Do the Windows of This Building Spell Out a Phrase?
February 17, 2017 8:20 AM   Subscribe

Legend says that the east facing windows of a 1967 University of Missouri campus building create a pattern that would spell out "M-I-Z beat k-U" if entered on a computer punch card. Is it possible to prove or disprove this?

Tucker Hall at the University of Missouri (Columbia) was built in 1967 as the Botany Building. There is a persistent, long-standing rumor that the windows of Tucker Hall spell out "M-I-Z beat k-U!" when entered on "an old computer punch card." The windows are not symmetrical despite the modern building style so that adds to a definite air of truthiness.
I am now determined to see if this can be proved or disproved, and I'm turning to Metafilter with the question.

The Building: The Rumor:
  • "Tucker Hall: The east side of Tucker Hall has an interesting pattern of windows upon it. It is said that when entered on an old computer punch card, this pattern spells out “M-I-Z beat k-U!” (Alumni Association Campus Traditions page; scroll down halfway for this tidbit)
  • "Tucker Hall: The east side of Tucker Hall has thin window slits. These windows create a pattern that would spell out "M-I-Z beat k-U" if entered on an old computer punch card. The 'k' in "k-U" is lower-cased, because MU students say that the University of Kansas is neither a proper noun nor a proper place." (Columbia Missourian newspaper article about campus traditions from 2008)
  • The rumor is also referenced on the Punched Card Wikipedia entry but it links back to the above Alumni page.
So the rumor is that the east side windows (which is the side with the main entrance, as you can see from this campus map) spell out the phrase, which is "M-I-Z beat k-U" (with dashes between some letters, a lowercase k, and maybe an exclamation point at the end).

Can this be proved or disproved?
posted by aabbbiee to Technology (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There is a punch card emulator here, though there are several different kinds of encoding. I'm sure if you experimented you could prove or disprove it. A quick attempt using the default code doesn't look the same.

Given that there are only two levels of windows though, and punch cards have at least eight levels, it seems unlikely.

Perhaps it could be encoded some other way, such as punch tape or Morse code?
posted by bondcliff at 8:26 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]

Computer programmer here. I don't see any obvious mapping to "MIZ BEAT KU" there.

If you squint at the white space, you can kind of see --.. .. -- in the first row, which is Morse Code for "ZIM". But I think I'm just seeing faces in the clouds at this point.
posted by Hatashran at 8:58 AM on February 17

For what it's worth, there was a similar rumor at my college. I think this is probably a common campus legend.

(which doesn't help you prove or disprove it, but maybe it adds to the evidence on the disprove side?)
posted by griseus at 9:53 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]

This looks a bit like a fairly common style of campus building from the time. Staffordshire University in England has a similarly haphazard window layout on one of its buildings and as far as I'm aware it doesn't mean anything.
posted by winterhill at 9:55 AM on February 17

There's no way.

This page explains the basic concept of character encoding for punch cards, and to encode just the uppercase alphabet, you need 12 rows, which each character using two holes in a given column. I'd give the windows and spaces a generous 8 rows, based on the size of the bottom horizontal windows.

I don't fully understand the EBCDIC table, which allows for the important lowercase "k", but it looks like that uses the same 12 rows, with a given character using 3 to 8 holes in a column. The dashes, in particular, seem to require a set of 4 consecutive holes with a fifth hole another 5 spaces above those.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 10:03 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]

Darn it, I messed up a link. Here's the correct link to the architectural rendering of the east side of the building, which is really the best view of the window alignment.
I went by there just now and took some pictures which are here. The trees are in the way, so the architectural rendering is still the best image of the windows.
posted by aabbbiee at 10:19 AM on February 17

It really doesn't make sense any way you look at it. Other than the dashes there are no repeating characters in the phrase, yet there are repeating groups of windows that aren't where the dashes would be. Punch cards are binary, yet there are different sizes of windows. The format is wrong, etc.

And though I am in no way an expert (or even an amateur) at such things, It doesn't even make sense as a bar code, Morse code, or some sort of cryptograph.

This just seems like one of those claims that everyone repeats as if it's fact yet nobody has ever ever attempted to verify until now.
posted by bondcliff at 10:27 AM on February 17

Vanishingly few computers had lower case in 1967, and the standard 029 card punch certainly didn't support it.

With two rows of windows, you could encode a single 6-bit character in three columns. If there are repeated characters, you'd see the repeating patterns of 3×2 windows
posted by scruss at 10:53 AM on February 17

They look a bit like DNA fingerprinting bands, for what it's worth, which given the biology connection would fit in. Just as speculative though.
posted by Boobus Tuber at 12:56 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]

Long-time software guy here, and when I first started programming it was with Hollerith punch cards. Your building's façade doesn't match them, sorry. Prove it to yourself -- here's an emulator. Punch in your string and compare. (And yeah, no lower-case, that came later, with ASCII.)
posted by Rash at 9:01 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]

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