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Apr 11, 10:48 AM EDT

Caltech's Cannon Rescue Plan Flops

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PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- Caltech went low tech to get back a prized campus icon.

Students at the California Institute of Technology began scheming to recover a 111-year-old cannon soon after pranksters from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology swiped it last month and carted it off to Cambridge, Mass.

The cannon kidnapping was payback for pranks that Caltech had played last year, including handing out to hundreds of MIT freshmen T-shirts that said "MIT" on the front and ".... because not everyone can go to Caltech" on the back.

Students at Fleming House, a Caltech residence hall, hatched an elaborate plan to retrieve the cannon: They would pluck it from the MIT campus with a helicopter.

Federal rules, however, would have required street closures and building evacuations along the helicopter's route.

So the Flems settled on a simpler approach: quietly trucking off the 3-ton cannon in the early morning hours while MIT slept. They would replace the cannon with a toy and erect scaffolding from which to unfurl an enormous Fleming flag.

The first group of cannon rescuers hopped planes to Boston on Saturday. But the Monday morning rescue mission didn't unfold as planned.

First, the Caltech students had to abandon the scaffolding idea because of time constraints. Then they were delayed by MIT campus police, who demanded to see "proof of ownership" of the cannon.

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As the minutes ticked toward dawn, a crowd of MIT students gathered around the cannon. They taunted the Caltech crew by focusing a couple of portable spotlights on their prize and firing up a barbecue.

The exhausted Caltechers ended up conducting the rescue in broad daylight, using ropes and a handmade dolly to haul the wood-wheeled cannon to a flatbed truck. When they were done, they gave a good-natured cheer to the locals: "MIT, rah rah rah "

"I really like the rivalry," said MIT freshman Jon Spaulding. "I'm looking forward to the future and what new pranks come up."

Caltech junior Scott Jordan, the Fleming president, vowed that revenge will be high tech.

"We'll top this by miles," he said.

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