Our department has an annual white elephant gift exchange. If you’ve never participated in one, they go something like this:
- Player A chooses a wrapped gift from a pile and unwraps it.
- Player B then can select another wrapped gift, or steal Player A’s. Player A then selects a new wrapped gift.
- Player C selects a wrapped gift or steals one of the other player’s. They then have the option to steal from someone else, eventually forming long looping chains of theft, or to choose a new wrapped gift.
- And so on until everyone has had a turn.
This year, there were two gifts that came up that I was interested in: a couple of bottles of beer and a beanie. I managed to have both pass through my hands about a half dozen times before I decided to end the madness: I took a horrible silver plastic battery powered cuckoo clock from another player and finished the rest of the game unmolested.
After the exchange concluded, I left the clock in its packaging for a couple of weeks on my desk, while I pondered what I could possibly do with this travesty of a timepiece. After much thought and consideration, I decided that the appropriate answer was this: cause some mischief.
So, on the night of December 27, when my compatriot Jeff Snider and I were already in the office late at night for a system update, we decided to strip all the faux-bavarian plastic off of the clock, remove the hands, and hide it in our boss’ suspended ceiling, where it would peal forth hourly with its sickly electronic mewling. We taped up the speaker to make it a bit quieter (and therefore more difficult to find), lifted a ceiling tile, tossed it on top of one of the light fixtures, and beat a hasty retreat.
When everyone came back from the holiday, we were surprised to hear nothing about it for a couple of weeks. It occurred to us that we hadn’t actually stuck around long enough after putting the batteries in for the first time to verify that it was working correctly, and wondered if our prank had been stillborn. Word came to us through the grapevine a few days later, however, that it was indeed causing some havoc. Reports escalated for a few days after that until the situation finally came to a head in a fairly entertaining fashion. The story, as I’ve reconstructed it from various people’s accounts, is this:
After a couple weeks, Mike had had enough of the dreadful electronic caterwauling, and came storming out of the office, asking “what is that horrible noise? Has one of you got that as your wretched cell phone ringer?” Kay, the administrative assistant, explained that she (rightly) thought it was coming from his office, and assumed it was some kind of gadget or alarm that he had set up.
They then noticed that it was going off regularly at 13 minutes after the hour, and knowing now to expect it, grew increasingly agitated with the situation over the next few days. Finally, one afternoon, Ron (of Ron-A-Thon 2007 fame) had enough of their frustration, and pulled a ladder into the work area and started rooting through the ceiling at the appropriate time. He quickly located the loose bundle of batteries, a timepiece, and wires, and reached the conclusion that any right-thinking person would:
He thought it was a bomb.
They called Joan, the head of the library in which we all work, and Todd, one of her staff, to have a look at it. Todd fortunately quickly reassured everyone that it looked harmless, and was most likely just a prank, thereby narrowly averting an evacuation of the building and a visit from the local constabulary. (And, incidentally, allowing this story to actually be told.)
Kay kept the gadget on her desk for a few days while Mike began asking pointed questions in staff meetings: “Do any of you know anything about a little electronic chime that was in my ceiling? We think it may have been pulled out of one of those musical greeting cards as a prank.” We all had a good laugh about it in the meeting, feigning ignorance until Mike had the perspicacity to start asking people individually “Did you have anything to do with this?” Jeff, unable to tell a lie, hedged until Mike was sure he was involved. From there the whole sordid tale came out.
Fortunately, all the involved parties had a good sense of humor about it, though Mike has promised revenge most foul will come our way when we least expect it. I say: Let the games begin!