Johnny Monsarrat and the Internet Hot Tub
This prank is written up as part of a crazy story of self-discovery in my forthcoming book! Email me to learn how about the book.
May, 1993. I was a graduate student in Brown University's computer science department, and it was final exam time, and every one (including me) was stressed out. Not only were the computer programmers jamming the computer lab working on their final projects... the campus computer center at Brown University was also filled with humanities majors writing term papers.
Hot Tub seen from the 5th floor
Come on in, the water's fine!
The computer center, called the CIT, was a large tiered structure with a huge cement patio. The patio was entirely empty and was just begging to have something placed there.
So I called to rent a hot tub. Apparently there are companies out there which deliver and set up such things. They arrived on a Friday evening after the CIT employees had gone home. A nearby garden spigot provided the water, which was heated and pumped into the hot tub itself.
Everybody liked the hot tub! Suddenly, the place was swamped with people in their swim suits. The tub is supposed to hold 16 people, but we discovered that it actually fit 20, but only if they're all standing up.
Passersby just jump in, clothes and all
The campus police of course, noticed this. Although there was some concern about vagrants being attracted, since the CIT was open and there was already a guard there, they decided to let it stand. What good sports! I ended up staying up all weekend guarding the hot tub.
Taking a cue from the popularity of the tub, I brought down some huge potted plants from upstairs, a few tables, and a computer monitor so we geeks wouldn't be too far from our email. I set up the monitor to display an ASCII graphics slideshow.
The next step was videoconferencing. Brown University, thanks to their computer graphics group, has a dedicated link to a few other schools, including Cornell and the University of North Carolina. I ran a video cable out the 4th floor window and down to a camera at ground level. This was 1994, so Internet stuff was a big deal back then. It was the first (and maybe the last) Internet-connected hot tub!
Unfortunately, the heater and pump for the hot tub took a lot of electricity. Where I'd plugged it into the CIT, it overloaded the system and brought down the power in the consultant's office. It was only a fuse box, so it was easily fixed. But then it happened again. Fortunately, we learned that the plug closest to the doorway was on a different circuit and could bear the load. The consultants were good sports.
Psyched for tonight's dance party
The hot tub ran all night Friday, and all day Saturday. On Saturday afternoon, the computer science department chairman caught me. "Very funny, Jon," he said, "but I think you should take the hot tub down now. It's getting late." He was probably thinking about how an accident might occur late at night. In the worst case, it could hurt the department if someone got injured. Then I said, "But it was OK last night." I received a pained expression of disbelief. Fortunately, since it was OK with the campus police, it was OK with the department. The hot tub continued.
Saturday evening I held a wild dance party on the 4th floor of the CIT, the area normally inhabited by sedate graduate students. The hot tub served as an advertisement for the party, and the party served as an advertisement for the hot tub. It was a major event. We had 250 people packed into the atrium when the party began at midnight. I had bought free pizza and t-shirts to pass out, printed "Carpe Noctem". This is a play on the phrase "Carpe Diem", which means "Seize the Day" in latin. Basically, it encourages you to live life to the fullest. Carpe Noctem would be the analogous phrase for computer hackers who like to stay up late.
Fortunately, we had adequate "guard" volunteers keeping the party confined to the atrium. Nothing got stolen or broken. Unfortunately, the party left quite a mess, which I had to clean up the next day. If I ever do this again, I'll be more careful about that. However, the hot tub event was a wild success, at least with the students. I narrowly escaped getting in trouble for this one... I think I'd just gotten some people worried.
In fact, apparently the event got printed up in the Brown Alumni Monthly. Some alumni must have liked the prank, because the next year, the Computer Science Department actually wanted me to have a hot tub for finals week!
So, in 1994, I did it again. I hunted around for an alternative to a hot tub, like a Ferris wheel (which almost happened! but that's another story) or a moonbounce, but eventually settled on the hot tub concept again. Unfortunately, the heater didn't work Friday evening, and inadequate advertising led to less popularity. Besides, having real permission meant I had to get "event insurance", against disease and people slipping on the concrete. This insurance cost me more than the hot tub rental.
Eventually, I decided the hot tub was too much work and not original enough for a 3rd time. But the first time was super!
A rollicking romp of an adventure that contains this prank is featured in my new book. Email me to learn how about the book.