For April fools

35 years ago, the prank that had the campus seeing green

As told by Julie Yeager Arthur ’77 and Gary Orzell ’76, P’06

Flashback to spring semester 1974: Half of the third floor of Regester Hall is occupied by freshman members of the Living Learning Program, and the other half by sophomore former participants of the same program. One of those sophomores has an idea for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day: It involves the self-serve soft-ice-cream machine in the SUB cafeteria and a vial of green food coloring.

Strategy meetings commence. We consider the best method for coloring the ice cream, the best ways to distract the cafeteria staff,  and—what good is a prank without observing the ensuing mayhem—determine the best seats for watching the fun.

We decide it will take several small bottles of green food coloring to achieve a shade of green appropriate for the day but don’t want to take the time to add the fluid from each bottle separately. We therefore transfer the contents of three small bottles of food coloring into one large container. One of the conspirators investigates access to the ice-cream maker. There’s a lid right on the top of the machine. Cool! We observe the kitchen staff adding the ice-cream formula through this opening during the weeks leading up to St. Patrick’s Day and conclude that if we dump the food coloring in this port, the result will be green ice cream.

By March 17 we are ready. Lunchtime nears, and we choreograph carefully. The shortest member of our group, Diane Paxson ’76, is chosen to administer the food coloring. Two tall guys—Brian Johnson ’77 and Ron Cunningham ’75—stand behind Diane as she dumps the dye, shielding her from the gaze of anyone sitting at the cafeteria tables. Gary Orzell ’76 and Carla Hall ’76, also very tall members of our group, distract the cafeteria worker at the station adjacent to the ice-cream machine.

Not all of those in on the prank are able to stay and watch, but the rest of us sit patiently, waiting for the food coloring to mix into the ice cream. It takes a while. At first, just a slight greenish cast is seen in the extruded treat. Most people eating the ice cream at this stage notice nothing out of the ordinary, but one or two do a double take and taste the ice cream carefully. Not noting anything unusual, these early tasters raise no alarm. But as the ice cream turns a deeper shade of green a couple of people are overheard arguing whether the flavor is lime or mint. Finally someone goes back to the kitchen to report that the ice cream is green. A staff member emerges to investigate, but she remembers it is St. Patrick’s Day and takes the prank in stride.

Most people sampling the now very green ice cream say it tastes like mint, but it is still vanilla. The only thing we’ve added is color. Which, by the way, also winds up dyeing the ice cream eaters’ teeth a pale shade of green. Fortunately the tint wears off after a couple of brushings.

We are flattered on the next St. Patrick’s Day when the kitchen staff dyes the ice cream green without our assistance.