Once a year (officially speaking), Caltech students wake up to banging on their bedroom doors and shouts of "Wake up, frosh, it's Ditch Day!"
A tradition with origins that stretch back to 1921, Ditch Day has evolved over the years but persists as one of Caltech's most beloved and zany events. Known for its "stacks," themed puzzle-solving adventures designed by graduating fourth years, Ditch Day involves logic challenges, high jinks across campus, and creative storytelling uniquely characteristic of Caltech.
After an abrupt awakening the morning of Ditch Day, first-, second-, and third-year undergraduates sign up to participate in a stack. This year, Ditch Day took place on Friday, May 26, and 32 stacks across Caltech's eight residential houses included themes such as Star Wars, cooking, and Dora the Explorer.
While some houses allow fourth years to facilitate the stacks they design, guiding participants through the requisite challenges, other houses stipulate they must ditch campus. Stacks with absent fourth years are usually chaperoned by visiting alumni.
Alessio Amaolo (BS '21), now a graduate student at Princeton University, returned to campus to see a full-fledged Ditch Day. In his last two years at Caltech, Ditch Day took place virtually.
"A lot of my friends were coming back, so we all decided to come back together and help out," Amaolo said while facilitating a stack. "Blacker House always does a lot of high-effort elements; I know someone who spent all last night soldering. Ditch Day is a very special event, and I'm glad that it's still going on."
The stack Amaolo helped run, called "God Damn Dino Gang," was inspired by the Jurassic Park movies. Participating students donned dinosaur headgear while alumni in white lab coats led them through various trials. At one point in the day, each member of the group was challenged to cross Caltech Hall Pond using only plastic buckets and wooden beams in order to scan a QR code at the center.
Meanwhile, just around the corner, students from Venerable House solved puzzles in front of the Parsons-Gates Hall of Administration. Their time-travel themed stack, called "Proceeding to the Before," required coloring in a map with crayons to crack a code. Once they had the answer, they assembled a "chariot" with a chassis made of wood and deconstructed bikes, and set off to acquire their next clue.
At the Gene Pool outside the Beckman Institute, members of an "Avatar: The Last Airbender" themed stack were putting together a raft with pool noodles and PVC pipes painted to look like bamboo. Their goal: to traverse the fountain, smash open an ice block at the far end with hammers, and retrieve a locket frozen inside.
"Ditch Day is a very Caltech thing," said first-year Madeline Egan while her teammates assembled the raft. "Admissions advertises it as a really big deal, and rightfully so. It is a big part of Caltech."
As the group completed its handiwork, third-year Joaquín Gómez took off his shoes and prepared to set sail. He climbed on the raft, splashed in, and his stack group cheered. When asked why he volunteered to jump in, all he had to say: "Why not? It's Ditch Day!"