Great Rose Bowl Hoax

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The card stunt at the 1961 Rose Bowl as altered by California Institute of Technology students Great Rose Bowl Hoax 1961.png
The card stunt at the 1961 Rose Bowl as altered by California Institute of Technology students

The Great Rose Bowl Hoax was a prank at the 1961 Rose Bowl, an annual American college football bowl game. That year, the Washington Huskies were pitted against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. At halftime, the Huskies led 17–0, and their cheerleaders took the field to lead the spectators in the stands in a card stunt, a routine involving flip-cards depicting various images for the audience to raise. However, a number of students from the California Institute of Technology managed to alter the card stunt shown during the halftime break, by making the Washington fans inadvertently spell out CALTECH.


The prank has been described as the "greatest collegiate prank of all time" [1] and received national attention, as the game was broadcast to an estimated 30 million viewers across the United States by NBC. [2] One author wrote, "Few college pranks can be said to be more grandly conceived, carefully planned, flawlessly executed, and publicly dramatic" than the Great Rose Bowl Hoax. [3]


The hoax was planned by a group of Caltech students in December 1960, subsequently known as the "Fiendish Fourteen". Their leader was 19-year-old engineering student Lyn Hardy. They felt that their college was ignored up to and during the Rose Bowl Game, though the school's teams often played in the Rose Bowl Stadium a few miles from campus. [4] The students decided to use Washington's flip-card show to garner some attention. [1]

To discover the details behind the Huskies' show, Hardy disguised himself as a reporter for a local Los Angeles high school (Dorsey High School), and interviewed Washington's head cheerleader. He learned that they would be able to trick unsuspecting Washington fans into holding up the incorrect signs by changing the 2,232 instruction sheets.

The students broke into the Cal State Long Beach dorm rooms where the Washington cheerleaders were staying and removed a single instruction sheet from a bedroom. They printed copies and altered each page by hand. On New Year's Eve, three of the "Fiendish Fourteen" reentered the cheerleaders' dorm building and replaced the stack of old sheets with the new.

Some of the helpers were: Michael Lampton, later an astronaut; Reg Clemens, a consultant for research-and-development company Sandia Labs; Lon Bell, chief executive of Amerigon Inc.; Harry Keller, CEO of Smart Science Education Inc.; and Allen Berman, project manager at JPL.


At halftime on January 2, 1961, the Washington card stunt was executed as the Caltech students had hoped. NBC cameras panned to the section raising the flip-cards as they uneventfully displayed the first eleven designs.

The twelfth design modified the design of a husky into that of a beaver (Caltech's mascot) but was subtle enough that the audience did not notice.

The thirteenth design called for the word Washington in script to gradually appear from left to right (starting with the capital "W"), but it ran backwards (with the small letter "n" appearing first). [2] Other sources say that the routine intended to spell out HUSKIES, but that it had been altered to spell out SEIKSUH. [4] Regardless, it was dismissed as a simple mistake.

The fourteenth design, however, was an unmistakable prank. CALTECH was displayed in big block letters on a white background.

Reaction and aftermath

Mel Allen and Chick Hearn covered the game for an NBC national telecast. The announcers and the stadium fell silent for several moments before breaking into laughter. As the Washington band marched off the field, the cheerleaders did not give the signal for the fifteenth and final image. The Huskies were unaware that the Caltech students had not altered the last design, which was an American flag.

The game resulted in a 17–7 victory by the Washington Huskies, their second straight win at the Rose Bowl. The practical joke was detailed in the next morning's Seattle Times alongside coverage of the game. [5]

The card stunt was photographed by Rose Bowl attendee Bruce Whitehead, [6] who provided a black and white photograph to Caltech for publication. In 2014, Whitehead's original color Kodachrome slide was discovered and donated to the Caltech Archives. [7]

Similar hoaxes

A similar hoax by Caltech at the 1984 Rose Bowl was inspired by this one. A group of students altered the scoreboard to show Caltech leading its rival MIT 38 to 9. [4] It was the UCLA Bruins leading the Illinois Fighting Illini by that score in the 3rd quarter.

