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Five great April Fools’ pranks in history

Sunday, Mar 28, 2021

April Fools’ is this Thursday, and nobody loves a good prank more than us engineering nerds. So we thought we’d take a moment to revisit a list of stand-out gags that have gone down in history.

Caltech’s great Rose Bowl hoax

It was 1961. The Washington Huskies were playing the Minnesota Golden Gophers for the national football championship. At halftime, the Huskies were leading 17-0, and their cheerleaders led stands of spectators in the traditional card stunt to flip and display images. But this time, the Washington fans spelled out “Caltech” with their cards instead. Turns out a group of Caltech engineering students who went down in history as the “Fiendish Fourteen” had orchestrated the prank by breaking into the cheerleaders’ hotel rooms and changing thousands of the cards. According to Wikipedia, the prank has been described as the “greatest collegiate prank of all time,” as the game was broadcast to an estimated 30 million viewers on NBC.

The BBC’s “pasta grows on trees” stunt

Almost all the “greatest lists” include this one—the BBC’s infamous great spaghetti harvest segment from 1957. The news channel broadcast a piece reporting that the Swiss region of Ticino near the Italian border had reported a bumper crop of spaghetti that year. To prove it, they cut to footage of people picking spaghetti off trees and bushes. Many Brits believed it, since TV was a fairly new phenomenon (and there was no fake news back then, right?).

Simplifying the value of Pi in Alabama

In 1998, a widely believed news piece was spread announcing that Alabama lawmakers, claiming that 3.14159 was too challenging to work with, had passed a law changing Pi to 3. The hoax was orchestrated by Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist Mark Boslough to parody legislative attacks on teaching evolution in school. Alabama legislators were slammed with calls and had to assure people there were no plans to change the value of pi.

Virgin does UFOs instead of airplanes

It’s well-known that Virgin Group founder Richard Branson loves a good April Fools’ prank. His 1989 hoax was no exception. He flew a fake UFO over London (really a hot air balloon disguised as a flying saucer). When police finally caught up with the “spacecraft”, Branson and his colleague Don Cameron emerged from it triumphant.

Alaska’s surprise volcanic eruption

In 1974, alarmed residents of Stika, Alaska, saw smoke rising from the top of nearby dormant volcano, Mt. Edgecumbe. They alerted the coast guard, who sent a helicopter over the mountain to check things out. What did they find? The words “April Fool” spelled out on the rim of the volcano. Turns out local resident Oliver Bickar, who had been planning the prank for years, had set a large pile of tires on fire near the summit of the mountain.

Here’s hoping you’re inspired to hatch a good (but safe) prank this April Fools’.

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