Video Produced By: Jeremiah Warren
APRIL FOOLS: Tweets Will Shrink To 133 Characters
Rest easy, that headline was just a joke. You still have 140 characters to compose a tweet. Believe it or not: The productivity of the newsroom took a hit to come up with that fake headline. A whole host of people across NPR contributed a bunch of ideas. These were our 20 runners-up:
— NPR Blogger Wins Mega-Millions Jackpot
— Ford: All New Cars Will Have Air Bags For Cats and Dogs
— Citing Safety Risks, 30 States Outlaw ‘Driveway Moments’
— More Teens ‘Going Amish,’ Shunning Technology
— Facebook Adds ‘Meh’ Button
— Facebook App Lets Friends See Your Tax Returns
— Biden Out, Boehner In As Obama Shuffles Team
— House, Senate, White House Agree On Budget
— How Your Brain Is Like A Turkish Bath House
— Limbaugh, Olbermann Plan ‘Unity Tour’
— Scientists: Pink Slime Is Really Chartreuse
— Lady Gaga To Open Olympic Ceremonies With 20 Singing Kittens
— Penguin Brawls Reported From Shrinking North Pole
— Six Surefire Ways To Lose Weight Without Exercising Or Eating Right
— Internet Goes Down. Experts Advise: Reboot
— CPB Paid Clooney, Others For ‘I Love NPR’ Endorsements
— Men Of NPR: The Calendar
— Five Reasons Pink Slime Is Good For You
— NPR Listeners Demand: No More Stamberg Cranberries. Ever.
— R. Kelly Commissioned To Write New ATC Theme
At NPR, running a hoax story on April 1 is a long tradition. Back in 1992, Talk of the Nation ran a segment in which Richard Nixon — played by Rich Little — announced he was running for president using the campaign slogan, “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.”
Snap Judgment, a public radio show distributed through NPR and PRX, is also celebrating the holiday with a special edition, “Original Prankster,” described as “amazing stories about people who take the joke waaaaaay too far …”
One of our favorite hoax stories came in 2009, when All Things Considered reported from Belleville, Illinois where “the nation’s first farm-raised whales are being grown and harvested.”
Last year, All Things Considered reported on the “slow net wave,” a movement of people who savored slow, dial-up Internet.
Update at 12:23 p.m. ET: Weekend Edition Sunday’s April Fool’s Story:
You can read the show’s story on Beethoven’s 10th Symphony here.
If you’re hungering for more April Foolery The Museum of Hoaxes has a “Top 100” list.
Update at 4:18 p.m. ET: Getting Your Kid Into The Right School Just Got Harder:
Weekends on All Things Considered is weighing in with their own entirely plausible tale.
Meanwhile, here are a few more media pranks we’ve found from across the sea:
Amnesty for hosepipe owners as drought bites
From The Independent On Sunday in Britain: “People living in areas where the ban comes into force on Thursday are to be given the opportunity to surrender garden hoses at local police stations.”
Arsenal launches new fragrance that smells of Emirates Stadium
From The Sun in Britain: “The £23 perfume includes a whiff of oils in the players’ massage area, the fresh-cut pitch and leather from boss Arsene Wenger’s dugout seat”
A fine BROmance… Simon Cowell and David Walliams fool around in the park
Photos from the Mirror in Britain: “The boys found a secluded spot to lay out their rug, uncork their wine and enjoy a natter”
And finally, one from the BBC, curiously unavailable on their site anymore, says the Gothamist:
Top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes of All Time
#1: The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest
On 1 April 1957, the respected BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in. Many called the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this the BBC diplomatically replied, “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.” More→
#2: Sidd Finch
The April 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated contained a story about a new rookie pitcher who planned to play for the Mets. His name was Sidd Finch, and he could reportedly throw a baseball at 168 mph with pinpoint accuracy. This was 65 mph faster than the previous record. Surprisingly, Sidd Finch had never even played the game before. Instead, he had mastered the “art of the pitch” in a Tibetan monastery under the guidance of the “great poet-saint Lama Milaraspa.” Mets fans celebrated their teams’ amazing luck at having found such a gifted player, and they flooded Sports Illustrated with requests for more information. In reality this legendary player only existed in the imagination of the author of the article, George Plimpton, who left a clue in the sub-heading of the article: “He’s a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd’s deciding about yoga —and his future in baseball.” The first letter of each of these words, taken together, spelled “H-a-p-p-y A-p-r-i-l F-o-o-l-s D-a-y — A-h F-i-b”. More→
#3: Instant Color TV
In 1962 there was only one tv channel in Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white. But on 1 April 1962, the station’s technical expert, Kjell Stensson, appeared on the news to announce that, thanks to a new technology, viewers could convert their existing sets to display color reception. All they had to do was pull a nylon stocking over their tv screen. Stensson proceeded to demonstrate the process. Thousands of people were taken in. Regular color broadcasts only commenced in Sweden on April 1, 1970. More→
#4: The Taco Liberty Bell
The Taco Bell Corporation took out a full-page ad that appeared in six major newspapers on 1 April 1996, announcing it had bought the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Hundreds of outraged citizens called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell was housed to express their anger. Their nerves were only calmed when Taco Bell revealed, a few hours later, that it was all a practical joke. The best line of the day came when White House press secretary Mike McCurry was asked about the sale. Thinking on his feet, he responded that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold. It would now be known, he said, as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial. More→
#5: San Serriffe
On 1 April 1977, the British newspaper The Guardian published a special seven-page supplement devoted to San Serriffe, a small republic said to consist of several semi-colon-shaped islands located in the Indian Ocean. A series of articles affectionately described the geography and culture of this obscure nation. Its two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. Its capital was Bodoni, and its leader was General Pica. The Guardian’s phones rang all day as readers sought more information about the idyllic holiday spot. Only a few noticed that everything about the island was named after printer’s terminology. The success of this hoax is widely credited with launching the enthusiasm for April Foolery that gripped the British tabloids in subsequent decades. More→
#6: Nixon for President
The 1 April 1992 broadcast of National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation revealed that Richard Nixon, in a surprise move, was running for President again. His new campaign slogan was, “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.” Accompanying this announcement were audio clips of Nixon delivering his candidacy speech. Listeners responded viscerally to the announcement, flooding the show with calls expressing shock and outrage. Only during the second half of the show did the host John Hockenberry reveal that the announcement was a practical joke. Nixon’s voice was impersonated by comedian Rich Little.
#7: Alabama Changes the Value of Pi
The April 1998 issue of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter contained an article claiming that the Alabama state legislature had voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi from 3.14159 to the ‘Biblical value’ of 3.0. Soon the article made its way onto the internet, and then it rapidly spread around the world, forwarded by email. It only became apparent how far the article had spread when the Alabama legislature began receiving hundreds of calls from people protesting the legislation. The original article, which was intended as a parody of legislative attempts to circumscribe the teaching of evolution, was written by physicist Mark Boslough.
#8: The Left-Handed Whopper
Burger King published a full page advertisement in the April 1st edition of USA Today announcing the introduction of a new item to their menu: a “Left-Handed Whopper” specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans. According to the advertisement, the new whopper included the same ingredients as the original Whopper (lettuce, tomato, hamburger patty, etc.), but all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of their left-handed customers. The following day Burger King issued a follow-up release revealing that although the Left-Handed Whopper was a hoax, thousands of customers had gone into restaurants to request the new sandwich. Simultaneously, according to the press release, “many others requested their own ‘right handed’ version.”
#9: Hotheaded Naked Ice Borers
The April 1995 issue of Discover Magazine reported that the highly respected wildlife biologist Dr. Aprile Pazzo had found a new species in Antarctica: the hotheaded naked ice borer. These fascinating creatures had bony plates on their heads that, fed by numerous blood vessels, could become burning hot, allowing the animals to bore through ice at high speeds. They used this ability to hunt penguins, melting the ice beneath the penguins and causing them to sink downwards into the resulting slush where the hotheads consumed them. After much research, Dr. Pazzo theorized that the hotheads might have been responsible for the mysterious disappearance of noted Antarctic explorer Philippe Poisson in 1837. “To the ice borers, he would have looked like a penguin,” the article quoted her as saying. Discover received more mail in response to this article than they had received for any other article in their history.
