The Best Media-Fueled April Fools' Day Pranks of All Time
Ollie Atkins, White House photographer
April First is a day that will live in absurdity. April Fools' Day is an opportunity for misfits, pranksters and even the media to pull some legs and cause brows to furrow.
According to Alex Boese, creator of the online Museum of Hoaxes, "April Fools' is the one day that's basically reserved for misfits, rebels, nonconformists — and the powerless, like children. It's the one day of the year they get to have their fun." It is society's understanding that in return for blowing off steam on one specific day, those rowdy rogues will behave themselves the rest of the year, Boese says.
In some countries the fun lasts only until noon, but here we can keep fooling people long into the evening.
Boese, the San Diego-based "curator" of his virtual museum, has watched hoax trends for the past decade, and he forecasts a mild year for the pranksters. "In years when there are all kinds of bad stuff going on in the news, oftentimes that tends to drown out the April Fools' activities," he said. "I could totally be wrong ― maybe people need some humor ― but traditionally you don't get the best hoaxes in years with major big news stuff going on."
In case Boese is right and pranks are down this year, we have compiled, from years past, our top media-fueled April Fools' Pranks for your reading pleasure. [The 5 Funniest Fake Scientific Breakthroughs ]
On April 1, 1957, the BBC decided to pull a prank on its audience by airing a story on the fragile Swiss spaghetti crop, a food source that was having a bumper year. Along with footage of peasants plucking strands of pasta from trees, the BBC advised viewers on how to grow their own spaghetti garden. Hilarity ensued.
The Museum of Hoaxes curator called this British prank the best of all time. "I think it shows absurdity in a gentle way," Boese said. "It highlights how easily we can be fooled, but in a fairly harmless way. And above all, it doesn't hurt anybody."
Color TV – now with nylon!
In 1962, Swedish TV, the state-run television station, was still broadcasting only in black and white. Then, on April 1, the station brought in a "technical expert" to describe a fascinating way to make television suddenly appear in color – no hardware upgrade needed. The expert told viewers to take an old nylon stocking and put it over the TV set, although they might have to move their heads very carefully back and forth in order to align the color spectrum. Needless to say, the technical technique didn't work too well, and lots of families looked pretty darn silly giving it a try. Swedish TV began actually broadcasting in color four years later.
In 1998, Burger King ran an ad in USA Today saying people could get a Whopper specially created for left-handed people . Its condiments, the ad claimed, were designed to drip out of the right side. According to sources, not only did customers order the new burgers, but some burger-eaters specifically requested the "old" right-handed artery-smasher. Have it your way!
Pi gets rewritten
In 2008, an executive with the Microsoft Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments posted on his personal blog an updated value for pi. The hoax claimed that Microsoft Research had determined the true-up value of pi to be a definitive 3.141999, or as expressed in company literature, "Three easy payments of 1.047333". Which is fairly hilarious.
This 2008 prank harked back to an older spoof. In 1998, a researcher published an article suggesting that Alabama's state legislature had rounded the value of pi to the "Biblical value of 3". Some pranks come around again and again.
The Taco Liberty Bell
In 1996, the Taco Bell Corp. announced it had bought the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. The announcement caused much consternation among citizens, who started calling the National Historic Park in Philadelphia to protest the corporate name-change. Hours later, Taco Bell let the word slip that it was all a practical joke. But had it been true, perhaps Lady Liberty would have known where to grab a chalupa.
It's not just corporations that can jump on the bandwagon of hoaxes ― in 1992, National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation" program announced Richard Nixon, who in 1974 became the only U.S. president to resign from office, was running for president again. According to NPR, Nixon's new campaign slogan was, "I didn't do anything wrong, and I won't do it again." NPR even ginned up audio clips of Nixon's candidacy speech, causing much angst from listeners. NPR gave up the joke after a few minutes.
Thomas Edison's Magic Machine
Edison was a genius, that's for sure. After he invented the phonograph in 1877, there seemed to be nothing stopping him from saving the whole world. And that's exactly what the New York Graphic claimed on April 1, 1878, when it announced Edison had invented a machine that could convert soil directly into cereal, and water into wine.
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