April foolery

April 1, 2009

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Today, April 1, is known in the U.S., the U.K., and various other countries as April Fools ' Day, a day in which practical jokes are expected and can be performed without impunity—unless, of course, the joke causes serious harm.

My dictionary-that-weighs-a-ton defines practical joke (an oxymoron?) as "a mischievous trick played on a person, especially one that causes the victim to experience embarrassment, indignity, or discomfort. By this definition, many fall victim to practical jokes every single day of the year—some perpetrated by schemers who prey on others for their own personal gain. When and if they are caught, these jokers must suffer the consequences for the unbelievable suffering they've caused others. What goes around, comes around.

But this day of the year is not about those grand schemes that cause untold damage. Rather, it is (or should be) about good-natured pranks that make us laugh and lighten our day. Who couldn't use a little levity? Sit back and read about some of the most noteworthy pranks of all time and be inspired.


My favorite among the Top 100 April Fools' Day Hoaxes of All Time on the Museum of Hoaxes Web site is No. 1 on the list— the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest, which aired in 1957 on the respected BBC news show, Panorama. The show 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. The BBC's response? "Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."

Gotta love those Brits and their unique senses of humor. (Think Monty Python, which is reuniting for a documentary, and Benny Hill.) Many of the hoaxes on the top 100 list originated in the U.K.

I also chuckled at No. 24 on the list. A 1994 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 supposedly was 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 planned to use the bill to tap the phone line of anyone who used or abused alcohol while accessing the internet. Passage of the bill was believed to be a slam-dunk because "Who wants to come out and support drunkenness and computer sex?" The article offered a plausible explanation for the bill's origin: "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 reportedly 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.

No. 28 on the list comes from the Badger State. In 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 that 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.

Some readers may have thought that the Wisconsin state capitol hoax was a hideous jest, but it didn't make the Museum of Hoaxes' list of the Top 10 Worst April Fools' Day Hoaxes Ever. Check them out. When certifiable fools make April Fools' jokes, they only prove how very foolish they are.



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Vicki Bell

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