In celebration of Conficker Day, and before a virus overtakes all the computers in the world, I thought it would be a wonderful time for a bit of brevity and to take a look at the origins of 04/01 and some of the better laughs to be had on this day. But first….
The origin of April Fools’ Day is obscure. One likely theory is that the modern holiday was first celebrated soon after the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar; the term referred to someone still adhering to the Julian Calendar, which it replaced.
In many pre-Christian cultures May Day (May 1) was celebrated as the first day of summer, and signaled the start of the spring planting season. An April Fool was someone who did this prematurely. Another origin is that April 1 was counted the first day of the year in France. When King Charles IX changed that to January 1, some people stayed with April 1. Those who did were called “April Fools” and were taunted by their neighbors. In the eighteenth century the festival was often posited as going back to the times of Noah.
An English newspaper article published on April 13th, 1789 said that the day had its origins when he sent the raven off too early, before the waters had receded. He did this on the first day of the Hebrew month that corresponds with April.A possible reference to April Fools’ Day can be seen in the Canterbury Tales (ca 1400) in the Nun’s Priest’s tale, a tale of two fools: Chanticleer and the fox, which took place on March 32nd.
And now – in no particular order – some great April Fool’s day gags.
1) The Amazing Flying Penguins: In 1957 the BBC produced a video documentary on the little known “Swiss Spaghetti Harvest.” and in 1996 ran a report claiming that red heads were susceptible to Dutch Elm disease.
Last year they out did themselves with a video about flying penguins that migrate to South America every winter. It’s classic.
2) The Taco Liberty Bell: In 1996 The Taco Bell Corporation announced it had acquired the famed American Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and that they were renaming it the “Taco Liberty Bell.” Droves of outraged citizens called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia to express their anger at such a grave insult to an American historical icon.
A few hours later, Taco Bell announced that it was all a practical joke. White House press secretary, Mike McCurry, was asked about the sale during a press conference. He announced that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold. It would now be known as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.
3) Alabama Changes the Value of Pi: An article in the April 1998 issue of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter claimed 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 went viral, and then rapidly spread around the world, forwarded by email. The article was intended as a parody of legislative attempts to prevent the teaching of evolution.
4) San Serriffe: In 1977 the British newspaper The Guardian published a special seven-page supplement devoted to San Serriffe, a small republic said to consist of several semi-colon-shaped islands located in the Indian Ocean. A series of articles affectionately described the geography and culture of this obscure nation. Its two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. Its capital was Bodoni, and its leader was General Pica. The Guardian’s phones rang all day as readers sought more information about the idyllic holiday spot. Only a few noticed that everything about the island was named after printer’s terminology.
5) The Left Handed Whopper: In 1998 Burger King ran a full page advertisement in USA Today heralding the launch of a new item to their menu. A specially designed burger for the 32 million left-handed Americans: a “Left-Handed Whopper.” The new whopper would include the same ingredients as the original Whopper, but all the condiments would be rotated 180 degrees. Thousands of customers had gone into Burger Kings nationwide requesting the new burger.
6) Sidd Finch: In 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. This was 65 mph faster than the previous record.
Surprisingly, Sidd Finch had never even played the game before. Instead, he had mastered the “art of the pitch” in a Tibetan monastery under the guidance of the “great poet-saint Lama Milaraspa.” Mets fans celebrated their teams’ amazing luck at having found such a gifted player, and Sports Illustrated was flooded with requests for more information. In reality this legendary player only existed in the imagination of the author of the article, George Plimpton.
Happy March 32nd Mooses!