April Fool’s Day. For some of us, it’s an annoying blip on our annual radar, when we hope no one has the…creativity to try to pull a prank on us. Others look forward to the day all year long, and plan elaborate jokes on their friends and loved ones—who may turn into former friends and loved ones once the gag is pulled. It’s a quirky holiday, really, and one with murky origins that may stretch as far back as 6th century B.C.E., Persia, or present-day Iran.
MURKY, QUIRKY ORIGINS
In Europe, the tradition of playing pranks on April 1 appears to be linked to the New Year’s Day. During the Middle Ages, New Year’s Day was marked on March 25, the traditional Feast of the Annunciation, the Biblical day that the angel Gabriel visited Mary and told her she would be the mother of Jesus. So a week of religious festivals and observances was finished off with a day of pranks on April 1. Later, during the Renaissance, when New Year’s Day was officially changed to January 1, those who observed the new Jan. 1 date may have used April 1 to make fun of people who still celebrated the New Year on its old, spring date.
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Still, some records suggest that the April Fool’s tradition is even older. Sizdah Bedar, the thirteenth day of the Persian New Year, normally falls on April 1 or 2. Modern-day Iranians still follow the tradition—which dates back to 536 B.C.E. of playing pranks on one another on this day.
In several European countries, April Fool’s pranks are called “April Fish.” Belgians, Italians and French pull tricks on one another and then shout “April Fish!” in their respective languages.
However, Spain and Latin American countries have a different day of pranks altogether. It’s December 28, the Día de los Santos Inocentes, which commemorates the Biblical tale of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. While that may not sound like a laughing matter, Spaniards and Latin Americans mark the day by pulling harmless gags, or inocentadas on one another. Newspapers even get into the act: In 2000, Mexico City’s daily Reforma newspaper ran a headline that two new volcanoes had been discovered in the city center, and 18 million residents would have to be relocated. In 2010, soccer star Herculez Gomez, an American playing for Mexico, tweeted to his Spanish-speaking fans that he was leaving the Mexican league to return to the U.S. Major League Soccer (MLS) even played along with the gag and confirmed Gomez’s move to heartbroken Mexican fans.
BEST-EVER APRIL FOOL’S PRANKS
We scoured the Internet for some best-ever April Fool’s pranks. Our criteria were that the pranks had to be harmless, mostly inoffensive, and fool as many people as possible. Here are our picks from the past several years.
1994 • Congress Bans Drunken Internet Use
This spoof appeared in the now defunct PC/Computing magazine, and featured bill 040194 (get it?), sponsored by Lirpa Sloof, a Democrat from Arkansas. (Try spelling her name backwards.) The proposed bill, which was reported to be moving rapidly to passage, would have banned use of the internet while drunk, as well as the discussion of sexual matters over a public network. In retrospect, it wasn’t such a bad idea. Too bad Congress hasn’t proposed similar bans on drunk dialing, drunk texting, drunk Facebooking and drunk tweeting!
1996 • The Taco Liberty Bell
On April 1, 1996, Taco Bell purchased full page ads in seven major newspapers across the U.S., announced the company had purchased the Liberty Bell “to help alleviate national debt,” and would rename it the Taco Liberty Bell. Thousands of people jammed Taco Bell and the congressperson’s switchboards in protest, until the joke was revealed later the same day. When asked about the Taco Liberty Bell rumor, then-White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry shared that the Lincoln Memorial was being sold to Ford Motor Co., and would be renamed the Lincoln-Mercury Memorial.
2000 • Google’s MentalPlex Technology
Too lazy to type in your internet searches? Google’s got you covered. On April 1, 2000, the Internet giant announced its new “MentalPlex Technology,” which could read a user’s mind, so he or she didn’t have to bother to type in their search terms. Users just had to stare at a revolving shape on their computer screen, while “MentalPlex” read their thoughts and conducted their searches. For each of these gullible users, the search results were for “April Fool’s Day.”
2008 • Rickrolling
80s pop star Rick Astley enjoyed a renaissance of sorts, as he became the subject of a famous April Fool’s gag. Internet users who were in on the joke would post links, ostensibly to something else, which would all lead to the music video for Rick Astley’s hit Never Gonna Give You Up. The act became known as “Rickrolling.” On April Fool’s 2008, YouTube linked every featured video on its website to the campy Astley video.
2012 • Virgin Volcanic
Well, they go nearly everywhere else. For April Fool’s 2012, Richard Branson and Virgin announced Virgin Volcanic as the first expedition “plunging three people into the molten lava core of an active volcano.” Sounds perfectly safe to us. The first trips are scheduled for 2015, and interested parties are asked to tweet why they should be one of the three lucky passengers, using the hashtag #virginvolcanic.
2013 • ???
We’ll soon know which April Fool’s pranks for 2013 can contend with these all-time winners. Stay tuned!