Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology poured more than four years of time and effort into realizing a stunt that saw the front of a 21-story campus building transformed into a mammoth game of Tetris.
The students installed a 9 by 17 window grid of LED lights on the windows of the Cecil and Ida Green Building, a prominent structure at MIT. According to the Tech, an MIT student newspaper, they quickly realized the lights would have to be controlled wirelessly, as there was no practical way to connect all the lights physically.
On April 27th, the pranksters activated the system to let passersby play Tetris, a puzzle game written by Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov in 1985, on the side of the structure. Local media and individuals with camera phones noticed, and the incident spread over social media and word of mouth.
“It was freaking awesome,” one of the hackers, who declined to be identified, told the Tech.
It was not the first time Tetris had been played on a building. For example, students at Brown University realized a similar goal more than a decade ago. The perpetrators tested the display in September by making an American flag display on the structure on the anniversary of 2011 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The students plan to leave the lights installed for the use in future hijinx, and have made the source code for the project available on Github.
Pranks, both large and small-scale, have a storied role among the MIT student body, who call them “hacks.” In a notable example, students placed a replica of an MIT Campus Police cruiser on top of the “Great Dome” located on MIT’s Building 10, complete with a dummy police officer and a box of donuts, and forcing institute authorities to dismantle the vehicle and remote it piece by piece.
The Green Building was designed by MIT grad Ieoh Ming Pei, and was completed in 1964. It has previously been used in pranks by MIT students including a very long yoyo and a large volume unit meter corresponding with a live performance by the Boston Pops orchestra.