#10: Planetary Alignment Decreases Gravity
During an interview on BBC Radio 2, on the morning of 1 April 1976, the British astronomer Patrick Moore announced that at 9:47 AM a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event was going to occur that listeners could experience in their very own homes. The planet Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, temporarily causing a gravitational alignment that would counteract and lessen the Earth’s own gravity. Moore told his listeners that if they jumped in the air at the exact moment this planetary alignment occurred, they would experience a strange floating sensation. When 9:47 AM arrived, BBC2 began to receive hundreds of phone calls from listeners claiming to have felt the sensation. One woman even reported that she and her eleven friends had risen from their chairs and floated around the room. Moore’s announcement (which, of course, was a joke) was inspired by a pseudoscientific astronomical theory that had recently been promoted in a book called The Jupiter Effect, alleging that a rare alignment of the planets was going to cause massive earthquakes and the destruction of Los Angeles in 1982. More→
#11: UFO Lands in London
On March 31, 1989 thousands of motorists driving on the highway outside London looked up in the air to see a glowing flying saucer descending on their city. Many of them pulled to the side of the road to watch the bizarre craft float through the air. The saucer finally landed in a field on the outskirts of London where local residents immediately called the police to warn them of an alien invasion. Soon the police arrived on the scene, and one brave officer approached the craft with his truncheon extended before him. When a door in the craft popped open, and a small, silver-suited figure emerged, the policeman ran in the opposite direction. The saucer turned out to be a hot-air balloon that had been specially built to look like a UFO by Richard Branson, the 36-year-old chairman of Virgin Records. The stunt combined his passion for ballooning with his love of pranks. His plan was to land the craft in London’s Hyde Park on April 1. Unfortunately, the wind blew him off course, and he was forced to land a day early in the wrong location.
#12: Flying Penguins
On 1 April 2008, the BBC announced that camera crews filming near the Antarctic for its natural history series Miracles of Evolution had captured footage of Adélie penguins taking to the air. It even offered a video clip of these flying penguins, which became one of the most viewed videos on the internet. Presenter Terry Jones explained that, instead of huddling together to endure the Antarctic winter, these penguins took to the air and flew thousands of miles to the rainforests of South America where they “spend the winter basking in the tropical sun.” A follow-up video explained how the BBC created the special effects of the flying penguins.
A message distributed to the members of Usenet (the online messaging community that was one of the first forms the internet took) on 1 April 1984 announced that the Soviet Union was joining the network. This generated enormous excitement, since most Usenet members had assumed cold war security concerns would prevent such a link-up. The message purported to come from Konstantin Chernenko (from the address chernenko@kremvax.UUCP) who explained that the Soviet Union wanted to join the network in order to “have a means of having an open discussion forum with the American and European people.” The message created a flood of responses. Two weeks later its true author, a European man named Piet Beertema, revealed it was a hoax. This is believed to be the first hoax on the internet. Six years later, when Moscow really did link up to the internet, it adopted the domain name ‘kremvax’ in honor of the hoax.
#14: The Body of Nessie Found
On 1 April 1972, newspaper headlines around the world announced that the dead body of the Loch Ness Monster had been found. A team of zoologists from Yorkshire’s Flamingo Park Zoo, who were at Loch Ness searching for proof of Nessie’s existence, had discovered the carcass floating in the water the day before. Initial reports claimed it weighed a ton and a half and was 15½ feet long. The zoologists placed the body in their van and began transporting it back to the zoo, but the local police chased them down and stopped them, citing a 1933 act of Parliament prohibiting the removal of “unidentified creatures” from Loch Ness. The police then took the body to Dunfermline for examination, where scientists soon threw cold water on the theory that the creature was the Loch Ness Monster. Instead, it was a bull elephant seal from the South Atlantic. The next day, the Flamingo Park’s education officer, John Shields, confessed he had been responsible for placing the body in the Loch. The seal had died the week before at Dudley Zoo. He had shaved off its whiskers, padded its cheeks with stones, and kept it frozen for a week, before dumping it in the Loch. Then he phoned in a tip to make sure his colleagues found it. He had meant to play an April Fool’s prank on his colleagues, but admitted the joke got out of hand when the police chased down their van. The seal’s body was displayed at the Flamingo Park Zoo for a few days before being properly disposed of. More→
#15: Metric Time
On 1 April 1975, Australia’s This Day Tonight news program revealed that the country would soon be converting to “metric time.” Under the new system there would be 100 seconds to the minute, 100 minutes to the hour, and 20-hour days. Furthermore, seconds would become millidays, minutes become centidays, and hours become decidays. The report included an interview with Deputy Premier Des Corcoran who praised the new time system. The Adelaide townhall was even shown sporting a new 10-hour metric clock face. The thumbnail (found at TelevisionAU.com) shows TDT Adelaide reporter Nigel Starck posing with a smaller metric clock. TDT received numerous calls from viewers who fell for the hoax. One frustrated viewer wanted to know how he could convert his newly purchased digital clock to metric time.
#16: The Eruption of Mount Edgecumbe
On the morning of 1 April 1974, the residents of Sitka, Alaska woke to a disturbing sight. Clouds of black smoke were rising from the crater of Mount Edgecumbe, the long-dormant volcano neighboring them. People spilled out of their homes onto the streets to gaze up at the volcano, terrified that it was active again and might soon erupt. Luckily it turned out that man, not nature, was responsible for the smoke. A local practical joker named Porky Bickar had flown hundreds of old tires into the volcano’s crater and then lit them on fire, all in a (successful) attempt to fool the city dwellers into believing that the volcano was stirring to life. According to local legend, when Mount St. Helens erupted six years later, a Sitka resident wrote to Bickar to tell him, “This time you’ve gone too far!” More→
#17: The Case of the Interfering Brassieres
The 1 April 1982 issue of the Daily Mail reported that a local manufacturer had sold 10,000 “rogue bras” that were causing a unique and unprecedented problem, not to the wearers but to the public at large. Apparently the support wire in these bras had been made out of a kind of copper originally designed for use in fire alarms. When this copper came into contact with nylon and body heat, it produced static electricity which, in turn, was interfering with local television and radio broadcasts. The chief engineer of British Telecom, upon reading the article, immediately ordered that all his female laboratory employees disclose what type of bra they were wearing.
#18: Man Flies By Own Lung Power
In April 1934, many American newspapers (including The New York Times) printed a photograph of a man flying through the air by means of a device powered only by the breath from his lungs. Accompanying articles excitedly described this miraculous new invention. The man, identified as German pilot Erich Kocher, blew into a box on his chest. This activated rotors that created a powerful suction effect, lifting him aloft. Skis on his feet served as landing gear, and a tail fin allowed him to steer. What the American papers didn’t realize was that the “lung-power motor” was a joke. The photo had first appeared in the April Fool’s Day edition of the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung. It made its way to America thanks to Hearst’s International News Photo agency which not only fell for the hoax but also distributed it to all its U.S. subscribers. In the original article, the pilot’s name was spelled “Erich Koycher,” which was a pun on the German word “keuchen,” meaning to puff or wheeze. More→
#19: The Sydney Iceberg
A barge towing a giant iceberg appeared in Sydney Harbor on the morning of 1 April 1978. Sydneysiders were expecting it. Dick Smith, a local adventurer and millionaire businessman, had been loudly promoting his scheme to tow an iceberg from Antarctica for quite some time. Now he had apparently succeeded. He said that he was going to carve the berg into small ice cubes, which he would sell to the public for ten cents each. These well-traveled cubes, fresh from the pure waters of Antarctica, were promised to improve the flavor of any drink they cooled. Slowly the iceberg made its way into the harbor. Local radio stations provided blow-by-blow coverage of the scene. Only when the berg was well into the harbor was its secret revealed. It started to rain, and the firefighting foam and shaving cream that the berg was really made of washed away, uncovering the white plastic sheets beneath. More→
#20: The 26-Day Marathon
The 1 April 1981 issue of the Daily Mail contained a story about an unfortunate Japanese long-distance runner, Kimo Nakajimi, who had entered the London Marathon but, on account of a translation error, thought that he had to run for 26 days, not 26 miles. Reportedly Nakajimi was now somewhere out on the roads of England, still running, determined to finish the race. Various people had spotted him, though they were unable to flag him down. The translation error was attributed to Timothy Bryant, an import director, who said, “I translated the rules and sent them off to him. But I have only been learning Japanese for two years, and I must have made a mistake. He seems to be taking this marathon to be something like the very long races they have over there.”
#21: Bombs Away!
1915: On April 1, 1915, in the midst of World War I, a French aviator flew over a German camp and dropped what appeared to be a huge bomb. The German soldiers immediately scattered in all directions, but no explosion followed. After some time, the soldiers crept back and gingerly approached the bomb. They discovered it was actually a large football with a note tied to it that read, “April Fool!”
#22: Whistling Carrots
2002: The British supermarket chain Tesco published an advertisement in The Sun announcing the successful development of a genetically modified ‘whistling carrot.’ The ad explained that the carrots had been specially engineered to grow with tapered airholes in their side. When fully cooked, these airholes caused the vegetable to whistle.
#23: The Skyforest Orange-Bearing Pine Trees
1950: Motorists driving along the scenic Rim of the World highway near Lake Arrowhead in Southern California discovered that the pine and cedar trees lining the road had all grown oranges overnight. The transformation was the work of the residents of the nearby town of Skyforest, led by the cartoonist Frank Adams. They had crept out during the night and strung 50,000 oranges in the trees along a one-mile section of the highway. The fruit was left over from the recent National Orange Show in San Bernardino.
