The Prank

I’ve told a few people about my best prank ever:

When I was in college, my roommate had gotten on my nerves one day and I thought one way to get him back would be to play a prank on him. Trawling through ideas in my brain, I settled on one: One of the joys of being a college student is when you receive an unexpected package in the mail. Usually, it’s from loved ones and contains all kinds of goodies. They’re typically referred to as, “care packages.”

At Cedarville college, where we attended, the current policy was that when you received a package from the Post Office (or PO), you’d receive an automatic email stating that there was a delivery waiting for you. A normal response would be to drop everything you were currently doing and rush out to the PO in whatever state you were in to go get it. It was not unusual to see students in pajamas at the PO, picking up whatever exciting package was waiting for them.

My idea was to pose as the post office and send my roommate an email, telling him he’d received a package. Then, my mind twisted the idea a bit.

I asked myself, “what if I sent the email to the ENTIRE CAMPUS?”

After all, my class had not pulled a class prank yet and it was about time someone did something about it. It was certainly feasible, but I’d have to be smart about it. I wouldn’t want to jam up the email servers and it would be too obvious if I sent an email to 3000 people all at once. Normally, the email only had a couple hundred recipients on it per day.

Also, their computer services people were pretty savvy. I’d have to be a step ahead of them if I didn’t want to get caught.

That morning, as I was working at the library, I hatched a plan.

One of my duties, as a library technician, was to unlock the computer labs and start up all the computers at 7am. Back in 1999, Netscape Communicator 4.0 was a hot Internet browser. It was free and came with a local POP3 email client.

That morning before work, I logged on to a computer and copied the campus address book into an MS Excel file and saved it to a disk. In those days, everyone at Cedarville had a student ID number.

I then globally added “;” to each student number and merged the cells. Lastly, I broke up the 3000 files into 15 separate files, each containing 200 student email addresses.

While I was on my rounds that morning, I installed Netscape Communicator on a computer in one of the labs. That was stage one: get the software on a machine and log out.

About 3 hours later, I came back to that machine and, without logging into the network, opened Netscape Communicator and set the email settings to send and receive using my parents’ POP server 2 states away. That way, I’d be assured not to kill the campus servers and I knew it would take some time for the email to send… giving me time to clear my tracks. I also set up the account email address as “”

I set up 15 emails, imported the addresses into them and copied the text from a “you’ve received a package” email that I’d gotten months prior into the body and subject.

I saved the emails as drafts and closed the program.

2 hours later, I got back on the computer, again without logging into the network, and sent all 15 emails. After they had been sent, I quickly deleted the software and all associated files, reset the computer, went to another computer lab and logged into a PC to wait for my “you’ve recived a package” email to arrive.

The lab was full of people.

I waited…


I kept waiting…


Finally, I heard someone say, “Hey, dude! Sweet! I got a package!”

The person next to him said, “no way! Me too! Let’s go to the PO together.”

More and more, I heard commotion about packages and visits to the PO.


I waited a few more minutes and then left the lab to go to the PO to see the fruits of my labor. It had been roughly 15 minutes from the time I had initially sent the email.

The next sight I saw gave me only what I could call “emotional confusion.” It was somewhat a mixture of horror, surprise and delight.

You have to understand that the dorms at Cedarville were completely on the other side of campus from the PO. What I saw were throngs of people hording out of the dorms headed toward the PO. Hundreds and hundreds of students in pajamas, wearing whatever they could find to throw on quickly making their way to the post office.

Stunned and calculating the potential consequences of my actions, I made my way to the PO. The next sight was even more incredible.

Apparently, off-campus students had gotten the message as well and had driven in to collect their package. The streets in Cedarville are 2-lane and in some places very narrow 2-lane. The streets were grid-locked with cars all in-coming toward the post office and there was a line of people wrapped around the building and extending about 3 blocks.

As I approached the line, I saw people walking away from the PO who had evidentially discovered the prank once they’d gotten inside. They were laughing and saying, “man… that’s awesome!”

I stood in line with the others and finally got inside where there was a very frenzied looking woman standing behind a desk. She looked like she was having a very bad day.

Apparently, they were short-staffed that day and she was working the shift alone… with 1500+ students responding to an email that she had not sent out.

I expressed my sympathies to her and told her to go home early and soak her feet and that I was sure this was just a computer glitch.  She smiled weakly and was on to the next sucker in line.

Despite the innocent casualty, I was proud of my prank and still have the email in my inbox to this day.

8 responses to “The Prank”

  1. Good for you! No one was hurt through your prank, and anyone who was a good sport got a merry laugh out of it! Were serious efforts ever made to find the identity of the perpetrator (you)? Were any technical changes made to prevent it happening again?
    Ha ha ha !!!

  2. You are a baaaad boy! Too bad I was not there to see the results of this fiasco. You woulda thunk someone would have passed the word around that it was a hoax. Maybe the students were so hopeful that they might receive a package that they waited in line in spite of the hoax. :ole Tofer says, lock your doors and sleep with the lights on.

  3. I went to the package center, only to watch all the people at laugh (at least I knew it had to be a prank). When I got there, I saw Paul walking away, snickering. Having been his roommate, I didn’t even have to ask.