Let’s face it, it’s getting a lot harder to pull a fast one over on one person – let alone millions of people – thanks to the rise of social media and the savvy skills of Internet sleuths who can debunk shenanigans minutes after something is reported as fact. Thus, in recent years, the wind has definitely been taken out of the sails of April Fools’ Day; rendering it just another day on the calendar where sense triumphs over tomfoolery.
That’s not to say that no one has managed to pull off memorable pranks in the past (come on, our yeezyJet prank last year was pretty great). Admittedly, the humor is a little more self-aware – where the gag is less about fooling people, and more about purporting a lie that seems just realistic enough that it might be possible in only a few years’ time.
In honor of the April Fools, here are some of the best pranks ever pulled off.
Viewed over 50 million times on YouTube to date, the students at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan looked to celebrate April Fools’ Day by exploiting a long-held policy by macroeconomics professor, Stephan Barrows, who made a student answer their phone on speaker if it rang while he was teaching.
However, that policy backfired when one of Barrows’ students answered a call that had a distinctly more Maury Povich vibe to it than he expected.
“Hi, this is Kevin from the Pregnancy Resource Center,” the voice on the other end of the phone says on speaker to student, Taylor Nefcy. “Per your request, I am calling to inform you that the test results have come back positive. Congratulations!”
As Barrows squirms from the awkwardness from the call, Nefcy isn’t quite done with her prank just yet. “I know you told us the father is no longer in the picture, but we will be in contact with you throughout this whole process, so don’t worry about anything,” the caller continued aloud. “We provide counseling and other maternity services at no charge.”
Like any good human being, Burrows quickly apologized for making her private business become public, but his student would drive the joke home when she announced what she planned to name the baby.
The Spaghetti Harvest
In 1957, the BBC presented a “unique” documentary to its audience as part of their Panorama series with narration by Richard Dimbleby which featured a family from Ticino in Switzerland carrying out their annual “spaghetti harvest” with matching footage of women carefully plucking strands of spaghetti from a tree and laying them in the sun to dry.
As the BBC noted, “this is believed to be one of the first times the medium of television has been used to stage an April Fools Day hoax.”
Published in the April 1, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated, the “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch” was a profile on a baseball player who writer George Plimpton claimed could throw a ball a 168 MPH.
According to the strange, 14-page profile, Finch was a New York Mets prospect who was an aspiring monk who spent much of his orphaned youth in England, had dropped out of Harvard, spoke 10 languages, played the French horn, and wore one hiking boot.
“[Managing Editor Mark Mulvoy] gave me license to do anything I wanted,” Plimpton remembered. “What a fantastic feeling, to create something with your own mind.”
After the issue hit newsstands, according to The New York Times, “Two major league general managers called the new commissioner, Peter Ueberroth, to ask how Finch’s opponents could even stand at the plate safely against a fastball like that. The sports editor of one New York newspaper berated the Mets’ public relations man, Jay Horwitz, for giving Sports Illustrated the scoop. The St. Petersburg Times sent a reporter to find Finch, and a radio talk-show host proclaimed he had actually spotted the phenom.”
In actuality, Sidd Finch was nothing but a figment of George Plimpton’s imagination and batters everywhere could breathe a sigh of relief.
Richard Branson’s UFO
Today, Richard Branson’s name is synonymous with air travel and luxury thanks to his digs on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands.
In 1989, the music mogul boarded a hot air ballon that had been retrofitted with blinking lights and custom fabrication to make it appear like an alien spacecraft from the distance. Built in Bristol by Don Cameron of Cameron Balloons Limited and Codenamed “Project Wedgewood,” no one outside of the build had any idea what Branson planned.
The original plan was to land in Hyde Park in London but poor weather conditions blew him off target and forced him to descend into Surrey Field instead.
As alarmed police officials approached the craft, Branson had a little person dressed like E.T. emerge as if a visitor from another planet.
In 2013, YouTube attempted to convince users who had been uploading 70 hours of footage each minute since the site launched in 2005 that the entire purpose of the video uploading process was to eventually find a “winner” who would then be given the honor of being named “the best video in the world.”
Playing on the notion that every video from “Gangham Style” to a man feeding a duck had a chance at winning, the prank really worked because it allowed us as the audience to appreciate how many people were plucked from obscurity like Antonie Dodson and David After Dentist thanks to the viral potential of the platform.
The “Taco Liberty Bell”
We’re inundated with “branded content” every day as the line between commerce and truth becomes more and more blurred with each passing second. Eventually, everything we consume will have been brought to our attention with some sort of backdoor handshake deal.
In 1996, Taco Bell attempted something similar when the fast food chain took out a full-page ad in six major newspapers and claimed it had purchased the Liberty Bell – a symbol of American independence – and was renaming it the “Taco Liberty Bell.”
The announcement read: “In an effort to help the national debt, Taco Bell is pleased to announce that we have agreed to purchase the Liberty Bell, one of our country’s most historic treasures. It will now be called the ‘Taco Liberty Bell’ and will still be accessible to the American public for viewing. While some may find this controversial, we hope our move will prompt other corporations to take similar action to do their part to reduce the country’s debt.”
Like any bold statement that threatens national pride, the Philadelphia Parks Department spent all morning fielding angry calls from outraged people before Taco Bell eventually revealed it as an April Fools’ prank.
Instant color TV
While it’s often hard to imagine a time when the hot-button topic in regards to television viewing was the shift from monochromatic tones to color, some were so eager to witness the new technology firsthand that they were prime targets for April Fools’ shenanigans.
In 1962, Sveriges Television (SVT) was the only television channel in Sweden and it broadcast solely in black and white despite the United States’ shift to almost all color by the 1957-1958 season.
On the evening of April 1, a technical expert, Kjell Stennson, announced to the Swedish public that they had developed “instant color TV” if viewers were to simply drape a nylon stocking over their screens which would impact the “double slit interference.” He also instructed that viewers had to sit at just the right distance and right angle to achieve the effect.
Ultimately, all that people were left with were stockings that had runs in them.
The left-handed Whopper
While both are in fact real, one can’t help but wonder if their 1998 April Fools’ joke paved the way for them to take more chances in the fast food realm.
In a full-page ad in USA Today, Burger King announced a solution for the 1.4 million left-handed customers visiting their restaurants every day: the Left-Handed Whopper. While the sandwich would feature all the condiments one came to expect – lettuce, onions, pickles, mayonnaise, ketchup and four-ounce flame-grilled hamburger patty – everything would be rotated 180 degrees to ease spills for lefties everywhere.
On April 1 1977, The Guardian produced a seven-page travel supplement on the tiny tropical republic of “San Serriffe,” “a small archipeligo, its main islands grouped roughly in the shape of a semicolon, in the Indian Ocean” who was celebrating 10 years of independence.
According to The Guardian, “The country was in fact completely made up as an April Fool’s joke. The name San Serriffe and the shape of the islands were just the first clues; everything connected with San Serriffe was named after printing and typesetting terms. The name itself refers to sans serif typefaces; Bodoni, the capital, is a variety of typeface; the two main islands are called Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse; the indigenous islanders are known as flongs, a mould for making type, and the whole Republic is ruled over by the dictator General M J Pica, named after a unit of measurement in type.”
The joke was further solidified with genius integration with brands who came on board to support the joke like Kodak who urged readers to share their photos of the tiny island using their film.
The joke has since been resurrected over the years with a San Serriffe sequel the following year and a Return to San Serriffe 20 years later.
Billionaire Mens Club
As good as it sounded, Donald Trump has not purchased Billionaire Boys Club. Happy April Fools’ Day from your friends at Highsnobiety.
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