#24: Drunk Driving on the Internet
1994: An article by John Dvorak in PC Computing magazine described a bill going through Congress that would make it illegal to use the internet while drunk, or to discuss sexual matters over a public network. The bill was supposedly numbered 040194 (i.e. 04/01/94), and the contact person was listed as Lirpa Sloof (April Fools backwards). The article said that the FBI was going to use the bill to tap the phone line of anyone who “uses or abuses alcohol” while accessing the internet. Passage of the bill was felt to be certain because “Who wants to come out and support drunkenness and computer sex?” The article offered this explanation for the origin of the bill: “The moniker ‘Information Highway’ itself seems to be responsible for SB 040194… I know how silly this sounds, but Congress apparently thinks being drunk on a highway is bad no matter what kind of highway it is.” The article generated so many outraged phone calls to Congress that Senator Edward Kennedy’s office had to release an official denial of the rumor that he was a sponsor of the bill.
#25: 15th Annual New York City April Fool’s Day Parade
2000: A news release sent to the media stated that the 15th annual New York City April Fool’s Day Parade was scheduled to begin at noon on 59th Street and would proceed down to Fifth Avenue. According to the release, floats in the parade would include a “Beat ’em, Bust ’em, Book ’em” float created by the New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle police departments. This float would portray “themes of brutality, corruption and incompetence.” A “Where’s Mars?” float, reportedly built at a cost of $10 billion, would portray missed Mars missions. Finally, the “Atlanta Braves Baseball Tribute to Racism” float would feature John Rocker who would be “spewing racial epithets at the crowd.” CNN and the Fox affiliate WNYW sent television news crews to cover the parade. They arrived at 59th Street at noon only to discover that there was no sign of a parade, at which point the reporters realized they had been hoaxed. The prank was the handiwork of Joey Skaggs, an experienced hoaxer. Skaggs had been issuing press releases advertising the nonexistent parade every April Fool’s Day since 1986.
#26: The Predictions of Isaac Bickerstaff
1708: In February 1708 a previously unknown London astrologer named Isaac Bickerstaff published an almanac in which he predicted the death by fever of the famous rival astrologer John Partridge. According to Bickerstaff, Partridge would die on March 29 of that year. Partridge indignantly denied the prediction, but on March 30 Bickerstaff released a pamphlet announcing that he had been correct: Partridge was dead. It took a day for the news to settle in, but soon everyone had heard of the astrologer’s demise. Thus, on April 1st Partridge was woken by a sexton outside his window who wanted to know if there were any orders for his funeral sermon. Then, as Partridge walked down the street, people stared at him as if they were looking at a ghost or stopped to tell him that he looked exactly like someone they knew who was dead. As hard as he tried, Partridge couldn’t convince people that he wasn’t dead. Bickerstaff, it turned out, was a pseudonym for the satirist Jonathan Swift. His prognosticatory practical joke upon Partridge worked so well that the astrologer finally was forced to stop publishing his almanacs, because he couldn’t shake his reputation as the man whose death had been foretold.
#27: Diseases of Brunus edwardii
1972: The Veterinary Record, the weekly journal of the British veterinary profession, contained an article about the diseases of Brunus edwardii, which was described as a species “commonly kept in homes in the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe and North America.” The article warned:
Pet ownership surveys have shown that 63.8 percent of households are inhabited by one or more of these animals, and there is a statistically significant relationship between their population and the number of children in a household. The public health implications of this fact are obvious, and it is imperative that more be known about their diseases, particularly zoonoses or other conditions which might be associated with their close contact with man.
For months afterwards the correspondence section of the Veterinary Record was dominated by letters about Brunus edwardii, most of which offered new observations about the species. The article proved so popular that it was eventually published in a special edition by Whittington Press, although it was reported that the British Library later had difficulty deciding how to classify it, as fact or fiction. Brunus edwardii is more commonly known as the “Teddy Bear”.
#28: Wisconsin State Capitol Collapses
1933: The Madison Capital-Times solemnly announced that the Wisconsin state capitol building lay in ruins following a series of mysterious explosions. The explosions were attributed to “large quantities of gas, generated through many weeks of verbose debate in the Senate and Assembly chambers.” Accompanying the article was a picture showing the capitol building collapsing. Many readers were fooled—and outraged. One reader wrote in declaring the hoax “was not only tactless and void of humor, but also a hideous jest.” Nevertheless, in 1985 The Science Digest named this as one of the best hoaxes ever.
#29: New Zealand Wasp Swarm
In 1949 Phil Shone, a New Zealand deejay for radio station 1ZB, announced to his listeners that a mile-wide wasp swarm was headed towards Auckland. He urged them to take a variety of steps to protect themselves and their homes from the winged menace. For instance, he suggested that they wear their socks over their trousers when they left for work, and that they leave honey-smeared traps outside their doors. Hundreds of people dutifully heeded his advice, until he finally admitted that it had all been a joke. The New Zealand Broadcasting Service was not amused by Shone’s prank. Its director, Professor James Shelley, denounced the hoax on the grounds that it undermined the rules of proper broadcasting. From then on, a memo was sent out each year before April Fool’s Day reminding New Zealand radio stations of their obligation to report the truth, and nothing but the truth.
#30: Abduction From the Grand Guignol
1950: On Wednesday March 29, 1950, between the second and third acts of No Orchids for Miss Blandish at Paris’s Grand Guignol theater, actress Nicole Riche suddenly disappeared. Stage hands said she had been handed a note, went pale as she read it, walked outside, and then vanished. Unable to continue the play, the theater gave everyone in the audience their money back. The police, who suspected kidnapping, launched a massive manhunt. Her disappearance made headlines around the world. Some papers noted it was an odd coincidence that she had apparently been kidnapped while starring in a play about a woman who is kidnapped. Two days later, early on the morning of April 1st, Riche walked into a police station dressed in the same flimsy white negligee and furcoat she had been wearing during the play, plus a sweater she said some friendly gypsies had given her. She claimed she had been imprisoned for the past two days by “Puritans” who lectured her endlessly about her immoral lifestyle before finally abandoning her in a forest. The police were skeptical about her story since there’s wasn’t a speck of dirt or dust on her. Eventually Riche broke down and admitted she hadn’t been abducted by Puritans. Her disappearance had been an April Fool’s Day publicity stunt engineered by the Grand Guignol’s manager, Alexandre Dundas.
#31: Migrant Mother Makeover
2005: Popular Photography ran an article titled “Can these photos be saved?” about how to remove unsightly wrinkles from photographic subjects. They chose, as an example of a photo that “needed to be saved,” Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” photo taken in 1936 during the Great Depression. Lange’s photo is one of the most widely admired in the world. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to describe it as the Mona Lisa of photographs, and the Migrant Mother’s stoic expression is what makes the image great. Nevertheless, the editors of Popular Photography erased her wrinkles, softened her gaze, and removed her kids, transforming her from an iconic symbol of endurance into a smooth-faced, worry-free soccer mom. Their readers were horrified, not realizing the article was a spoof on the way magazines routinely touch-up celebrity images to remove blemishes and wrinkles. Hundreds wrote in expressing outrage at the defacement of such a classic image. To which the editors replied: Look at the date it was published!
#32: The Great Comic Strip Switcheroonie
1997: Comic strip fans opened their papers on April 1, 1997 and discovered their favorite strips looked different. Not only that, but in many cases characters from other strips popped up out of place. The reason for the chaos was the Great Comics Switcheroonie. Forty-six comic-strip artists conspired to pen each other’s strips for the day. For instance, Scott Adams of Dilbert took over Family Circus by Bil Keane, where he added a touch of corporate cynicism to the family-themed strip by having the mother tell her kid to “work cuter, not harder.” Jim Davis of Garfield took over Blondie, which allowed him to show his famous overweight cat eating one of Dagwood’s sandwiches. The stunt was masterminded by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott, creators of the Baby Blues comic strip. When asked why he participated, Scott Adams noted, “You don’t get that many chances to tunnel under the fence.”
#33: The Derbyshire Fairy
2007: In late March 2007, images of an 8-inch mummified creature resembling a fairy were posted on the website of the Lebanon Circle Magik Co. Accompanying text explained how the creature had been found by a man walking his dog along an old roman road in rural Derbyshire. Word of this discovery soon spread around the internet. Bloggers excitedly speculated about whether the find was evidence of the actual existence of fairies. By April 1 the Lebanon Circle website had received tens of thousands of visitors and hundreds of emails. But at the end of April 1, Dan Baines, the owner of the site, confessed that the fairy was a hoax. He had used his skills as a magician’s prop-maker to create the creature. Baines later reported that, even after his confession, he continued to receive numerous emails from people who refused to accept the fairy wasn’t real.
