Pranks for the Memories

Gentlemen, a reminder: You still have time to plan an absolute show-stopper of a trick for April 1. The prank bar sits admittedly a bit higher in an era when false celebrity-death newsfeeds percolate through Twitter almost daily (*cough* #elizabethtaylor *cough*), and a link-worthy corporate fake-out constitutes a crowning achievement for modern Mad Men types. Internet tricks like these tend to start amusing and end irksome: As memes now travel through fibre-optic networks literally at the speed of light, a gag can do the rounds and become yesterday’s news in a matter of minutes.

Flash pranks can’t hold a candle to the kind of artfully crafted tales that play on an audience’s hopes and/or suspicions about how the world really works. The Brits in particular, with their super-serious demeanor, dry-as-dust delivery and taste for the subtly absurd, specialize in such complex fantasies. For example…

The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest
The BBC’s brilliant April Fools’ Day 1957 broadcast takes in a few new suckers every year — now that’s mileage. The authoritative voice of British broadcasting led its cold-war audience by the nose into a proto-foodie fever, faux-documenting the joyful hanging-pasta harvest in a Swiss town’s spaghetti-tree orchard. Onion-like attention to the details, and a mastery of the visual vocabulary of the light-news genre that the clip is mocking, combine in a hoax that was not only ahead of its time, but also truly for the ages.

The Nation of San Serriffe
In 1977, the Guardian newspaper published an elaborate, multi-article special report about the inhabitants, history and culture of the Indian Ocean island nation called San Serriffe. The series of articles about the fictional archipelago fooled thousands of Guardian readers, who no doubt had trouble keeping track of the new list of far-flung and exotic nations that the Empire once owned. While the typeface-related running gags that filled the special section (this map shows the main islands of Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse) were inside jokes back in the late ’70s, today they’d be easily spotted by anyone who has formatted a resumé in MS Word. Still, this one remains a deserved favourite amongst prank fans and font geeks, alike.

For dozens of other examples of genre classics, hit MuseumOfHoaxes.com. To guard against getting taken in yourself this April 1, or any day, the venerable urban myth site Snopes.com is a good resource for breaking hoaxes. Either site might offer inspiration for your own conspiracy this Friday. Good luck, gentlemen, and please remember that there’s no one more foolish than a bad sport … unless it’s someone with Tiger Blood.

DailyXY bonus: Here are three of our favourite recent Canadian hoaxes, in the tradition of the long-running gag that “Saskatchewan” is a real place. (“Flin Flon,” “Moose Jaw,” “Prince Albert” and “Regina” all should have been dead giveaways, but to this day, citizens in all eight provinces and six territories continue to be taken in.)

Best Canadian April Fools’ Day Hoaxes of the Past, Say, Eight Years
2008: WestJet introduces overhead “sleeper cabins.” Increasingly cramped seating and the spread of discount flights make this airline’s press release about converting its planes’ overhead baggage bins into travel beds seem not just plausible, but almost appealing.

2003: The Comedy Network rolls out press releases and cast interviews, announcing a remake of the ’70s sitcom The Trouble with Tracy. Before Corner Gas, Canada was notorious for producing situation comedies that were either bland or awful. The Trouble with Tracy was both, in spades, but it nonetheless aired in reruns long after the tapes should have been destroyed, due almost entirely to Canadian-content regulations. The notion that someone might remake this show, simply to satisfy the same CanCon rules, was depressingly believable.

2003: During the peak of the custom-car fad, Dunlop Tires declares that it will soon market customized, monogrammed tire treads. The process to make the customized treads was alleged to have been developed in the real-enough town of Serit Polnud, NWT. Back in the day this was a hilarious take on tuner culture gone beyond-extreme. Turns out, though, you really can pimp your ride with tires bearing treads customized to your specifications (just not from Dunlop), which makes it pretty hard to spot the bigger fool.

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Image courtesy of Shalaco.

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