When I was 5 or 6 years old, I was playing outside, and my sister came out to tell me I had a phone call. At this age, an unsolicited phone call was just about the most exciting thing that could happen to you, besides finding a quarter or sneaking Oreos before dinner. I rushed inside to find that no one was interested hearing from me; it was just an April Fools’ joke. Each year, millions of pranksters trick friends and coworkers on April 1st as part of the longstanding tradition of April Fools’ Day.
Some purport that the day originated when western societies began adopting the Gregorian calendar. Supporters of the antiquated Julian calendar were ridiculed when they celebrated the New Year on April 1st. (The Julian calendar ends on March 25th, but festivals were often held on April 1st instead.) Some attest that April Fools’ Day is a holiday celebrating Mother Nature, who pranks mankind during springtime with unpredictable weather. Whatever the true origin for April Fools’ Day, it certainly has deep roots in history, as we’ll explore below with some of the most interesting April Fools’ Day pranks.
Washing of the Lions
April Fools’ pranks date back as far as 1698 when a British newspaper reported that there was a washing of the lions at the Tower of London. Unsuspecting readers were invited to visit the “White Gates”, which don’t actually exist, to see the annual washing of the lions. Historically, live animals were kept at the tower, with King Henry III receiving a gift of three leopards as early as the 13th century, which made this claim not too far-fetched. However, a washing of the lions was not actually on the agenda for April 1st of 1698 or any year, but the prank has been attempted on multiple April Fools’ Days that followed.
Swiss Spaghetti Harvest
In 1957, the BBC fabricated a seemingly-bona fide report of Swiss spaghetti farmers. The documentary, complete with the comforting voice of a trustworthy sounding narrator, showed Swiss women plucking cooked spaghetti noodles off of a tree. The video claimed that the noodles were sun-dried and cut to length, which explains how the pasta sold in stores is always of uniform size. The BBC received a wide range of attention from its viewers, who either were appalled that the news outlet would air such frivolous reporting or were interested in learning where to purchase their own spaghetti trees. The prank has since been described as “the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled”.
The mega-corporation Google is notorious for elaborate April Fools’ pranks. The company has tricked users since 2000 and has not missed an April Fools’ Day since 2004. In 2007, Google gave you more bang for your April Fools’ buck by releasing multiple hoaxes and, in 2012, released an unmatched total of 22 April Fools’ jokes.
Google’s first prank involved claims of internet telepathy with MentalPlex, where users were told to project a mental image of their search terms. Users were then directed to a search results page, which displayed humorous error messages like “Error: Insufficient Conviction. Please clap hands 3 times, while chanting ‘I believe’ and try again”, or “Weak or no signal detected. Upgrade transmitter and retry”. The fake search tool has been archived and is still available for use.
In 2007, Gmail’s login page announced a new service called Gmail Paper, which allowed users to send paper e-mail or, as most people would call it, regular mail. Complete with user testimonials, Gmail Paper touted its ability to deliver hardcopy archives of emails straight to users’ doors. Some gullible users thought the hoax was authentic, but it was hard for Google to convince users of a new snail mail service the same day they offered free broadband connection – through your toilet.
Google’s other pranks range from the obviously silly like linking every “Featured Video” on YouTube to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” or last year’s Google Nose, which claimed to have indexed over 15 million scents, to subtler Easter eggs like changing the search engine font by searching “comic sans”. One of this year’s April Fools’ joke has transformed Google Maps into a Pokémon hunting game. The Nintendo creatures are scattered throughout the planet and Google users can attempt to “catch ‘em all”.
More Pranks from 2014
Already countless pranks have sent shockwaves through the internet as a form of viral marketing. Netflix announced today that it would release a new season of the cult-classic space western Firefly. Passionate fans of the show would attest that it ended too early, only after one season, and would be ecstatic to learn of its return. Unfortunately for them, the announcement was made by Netflix Senior VP of Development Lirpa Sloof – that’s “April Fools” backwards.
Cheetos and Fruit of the Loom got a head-start on April Fools’ by releasing early announcements for new products to be released on April 1st. Cheetos introduced a line of cologne dubbed “Cheeteau”, which claims to attract with its baked cheese scents. As it turns out, the product is real; Cheetos has been handing out samples of the buttery, baked cheese cologne to those who want the lingering Cheetos scent without the orange fingers. Fruit of the Loom released the Undie Iron for those individuals that can’t stand the wrinkles in their unmentionables. The Undie Iron is worn like a finger puppet and charges through the USB port of your computer. The advertisement warns against ironing other garments, since ironing an entire shirt may induce “finger fatigue”.
Other crazy products “released” today included the wearable Shoestagram, Twitter Helmet, Samsung Fingers, and HTC Gluuv. Each of these products seems to be mimicking Google Glass in some way or another. Rosetta Stone has introduced its “Learn to Speak Klingon” software. Sony’s new line of products called Power Food claim to use an enzyme that will convert food to energy to charge laptops and tablets. The European Organization for Nuclear Research (better known to some as CERN) has announced that all internet communication henceforth will be exclusively in comic sans. Many of these products or ideas could pass off as true, so remember what day it is if you come across something similarly shocking.
What’s your favorite April Fools’ Prank? Do you have any personal stories of April Fools’ pranks? Post them below!
- Washing of the Lions
- Google Map Pokemon Hunt
- Fruit of the Loom
- Sony Power Food
- Other April Fools’ Pranks of 2014