#34: I Must Fly
1959: The residents of Wellingborough, England woke to find a trail of white footprints painted along the main street of their town. At the end of the trail were the words, “I must fly.”
#35: Big Ben Goes Digital
1980: The BBC reported that Big Ben, in order to keep up with the times, was going to be given a digital readout. The announcement received a huge response from listeners shocked and angered by the proposed change. The BBC Japanese service also announced that the clock hands would be sold to the first four listeners to contact them. One Japanese seaman in the mid-Atlantic immediately radioed in a bid.
#36: Discovery of the Bigon
1996: Discover Magazine reported that physicists had discovered a new fundamental particle of matter, dubbed the Bigon. It could only be coaxed into existence for mere millionths of a second, but amazingly, when it did materialize it was the size of a bowling ball. Physicist Albert Manque and his colleagues accidentally found the particle when a computer connected to one of their vacuum-tube experiments exploded. Video analysis of the explosion revealed the Bigon hovering over the computer for a fraction of a second. Manque theorized that the Bigon might be responsible for a host of other unexplained phenomena such as ball lightning, sinking souffles, and spontaneous human combustion. Discover received huge amounts of mail in response to the story.
#37: Dutch Elm Disease Infects Redheads
1973: BBC Radio broadcast an interview with an elderly academic, Dr. Clothier, who discoursed on the government’s efforts to stop the spread of Dutch Elm Disease. Dr. Clothier described some startling discoveries that had been made about the tree disease. For instance, he referred to the research of Dr. Emily Lang of the London School of Pathological and Environmental Medicine. Dr. Lang had apparently found that exposure to Dutch Elm Disease immunized people to the common cold. Unfortunately, there was a side effect. Exposure to the disease also caused red hair to turn yellow and eventually fall out. This was attributed to a similarity between the blood count of redheads and the soil conditions in which affected trees grew. Therefore, redheads were advised to stay away from forests for the foreseeable future. Dr. Clothier was in reality the comedian Spike Milligan.
#38: Operation Parallax
1979: London’s Capital Radio announced that Operation Parallax would soon go into effect. This was a government plan to resynchronize the British calendar with the rest of the world. It was explained that ever since 1945 Britain had gradually become 48 hours ahead of all other countries because of the constant switching back and forth from British Summer Time. To remedy this situation, the British government had decided to cancel April 5 and 12 that year. Capital Radio received numerous calls as a result of this announcement. One employer wanted to know if she had to pay her employees for the missing days. Another woman was curious about what would happen to her birthday, which fell on one of the cancelled days.
#39: Space Shuttle Lands in San Diego
1993: Dave Rickards, a deejay at KGB-FM in San Diego, announced that the space shuttle Discovery had been diverted from Edwards Air Force Base and would instead soon be landing at Montgomery Field, a small airport located in the middle of a residential area just outside of San Diego. Thousands of commuters immediately headed towards the landing site, causing enormous traffic jams that lasted for almost an hour. Police eventually had to be called in to clear the traffic. People arrived at the airport armed with cameras, camcorders, and even folding chairs. Reportedly the crowd swelled to over 1,000 people. Of course, the shuttle never landed. In fact, the Montgomery Field airport would have been far too small for the shuttle to even consider landing there. Moreover, there wasn’t even a shuttle in orbit at the time. The police were not amused by the prank. They announced that they would be billing the radio station for the cost of forcing officers to direct the traffic.
#40: The Spiggot Metric Boycott
1973: Westward Television, a British TV studio, produced a documentary feature about the village of Spiggot. As the documentary explained, the stubborn residents of this small town were refusing to accept the new decimal currency recently adopted by the British government, preferring instead to stick with the traditional denominations they had grown up with. As soon as the documentary was over, the studio received hundreds of calls expressing support for the brave stand taken by the villagers. In fact, many of the callers voiced their intention to join in the anti-decimal crusade. Unfortunately for this burgeoning rebellion, the village of Spiggot did not exist.
#41: Dogs to be painted white
1965: Politiken, a Copenhagen newspaper, reported that the Danish parliament had passed a new law requiring all dogs to be painted white. The purpose of this, it explained, was to increase road safety by allowing dogs to be seen more easily at night.
1999: A press release issued over Business Wire announced the creation of a new company called Webnode. This company, according to the release, had been granted a government contract to regulate ownership of ‘nodes’ on the ‘Next Generation Internet.’ Each of these nodes (there were said to be over 50 million of them) represented a route that data could travel. The company was licensed to sell each node for $100. Nodes would increase in value depending on how much traffic they routed, and owners would also receive usage fees based on the amount of data that flowed across their section of the internet. Therefore, bidding for the nodes was expected to become quite intense. Offers to buy shares in Webnode soon began pouring in, but they all had to be turned down since the company was just a prank. There really was a Next Generation Internet, but there were no nodes on it. Business Wire didn’t find the prank amusing and filed suit against its perpetrators for fraud, breach of contract, defamation, and conspiracy.
#43: An Interview with President Carter
2001: Michael Enright, host of the Sunday Edition of the Canadian Broadcasting Corpation’s radio program This Morning, interviewed former President Jimmy Carter on the air. The interview concerned Canada’s heavily subsidized softwood lumber industry, about which Carter had recently written an editorial piece in The New York Times. The interview took a turn for the worse when Enright began telling Carter to speed up his answers. Then Enright asked, “I think the question on everyone’s mind is, how did a washed-up peanut farmer from Hicksville such as yourself get involved in such a sophisticated bilateral trade argument?” Carter seemed stunned by the insult. Finally he replied, “Excuse me? A washed-up peanut farmer? You’re one to talk, sir. Didn’t you used to be on the air five times a week?” The tone of the interview did not improve from there. Carter ended up calling Enright a “rude person” before he hung up. Enright then revealed that the interview had been fake. The Toronto comedian Ray Landry had been impersonating Carter’s voice. The interview generated a number of angry calls from listeners who didn’t find the joke funny. But the next day the controversy reached even larger proportions when the Globe and Mail reported the interview as fact on their front pages. The editor of the Globe and Mail later explained that he hadn’t realized the interview was a hoax because it was “a fairly strange issue and a strange person to choose as a spoof.”
#44: Around the World for 210 Guineas
1972: In honor of the 100-year anniversary of Thomas Cook’s first round the world travel tour, the London Times ran a full article about Cook’s 1872 tour, in which it noted that the vacation had cost the participants only 210 guineas each, or approximately $575. Of course, inflation had made a similar vacation quite a bit more expensive by 1972. A few pages later, the Times included a small article noting that in honor of the 100-year anniversary, the travel agent Thomas Cook was offering 1000 lucky people the chance to buy a similar package deal at 1872 prices. The offer would be given to the first 1000 people to apply. The article noted that applications should be addressed to “Miss Avril Foley.” The public response to this bargain-basement offer was swift and enthusiastic. Huge lines of people formed outside the Thomas Cook offices, and the travel agent was swamped with calls. Belatedly the Times identified the offer as an April Fool’s joke and apologized for the inconvenience it had caused. The people who had waited in line for hours were, to put it mildly, not amused. The reporter who wrote the article, John Carter, was fired (though he was later reinstated).
#45: Bearskin Helmets Need Trimming
1980: Soldier magazine revealed that the fur on the bearskin helmets worn by the Irish guards while on duty at Buckingham Palace keeps growing and needs to be regularly trimmed:
The most hair-raising fact about the bearskins has been discovered by scientists recently. The skins retain an original hormone, which lives on after the animal has been skinned. Scientists call it otiose and it is hoped it can be put to use in medical research — especially into baldness.
The article quoted Maj. Ursa who noted, “Bears hibernate in the winter and the amazing thing is that in the spring the skins really start to sprout.” An accompanying photo showed Guardsmen sitting in an army barbershop having their helmets trimmed. The story was picked up by the London Daily Express and run as a straight story.
#46: Guinness Mean Time
1998: Guinness issued a press release announcing that it had reached an agreement with the Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England to be the official beer sponsor of the Observatory’s millennium celebration. According to this agreement, Greenwich Mean Time would be renamed Guinness Mean Time until the end of 1999. In addition, where the Observatory traditionally counted seconds in “pips,” it would now count them in “pint drips.” The Financial Times, not realizing that the release was a joke, declared that Guinness was setting a “brash tone for the millennium.” When the Financial Times learned that it had fallen for a joke, it printed a curt retraction, stating that the news it had disclosed “was apparently intended as part of an April 1 spoof.”
#47: Internet Spring Cleaning
1997: An email message spread throughout the world announcing that the internet would be shut down for cleaning for twenty-four hours from March 31 until April 2. This cleaning was said to be necessary to clear out the “electronic flotsam and jetsam” that had accumulated in the network. Dead email and inactive ftp, www, and gopher sites would be purged. The cleaning would be done by “five very powerful Japanese-built multi-lingual Internet-crawling robots (Toshiba ML-2274) situated around the world.” During this period, users were warned to disconnect all devices from the internet. The message supposedly originated from the “Interconnected Network Maintenance Staff, Main Branch, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” This joke was an updated version of an old joke that used to be told about the phone system. For many years, gullible phone customers had been warned that the phone systems would be cleaned on April Fool’s Day. They were cautioned to place plastic bags over the ends of the phone to catch the dust that might be blown out of the phone lines during this period.
