A 1957 BBC video report about Switzerland experiencing an early spaghetti harvest.
We’re just a few days from April 1, a notorious time for hoaxes. We could have waited, but we figured you might not trust these 10 facts if they were printed on April Fools’ Day. All indeed are true. Really. No kidding. We promise.
1. The origin of April Fools’ Day may be lost to history. One theory centers on people confused by the transition to the Gregorian calendar, but even before that time, there were April Fools’-like hoaxes. In 1983, Boston University professor Joseph Boskin said the practice began when court jesters and fools told the Roman emperor Constantine that they could do a better job than he does, and Constantine made one of them king for a day. Many newspapers picked up Boskin’s story — which was an April Fools’ Day joke.
2. Ranked by the Museum of Hoaxes as the best April Fools’ prank ever was a 1957 BBC report about Switzerland experiencing an early spaghetti harvest. The television show included video of peasants pulling spaghetti from trees and explained that a uniform length for the spaghetti had been achieved through expert cultivation. The BBC got hundreds of phone calls, with most callers asking serious questions, such as where could they buy spaghetti trees.
3. Oh, those Brits. Astronomer Patrick Moore told BBC Radio 2 on April 1, 1976, that the alignment of the planets Pluto and Jupiter would cause a temporary decrease in Earth’s gravity at 9:47 a.m. If people jumped in the air at that time, Moore said, they would float for a short while. Indeed, many listeners called the station to say they had floated.
4. Most people know they need to read the Web with a healthy skepticism, but that doesn’t mean hoaxes about the Internet don’t catch the unwary. In 1994, PC Computing magazine wrote that Congress was considering a bill making it illegal to surf the Internet while drunk. The outcry was great enough that Sen. Edward Kennedy was forced to deny being the sponsor of the nonexistent legislation. In 1996, an e-mail, purportedly from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, informed people that the Internet would be shut down for a day for spring cleaning. The day that users were told to disconnect computers? April 1.
5. In 1997, newspaper readers found chaos on the comic pages. Billy from “Family Circus” was joking with Dilbert. The “Family Circus” mom sported a Dilbert boss-like pointy hairdo. What was going on? The Great Comic Switcheroo. Urged on by “Baby Blues” creators Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott, more than 40 cartoonists swapped strips for the day. Among the other switches: Blondie and Garfield, and Shoe and Beetle Bailey.
6. Chicago’s WXRT-FM 93.1 has a history of April Fools’ hoaxes going back to the 1970s. In 1980, the station promoted the Mayor Jane Byrne April Fool Fest on Navy Pier. On a warm spring day, hundreds of people showed up at what was then a rather derelict padlocked Navy Pier to hear live music, despite the fact that some of the promised artists were dead. In 1998, the station announced it had been purchased by Playboy, was changing the call letters to XXXRT and was touting itself as True Adult Radio. Outraged listeners not only bombarded the station with calls, but also Playboy.
7. Chicago’s downtown streets devolved into gantlets of tomfoolery in the 1880s and 1890s when armies of newsboys gathered to harass and taunt passers-by. In 1880, the Tribune reported that one ingenious youngster created a wooden apparatus that chalked the words “April Fool” when tapped lightly on a victim’s back.
8. Australian businessman Dick Smith had long discussed his plans to tow an iceberg from Antarctica into Sydney Harbor so he could sell especially pure ice cubes to the public for 10 cents apiece. So when a barge towed a huge white object into the harbor on April 1, 1978, Sydney residents got excited. But then it rained, which dissolved the faux berg — a giant mound of firefighting foam and shaving cream that had been piled on sheets of white plastic.
9. On April 1, 1998, Burger King took out a full-page ad in USA Today to announce a fast-food breakthrough: the Left-handed Whopper. It featured the same ingredients as the regular Whopper, except the condiments were rotated 180 degrees. According to Burger King, thousands of customers requested the new burger, and others asked for a right-handed version.
10. Among the true things that have happened in April 1: The first speaker of the House was elected (1789); American forces landed on Okinawa (1945); the first U.S. weather satellite was launched (1960); and Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs founded Apple (1976). Born on April 1, 1929, were Czech author Milan Kundera (“The Unbearable Lightness of Being”) and University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler (“The Unbearable Heaviness of Losing to Ohio State”).
Via Chicago Tribune