April Fool’s Day, or All Fools’ Day, is a holiday celebrated in many countries on April 1. The day is celebrated by the execution of hoaxes and practical jokes of varying sophistication with the goal of publicly embarrassing the gullible. Pranks are suppose to end by noon and those done afterwards are suppose to bring bad luck to the perpetrator.
April Fool’s Day History
Some sources say that the special meaning of April 1 originates in the French change to the Gregorian calendar ordered by King Charles IX of France in 1582. Before that, New Year was celebrated from March 25 to April 1. With the change of the calendar system, New Year was “moved” to January 1. People who forgot or didn’t accept the new date system were given invitations to nonexistent parties, funny gifts, etc. This was known in France as poisson d’avril (April fish).
Some media organisations have either unwittingly or deliberately propagated many hoaxes. Even normally serious news media consider April Fools’ Day hoaxes fair game, and spotting them has become an annual pastime. The worldwide spread of the Internet has also assisted the pranksters in their work.
Some particularly well-known April Fool’s Day hoaxes include:
- Kremvax: one of the early Internet April Fool’s day hoaxes.
- San Serriffe: The Guardian printed a supplement featuring this fictional island (a reference to “sans-serif”, a family of typefaces).
- Smell-o-vision: The BBC purported to conduct a trial of a new technology allowing the transmission of odour over the airwaves to all viewers. Despite the fact that no such capability existed, many viewers reportedly contacted the BBC to report the trial’s success.
- Spaghetti trees: The BBC television program Panorama ran a famous hoax in 1957, showing the Swiss harvesting spaghetti from trees. A lot of people wanted trees of their own.
- Metric time: Repeated several times in various countries over the year, this hoax claims that the time system will be changed to some system where one subdivision is some power of 10 smaller than the next. The idea to metricise time was suggested in France after the French Revolution: see French Revolutionary Calendar.
- Tower of Pisa: The Dutch television news once reported that the famous Tower of Pisa had fallen over. Many shocked and even mourning people contacted the television studio.
- Television licence: In another year the Dutch television news reported that the government had introduced a new way to detect hidden televisions (at that time, households had to pay for a television licence) by simply driving through the streets with a new detector. The only way to avoid your television from being detected, was to pack the television in aluminum foil. Within a few hours all aluminum foil was sold out throughout the country.
- Sidd Finch: George Plimpton worte an article in Sports Illustrated about a New York Mets prospect who could throw a fastball at 176 mph. This kid was known as “Barefoot” Sidd Finch. He reportedly learned to throw a ball that fast in a Buddhist monastery, and also threw a javelin a quarter of a mile at the British Olympic tryouts. Plimpton said the boy refused to go to the Olympics for fear of hurting someone. Barefoot Sidd was later the subject of a moderately successful book.
- Radio Station “Power 106”: A Los Angeles radio station “announced” a change from pop to disco music at 7:00 AM, April 1, (1993?). After 12 hours they admitted it was a joke, and switched back to their standard playlist. Within minutes complaints rolled in of “where’s the disco?”, and the station actually changed formats the next day (and kept disco for a year or two).
- Australian Radio Station Triple J: On April 1, 1999, breakfast show co-host Adam Spencer told us he had a journalist on the line from overseas where there had just been a secret 9 hour IOC meeting and that Sydney had lost the 2000 Olympic Games. New South Wales Premier Bob Carr was also in on the joke. The story was picked up by mainstream media (including Channel 9’s Today show) before Adam revealed the truth.
Ironically, some April Fool jokes that hinge on technological advances have become reality. For example, in the late 1980s a British television Saturday morning kids’ programme ran an April Fool hoax about a device named Chippy (the name is a give-away, a “chippy” is a common term for a fish and chips takeway). It was a new type of walkman, which they claimed could hold hundreds of songs on a microchip, thus rendering CDs and radio obsolete. Fast forward to the 2000s, and MP3 players…
Some April Fool’s Day 2002 hoaxes:
- The Register: reported AOL buying up weblogs
- The Open Directory re-branded itself as the ‘Microsoft Directory Project’
- Kuro5hin acquired MetaFilter, renaming it to met4filter.org
- Slashdot announced that is will start posting advertiser-sponsored news stories, and disable anonymous posting.
- Google described its PigeonRank system.
- The Guardian profiled Harmony Cousins
- CPAN renamed itself the ‘Comprehensive Java Archive Network’
- The annual spoof Linus Torvalds post on the Linux kernel mailing list announced his resignation from the Linux effort
- IETF published April 1st RFCs RFC3251 (Distribution of electricity over IP) and RFC3252 (Encapsulating IP in XML).
- MIT changed its home page to a spoof of the Google home page.
- a spoof Yahoo News story was circulated stating that PK Interactive had received funding from idealab! 1 (note: check the URL above closely)
- The TidBITS newsletter offered a spoof issue
- The Tom’s Hardware website reported that AMD and nVIDIA were to merge.
- The BBC reported more April Fools’ pranks including the announced ‘flotation’ of Harrods.
- CNN reported that two Montreal disk jockeys managed to phone Bill Gates on the pretext that one of them was Canadian prime minister Jean Chr�tien wanting to set up a meeting with Gates. What CNN didn’t mention is that these two have a reputation for their audacious prank calls. Previous recipients of their attention have included Queen Elizabeth II and Pope John Paul II.
- Blizzard Entertainment, the computer game company that produced Warcraft III, announced they would be adding a fifth playable race to the game: the Pandaren, a race of bamboo-eating, sword-wielding warriors. (see Panda)