#48: Tasmanian Mock Walrus
1984: The Orlando Sentinel featured a story about a creature known as the Tasmanian Mock Walrus (or TMW for short) that many people in Florida were supposedly adopting as a pet. The creature was said to be four inches long, resembled a walrus, purred like a cat, and had the temperament of a hamster. What made it such an ideal pet was that it never had to be bathed, it used a litter box, and it ate cockroaches. In fact, a single TMW could entirely rid a house of its cockroach problem. Reportedly, some TMWs had been smuggled in from Tasmania, and there were efforts being made to breed them, but the local pest-control industry was pressuring the government not to allow them into the country, fearing they would put cockroach exterminators out of business. Dozens of people called the paper trying to find out where they could obtain their own TMW. A picture of a Tasmanian Mock Walrus accompanied the article. Skeptics noted that the creature looked surprisingly similar to a Naked Mole Rat.
#49: Don’t Disturb the Squirrels
1993: Westdeutsche Rundfunk, a German radio station, announced that officials in Cologne had just passed an unusual new city regulation. Joggers going through the park would be required to pace themselves to go no faster than six mph. Any faster, it was felt, would unnecessarily disturb the squirrels who were in the middle of their mating season.
#50: The Sheep Albedo Hypothesis
2007: RealClimate.org posted about the work of Dr. Ewe Noh-Watt of the New Zealand Institute of Veterinary Climatology, who had discovered that global warming was caused not by a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but rather by the decline of New Zealand’s sheep population. The reasoning was that sheep are white, and therefore large numbers of sheep increase the planet’s albedo (the amount of sunlight reflected back into space). As the sheep population declined, the ground was absorbing more solar radiation, thus warming the planet: “It can be seen that the recent warming can be explained entirely by the decline in the New Zealand sheep population, without any need to bring in any mysterious so-called ‘radiative forcing’ from carbon dioxide, which doesn’t affect the sunlight (hardly) anyway — unlike Sheep Albedo.”
Noh-Watt also warmed of a potentially destabilizing feedback mechanism: “As climate gets warmer, there is less demand for wool sweaters and wooly underwear. Hence the sheep population tends to drop, leading to even more warming. In an extreme form, this can lead to a ‘runaway sheep-albedo feedback,’ which is believed to have led to the present torrid climate of Venus.”
#51: British Weather Machine
1981: The Guardian reported that scientists at Britain’s research labs in Pershore had “developed a machine to control the weather.” The article, titled “Britain Rules the Skies,” explained that “Britain will gain the immediate benefit of long summers, with rainfall only at night, and the Continent will have whatever Pershore decides to send it.” Readers were also assured that Pershore scientists would make sure that it snowed every Christmas in Britain. Accompanying the article was a picture of a scruffy-looking scientists surrounded by scientific equipment. The picture was captioned, “Dr. Chisholm-Downright expresses quiet satisfaction as a computer printout announced sunshine in Pershore and a forthcoming blizzard over Marseilles.”
In 1965 BBC TV featured an interview with a professor who had just invented a device called “smellovision.” This miraculous technology allowed viewers to experience directly in their own home aromas produced in the television studio. The professor offered a demonstration by cutting some onions and brewing coffee. A number of viewers called in to confirm that they distinctly experienced these scents as if they were there in the studio with him. Since no aromas were being transmitted, whatever these viewers thought they smelled coming out of their tv sets must be chalked up to the power of suggestion.
#53: Thomas Edison Invents Food Machine
1878: After Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, Americans firmly believed that there were no limits to his genius. Therefore, when the New York Graphic announced in 1878 that Edison had invented a machine that could transform soil directly into cereal and water directly into wine, thereby ending the problem of world hunger, it found no shortage of willing believers.
Newspapers throughout America copied the article, heaping lavish praise on Edison. The conservative Buffalo Commercial Advertiser was particularly effusive in its praise, waxing eloquent about Edison’s brilliance in a long editorial. The Graphic took the liberty of reprinting the Advertiser’s editorial in full, placing above it a simple, two-word headline: “They Bite!”
#54: Washing the Lions at the Tower of London
1860: Numerous people throughout London received the following invitation: “Tower of London—Admit Bearer and Friend to view annual ceremony of Washing the White Lions on Sunday, April 1, 1860. Admittance only at White Gate. It is particularly requested that no gratuities be given to wardens or attendants.” By twelve o’clock on April 1 a large crowd had reportedly gathered outside the tower. But of course, lions hadn’t been kept in the tower for centuries, particularly not white liions. Therefore the crowd eventually snuck away disappointed. This prank had a very long pedigree. It had often been perpetrated (on a smaller scale) on unsuspecting out-of-towners, and an instance of it is recorded from as far back as 1698.
2000: The British Daily Mail announced that Esporta Health Clubs had launched a new line of socks designed to help people lose weight. Dubbed “FatSox,” these revolutionary socks could actually suck body fat out of sweating feet. The invention promised to “banish fat for ever.” The socks employed a patented nylon polymer called FloraAstraTetrazine that had been “previously only applied in the nutrition industry.” The American inventor of this polymer was Professor Frank Ellis Elgood. The socks supposedly worked in the following way: as a person’s body heat rose and their blood vessels dilated, the socks drew “excess lipid from the body through the sweat.” After having sweated out the fat, the wearer could then simply remove the socks and wash them, and the fat, away.
#56: IPO for F/rite Air
2000: By April 2000 the dot.com bubble was rapidly deflating. This didn’t deter hundreds of Dutch investors from lining up to buy shares in F/rite Air, which was being billed as a hot new technology company backed by supporters such as Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and George Soros. The announcement about the company’s IPO was posted on iex.nl, a financial web site for Dutch investors. It was reported that shares in the IPO could be reserved for $18 each by email, although it was said that analysts anticipated the stock soaring to above $80 on the first day of its filing. The company seemed like a sure thing, and almost immediately orders worth over $7 million flooded in. The orders didn’t stop coming in even after the newspapers had revealed the IPO to be an April Fool’s Day joke. F/rite air was a pun for ‘Fried air’ (i.e. Hot Air).
#57: Nat Tate
1998: A lavish party was held at Jeff Koons’s New York studio to honor the memory of the late, great American artist Nat Tate, that troubled abstract expressionist who destroyed 99 percent of his own work before leaping to his death from the Staten Island ferry. At the party superstar David Bowie read aloud selections from William Boyd’s soon-to-be released biography of Tate, “Nat Tate: An American Artist, 1928-1960.” Critics in the crowd murmured appreciative comments about Tate’s work as they sipped their drinks. The only catch was that Tate had never existed. He was the satirical creation of William Boyd. Bowie, Boyd, and Boyd’s publisher were the only ones in on the joke.
#58: Portable Zip Codes
2004: National Public Radio’s All Things Considered announced that the post office had begun a new ‘portable zip codes’ program. This program, inspired by an FCC ruling that allowed phone users to take their phone number with them when they moved, would allow people to also take their zip code with them when they moved, no matter where they moved to. It was hoped that with this new program zip codes would come to symbolize “a citizen’s place in the demographic, rather than geographic, landscape.” Assistant Postmaster General Lester Crandall was quoted as saying, “Every year millions of Americans are on the go: People who must relocate for work or other reasons. Those people may have been quite attached to their original homes or an adopted town or city of residence. For them this innovative measure will serve as an umbilical cord to the place they love best.”
#59: Daylight Savings Contest
1984: the Eldorado Daily Journal, based in Illinois, announced a contest to see who could save the most daylight for daylight savings time. The rules of the contest were simple: beginning with the first day of daylight savings time, contestants would be required to save daylight. Whoever succeeded in saving the most daylight would win. Only pure daylight would be allowed—no dawn or twilight light, though light from cloudy days would be allowed. Moonlight was strictly forbidden. Light could be stored in any container. The contest received a huge, nationwide response. The paper’s editor was interviewed by correspondents from CBS and NBC and was featured in papers throughout the country.
#60: PhDs Exempt From China’s One-Child Policy
1993: The China Youth Daily, an official state newspaper of China, announced on its front page that the government had decided to make Ph.D. holders exempt from the state-imposed one-child limit. The logic behind this decision was that it would eventually reduce the need to invite as many foreign experts into the country to help with the state’s modernization effort. Despite a disclaimer beneath the story identifying it as a joke, the report was repeated as fact by Hong Kong’s New Evening News and by Agence France-Presse, an international news agency. Apparently what made the hoax seem credible to many was that intellectuals in Singapore are encouraged to marry each other and have children, and China’s leaders are known to have great respect for the Singapore system. The Chinese government responded to the hoax by condemning April Fool’s Day as a dangerous Western tradition. The Guangming Daily, Beijing’s main newspaper for intellectuals, ran an editorial stating that April Fool’s jokes “are an extremely bad influence.” It went on to declare that, “Put plainly, April Fool’s Day is Liar’s Day.”
