Smile of the Day

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Saturday, April 1

Top April Fool's hoaxes

- from The Museum of Hoaxes (and he has a book too!)

Note: I will be adding to this post as the day goes on.


15th Annual New York City April Fool's Day Parade
In 2000 a news release was sent to the media stating 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.

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.

Thomas Edison Invents Food Machine
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!"

Don't Disturb the Squirrels
In 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.

Titanic Replica Cruises English Channel
In 2001, hundreds were lured out to a windy, treacherous outlook atop a cliff in Beachy Head, East Sussex, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of a replica of the Titanic (constructed by the AFD Construction company) sail past through the English Channel. The fact that much of the land had been made off limits to stop the spread of foot-and-mouth disease did not deter them. They came anyway, many of them driving from 30 or 40 miles away. They had learned about the chance to see the Titanic from a deejay broadcasting on Southern FM radio. So many showed up that the cliffs actually developed a crack from their weight. A few days later portions of the cliffs collapsed into the water, but luckily by that time everyone had long gone.

Portable Zip Codes
In 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.

The Predictions of Isaac Bickerstaff
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. On April 1, April Fool's Day, 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 great 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.

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 the Moscow Spartaks. 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.

Of course, once the Russians got the spirit of April Fool's, they really took off with it:

Moscow's Second Subway
In 1992 the Moskovskaya Pravda announced that the winds of capitalism transforming Russia would bring further changes for the residents of Moscow. Apparently plans had been finalised 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."

And another:

Chewy Vodka Bars
In 1994 Itar-Tass reported that an alcoholic beverage company had invented a new kind of candy sure to be a favourite with the Russian people: chewy Vodka Bars. These bars, designed to compete with Mars and Snickers bars, would come in three flavors: lemon, coconut, and salted cucumber. The same company was also said to be perfecting another new product: instant vodka in tea bags.

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 favourite 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 criticised the prank, declaring that, "The Times's effort could only be defined as funny if you find the very notion of Belgium hilarious."

Kremvax
In 1984, back in the Stone Age of the internet, a message was distributed to the members of Usenet (the online messaging community that was one of the first forms the internet took) announcing that the Soviet Union was joining Usenet. This was quite a shock to many, since most assumed that cold war security concerns would have prevented 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 that 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.

The Left-Handed Whopper
In 1998 Burger King published a full page advertisement in 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."

The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest
In 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, and many called up wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. To this question, the BBC diplomatically replied that they should "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best." Check out the actual broadcast archived on the BBC's website. (You need the RealVideo player installed to see it, and it usually loads very slowly.)

San Serriffe
The island of San SerriffeIn 1977 the British newspaper The Guardian published a special seven-page supplement in honor of the tenth anniversary of San Serriffe, a small republic located in the Indian Ocean consisting of several semi-colon-shaped islands. 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. 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 then gripped the British tabloids in the following decades.

Y2K CD Bug
In 1999 a Canadian radio station, in conjunction with Warner Music and Universal Music Group, informed its listeners that the arrival of Y2K would render all CD players unable to read music discs created before the year 2000. Luckily, the deejay said, there was a solution. Hologram stickers were available that would enable CD players to read the old-format discs. These stickers would be sold for approximately $2 apiece. Furious listeners, outraged at the thought of having to pay $2 for the stickers, immediately jammed the phones of both the radio station and the record companies, demanding that the stickers be given away for free. They continued to call even after the radio station revealed that the announcement was a joke.

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.

More famous April Fool's hoaxes on your local quirki randomness!

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