CAMBRIDGE -- Cannon retrieval may not be rocket science, but a group of intrepid, cross-country-trekking Caltech students has learned it isn't much easier.
Yesterday, two dozen of the Pasadena, Calif.-based scholars used more brawn than brains to recover a 111-year-old cannon that Massachusetts Institute of Technology pranksters had swiped from the California Institute of Technology last month.
Shortly after 7 a.m., with a chill coming off the Charles River, Caltech junior Scott Jordan exhorted his schoolmates to roll the 3-ton Fleming Cannon off a cobbled MIT courtyard, where it had rested trophy-like since Thursday.
''Back where it belongs!" Jordan yelled.
The shivering Caltech students, most dressed in the thin red jerseys of the school's Fleming House, broke out ropes and a handmade dolly to push and pull the wooden-wheeled cannon toward a waiting flatbed truck.
Caltech's low-tech reclamation of the weapon capped four frantic days of bicoastal strategizing, desperate fund-raising, and last-minute airline bookings in the latest skirmish in the two schools' recent prank war.
As amused MIT students watched, the Caltech team covered the wheels with strips of vinyl siding to protect their delicate bands, took a bolt cutter to a chain locking the spokes, and jacked the tongue onto the dolly.
Shoulder to iron and rope in hand, the Caltech students made inching progress to the flatbed parked nearby.
When it was done, the Caltech students gave a good-natured cheer to the locals: ''MIT rah rah rah."
But revenge for the MIT pranksters' theft would be coming, said Jordan, the Fleming president, and it would be much more elaborate than ropes and dollies.
''We'll top this by miles," he said.