Pranking course teaches eager students to humiliate responsibly

Despite having been on campus for a mere semester, I can already firmly state that pranking is a large part of life on the Williams campus. Just last week I returned from a hard afternoon of skiing to discover that my so-called entrymates had turned my room upside down. Literally. They had taken all of my furniture and placed it either on the windowsill or above my wardrobe. They then proceeded to move all of the common room furniture into the empty area where my bed and desk had rested before. World upside down, I was blown away by the effort and dedication that their prank had demanded. Little did I know, such a prank was mere child’s play.

This Winter Study, Corey Watts ’10 took the initiative and brought some structure to the disorganized Williams pranking scene by teaching a Free University class on mischief and tomfoolery. “I felt that the College is ripe with pranking spirit,” he said. “And students have so much time and energy during Winter Study that it could be harnessed for something big that would go down in the history books.”

I had the good fortune of attending one of his classes Friday afternoon in Bronfman. In all honesty, I entered the room with extremely low expectations, thinking that I was about to sit through an aimless hour-long discussion about specific pranks people had devised and executed.

Professor Watts, however, opened my eyes to the true art of pranking, conducting an extremely academic class in front of the 13 students who had gathered on the brisk Friday afternoon. Watts had given his students a “lab assignment” the week before to pull some type of prank on campus, and in their second class meeting, the students all gathered to share stories of their epic shenanigans.

I was most impressed with the diligence of the students when Erik Tillman ’10 spoke of is homework assignment. “I broke into a friend’s (Chris Law’s ’10) room the other day while he was away and filled it with over 200 inflated red balloons and left a computer playing the song ‘99 Red Balloons’ simultaneously in both German and English,” he said.

Professor Watts lauded Tillman’s efforts and ingenuity before shifting the focus of the class onto the topic of the day: pranks from fiction and history. Much to my delight, the fiction aspect entailed a 10-minute video compilation of pranks pulled by Jim on the extremely popular television show The Office. Professor Watts frequently paused the video to question his students about both the mechanisms and the ethics behind the pranks on the video, thoroughly stressing that a prank has to be both fair and legal in order to be successful.

Watts then exhibited a renowned video in which hundreds of Japanese men and women spontaneously sprinted towards a solitary man innocently walking down the street. Watts explained that this was a prime example of a well-conducted, large-scale prank, and suggested that the class design a similar prank to be pulled on our campus. Perhaps unaccompanied walks down Spring Street are not the best idea in the near future –

The professor then moved on to a professionally created slideshow of famous campus pranks pulled across the nation. The pranks ranged from Caltech’s infamous Rose Bowl Hoax to the University of Wisconsin’s fake Lady Liberty. Professor Watts forced us to really engage ourselves in these case studies to determine if we would have done anything differently. I was blown away by the zeal and excitement with which Watts inspected the pranks, and obtained a new-found respect for the masterminds.

This devotion led Watts to his last topic of discussion for the class: brainstorming a prank to pull on what he called “the Amherst Institute of Lower Education.”

“Despite the great rivalry that has existed, there hasn’t been many pranks between the schools, and I think we can take advantage of that and hit them hard this year,” Watts said.

The few pranks that have been pulled have been quite epic, though. My Junior Advisor, Casey York ’10, retold some folklore the other night. “Many years ago it was rumored that Amherst painted an enormous ‘A’ onto the Williams football field the night before a big game,” she said. “Williams returned the deed by painting an even larger ‘B+’ on Amherst’s field the next week, showing just how much more brilliant we are to not just paint a predictable ‘W’.” I will refrain from revealing too much of Professor Watts’ plans, but I can promise that it will not end well for the unsuspecting Lord Jeffs.

Ali Demarchis ’10 described the class rather simply and accurately. “The pranks class was a lot of fun. It’s really what Winter Study and Free University are all about,” she said. “Taking a class, reading a book, exploring somewhere close by and learning something new. The class is not over and there is lots of brainstorming to be done.”
I left the class convinced not only that the class had been well worth the freezing walk to Bronfman, but also inspired to engage in some clever shenanigans. If you have just finished reading this article, consider yourself warned.