There are many myths and tales revolving around April Fools’ Day but it is difficult to say what is factually correct and why is the day celebrated. However, everyone loves to pull off April Fools’ Day pranks on their friends and loved ones.
Some claim that this tradition of pulling off a practical joke on friends and strangers can be traced to the ancient Roman period. But it became more popular in the 20th century. In some cultures, 1 April is also a day of celebration for the arrival of Spring and is known by different names in different countries.
Some interesting April Fools’ pranks are famous
Some places have their own unique way of playing an April Fools’ Day prank. In France, where it is known as Poisson d’Avril (April Fish), a prankster sticks paper fish on the back of their unsuspecting victim and runs away screaming “Poisson d’Avril!” at the top of their lungs. It is one of the most harmless April Fools’ pranks for kids as well as for adults.
But it is not just friends and family members fooling their near and dear ones. Some of the best April Fools’ pranks have been played by prominent media houses since 1933, which is indeed surprising.
These pranks are not the simple ‘boo’, the paper fish or the famous toilet paper roll prank; these have fooled hundreds and thousands in one go and made headlines around the world.
What is common, however, is that these pranks can always be enjoyed as they were in good humour — something that needs to be noted.
From BBC, which appears to be a repeat prankster, to an Australian millionaire from the late 1970s, here are some of the funniest pranks ever.
When BBC convinced viewers that spaghetti grows on trees
In 1957, the BBC news programme, Panorama, aired a three-minute broadcast showing farmers in Switzerland plucking spaghetti from trees.
Following a very precisely scripted plot, the programme ‘informed’ viewers that in “Ticino, on the borders of Switzerland and Italy, the slopes overlooking Lake Lugano have already burst into flower, at least a fortnight earlier than usual.”
And then it went on to add that the mild winter that preceded the spring season “resulted in an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop” adding that part of it was because of the ‘virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil’ — a kind of insect. The footage also showed ‘harvesters’ pulling spaghetti strands from the trees and laying them for drying in the warm Alpine sun.
The programme also went on to explain how each strand of spaghetti always grows to the same length. Courtesy the “many years of patient endeavour by plant breeders who have succeeded in producing the perfect spaghetti.”
From the presentation to the voiceover, everything which was done by the legendary Richard Dimbleby, was perfect enough to make people believe that it was true.
Following the broadcast, viewers called up the BBC office to inquire about how to grow spaghetti on trees. In return, the BBC told every caller: “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”
Taco Bell’s ‘purchase’ of Liberty Bell
Liberty Bell is one of the most enduring symbols of American freedom. In 1996, newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post ran full-page ads announcing that fast-food chain Taco Bell had purchased the iconic bell and was planning to rename it “Taco Liberty Bell”.
Broadcasters told people that the company was going to relocate Liberty Bell from Philadelphia to its California headquarters. The reason given was that Taco Bell purchased it “in an effort to help the national debt.”
When the office of two US senators called up Taco Bell and the National Park Service about the news, the company issued a statement confirming that it was an April Fools’ prank. The company also reportedly pledged to donate USD 50,000 for the maintenance of Liberty Bell. It claimed that the hoax had helped drive up the sales by USD 1 million in 24 hours.
As to why people fell for such a prank, The Washington Post noted in an article on 2 April 1996 that it was because of an increased fear among the public that corporate giants were increasingly interfering in everyday life of people.
The value of Pi was changed by the Alabama legislature
The scientific world was up in arms when the April 1998 issue of New Mexicans for Science and Reason claimed that the Alabama legislature had narrowly passed a resolution for changing the value of Pi.
According to the report, the value of Pi, which is 3.14159, was changed to 3.0 as per the Biblical concept of the mathematical constant.
News doing the rounds was that Leonard Lee Lawson (R, Crossville) was the one who proposed the bill and Governor Guy Hunt was supposed to sign it into law.
This was enough to trigger debates among experts outraging against the Alabama legislature’s ‘decision’. Thanks to a growing popularity of emails at that time, the story went viral on the internet. It was only when the legislature started receiving calls of protest, it emerged that the whole thing was an April Fools’ hoax.
The question is: who played it? Certainly not the legislature. According to fact-checking website, Snopes, the harmless prank was played by a person named Mark Boslough as a humorous protest against New Mexico legislators and school board members who opposed the theory of evolution and supported creationism.
Boslough took real statements by the legislators and others to create the fictional story of Alabama passing the bill on Pi. The story was posted on 1 April 1998 on the newsgroup talk.origins. Its writing style was so good that readers took it as a real story. A day later, another post on the newsgroup revealed the truth.