#61: La Fornication Comme Une Acte Culturelle
In 1972 listeners to England’s Radio 3 program In Parenthesis were treated to a roundtable discussion of a few cutting-edge new works of social anthropology and musicology. First up was a discussion of La Fornication Comme Une Acte Culturelle by Henri Mensonge (translated as Henry Lie). This book argued that “we live in an age of metaphorical rape” in which “confrontation, assault, intrusion, and exposure are becoming validated transactions, the rites of democracy, of mass society.” This sparked a blisteringly incomprehensible debate, which eventually segued into an exploration of the question “Is ‘Is’ Is?” Finally, the audience heard a rousing deconstruction of the ‘arch form’ of the sonata’s first motif. Listeners seemed to accept the program’s discussion as a legitimate exploration of new trends in the arts. Thankfully, it was a parody.
The April 2000 issue of Esquire magazine introduced its readers to an exciting new company called Freewheelz. This company had a novel business plan. It intended to provide drivers with free cars. In exchange, the lucky drivers had to agree both to the placement of large advertisements on the outside of their vehicle and to the streaming of advertisements on the radio inside their car. Strict criteria limited the number of people eligible to receive a free car. Not only did you have to guarantee that you would drive over 300 miles a week, you also had to complete a 600-question survey that probed into personal information such as your political affiliations and whether you were concerned about hair loss. Finally you had to submit your family’s tax returns, notarized video-store-rental receipts, and a stool sample. The entire article, written by Ted Fishman, was a satire of the much-touted “new economy” spawned by the internet. Attentive readers would have caught on to the joke if they had noticed that Freewheelz’s official rollout on the web was slated to occur on April 1. But readers who didn’t notice this tip-off flooded the offices of Esquire with calls, demanding to know how they could sign up to drive a free minivan. The satire also went over the head of the CEO’s of a number of real internet start-ups with business plans similar to that of the fictitious Freewheelz, companies such as Mobile Billboard Network, Freecar.com, and Autowraps.com. Larry Butler, the CEO of freecar.com, later confessed to Fishman that he was so scared at the prospect of this new competition that he cried when he first read the article.
#63: M3 Zebra Crossing
In 2000 early morning commuters travelling on the northern carriageway of the M3 near Farnborough, Hampshire encountered a pedestrian zebra crossing painted across the busy highway. The perpetrator of the prank was unknown. A police spokesman speculated that the prank, “must have been done very early in the morning when there was little or no traffic on the motorway.” Maintenance workers were quickly summoned to remove the crossing, which was apparently not too difficult to do since the pranksters had used emulsion paint rather than gloss. The police noted that, surprisingly, they had received no calls from the public about the crossing.
#64: Total Home Remote Electricity
In 1999 executives at 130 major companies received a professionally designed package of information about an exciting new product: Total Home Remote Electricity. Forget wireless computers. This technology, created by Ottmar Industries of Switzerland, allowed electricity itself to be beamed wirelessly anywhere within a house. Simply plug one of the small “projectors” into a wall outlet, and a safe electrical “aura” would envelop the home. Then attach a converter to any appliance, and the appliance would be able to receive power at any location within the aura, even outside on the roof. “Did you ever imagine making toast on your roof?” the promotional material asked. Accompanying the ads was a letter that included a phone number the executives could call for more information. Reportedly, about 30 people called the number, including three high-level executives. But the number really connected them to the advertising agency, Hoffman york, that had sent out the fake ad as an April Fool’s Day publicity stunts.
#65: Y2K Solved
In 1999 the Singapore Straits Times reported that a 17-year-old high school student had one-upped all the major software corporations of the world by creating a small computer program that would easily solve the Y2K bug. The camera-shy C student had supposedly devised the program in twenty-nine minutes while solving an algebra problem for his homework. His family and a technology consulting group were reportedly forming a joint venture named ‘Polo Flair’ in order to commercialize the discovery. They anticipated achieving revenues of $50 million by the end of the year. Numerous journalists and computer specialists contacted the Straits Times, seeking more information about the boy genius and his Y2K cure. One journalist even wanted to know if the boy would be willing to appear on TV, despite the fact that he was camera shy. Unfortunately the boy and his ingenious program didn’t exist. Quick-witted readers would have noticed that ‘Polo Flair’ was an anagram for ‘April Fool.’
#66: Smaugia Volans
The April 1, 1998 online edition of Nature Magazine revealed the discovery of “a near-complete skeleton of a theropod dinosaur in North Dakota.” The discovery was referred to in an article by Henry Gee discussing the palaeontological debate over the origin of birds. The dinosaur skeleton had reportedly been discovered by Randy Sepulchrave of the Museum of the University of Southern North Dakota. The exciting part of the discovery, according to the article, was that “The researchers believe that the dinosaur, now named as Smaugia volans, could have flown.” In actuality, the University of Southern North Dakota does not exist, though it has been made famous by Peter Schickele who refers to it as the location where the music of the obscure eighteenth-century composer PDQ Bach was first performed; Smaug was the name of the dragon in Tolkein’s The Hobbit; and Sepulchrave was the name of the 76th Earl of Groan in Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan. This Earl, believing that he was an owl, leapt to his death from a high tower, discovering too late that he could not fly.
#67: Life Discovered on Jupiter
In 1996 AOL subscribers who logged onto the service were greeted by a news flash announcing that a “Government source reveals signs of life on Jupiter.” The claim was backed up by statements from a planetary biologist and an assertion by Ted Leonsis, AOL’s president, that his company was in possession of documents proving that the government was hiding the existence of life on the massive planet. The story quickly generated over 1,300 messages on AOL. A spokesman for the company later explained that the hoax had been intended as a tribute to Orson Welles’s 1938 Halloween broadcast of the War of the Worlds.
#68: Euro Disney Lenin
In 1995 the Irish Times reported that the Disney Corporation was negotiating with the Russian government to purchase the embalmed body of communist leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The body has been kept on display in Red Square since the leader’s death. Disney proposed moving the body and the mausoleum to the new Euro Disney, where it would be given the “full Disney treatment.” This would include displaying the body “under stroboscopic lights which will tone up the pallid face while excerpts from President Reagan’s ‘evil empire’ speech will be played in quadrophonic sound.” Lenin t-shirts would also be sold. Disney anticipated that this attraction would attract more visitors to the theme park, significantly boosting profits which had been weak since the park’s opening. The Russians were said to be agreeable to the sale of Lenin’s body. But a controversy had erupted about the sale of the mausoleum. Liberal groups wanted to keep the mausoleum empty “to symbolize the ’emptiness of the Communist system,'” while Russian nationalists wanted to transform it into a memorial to Tsar Nicholas II.
#69: Corporate Tattoos
In 1994 National Public Radio’s All Things Considered program reported that companies such as Pepsi were sponsoring teenagers to tattoo their ears with corporate logos. In return for branding themselves with the corporate symbol, the teenagers would receive a lifetime 10% discount on that company’s products. Teenagers were said to be responding enthusiastically to this deal.
#70: One-way Highway
In 1991 the London Times announced that the Department of Transport had finalized a plan to ease congestion on the M25, the circular highway surrounding London. The capacity of the road would be doubled by making the traffic on both carriageways travel in the same direction. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays the traffic would travel clockwise; while on Tuesdays and Thursdays it would travel anti-clockwise. The plan would not operate on weekends. It was said that the scheme was almost certain to meet with the cabinet’s approval, despite voices of protest coming from some quarters. One of the protestors included a spokesman for Labour Transport who reportedly warned that “Many drivers already have trouble telling their left from their right.” Also, a resident of Swanley, Kent was quoted as saying, “Villagers use the motorway to make shopping trips to Orpington. On some days this will be a journey of two miles, and on others a journey of 117 miles. The scheme is lunatic.” Thankfully, the scheme existed only in the minds of the writers at the Times.
#71: Michigan Shark Experiment
In 1981 the Herald-News in Roscommon, Michigan reported that 3 lakes in northern Michigan had been selected to host “an in-depth study into the breeding and habits of several species of fresh-water sharks.” Two thousand sharks were to be released into the lakes including blue sharks, hammerheads, and a few great whites. The experiment was designed to determine whether the sharks could survive in the cold climate of Michigan. The federal government was said to be spending $1.3 million to determine this. A representative from the National Biological Foundation was quoted as saying that there would probably be a noticeable decline in the populations of other fish in the lake because “the sharks will eat about 20 pounds of fish each per day, more as they get older.” County officials were said to have protested the experiment, afraid of the hazard it would pose to fishermen and swimmers, but their complaints had been ignored by the federal government. Furthermore, fishermen had been forbidden from catching the sharks. The Herald-News received a flurry of letters in response to the announcement.
