Today Is a Special Day

Posted April 1, 2014, under Gee Whillickers!

The only thing the Internet likes better than cat pictures is a good joke. Or even a mediocre one. Really, any joke will do.

And as we all know, jokes and cat pictures at the same time is pure gold.

So naturally, April Fool’s Day is one of the best-observed holidays throughout the web. Google’s pranks are perhaps the most famous, but other participants include Hulu, YouTube, Twitter, DIGG, ThinkGeek and many more than can be listed (although this site does try).

This is probably a reflection of the fact that corporations, particularly those involved in media, have enjoyed April Fool’s Day for decades, if not centuries.


Famous Foolery

In 1957, a BBC current-affairs show called Panorama featured a three-minute report on a Swiss family thriving on their spaghetti harvest. There was footage of a traditional “Harvest Festival” and a whole bit about the breeding necessary to achieve an ideal length.

CNN called this “the biggest hoax any reputable news establishment ever pulled,” which honestly sounds to us like a challenge. Someone needs to get on that.

In 1996, Taco Bell took out full-page ads in six major U.S. newspapers, claiming to have purchased the famous Philadelphia monument and renaming it “Taco Liberty Bell.”

In an era of “Staples Center” and “Dick’s Sporting Goods Park,” we kind of don’t blame people for falling for this one.

Not to be outdone, in 1998, Burger King launched an ad campaign for a left-handed Whopper. With “condiments rotated 180 degrees” and “easier to hold” for 10 percent of the population. The lefties in our office are aghast that people actually fell for this; even righties were anxious to make sure they got the “correct” sandwich.

Our favorite is the 1977 prank perpetrated by U.K. newspaper The Guardian. In a seven-page travel supplement, they extolled the virtues of a tropical archipelago called San Serriffe. The report was packed with typographical jokes: the capital was Bodoni (a common typeface), and the two main islands were, respectively, Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse.

The islands being shaped like a semicolon is also a nice touch.

This has been going on since way before the 20th Century, though. Back in 1698, invitations went out to see the “Washing of the Lions.” Which seems kind of lame now, but we have obviously become used to more sophisticated prankage.


Modern Mockery

But all of that predates the Internet, which allows for much easier prank execution and propagation.

Some websites have their pranks permanently built in. For example, go check out Digg.com and punch in the Konami code: up arrow twice, down arrow twice, left arrow, right arrow, left and right again, then the letters “B” and “A.”

The result rides the coattails of one of the most viral prank memes in Internet history. If you’ve never heard of this, you can learn more about it here.

Others tend to be one-off pranks, lasting only for April Fool’s Day. For example, a few years ago, Hulu time-warped their home page back to 1996.

This is cute until you remember how long it took to download anything in 1996.

You’re sure to see a lot of these today. We know we will be looking. Let us know in the comments any good ones you find!


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