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In latest MIT hack, a tribute to pranks of years past

Workers removed items from MIT's Great Dome on Friday.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

It looked like someone used a catapult to fire a cow, a firetruck, and a large golden ring from the “Lord of the Rings” movies onto the top of a building at MIT. They all went “SPLAT,” explained a banner.

It was all part of the most recent “hack,” or prank, in which MIT students showcase their ingenuity and grab media attention during the school year.

The theme of this year’s hack was a tribute to past hacks. It was also a contrast to the usual hack, which features some incongruous object very carefully placed at the very top of the dome.

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A catapult with diagrams down below rounded out the installation.

By 9:30 a.m. Friday, workers were disassembling the collection of items displayed on the 150-foot high Great Dome that tops the school’s Building 10, which faces Killian Court.

The firetruck was a nod to a prank in 2006. The cow was a hat-tip to a hack from 1979. The golden ring was a reminder of a stunt from 2001.

Below the Great Dome, on Killian Court, lay half of a police car with a working blue light flashing from its roof. That was a reminder of the campus police vehicle that adorned the building in 1994. Next to it was a sign that said “crash.”

Gawkers gawked. Visitors snapped photos.

Aaron Weinberger, MIT’s assistant director for institute affairs, said the gag was a sure sign that summer was over.

“This is what is great about MIT, “ he said, staring at the dome as workers pulled apart the truck and its wooden frame. “There is a sense of creativity here — something unusual occurs here all of the time.”

When asked if the school gets frustrated by the hacks each year, Weinberger said MIT “loves it.”

“This is at the heart of what MIT is about,” he said.

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Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story said the pranks happen annually. However, in some years, there have been multiple hacks in a given school year.