Sucked in

20:44, Mar 31 2010

April Fool's Day jokes. There's the pathetic. The cheeky. The mean. The funny.

But funnier still is that people fall for them.

The Otago Daily Times has run a gag every year, and this morning was no exception.  A friend reminded me about the time the paper ran a story in 1998 about the Speight's Brewery giving away free beer from its outside taps, "mixed with water". People lined up outside the brewery with jugs, and the newspaper gleefully ran a follow-up the next day revealing the cruel hoax.

I'm not sure if the following is true or not, but if it is, it must go down as one of the most long-lasting April Fool's Day jokes ever. I've been wondering about this myth since I was a kid dodging 2-litre Coke bottles on the lawn. In 1989 New Zealand gardening guru Eion Scarrow told a radio station that a bottle of water would stop dogs using your front yard as a toilet, and people have followed it ever since. Scarrow told TVNZ last year that he can't remember the inspiration for his prank.

''I don't know how I even thought about it; it was just spur of the moment. We had vets ringing up from England, what's the truth behind this?''

Here's a few others shamelessly lifted from the internet for your inspiration:

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In 2008 the BBC announced that camera crews filming near the Antarctic for its natural history series Miracles of Evolution had captured footage of Adélie penguins taking to the air. It even offered a video clip of these flying penguins, which became one of the most viewed videos on the internet. Presenter Terry Jones explained that, instead of huddling together to endure the Antarctic winter, these penguins took to the air and flew thousands of miles to the rainforests of South America where they ''spend the winter basking in the tropical sun''. A follow-up video explained how the BBC created the special effects of the flying penguins.

In 1976 the British astronomer Patrick Moore announced on BBC Radio 2 that at 9.47am a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event was going to occur that listeners could experience in their very own homes. The planet Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, temporarily causing a gravitational alignment that would counteract and lessen the Earth's own gravity. Moore told his listeners that if they jumped in the air at the exact moment that this planetary alignment occurred, they would experience a strange floating sensation. When 9.47am arrived, BBC2 began to receive hundreds of phone calls from listeners claiming to have felt the sensation. One woman even reported that she and her eleven friends had risen from their chairs and floated around the room.

In 1998 Burger King published a full page advertisement in USA Today announcing the introduction of a new item to their menu: a ''Left-Handed Whopper'' specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans. According to the advertisement, the new Whopper included the same ingredients as the original Whopper (lettuce, tomato, hamburger patty, etc.), but all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of their left-handed customers. The following day Burger King issued a follow-up release revealing that although the Left-Handed Whopper was a hoax, thousands of customers had gone into restaurants to request the new burger. Simultaneously, according to the press release, ''many others requested their own 'right handed' version.''

In 1995, Discover magazine reported that the highly respected wildlife biologist Dr. Aprile Pazzo had found a new species in Antarctica: the hotheaded naked ice borer. These fascinating creatures had bony plates on their heads that, fed by numerous blood vessels, could become burning hot, allowing the animals to bore through ice at high speeds. They used this ability to hunt penguins, melting the ice beneath the penguins and causing them to sink downwards into the resulting slush where the hotheads consumed them. After much research, Dr. Pazzo theorized that the hotheads might have been responsible for the mysterious disappearance of noted Antarctic explorer Philippe Poisson in 1837. ''To the ice borers, he would have looked like a penguin,'' the article quoted her as saying. Discover received more mail in response to this article than they had received for any other article in their history.

Got an awesome April Fool's Day joke?

Nelson