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Pranked! Reflections on April Fools' Day

John K. • April 03, 2017

April Fool!

Did you get through April 1st without hearing those words?

Without, that is, being pranked?

Classic April Fool gags, like “kick me” signs stuck to your victim’s back, will always be with us. (Maybe it was your back?) But April Fools’ Day pranks have kept up with the times. Gone are the days of the whoopee cushion (there’s an app for that now). “You try the old ‘air horn attached to the work chair’ trick,” wrote blogger Eitan Levine, “and see how fast you get laughed out of the Google offices, Grandma.”

Spaghetti Grows on Trees!

Where did this quasi-holiday come from, anyway? Wikipedia, that vast fount of knowledge, says that “precursors of April Fools’ Day include the Roman festival of Hilaria,” and notes that there may be a reference to April Fools’ Day in Chaucer, written more than six hundred years ago. The History Channel website, meanwhile, states flatly that practical jokes were played on April 1st as far back as 1700.

April Fools’ Day happens just before the start of a new Major League Baseball season. And that inspired Sports Illustrated to publish “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch” on April 1, 1985. The George Plimpton article described a young pitching phenom in the New York Mets organization, a right-handed flamethrower whose fastball clocked at 168 miles per hour. Plimpton dropped a lot of clues that Sidd Finch was a gag, but many readers took it at face value. Eventually, he and Sports Illustrated owned up to the joke.

It’s tempting to observe that there’s a sucker born every minute.

Sometimes, the sucker is you.

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There are websites that show you how to set up AutoCorrect on smartphones and word processing programs, so that they’ll replace common words, such as “yes,” with ... embarrassing substitutes. Other sites show you how to set people up with “invisible girlfriends” or “invisible boyfriends” who send you bogus text messages.

No links. You’ll have to find those on your own.

On April 1, 2014, National Public Radio pranked its listeners with an article called “Why Doesn’t America Read anymore?” Posted to the NPR website, it featured a photo of a bookshelf crammed with books. But everything after that was a trick: NPR wanted to see how many people would comment on the article without having actually read it. The article’s first paragraph gave the gag away, and told readers not to comment. The only people who would, NPR said, hadn't read the article.

They got more than 1,600 comments.

En Garde!

If you fell for something like that, we hope it wasn’t too embarrassing. And we hope your online reputation can withstand it.

Next year, remember: forewarned is forearmed. Assume someone will prank you. Be on your guard all day, for anything remotely suspicious. If they still get you – if you still bite into an Oreo filled with toothpaste – take it in stride.

There’s a Facebook page where you can share your story.