Sunday, March 28, 2010

April Fool's Day—Where Did It Come From?

The first of April—April Fool's Day or All Fools' Day as it is also known. A holiday that has been celebrated for centuries. But what in the world could possibly be the origins of a day dedicated to pranks and practical jokes?

Those exact origins remain a bit of a mystery, the most widely accepted theory says it dates back to 1582 when France switched from the Julian calendar where the new year began on April 1 to the Gregorian calendar where the new year began on January 1 as called for in 1563 by the Council of Trent. People who didn't get the word that the start of the year had moved or refused to accept the change and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the object of jokes and hoaxes. Paper fish would be placed on their back and they were referred to as "poisson d'avri" which means April fish. It symbolized a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.

There's also speculation that April Fool's Day was tied to the vernal equinox (first day of spring) in the Northern Hemisphere, a time when Mother Nature fooled people with changing and unpredictable weather.

The celebration spread throughout Britain during the 18th century. In Scotland it became a two day event in which people were sent on phony errands and had fake tails or "kick me" signs pinned to their rear ends.

In modern times people have gone to great lengths to stage elaborate pranks. Here's the top ten hoaxes from a list of the best one hundred pranks of all time as judged by notoriety, creativity, and number of people duped.

#1) The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest (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.

#2) Sidd Finch (1985): Sports Illustrated published a story about a new rookie pitcher who planed to play for the Mets. His name was Sidd Finch, and he could reportedly throw a baseball at 168 mph with pinpoint accuracy. But Sidd Finch had never played the game before. He mastered the "art of the pitch" in a Tibetan monastery. This legendary player was the creation of the article's author, George Plimpton.

#3) Instant Color TV (1962): At the time there was only one television channel is Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white. The station's technical expert, Kjell Stensson, appeared on the news to announce that, thanks to a new technology, viewers could convert their existing sets to display color reception. All they had to do was pull a nylon stocking over their television screen.

#4) The Taco Liberty Bell (1996): The Taco Bell Corporation announced it had purchased the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Hundreds of outraged citizens called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia to express their anger.

#5) San Serriffe (1977): British newspaper The Guardian published a special seven-page supplement devoted to San Serriffe, a small republic consisting of semi-colon shaped islands located in the Indian Ocean. It described the geography and culture of this obscure nation. Its two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. Its leader was General Pica. Only a few readers noticed that everything about the islands was named after printer's terminology.

#6) Nixon for President (1992): National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation program announced that Richard Nixon, in a surprise move, was running for President again. His campaign slogan was, "I didn't do anything wrong, and I won't do it again." Listeners flooded the show with calls expressing shock and outrage. Nixon's voice was impersonated by comedian Rich Little.

#7) Alabama Changes the Value of Pi (1998): The April 1998 issue of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter contained an article claiming that the Alabama state legislature had voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi from 3.14159 to the 'Biblical value' of 3.0. The article soon made its way onto the internet, then rapidly spread around the world. The Alabama legislature began receiving hundreds of calls from people protesting the legislation. The original article was intended as a parody of legislative attempts to circumscribe the teaching of evolution and had been written by a physicist.

#8) The Left-Handed Whopper (1998): Burger King published a full page ad in USA Today announcing the introduction on their menu of a "Left-Handed Whopper" for the 32 million left-handed Americans. The ingredients were the same as the original Whopper, but the ad claimed all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of their left-handed customers. Thousands of customers requested the new sandwich.

#9) Hotheaded Naked Ice Borers (1995): Discover Magazine reported that a highly respected wildlife biologist found a new species in Antarctica—the hotheaded naked ice borer. The creatures had bony plates on their heads. When fed by numerous blood vessels, they could become burning hot thus allowing the animals to bore through ice at high speeds. They used this ability to hunt penguins, melting the ice beneath the penguins and causing them to sink downwards where the hotheads consumed them. It was theorized that the hotheads might have been responsible for the mysterious disappearance of noted Antarctic explorer Philippe Poisson in 1837. To the hotheads, the explorer looked like a penguin.

#10) Planetary Alignment Decreases Gravity (1976): British astronomer Patrick Moore announced on BBC Radio 2 that at 9:47AM a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event was going to occur and listeners could experience it in their own homes. Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, temporarily causing a gravitational alignment that would counteract and lessen the Earth's own gravity. Moore told his listeners that if they jumped in the air at the exact moment the planetary alignment occurred they would experience a strange floating sensation. When 9:47AM arrived, BBC2 began to receive hundreds of phone calls from listeners claiming to have felt the sensation. One woman reported she and her eleven friends had floated around the room.

