The time I accidentally instigated a summer camp prank war

Happy Wet Hot American Summer day, gigglers! In honor of our beloved cult movie’s new Netflix series, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp dropping today, we’re running our favorite summer camp stories. 

It was the summer of 2006, and I was in angsty teen heaven—writing camp. My parents had sent me away to a college campus to study creative writing alongside kids from all over the country and the world. Some of them were in my program, and some of them were studying other disciplines like music, dance, or film. Most of them were weirdoes from their own high schools and all of them incredibly thrilled to be among like-minded peers.

But somehow I had managed to be the weirdest of the weirdoes. All the other kids seemed to have broken off into little cliques faster than you could say “left out.” As a result, I was on my own a lot of the time. I dealt with my loneliness by writing feverishly into my journal any time I was by myself in public. I figured if I had to be a loner I could at least look like a deep, brooding one. I did manage to make few friends here and there, but for the most part I had the reputation of the girl who never said or did anything. In everyone’s minds I was probably the least likely candidate for “prank war mastermind.” And that’s probably why I was able to get away with it.

It all started one during the first weekend of camp. Each weekend we’d have music or theater performances come to the campus and do shows for us. In retrospect, it was an amazing opportunity. But at the time (in my cynical 15 year-old brain) any group activity put on by the administration was lame and should be avoided at all costs. As a result I stayed behind, while most of my peers attended the concert. I could hear the music playing from across the campus, and the sounds of everyone I should be bonding with having fun.

“Lame!” I tried to cheerfully think to myself as I cracked open my overused journal and wrote some more. Eventually I got bored and ventured out of my room. Turns out a few girls on my floor had stayed behind too. We talked, and bonded. As an attempt at being even more social I decided we should all decorate our floor with balloons as a surprise to the girls on our floor that would be coming back from the concert soon. My art teacher mom had packed some thin party balloons (the type people make balloon animals with) into my bag “just in case.” So my new friends and I happily blew them up and taped the all over the dorm. “This is fun!” I thought to myself. “I’m doing activities with friends! Look how social I’m being!”

When our floormates came back from the concert they were horrified. “Who taped penises all over our dorm!?” one girl cried out. “Do you think another floor is pranking us!?” said another. “Crap.” I thought silently. I hadn’t noticed it before, but now that I looked around at the walls the thin “balloon animal” balloons did look very phallic. That was a terrible way to make friends. I knew that if I admitted to the girls I was trying to “decorate” not only would I be kind of embarrassed, I would also have a brand new addition to my reputation. I would be the quiet, writing girl, who taped genitals all over the 2nd floor. Things were not looking so good for me.

Then a sinister idea popped into my head. The girls didn’t suspect me, at all. They thought this was the work of a mysterious group of pranksters. What if I played along and helped instigate a prank war between the floors? I had always loved pranks. As a shy girl who was secretly funny I saw them as a great way to be social and mess around with new friends. I was also very good at them because I came across as quiet and unassuming, so few people ever suspected me of any wrongdoing.

Before I could stop myself I blurted out, “I think I saw some girls from the third floor down here! They must have done it!” Even though some my fellow penis decorators were present, none of them said anything. They didn’t need to. I had opened the floodgates, and we implicitly knew it was on. “We should get them back!” I shouted. “Let’s tee-pee their floor!”

A few hours later the majority of the girls from my floor and myself we’re tiptoeing up the stairs to the third floor. It was approximately 3 am. Our curfew was midnight, so we were definitely breaking the rules. We had stolen rolls of toilet paper from bathrooms all over the floors, so each girl had a roll in hand. We each flung our rolls in the air like party streamers. We wound them up and around the light fixtures, around the doorknobs, and dropped them all over the floor. We all skipped around and covered our mouths to muffle our laughter as we coated the third floor in toilet paper. Then we quickly made our way downstairs and went to bed.

When we woke up the next day and went to breakfast, everyone was talking about was how the third floor in the girl’s dorm had gotten tee-peed. The poor third floor girls had no idea who had done it or why. All the while the second floor girls were casually telling the other kids that someone had taped penis shaped balloons all over our floor the night before. No one from the second floor admitted to orchestrating the tee-peeing or that we suspected the third floor for the penis balloons. As a result the general consensus was starting to be that either the first or the fourth floor girls were to blame for both pranks. They of course denied it (since they had nothing to do with it) but by the end of the day the word was out: prank war in the girl’s dorms. Every floor for themselves.

Soon there were copycat pranks all over. Pillow feathers all over the floor. String wrapped around the hallways like spider webs. Trashcans knocked all over the ground. The original balloon girls and I (I have got to find a better name) even got together in secret to plan how to take the prank war to the next level. We decided we were going to spray the fourth floor with shaving cream, and leave the cans in the first floor garbage to frame the first floor. They would of course get blamed and deny it, and more hilarity would ensue. Or so we thought. Our camp allowed us to go to town and hang out one day a week unsupervised, so we used our visit to buy shaving cream from the local pharmacy. Later that night we struck and sprayed foamy shaving cream all over the walls and doorknobs on the fourth floor, and then ventured downstairs to drop the cans in the first floor garbage.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) this was the last straw for the camp counselors. They were professors at the college and college-aged TAs trying to work a summer job. They were sick of cleaning up after the prank war, and were starting to get worried that it was going to get out of hand. They called all the girls from all the floors into a big meeting. They told us that they didn’t know who had started the prank war, or who was keeping it going, but it needed to stop. They were going to start to have counselors patrol the halls at night to find the culprits. Also if it continued they were going to take away everyone’s privileges, regardless of how many girls were actually involved. And finally, anyone they caught pranking another floor was going to get kicked out of camp. They were not messing around.

I had dragged the entire dorm into a prank war, and they were getting threatened with punishment for it. I also knew I was going to get grounded for a million years if I got kicked out of summer camp for leading a prank war. The writing (or shaving cream) was on the wall. It was time for the prank war to end. Later on I got together with the original girls and we all agreed to stop pranking the other floors. Though we all secretly joked about it throughout the rest of the summer, the pranks were over for good. We never got caught, and we never told anyone else what we did. (Until this article that is.)

Now that I’m older I feel a little bad for giving the counselors and professors so much grief, and for purposefully framing other floors to add fuel to the fire. Even though it was fun, it was a little messed up, even for me. But overall I look back on it and I’m mostly happy that I got to be involved in a real life summer camp prank war. It wasn’t as awesome or fun as it looks in the movies, but it came pretty close.


Movies that lied about summer camp, ranked by my sense of betrayal
We saw ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp,’ and it’s going to blow your mind

[Image via Walt Disney Pictures]