How Harvard and MIT Students Fill Their Hours

Harvard students made news yesterday with a possibly successful attempt to break the world record for longest telephone conversation, which topped out at 46 hours, 12 minutes, 52 seconds and 228 milliseconds. To keep things proper, the chatty duo was filmed, kept separate (either in a roomful of pillows or in a bare theater hall). Throughout the conversation, they were massaged and primped, which is certainly more than I ever get when I’m on the phone.

The demonstration has been given the title of “art installation” by the Harvard Generalist, which organized the attempt. (“This explored deterioration — physical, mental, and emotional,” [stage manager] Fahs said. “Because of that deterioration, the balance between art and sport was explored.”) But given that they just promptly sent it to Guinness, I think it’s fair to say that they also went into the game dead on intent on making themselves a record.

This isn’t the first time Harvard and its students have tried their hand at a world record or two. Nor is it even the only school to do so. As a matter of fact, if my totally non-exhaustive, by-the-seat-of-my-pants examination of the Big Two (Harvard and MIT) is to be trusted, that’s half the fun of going to these schools. Let’s review:

Harvard’s Guinness Successes:

  • First patented animal (named OncoMouse)
  • First Bible printed in North America (printed in the Algonquin Indian language)
  • Oldest cultivated plant
  • Youngest licensed stockbroker (preppy business power!)

A quick and dirty Google search suggests that Harvard may also be or have been home to the fastest mile crawler who may also be the biggest box-fort builder, and home to one of the youngest people to ever enroll in college (an 11-year old in 1909).

MIT meanwhile owns the record for:

  • Most expensive computer (around $8 billion, which makes my Mac look downright thrifty)
  • First computer game (hard to beat that)
  • First shooting-based computer game (again, hard to beat a first)
  • Largest gravitational detector
  • Fastest code-breaking algorithm

In addition, MIT’s record-breaking-attempt-happy student body has also included attempts at the human-mattress dominoes record, human-powered (that is, bicycle-powered) computation, the world’s largest book, human-powered flight. Many years ago, the institute was also called home by a record-holding goldfish swallower.

By the way, sports fans out there bored with all this intellectualism, did you know that not only is Boston the city with the most saves in a single Stanley Cup playoff, but that we’re also home to the record for most skips consecutively on a tightrope? I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty proud.