For Adventurers

In Hyderabad I’ve been staying with a friend whose name I won’t mention for reasons that will be apparent quite soon. He attended Case Western University and is what many of you might call a “nerd” for his appreciation and passion for technology.

A few days ago, we had a fascinating conversation about shenanigans during our college years. While I won’t go into my own experiences, what he had to share about his adventures as an adventurer was fascinating.

What follows is a list of the different types of things he did, most of which were legal, all of which were awesome.

  • Elevator Surfing
    • The basic idea is that you break into an elevator shaft, open the elevator doors at the level you’re at, bring the elevator to the floor below, and then ride on the top of the elevator up and down the elevator shaft.
    • If you’ve ever seen Mission Impossible 1, then you’ll understand the danger. If the elevator goes to the very top of the shaft, you’ll be crushed between it and the top of the building. However, most modern elevators have built-in systems that prevent this, and anyways elevators are built to accomodate maintenance men and so there’s space between the top of the shaft and the highest point the elevator can go.
    • To get on top of the elevator, you need to mess with the mechanism that basically tells the elevator that the outer door is closed. Usually its some kind of lever on the door. You tie a string to it, call the elevator to the floor below you, and then pull the lever to open the door.
    • Once you get on top of the elevator, there’s a control system that allows you to go up and down. Since most buildings were built decades ago, its quite interesting to explore a building’s interior by riding up and down the elevator shaft.
    • Once, he and a friend took the elevator up to the top floor. Unfortunately, there was a safety system that basically shut down the entire shaft if the elevator went to the top. The power was out, and they were stuck on the top floor on top of an elevator. After hours of tinkering, they were finally able to activate a switch that opened the elevator doors. After dropping down into the elevator, they were able to slide out of an 8-inch opening between the ceiling of the floor below them and the floor of the elevator.
    • They left the elevator that way, went down the stairs, and finally made it out in one piece.
  • Steam Pipe Traveling
    • Boilers are expensive, and so Universities often have a central boiler that controls heat for the rest of campus. The steam travels through underground tunnels, and the steam pipes themselves are isolated within each tunnel.
    • Thus, steam pipes are fascinating ways to navigate around campus underground. The key is finding and getting into an entrance point, but once you do that you can basically explore the entire campus underground.
    • They key danger is that some steampipes let off extra steam every minute or so, and if you’re in their path you’ll be cooked under super-hot steam. They key is to go slowly, and stop every twenty seconds or so to see if any pipes ahead let off steam.
  • Drainage System Exploring
    • There are two types of drainage systems in cities. One is for water: think the gutters along streets and the path that shower-water takes. There’s also a sewer system for toilets, which is different. If the sewer system overflows, then it goes into the drainage system, but normally they are kept very sepearate.
    • If you can locate where the drainage system is in a city, you can enter and wander around miles of underground tunnels!
    • The biggest danger is rain. Rain can make an 8-ft fall drainage pipe fill within minutes, and in that case you’ll drown. To successfully navigate the system, and not be a dumbass, you need to both 1) check the weather forecast to make sure there’s no chance of rain, and 2) at different points in the pipes, you can climb to right below the surface and check out the sky. If there’s any chance of rain, scram.
    • There’s a clever way to identify the drainage system. In many cities, there will be a series of parks that are on top of it, because you can’t allow development over the center of it. The reason is that they need to be accessible for repairs, and you can’t do that if a house is on top of it. So, you just have to find an area where there’s a series of parks/open spaces aligned in a somewhat straight line.
    • If you look at a satellite view, it can be hard to tell where it is. However, if you use Google Maps view, its much easier to identify because there is less clutter. The key is finding a narrow path of parks on Google Maps. Once you find this, you’ve basically got to explore the area to find a point of entry. Below is an example of one particular drainage area, both in Google Maps Satellite view and Earth view.

      View of Cleveland in Satellite View. Difficult to Identify Drainage Pipes

      Much better in map view. There are actually TWO in this one.

  • ID Card Replication
    • One of Mr. X’s friends at university reverse-engineered the swipe cards to be able to access every building at the school.
    • Basically, by getting a swiper he was able to figure out the basic key that determined whether you were allowed entry. They key part was that it included the person’s Social Security number. Using Google, this person fortuitously found the University President’s SS number.
    • Using this information, they were able to create their own card that had the same permissions as the University President. This gave them access to every single building on campus.
    • A few weeks later, the University’s security department caught on, noting how strange it was that the President was going into student dormitories and such at weird times. They promptly changed the system, and that reign of terror was abruptly discontinued.

What adventuring stories do you have?

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