Tell me about your favorite April Fool's Day prank.


Ilona Fridl said...

Hi, Samantha! Fellow Rose Ilona here. I guess my best April Fool's joke, I didn't even plan. You see, I was born on April First and the doctor kept telling my mother it was a boy's heartbeat he heard. (this was way back when) Anyway, they were both fooled when I made my appearance! :p

Mary Ricksen said...

Who hasn't slapped a sign on a friends back at school. Strange that the fun is in embarrassing your friend, and the hope that they will take it well. Which doesn't always happen!

Samantha Gentry said...

Ilona: LOL. That was certainly a surprise for them. Did they have only a boy's name pickied out or had they thought about a girl's name...just in case?

Samantha Gentry said...

Mary: Yes, that's the thing with practical jokes. The recipient is usually less than amused by the prank.

Ilona Fridl said...

I was almost Thomas Janos Turner! Although, Mom said she had a girl's name picked out.

Samantha Gentry said...

Ilona: Whew! It's a good thing they had a name handy, otherwise they wouldn't have let you out of the hospital. When my brother was born, my mother had a name all picked out, then changed her mind. It was a couple of days before she came up with a new name. The nurses were becoming very impatient with her. One of them said, "You've had nine months to think about this!" That's how my brother Ronald ended up being my brother Steven.

rm2h said...

The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech)[4] is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States.


Caltech students have been known for the many pranks (also known as RFs).

The two most famous in recent history are the changing of the Hollywood Sign to read "Caltech", by judiciously covering up certain parts of the letters, and the changing of the Rose Bowl scoreboard to an imaginary game where Caltech beat MIT 99-0. But the most famous of all occurred during the 1961 Rose Bowl Game, where Caltech students altered the flip-cards that were raised by the stadium attendees to display "Caltech", and several other "unintended" messages. This event is now referred to as the Great Rose Bowl Hoax.

In 2005, a group of Caltech students pulled a string of pranks during MIT's Campus Preview Weekend for admitted students. These include covering up the word Massachusetts in the "Massachusetts Institute of Technology" engraving on the main building façade with a banner so that it read "That Other Institute of Technology". A group of MIT hackers responded by altering the banner so that the inscription read "The Only Institute of Technology." Caltech students also passed out T-shirts to MIT's incoming freshman class, with MIT on the front and "... because not everyone can go to Caltech" along with an image of a palm tree on the back.

MIT retaliated in April 2006, when students posing as the Howe & Ser Moving Company stole the 130-year-old, 1.7-ton Fleming House cannon and moved it to their campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts for their 2006 Campus Preview Weekend, repeating a similar prank performed by nearby Harvey Mudd College in 1986. (The name "Howe & Ser", if said rapidly, and if read recognizing that the & symbol is a ligature of the Latin word "et", sounds like howitzer; it could also mean "how we answer", since the latest prank was an answer to the 2005 prank on MIT.) Thirty members of Fleming House traveled to MIT and reclaimed their cannon on April 10, 2006.

On April 13, 2007 (Friday the 13th), a group of students from The California Tech, Caltech's campus newspaper, arrived and distributed fake copies of The Tech, MIT's campus newspaper, while prospective students were visiting for their Campus Preview Weekend. Articles included "MIT Invents the Interweb," "Architects Deem Campus 'Unfortunate'," and "Infinite Corridor Not Actually Infinite."

In recent years, pranking has been officially encouraged by Tom Mannion, Caltech's Assistant VP for Student Affairs and Campus Life. "The grand old days of pranking have gone away at Caltech, and that's what we are trying to bring back," reported the Boston Globe, which noted that "security has orders not to intervene in a prank unless officers get Mannion's approval beforehand."

Caltech pranks have been documented in three Legends of Caltech books, the most recent of which was edited by alumni Autumn Looijen '99 and Mason A. Porter '98 and published in May 2007.

In December 2009, some Caltech students declared that MIT has been sold and has become the Caltech East campus. A "sold" banner was hung on front of the MIT humanities building and a "Caltech east" banner inside.

Samantha Gentry said...

rm2h: LOL Having lived most of my life in the greater Los Angeles area, I've seen the Cal Tech assaults on the famous Hollywood sign. :)