Elaborate hoaxes and media fibs belong to a long tradition of pranks that mark April 1. Newspapers, politicians and even Google have risen to the challenge once again this year.
In Britain, the fake newspaper story has a venerable tradition, and on Wednesday the center-left Guardian announced plans to dump its print version in favor of publishing exclusively on the social networking site Twitter. The move, described as "epochal," was to allow the paper to "consolidate its position at the cutting edge of new-media technology."
The plan to limit all Guardian stories to just 140 characters was also to be extended to the newspaper's archives stretching back to 1821. The article said that major stories already completed included: "OMG Hitler invades Poland, allies declare war see tinyurl.com/b5x6e for more" and "JFK assassin8d @ Dallas, def. heard second gunshot from grassy knoll WTF?"
The Sun, Britain's leading mass-circulation newspaper, decided to scare the nation's soccer fans ahead of Wednesday evening's World Cup qualifier match with Ukraine. It warned England supporters that the Ukrainian national anthem was a staggering six and a half minutes long and that the country had been granted permission to play "Oi Ukrainy" in its entirety before the football match kicked off. The Sun reported that the English team had been offered the chance to sing all six verses of "God Save the Queen," but had declined because "most of our players don't even know the words of the short version."
April Fools' Day got a head start Down Under when Google Australia claimed to have developed a football that could never be lost due to inbuilt GPS, motion sensors and artificial intelligence technology. The so-called "gBall" was described as having a number of amazing features, including the ability to "locate your lost ball on Google Maps."
And for a while on Wednesday, it looked like the famous running of the bulls in the Spanish city of Pamplona might relocate to Melbourne, Australia. Tim Holding, the regional tourism minister, said the specatcle would fit in nicely with the Australian Open tennis tournament and the Formula One Grand Prix. "For too long Pamplona has monopolized this event," he complained, adding that his government was "determined to grab the bull by the horns and snare this important event for Melbourne."
These jokes have a long and illustrious pedigree. One of the most successful was the BBC's Spaghetti Harvest Incident of 1957, when the usually stiff-upper lip British broadcaster featured a mockumentary about pasta farms in Switzerland prompted scores of viewers to call the broadcaster to ask where they could buy their own spaghetti trees.
Another classic April Fools' Day prank that captivated Sweden in 1962. It was a simpler time, when people had to make do with small black and white TV sets -- and Sweden had only one TV station. On April 1, the channel's technical expert Kjell Stensson demonstrated during a national broadcast how viewers could convert their sets to color: All they had to do was stretch a nylon stocking over their television set.
Stennson recommended stockings with a 25 denier density; he said 40 denier was too thick. Of course viewers at home took Stennson's word for it and set about trying to convert their black and white sets.
And then there was Hayden "Sidd" Finch. He was the famous yoga-master-turned-baseball pitcher discovered by the New York Mets in 1985. And he could throw the ball astonishingly fast -- 168 miles per hour, the article claimed.
The story, written by George Plimpton and published in Sports Illustrated magazine on April 1, 1985, caused a sensation. Many of its readers didn't get the joke -- nor did they find anything wrong, apparently, with a pitcher who took the field wearing a single hiking boot, and was considering a career as a French horn player. Even the sub-head, which spelled out Happy April Fools' Day ("He's a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd's deciding about yoga -- and his future in baseball"), wasn't enough to tip many off.