Step Into Pictures – Caltech

April 4, 2013

. . . A New Perspective on Relationships
Number 5

Visit a campus where smart people know how to have fun and where you will find an idyllic place to contemplate relationships.


Ladder leading to pictureThis post is part of the “Step Into Pictures” series that offers you a new way to explore both difficult relationships and those you treasure. Visit the Step Into Pictures Archive to learn more about it.


Click on picture to see enlarged view
Water Lily Pond at Caltech
Caltech campus is a school famous for its
graduates and “Ditch Day”

Step into this picture now, or continue reading to learn more about it . . .

When my husband and I were married, he was a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. It is one of the renowned institutions of higher learning for technology and the sciences. We rented a house one block from the campus where they would eventually build this reflection pool.

I find this picture very relaxing and could imagine inviting someone to join me as I sat on the wall. I suspect the person whom you want to invite into the picture would be more receptive to a discussion in a calm scene than if the water were in turmoil.

As long as I’m writing about Caltech, I’ll tell you about Ditch Day. This is what the Ditch Day Caltech website says about it:

Ditch Day is one of Caltech’s oldest traditions—a cross between Animal House and a science fair. One day each spring, kept secret until the last minute, seniors ditch their classes and vanish from campus, leaving behind complex, imaginative scavenger hunts, mazes, puzzles, and other challenges that are carefully planned out to occupy the underclassmen—preventing them from wreaking havoc in the seniors’ rooms.

The original Ditch Day “stacks”— a Caltech euphemism for “locks”— were devices installed, or measures taken, by seniors to keep underclassmen out of their rooms when they were off campus for the day. (Stacking was also an extracurricular activity that could be undertaken any time, not just on Ditch Day.) Traditionally, there were three different kinds of stacks, each named for the approach required to undo it.

Stacks have continued to evolve over the decades — most recently into complex puzzles that can combine elements of all three types. Because the seniors have to make good on any damages, Brute Force has fallen out of popularity. These days, stacks typically have themes inspired by books, video games, TV shows, or movies, and underclassmen team up to solve them. These teams are typically identifiable by T-shirts (or hats, or sometimes complete costumes) bearing the name of the stack they’re attempting to solve.

Room stacking may no longer be all about broken concrete, stacks of wood, and jackhammers, but like the rest of the world, it’s become firmly entrenched in the digital age.

According to alumnus Chuck Lewis (’31), the first room stacking took place in 1931–32. In those days, “stacking” had quite a literal definition”— all the furniture was stacked in the center of the room in one tight configuration. As often happens in the English language, this definition expanded with time. It soon encompassed filling a room from floor to ceiling and wall to wall with neatly nested wooden boxes, crumpled-up newspaper, water balloons, even rebar-fortified cement.

The type of effort needed to deconstruct such an arrangement caused it to be dubbed a Brute Force stack. More intellectual ways of securing seniors’ rooms were soon employed as well. These required defeating sophisticated electronic, optical, chemical, or biological locks and puzzles, and became known as Finesse stacks. The third variety, honor stacks, left a senior’s door unlocked, but underclassmen were honor-bound to solve a thorny problem before entering.

If you liked this Step Into Pictures post and would like to see more, please visit the archive.

One thought on “Step Into Pictures – Caltech

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s