Did you hear that?
For more than a week, students and staff in at least four campus buildings heard a five-second tune, but couldn’t pinpoint exactly where it was coming from.
Some ignored it. Others questioned if they might be imagining things after one too many all-nighters. Many wondered where the noises, which began around Halloween, were coming from and what was producing them.
“It was driving me crazy all week,” said Fred Cederstrom, a student manager at Temple of Zeus in Klarman Hall.
“Every day, you just got madder and madder,” Patty Dennison ’18 said, recalling that she and others finally became accustomed to the noise that permeated the Statler Hall lounge every 30-or-so minutes.
The eight-bit tune (click here to listen) is a sample of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” and hundreds of students in at least four buildings — Statler, Duffield, Klarman and Gates halls — have been repeatedly “Rickrolled” for more than a week by devices they suspect were placed by a prankster or pranksters.
As soon as Cederstrom recognized the song, he thought, “Oh no. I get it now.”
The phenomenon of tricking people into listening to Astley’s chart-topping 1987 song has been a staple of the internet since about 2007, and a Cornell prankster seems to have now brought the trolling act into the physical world.
“Someone really had to commit to this joke,” said Justin Parratt ’18, who heard the tune in the basement of Gates Hall. “They didn’t just do this casually.”
A Sun reporter and Viri Garcia ’20, a senior arts writer for The Sun, chronicled the frequency of the tune in Klarman Hall for about seven hours in the early morning of Nov. 3, determining that the sound played at irregular intervals — between 32 and 38 minutes apart.
Using The Sun’s tabulations, Cederstrom found the source of the tune: a quarter-sized black disc with several wires and a watch battery. It was hidden in a light sill in Klarman.
But shortly after that device was found and confiscated by Cederstrom, two more popped up in hidden areas in Klarman Hall. Garcia discovered one disc that produced Astley’s song from under a statue in Klarman Hall, and another device seems to be playing the song intermittently from behind a wall in the building.
In a brief interview in his office, Henry W. Crans, Jr., director of facilities for the College of Arts and Sciences, said members of his staff told him they have been hearing the noise for days in Klarman, and that he had found another, identical device tucked in a corner near the dean’s office on the first floor of Goldwin Smith Hall.
“I didn’t have a lot of time to worry about it,” said Crans, who has overseen operations at all College of Arts and Sciences facilities since 1979. “I have more alligators in the swamp.”
Ward Simcox ’19 said that everyone in the Statler Hall lounge knew the noise was coming from somewhere in the center of the room, and he finally decided enough was enough.
“I stood up on the table and pulled it down,” he said. The noise, he said, “was kind of funny for like a day and a half, and then it was like, OK, whoever did this needs to step forward.”
The devices seem like they are handmade, said Dennison, who was in the Statler lounge when Simcox found the device. “Some person smarter than I am is manufacturing those out of their dorm room,” she posited.
The device in Statler Hall alone, she noted, “annoyed hundreds of people every single day — and it was here for a week.”
Cheer Tsang ’19 was studying with friends in the Duffield Hall atrium, she said, when she noticed an “8-bit jingle” playing every hour or so.
“After the third time, I realized it was playing ‘Never Gonna Give You Up,’” she told The Sun in a Facebook message.
“We were too busy trying to finish our report [to find it], and we thought we were imagining the noise at first since it was 3 a.m.,” she said. Tsang said she suspects an electrical and computer engineer with “too much time on their hands” pulled off what she said was a clever prank.
“It cheered me up a bit,” she added.
Parratt said he and a friend looked all over for the device in Gates Hall last week, but came up empty-handed. He said he “was definitely impressed” by the prank.
Students have also reported hearing the noise in Carpenter Hall and the Physical Sciences Building. Garcia, the arts writer, determined that one device is lodged behind a wall panel in Klarman Hall, putting the total number of known devices on campus between seven and nine.
Cederstrom, the student manager at Zeus, said the prank was a good one, but that he was completely sick of the jingle after a day or two.
“The thing that was driving me most crazy,” he said, “is that it wasn’t on a direct 30-minute [schedule], because I would come out here and be like, how long am I going to stand here … trying to wait for it?”
“I don’t know if it’s in any way deserving of any disciplinary action,” he said. “I just think it’s annoying.”
Cornell Police Deputy Chief David Honan said CUPD had received no reports regarding the devices.
Crans, the director of facilities, said he had considered reviewing surveillance video, but that it is not “a serious enough issue.”
Plus, Crans is a fan of pranks himself. He told a story about a prank he briefly considered playing years ago, but never followed through on — an anecdote he insisted be kept off the record.
“It’s a cute joke,” he said of the devices around campus. “I’m always up for a cute joke, and that’s what this is.”
“I just wish they’d use a battery with a shorter shelf life.”