-nighter.
My display unfortunately lasted only a couple of hours, because people at Georgia Tech aren't used to such things. (They clearly need more practice.) It took one of the staff members twenty minutes to take everything down, and although she never said anything to me, for the next several weeks she glared at me whenever she passed me in the hallway. (While nobody ever acknowledged my responsibility, every so often the department head would ask me if I was staying out of trouble. I still don't know whether that question was related to the prank.)
In retrospect, I wish I had also bought a lock to add to the display case, but I didn't think of that until later.
1 See "Evil Geniuses with Mints" in Legends of Caltech III.