The Rubber Duck
Members of the Cambridge University Breaking and Entering Society (or Cubes) vied with one another to gain entry to the locked places of the university without detection. They prided themselves on never causing damage or committing any crime. They would simply break in, leave a note to the effect that the owner of the safe or room concerned had been Cubed, and depart, locking the door behind them.
One of Cubes's achievements was securing entry to the locked dining-hall of a supposedly well-secured college in the dead of night. For reasons best known to themselves, they decided that a rubber duck would be an appropriate calling card. When the principal and an assortment of dons entered for breakfast, the duck was gazing down at them from the ceiling, wedged between the most inaccessible beams of the wooden vaulted roof. It took contractors a very long time to engineer its safe removal - and not before the principal had been driven half-mad by inquiries from tourists and college visitors concerning the duck's historical significance.
The Upside Down
A tutor who lived in college was in the habit of inviting seminar groups back to his rooms so that they could continue discussing the tantalising issues not fully covered in his seminar. They tended to accept (his sitting- room was comfortably furnished and they were provided with sherry). After half an hour the tutor would lever himself out of his fireside chair and leave to dine at high table, leaving them to continue the discussion. "Don't forget to put the latch across when you go out," he would remind them, and - each week without fail - "don't turn the place upside-down". On the last week of summer term the students decided that the tutor should be cured of such cliches. Returning from his dinner he found every table, book, lamp and picture in the room upside-down. Only the cat and the sink remained the right way up.
The Eighth Floor
A student who lived high on the eighth floor of a monolithic hall of residence at a modern university was "helped back to his room" after a hard night in the bar. But he was so drunk he didn't realise that he was being left to sleep in an unused room on the ground floor.
He began to snore loudly as soon as he hit the bed, and his friends dashed up to the eighth floor to empty his real room of all his belongings. These were brought downstairs and positioned faithfully, down to the last toothbrush and poster, in the ground-floor room as the victim slept on.
At 9am the next day, the door burst open and the hung-over victim was surprised and somewhat pained to see his excited friends dancing around his room yelling. Before he had a chance to ask why they have climbed 16 flights of stairs to wake him, his acquaintances lifted him from the bed. His attitude changed to raw fear as they carried him to the window and bundled him out ...
The Milk Bottle
An ancient college with turrets and crenellations sent the entire undergraduate population a written warning that they should stop using window sills as cold storage areas for their milk bottles, as it detracted from the beauty of the buildings. The authorities woke next morning to find that every level surface on the college's fancy stonework - of which there were several hundred - had a milk bottle standing on it.
Prank aficionados will recall the Newcastle students who used their abseiling skills to avoid the entry charge at a floating nightclub on the Tyne. The nightclub owners hadn't anticipated any drawbacks to being located beneath the bridge made famous on a billion brown ale bottles. The bouncers thought they only had to look out for gatecrashers coming along the gangplank, and very occasionally attempting to board from other boats. But the students proved otherwise as, clad only in black, they descended from the bridge on to the top deck of the boat. A friend on the bridge retracted the ropes while the students hastily removed their harnesses and mingled with the crowd.
The red letter boxes which are now so familiar seemed garishly unattractive to many people when they were first introduced. One on the pavement outside a university building had not been there for two weeks before, one morning, it had become blue. The GPO sent a man round who made it red again. Within a few days, it was purple. Many generations of students passed through the university as the box alternated between red and all of the other colours distinguishable to the human eye.
Perhaps somewhere in the UK there is a letter box made fat by hundreds of layers of paint. It would be good to find it. It would better still if some of those unsung pranksters whose minds hatched such schemes would write in and tell us. You know who you are...
Thanks to Dr Graham Nelson, Jon Palmer, Paul Tyrrell and Ollie Stone- Lee.
Please forward prank admissions to Ben Summers, Campus, 'The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org