Co-workers break the mould for mug-napping
By Paul Mayne
January 16, 2014
What started as an Office-inspired Halloween prank to place a co-worker’s office supplies in Jell-O, soon took a whole new turn when science and, ironically, engineering, got in the way.
“We were planning a Halloween potluck and I thought it was a great opportunity to put something in a Jell-O mould,” said Paul Sheller, a procurement assistant in the Faculty of Engineering. He soon found such a job easier said than done.
“Trust me,” he continued, “it’s not that easy to put something in Jell-O and to get it to set. Safe to say it failed miserably.”
In chatting with others in the faculty about his multiple failed attempts, other ideas were tossed around, including one to ‘hijack’ a co-worker’s possession and send along daily snapshots of its travels throughout campus.
“The next morning I thought, ‘That’s genius,’ and my head exploded with ideas,” Sheller said.
But what to take? With the help of a few accomplices, a large red mug belonging to Sarah Williams, an administrative officer in the Department of Chemical & Biochemical Engineering, jumped out. Within the day, Sheller has snapped close to a dozen shots of the mug making its way around Western.
“I’m a creature of habit. My mug was always washed and in the same place each morning,” Williams said. “But that morning, I must have walked around the office for a good 20 minutes looking on desks, in cupboards, over in the graduate office wondering who would actually take my cup – it was a dollar store mug.”
Williams eventually gave up and went about her day. But the mystery grew as Sheller set up an email account – firstname.lastname@example.org – from which he sent Williams a daily photo update on what was happening with the mug.
For roughly the next month-and-a-half, the mug visited more than 30 sites, everywhere from Alumni Hall and University College to a Mustang hockey game and a visit with Santa Claus. The mug even made it to President Amit Chakma’s office and a tour of downtown Toronto.
“It almost made its way to Germany,” said Brigitte Kok Madsen, administrative assistant at the International Composites Research Centre in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, who also had a hand in ‘MugGate’ incident.
“The first time I got an email I deleted it, assuming it was spam,” Williams said. “But then I started getting more each day, and I read the address where it was coming from. So I opened it up and, sure enough, there was my mug. I knew right then something was up. I had a great laugh.
“So I took a picture of me with my ‘new’ mug and sent it back saying, ‘Don’t worry. I have a new one.’ Every day after that, I waited for the next email to come. Where was the mug going to be today? I’d open it and just laugh. There were a few that caught me off guard, like when they had the dean with it. And then I get the one with the president. How did the president get my mug? Now, even he knows I’m being pranked.”
But the important question remained: Would Williams’ mug be returned safe and sound? It would, but not before Sheller gave the Jell-O mould another go. Or two. Or three.
“There was a Christmas potluck coming up and I figured we can keep it going until then and if I can’t figure out a way to get this thing in Jell-O by then, I didn’t know what I was going to do,” laughed Sheller, who even hit up Jell-O mould ‘how-to’ YouTube videos.
“I soon learned you have to use pure gelatin, up the concentration levels, and everything else. We had a backup ingredient here in Engineering, but that likely would have made it permanent in the mould.”
With the assistance of co-workers in the Machine Shop, and multiple attempts later, there was success. “We turned it upside down and it finally came out perfect,” Sheller said. “It was the shining moment.”
Jump to the Christmas party, the missing mug made its triumphant return – complete with a slideshow of its travels.
With literally dozens of staff and faculty in on the prank, Kok Madsen said it was a great bonding experience for everyone.
“There were people swinging by and checking out the latest picture, wondering out where it would be next, how they could get involved,” she said. “Where you work there can be a lot of stress and lot of things that need to be done, and we all work hard.
“But the grass is green where you water it. If you can do something harmless, and have a lot of fun along the way, why not?”
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