How to turn black-and-white TV to colour
In 1966, Sweden’s Sveriges Television (SVT), which was the only television network in the country at the time, pulled off a cool April Fools’ prank when it aired a programme on how to watch a black-and-white TV in colour.
SVT called in a ‘technical expert’ Kjell Stensson who told the viewers that all they have to do is place thinly stretched nylon stockings in front of their television. Stensson went to great lengths to explain (in what sounded like technical terms) that the nylon stocking would bend the wavelengths of the TV and turn them into colour. And people were told to sway their heads to experience it better.
Of course, people who tried it soon realised that they had been fooled.
Iceberg in Sydney Harbour
Australian businessman Dick Smith, who is well-known for his eponymous chain of retail stores, fooled people in Sydney on 1 April 1978, when he towed in what looked like an iceberg.
It was an elaborately done April Fools’ prank. Smith had announced the arrival of the iceberg in advance, without giving away the exact date. When it was brought, people were astounded. According to The New York Times, a radio reporter aired the news from the iceberg which made the whole thing more believable.
Even the Australian Navy reportedly asked Smith if he needed help with mooring his iceberg. But then a rainstorm revealed that it was actually a barge covered in white plastic sheets, fire-fighting foam and shaving cream.
“The whole prank only cost me 1,450 dollars,” Smith told NYT. “I just do these things for kicks. It takes the boredom out of everyday work.”
When astronomer Sir Patrick Moore told listeners they could float
Speaking on BBC Radio 2 on 1 April 1976, astronomer Sir Patrick Moore said that the alignment of planets Jupiter and Pluto would reduce Earth’s gravity at exactly 9:47 am. He told listeners to jump at exactly that time to experience what was dubbed the ‘Jovian-Plutonian Gravitational Effect’.
Many of the listeners, who were probably the ever so eager lot who try seemingly impossible things, did what was asked. And some even called up BBC to ‘reveal’ how they felt floating in the air. They were told that Moore pulled off a prank on them.
In 2015, a similar attempt was made to recreate the classic April Fools’ prank when an internet hoax doing the rounds claimed that people will experience the ‘Jovian-Plutonian Gravitational Effect’ on 4 January, which was ‘Zero Gravity Day.’ But you cannot pull the wool on people’s eyes twice!
Richard Nixon running for US President
Rich Little, a comedian and Nixon impressionist, joined NPR‘s John Hockenberry to create this April Fools’ prank.
“I never did anything wrong, and I won’t do it again,” people heard who they thought was Nixon on the Talk of the Nation radio programme in 1992, as NPR announced that he was running for the President’s post.
Listeners called NPR to register their protest. Nixon, the 37th US President, was forced to step down in 1974 as he faced certain impeachment for his involvement in the infamous Watergate scandal.
It was only during the second-half of the programme that the callers realised they fell victim to one of best among funny pranks.
The collapse of the Wisconsin State Capitol
This prank is really old; it happened on 1 April 1933. On that day, readers of The Capital Times, a Wisconsin daily, woke up to the news that the state Capitol dome collapsed from “a series of mighty blasts.” There was a photo of the ruined dome on the front page of the newspaper.
“A Capital Times cameraman arrived just in time to snap this unusual and sensational photograph of the mass of granite and steel as it fell,” the report said.
Of course, the picture and the headline came as a shock to the readers. But thankfully, the paper was good enough to explain later in the same article that it was a joke.
BBC (again!) pranks people with digital Big Ben story
BBC Overseas Service (now known as BBC World Service) played an April Fools’ day prank with its listeners around the world in 1980 when the broadcaster announced that the historic Big Ben was to undergo a face-lift and will be converted to a digital installation.
To top it all, BBC said that the hands of the old clock will be given away to the first persons who called in. The broadcaster soon came clean on the story, revealing it to be a prank.
One of the most popular pranks ever, it was also one of those which gave the prankster some trouble. As Associated Press reported at the time and BBC itself admitted that the broadcaster had to apologise for weeks to many of its foreign subscribers who got in touch to claim Big Ben’s hands.
Sidd Finch, the mystic baseball pitcher who never existed
This was one of the most funny pranks ever that was carried out by Sports Illustrated in their 1 April 1985 edition.
The publication ran a long and detailed story on who they called a rising baseball pitching star named Hayden (Sidd) Finch.
Sidd was described as a fast pitcher, whose throws broke the then world records at trials. His ‘friends’ were interviewed and their photographs splashed through the article. Sidd was described as a mystic person and very secretive. To readers believing it to be true, he would have appeared as some kind of Jedi of baseball.
The whole story was obviously fake but it was so well written that it is still hailed as one of the best pranks ever played in the world.
(Main image: Laura Chouette/@laurachouette/Unsplash; Featured image: Marija Zaric/Unsplash)