Friday, April 1, 2016—April Fool's Day or All Fool's Day as it is also known. A date 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?
The 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. These people were considered fools and had practical jokes played on them.
Historians have linked April Fools' Day to ancient festivals such as Hilaria, which was celebrated in Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises. There's also speculation that April Fool's Day was tied to the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, a time when Mother Nature fooled people with changing and unpredictable weather.
On April 1, 1700, English pranksters began popularizing the annual tradition of April Fools' Day by playing practical jokes on each other. The celebration spread throughout Britain during the eighteenth 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.
All Fools' Day is practiced in many parts of the world with the playing of practical jokes and sending people on fool's errands. 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 planned 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 in 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. 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.