#72: Miller Lites
In 2000 Miller Beer announced that it had struck an agreement with the town of Marfa, Texas to become the exclusive sponsor of the phenomenon known as the Marfa Mystery Lights. These are spherical lights which appear south of the town each evening, seeming to bounce around in the sky. They’re variously rumored to be caused by ghosts, swamp gas, or uranium (though they’re probably caused by the headlights from the nearby highway). Miller announced that under the terms of the agreement the Marfa Lights would be renamed the Miller Lites. The local paper, which was in on the joke, printed the news on its front page.
#73: The Origin of April Fool’s Day
In 1983 the Associated Press reported that the mystery of the origin of April Fool’s Day had finally been solved. Joseph Boskin, a History professor at Boston University, had discovered that the celebration had begun during the Roman empire when a court jester had boasted to Emperor Constantine that the fools and jesters of the court could rule the kingdom better than the Emperor could. In response, Constantine had decreed that the court fools would be given a chance to prove this boast, and he set aside one day of the year upon which a fool would rule the kingdom. The first year Constantine appointed a jester named Kugel as ruler, and Kugel immediately decreed that only the absurd would be allowed in the kingdom on that day. Therefore the tradition of April Fools was born. News media throughout the country reprinted the Associated Press story. But what the AP reporter who had interviewed Professor Boskin for the story hadn’t realized was that Boskin was lying. Not a word of the story was true, which Boskin admitted a few weeks later. Boston University issued a statement apologizing for the joke, and many papers published corrections.
#74: The Musendrophilus
In 1975 the famous naturalist David Attenborough reported on BBC Radio 3 about a group of islands in the Pacific known as the Sheba Islands. He played sound recordings of the island’s fauna, including a recording of an alleged night-singing tree mouse called the Musendrophilus. He also described a species whose webbed feet were prized by inhabitants of the island as reeds for musical instruments. Unfortunately, the night-singing tree mice were merely products of Attenborough’s imagination, perhaps inspired by that old yarn about the Tree Squeaks, that North American species which lives high in the trees and squeaks every time the wind blows.
#75: World to End Tomorrow
On March 31, 1940 the Franklin Institute issued a press release stating that the world would end the next day. The release was picked up by radio station KYW which broadcast the following message: “Your worst fears that the world will end are confirmed by astronomers of Franklin Institute, Philadelphia. Scientists predict that the world will end at 3 P.M. Eastern Standard Time tomorrow. This is no April Fool joke. Confirmation can be obtained from Wagner Schlesinger, director of the Fels Planetarium of this city.” The public reaction was immediate. Local authorities were flooded with frantic phone calls. The panic only subsided after the Franklin Institute assured people that it had made no such prediction. The prankster responsible for the press release turned out to be William Castellini, the Institute’s press agent. He had intended to use the fake release to publicize an April 1st lecture at the institute titled “How Will the World End?” Soon afterwards, the Institute dismissed Castellini.
#76: Great Cave Sell
On an undetermined April 1 in the 1840s, a story appeared in the Boston Post announcing that a cave full of treasure had been discovered beneath Boston Common. It had supposedly been uncovered by workmen as they removed a tree from the Common. As the tree fell, it revealed a stone trap-door with a large iron ring set in it. Beneath the door was a stone stairway that led to an underground cave. In this cave lay piles of jewels, old coins, and weapons with jeweled handles. As word of the discovery spread throughout Boston, parties of excited curiosity-seekers began marching out across the Common to view the treasure. A witness later described the scene: “It was rainy, that 1st of April, the Legislature was in session, and it was an animated scene that the Common presented, roofed with umbrellas, sheltering pilgrims on their way to the new-found sell. A procession of grave legislators marched solemnly down under their green gingham, while philosophers, archaeologists, numismatists, antiquarians of all qualities, and the public generally paid tribute to the Post’s ingenuity.” Of course, the Common was empty of all jewel-bearing caverns, as the crowd of treasure seekers eventually discovered to its disappointment.
#77: MITkey Mouse
On April 1, 1998 the homepage of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced some startling news: the prestigious university was to be sold to Walt Disney Co. for $6.9 billion. A photograph of the university’s famous dome outfitted with a pair of mouse ears accompanied the news. The press release explained that the university was to be dismantled and transported to Orlando where new schools would be added to the campus including the School of Imagineering, the Scrooge McDuck School of Management, and the Donald Duck Department of Linguistics. The fact that the announcement appeared on MIT’s homepage added official credibility to it. But in fact, the announcement was the work of students who had hacked into the school’s central server and replaced the school’s real web page with a phony one.
#78: The Venetian Horse Hoax
The citizens of Venice woke on the morning of April 1, 1919 to find piles of horse manure deposited throughout the Piazza San Marco, as if a procession of horses had gone through there during the night. This was extremely unusual, since the Piazza is surrounded by canals and not easily accessible to horses. The manure turned out to be the work of the infamous British prankster Horace de Vere Cole, who was honeymooning in Venice. He had transported a load of manure over from the mainland the night before with the help of a gondolier and had then deposited small piles of it throughout the Piazza. Perhaps he should have been paying more attention to his wife while on honeymoon because, evidently tired by his constant hijinks, she divorced him a few years later.
#79: PETA’s Tournament of Sleeping Fish
In 2000 the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) warned that it planned to sabotage the bass fishing tournament in East Texas’s Lake Palestine by releasing tranquilizers into the lake before the tournament. Their announcement stated that “this year, the fish will be napping, not nibbling.” State officials took the threat seriously and stationed rangers around the lake in order to stop any tranquilizer-toting PETA activists from drugging the fish, and numerous newspapers reported the threat. Eventually PETA admitted that it had been joking.
#80: Moscow’s Second Subway
In 1992, the Moskovskaya Pravda (Moscow Truth) published a special March 32nd edition in which it announced that the winds of capitalism transforming Russia would bring further changes for the residents of Moscow. Plans had been finalized to build a new Moscow subway system. Of course, there was nothing wrong with the city’s current subway. But in the spirit of capitalism, the second system would be built to promote “the interests of competition.” The paper had changed its name for that day to the Moskovskaya Nye-Pravda, or Moscow Un-Truth.
#81: Weeping Lenin
Over the years numerous statues of the Virgin Mary have been known to miraculously start weeping, but in 1995 an Italian statue of Lenin in the town of Cavriago joined the club. A huge crowd gathered to witness the milky white tears rolling down the statue’s metal cheeks. The crowd remained for hours until the tears were eventually revealed to be a prank.
#82: Maradona Joins Soviet Soccer Team
In 1988 the Soviet newspaper Izvestia reported that the world-renowned Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona was in negotiations to join Spartak Moscow. The Spartaks were to pay him $6 million to play on their struggling team. Izvestia later admitted that the story was an April Fool’s day joke, but only after the news was disseminated by the Associated Press, which then had to publish a red-faced retraction. The AP had believed the story because it was the first time in modern memory that a Soviet newspaper had published an April Fool’s day hoax. The sudden display of humor was attributed to Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost, or openness.
#83: Diamond-Encrusted Grenades
During the 1990s stories of the ruthlessness of Russian gangsters became increasingly prevalent in the news, but apparently just because the gangsters were ruthless, that didn’t mean they weren’t fashion conscious. In 1996 Itar-Tass announced that a military factory had begun manufacturing diamond-encrusted grenades, which it was selling to Russian gangsters concerned about dispatching their enemies with style. “The use of such a grenade will leave your one-time rival in a sea of beautiful sparkling gems rather than in a pool of blood,” the article noted.
#84: Viagra for Hamsters
In 2000 The Independent reported that Florida researchers had developed a Viagra-like pill to treat sexually frustrated pets, including hamsters. Veterinarians were said to have greeted the news with derision, but the article pointed out that there are few things as sad as a pet suffering from feelings of sexual inadequacy, noting that “It’s not unknown for a guinea pig to sit in its cage thinking, ‘I haven’t had sex for months. Am I so unattractive?’.” Owners were instructed to simply grind the pills up and sprinkle them in the pet’s food. Laying some newspaper down on the floor once the pills began to take effect was also advised. The pills were to be marketed under the brand name Feralmone.
#85: Kokomo Police Cut Costs
In 1959 the Kokomo Tribune, based in Indiana, announced that the city police had devised a plan to cut costs and save money. According to this plan, the police station would close each night from 6 pm to 6 am An answering machine would record all calls made to the station during this time, and these calls would be screened by an officer in the morning. The police reportedly anticipated that the screening process would save the city a great deal of money, since many of the calls would be old by the morning and would not need to be answered. A spokesman for the police admitted that “there will be a problem on what to do in the case of a woman who calls in and says her husband has threatened to shoot her or some member of the family.” But in such a situation, the spokesman explained, “We will check the hospitals and the coroner, and if they don’t have any record of any trouble, then we will know that nothing happened.”