Another hoax reminiscent of the Great Rose Bowl Hoax is Yale University's November 2004 prank against Harvard.

For the 2014 Rose Bowl, Caltech students built a large white "PASADENA" sign overlooking the stadium. Just before halftime, they turned on lights on the sign which spelled out "CALTECH". [8]

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  1. 1 2 Crowe, Jerry (December 26, 2010). "Fifty Years Ago, Caltech Pulled Off a Prank for the Memory Banks at Rose Bowl". Los Angeles Times . Retrieved December 27, 2010.
  2. 1 2 The Great Rose Bowl Hoax of 1961 . Legends of Caltech. Alumni Association, California Institute of Technology, 1982. Accessed 12 March 2006.
  3. Steinberg, Neil. If At All Possible Involve a Cow: The Book of College Pranks. St. Martin's Press, 1992.
  4. 1 2 3 Boese, Alex. The Great Rose Bowl Hoax . The Museum of Hoaxes, 2002. Accessed 9 December 2007.
  5. "Unscheduled Card Stunt: 'Huskies' In Reverse". The Seattle Times. Pasadena, California. January 3, 1961. p. 16. What one conspirator described as "just a good idea for a practical joke" fouled up three University of Washington student card stunts between halves of the Rose Bowl football game.
    The plot was hatched by undergraduates from the California Institute of Technology—who told of it but insisted on remaining unidentified—and involved more than 170 man-hours of work.
    One conspirator said the plot involved substitution of 2,232 phony rooters'-instruction cards.
    On Card Stunt 10 the Washington cheering section was to have held up cards showing "HUSKY" in black letters on a yellow background, but "CAL TECH" came up. Then the word "Huskies" was spelled backwards and a beaver's head—representing Cal Tech—appeared where the Husky's head was supposed to be.
    One conspirator told how a dozen Cal Tech students obtained a sample of instruction cards to be attached to rooters' seats and had 2,232 phony cards printed. Instructions on the colors of the cards were changed in three stunts. Then, Saturday night, when the Huskies went to Disneyland, two Cal Tech students entered the dormitory where the Washington cheerleaders were staying and swapped cards.
    "To see if it could be done," said the conspirator.
  6. Wilson, Larry (December 23, 2014). "When Caltech pranked the Rose Bowl (and the University of Washington)". Pasadena Star-News. Retrieved March 20, 2022. Monday evening I got a note from Shelley Erwin, head of the Archives and Special Collections at Caltech, telling me that the original Kodachrome slide had been tracked down and donated to her archives, and pointing me to its online story: “The photographer, Bruce Whitehead, had just arrived in Pasadena to take up a research fellow position in physics. He got a ticket to the game and a seat on the 50-yard line through his father, a Rotarian with connections to the committee that oversaw the annual Rotary float for the Rose Parade. He just happened to be aiming his camera in the right direction as the cards flipped up into position. Whitehead loaned his slide to Caltech’s Public Relations office, and a black and white photo of the prank was published on the cover of the January 1961 Engineering and Science. Whitehead then put his slide away for 52 years. Not until he was tracked down recently by Lee Molho and agreed to donate the slide to Caltech did his original see the light again.”
  7. "Original Color Photo of Great Rose Bowl Hoax Comes to Light". Caltech Library. California Institute of Technology. December 22, 2014. Retrieved March 20, 2022. The single original color photograph of the live prank, a Kodachrome slide, has just been donated to the Caltech Archives, along with full documentation of how the stunt was executed, thanks to the tireless efforts of alumnus and Lloyd man Lee Molho (BS 1963). [...] The donation from Molho and Whitehead includes artifacts and documents that reveal the full story of how the prank was carried out. They will form the Great Rose Bowl Hoax Collection at the Caltech Archives.
  8. "Caltech Pranksters Strike BCS Title Game at the Rose Bowl". January 7, 2014.