#86: Killer Bees Attack Arizona
In 1994 residents of Glendale and Peoria, Arizona woke to find yellow fliers posted around their neighborhoods warning them of “Operation Killer Bees.” Apparently there was to be widespread aerial spraying later that day to eradicate a killer bee population that had made its way into the area. Residents were warned to stay indoors from 9 am until 2:30 pm. The phone numbers of local television and radio stations were provided. On the bottom of the flier the name of an official government agency was listed: Arizona Pest Removal Information Line (For Outside Operations Listings). The first letters of this agency spelled out “April Fool.” Few people got the joke. Radio and television stations received numerous calls, as did the Arizona Agriculture Department. Many worried residents stayed inside all day, anxiously watching out their windows for the pest-control planes to fly overhead.
#87: Telepathic Email
The April 1999 edition of Red Herring Magazine included an article about a revolutionary new technology that allowed users to compose and send email telepathically. The company developing this technology was Tidal Wave Communications, led by Yuri Maldini, a computer genius from Estonia. Mr. Maldini claimed that he had developed the technology from the encrypted communications systems he had helped the army put in place during the Gulf War. At the end of the article the reporter recalled a moment when he asked Mr. Maldini how big the market for such a product might be: “Mr. Maldini falls silent. He stares vacantly for several moments out his office window and then says, ‘I just sent you an email with my answer.’ Upon returning to our office, we find the response waiting: ‘It’s going to be huge,’ reads the email. ‘Simply huge.'” Red Herring received numerous letters from readers admitting they had been fooled by the article.
#88: Bank Teller Fees
In 1999 the Savings Bank of Rockville placed an ad in the Connecticut Journal-Inquirer announcing that it would soon begin charging a $5 fee to customers who visited a live teller. The ad, which appeared on March 31, claimed that the fee was necessary in order to provide, “professional, caring and superior customer service.” Although the ad was a joke, many customers failed to recognize it as such. One woman reportedly closed her account because of it. The bank then ran a second ad revealing that the initial ad was a joke. The bank manager commented that the first ad ironically “commits us to not charging such fees.”
#89: Asterix Village Found
In 1993 London’s Independent announced the discovery by archaeologists of the 3000-year-old village of the cartoon hero Asterix. The village was said to have been found at Le Yaudet, near Lannion, France, in almost precisely the location where Rene Goscinny, Asterix’s creator, had placed it in his books. The expedition was led by Professor Barry Cunliffe, of Oxford University, and Dr. Patrick Galliou, of the University of Brest. Supposedly the team found evidence that the small village had never been occupied by Roman forces. They also discovered Celtic coins printed with the image of a wild boar (the favorite food of Asterix’s friend Obelix), as well as a large collection of rare Iron Age menhirs (standing stones) “of the precise size favoured by the indomitable Obelix whose job as a menhir delivery man has added a certain academic weight to the books.”
#90: Belgium Divides
The London Times reported in 1992 that formal negotiations were underway to divide Belgium in half. The Dutch-speaking north would join the Netherlands and the French-speaking south would join France. An editorial in the paper then lamented that, “The fun will go from that favorite parlor game: Name five famous Belgians.” The report apparently fooled the British foreign office minister Tristan Garel-Jones who almost went on a TV interview prepared to discuss this “important” story. The Belgian embassy also received numerous calls from journalists and expatriate Belgians seeking to confirm the news. A rival paper later criticized the prank, declaring that, “The Times’s effort could only be defined as funny if you find the very notion of Belgium hilarious.”
#91: Augusta National Goes Public
The May 1990 issue of Golf magazine had good news for golf enthusiasts. It reported that Augusta National, the elite private golf course where the Masters tournament is held, would begin allowing public access to its course at certain times. As a result of this report, both Augusta National and Golf magazine received hundreds of calls from eager golfers inquiring about playing privileges. But the report was an April fool’s joke, despite its placement in the May issue. Golf magazine was forced to publish a retraction, reaffirming that Augusta National was still a private club open only to members and guests.
#92: LA Highways Close for Repairs
In 1987 a Los Angeles disc jockey announced that on April 8 the LA highway system would be shut down for repairs for an entire month. This was alarming news in LA where it’s necessary to use the highway to get almost anywhere. The radio station immediately received hundreds of frantic calls in response to the announcement, and the California Highway Patrol reported that they were also flooded with calls throughout the day. The station later admitted that it was stunned by the intensity of the public reaction to the hoax. A representative from the California Department of Transportation called the station’s managers to share their opinion of the prank. Reportedly “they didn’t think it was very funny.”
#93: Eiffel Tower Moves
The Parisien stunned French citizens in 1986 when it reported that an agreement had been signed to dismantle the Eiffle Tower. The international symbol of French culture would then be reconstructed in the new Euro Disney theme park going up east of Paris. In the space where the Tower used to stand, a 35,000 seat stadium would be built for use during the 1992 Olympic Games.
#94: Tomb of Socrates Found
In 1995 the Greek Ministry of Culture announced that during excavation for the Athens metro system, archaeologists had uncovered what they believed to be the tomb of Socrates near the base of the Acropolis. A vase containing traces of hemlock (the poison used to kill socrates) and a piece of leather dating from between 400 and 390 BC were found in the tomb. The news agency Agence France-Presse immediately issued a release about the story. What it didn’t realize was that the Greek Ministry was joking, forcing the news agency to issue an embarrassed retraction a few hours later.
#95: Chunnel Blunder
In 1990 the News of the World reported that the Chunnel project, which was already suffering from huge cost overruns, would face another big additional expense caused by a colossal engineering blunder. Apparently the two halves of the tunnel, being built simultaneously from the coasts of France and England, would miss each other by 14 feet. The error was attributed to the fact that French engineers had insisted on using metric specifications in their blueprints. The mistake would reportedly cost $14 billion to fix.
#96: Boston Globe Price Cut
Readers of the Boston Morning Globe in 1915 could have purchased their papers for half the cost on April Fool’s Day, if they had been alert. The price listed on the front page had been lowered from “Two Cents Per Copy” to “One Cent.” But almost 60,000 copies of the paper were sold before anyone noticed the unannounced price change. When the management of the Globe found out about the change, they were just as surprised as everyone else. The new price turned out to be the responsibility of a mischievous production worker who had surreptitiously inserted the lower value at the last minute as the paper went to print.
#97: Providence Closes for the Day
Carolyn Fox, a disc jockey for WHJY in Providence, Rhode Island, announced in 1986 that the ‘Providence Labor Action Relations Board Committee’ had decided to close the city for the day. She gave out a number for listeners to call for more information. The number was that of a rival station, WPRO-AM. Reportedly hundreds of people called WPRO, as well as City Hall and the police. Even more called into their offices to see if they had to go into work. WHJY management later explained that it had never imagined its joke would have such a dramatic impact on the city.
#98: Soy Bomb Lands Record Contract
Viewers of the February 1998 broadcast of the Grammys were surprised when a semi-naked man with the word ‘Soy Bomb’ scrawled on his chest danced out onto the stage during Bob Dylan’s solo performance. The man (who was definitely not supposed to be there) was quickly escorted away by security guards. But a few months later, on April 1, Rhino Records proudly announced that it had signed Soy Bomb (as he was now known) to a two-year, six-album recording contract. Soy Bomb’s first album would include covers of popular classics such as ‘Dancing Machine’ and ‘You Dropped a Bomb on Me.’ A spokesman for Rhino Records commented that they had been moved to offer Soy Bomb a contract because the experience of watching him dance had been for them “kind of like
when you eat too many Whoppers and you feel a little nauseous,
but you’re so happy you ate them.”
#99: Virgin Cola’s Blue Cans
In 1996 Virgin Cola announced that in the interest of consumer safety it had integrated a new technology into its cans. When the cola passed its sell-by date, the liquid would react with the metal in the can, turning the can itself bright blue. Virgin warned that consumers should therefore avoid purchasing all blue cans. The joke was that Pepsi had recently unveiled its newly designed cans. They were bright blue.
#100: The British Postal Address Turnabout
In 1977 the BBC gave airtime to Tom Jackson, General Secretary of the British Union of Post Office Workers. Mr. Jackson was up in arms about a recent proposal that the British mail adopt the German method of addressing envelopes in which the house number is written after the name of the road, not before it (i.e. Downing Street 10, instead of 10 Downing Street). Jackson spoke at great length about the enormous burden this change would place upon postal employees, insisting that “Postal workers would be furious because it would turn upside-down the way we have learned to sort.” His comments elicited an immediate reaction from the audience, many of whom phoned up to voice their support for Jackson’s campaign. What the audience didn’t realize was that there were no plans to change the way the British addressed their mail. Mr. Jackson’s diatribe was an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke.
Source: Museum of Hoaxes