April Fool's Day 2018: All you need to know

Forecast-fool weather

Did you know that the Indian government has opened the Taj Mahal for wedding bookings? Or that Ola Cabs is offering you a helicopter taxi service for just Rs 499 through their revolutionary service in the sky called Ola Air? Have you downloaded the Zomatcho - the app from Zomato that matches singles according to their food preference? Or perhaps the ixigo Loo Finder which finds a toilet for you?

Offer: a full cashback refund when you buy an iPhone from Paytm. Too good to be true? It is. This was the April Fools' Day trick played by Paytm in 2016.

Yes, it's that time of the year when we let our hair down and become silly for a day. Or, as Mark Twain said, "This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three-hundred and sixty-four."

It started one day...

The origins of this practice are hazy at best. It could have begun in Ancient Rome, where they celebrated a festival called Hilaria at the end of March, where people dressed up in disguises. On the other hand, the beginning of April marks the onset of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and there is general letting-off-steam, rejoicing and prank-pulling to celebrate springtime.

Yet another story has it that it originated in a town called Gotham in Nottinghamshire, England. In the 13th century, tradition had it that any road on which the king put his foot became public property. When the people of Gotham heard that King John planned to travel through their town, they refused to let him in. Enraged, he sent his soldiers, but they arrived to see the people acting like madmen. They were doing foolish things like drowning fish and trapping birds in roofless cages. The king fell for the act and cancelled his visit. All Fools' Day marks their victory, say some.

However, the best bet is that it originated in the 16th century when the Christian world switched from the Julian calendar introduced by Julius Caesar to the Gregorian calendar named after Pope Gregory XIII. This moved New Year's Day from April 1 to January 1. Some people were unaware of the change, some chose to ignore it, and some just forgot. Such people who still celebrated New Year's Day on April 1 were ridiculed as 'April Fools'.

Though the origin of this tradition may be obscure, it is true that Iran has the oldest tradition of celebrating Fools' Day. As far back as 536 BC, the custom Sizdah Bedar was celebrated, during which Iranians roamed the streets and scared strangers with tricks, before finally apologising to the victims. Sizdah Bedar is still played in Iran every year. One of the most talked of pranks in recent Iranian history was that played by Shargh Daily in 2005, claiming that the multipurpose Milad Tower or the Tehran Tower, the sixth largest tower in the world, had started to lean!

In France, this day is observed mostly by children who sneakily stick a paper fish to a person's back. When the hapless victim discovers the prank, the pranksters shout out "Poisson d'Avril," meaning 'April Fish' - someone who is gullible and is therefore easily caught. In Italy too, it is called Pesce d'Aprile.

People of Scotland love fooling their friends so much that they have a two-day tradition. April 1 is called 'Hunt the Gowk' day, the gowk being a fool or cuckoo. The idea is to send people on foolish errands by asking them to deliver a sealed message to a third person asking for help. However, the message would actually say, "Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile." So the recipient would tell the victim to deliver the letter to another person, and so on, until the victim realised that he'd been had. April 2 is 'Taily Day' when people try to pin a tail or a note on their victims that says 'Kick me!'

If their Scottish neighbours are into playing pranks for two days, the Irish and the British do it only for half a day. Yes, in Ireland and England, you can play jokes only until noon on April 1; if you continue in the same vein in the afternoon, you'll be thought of as foolish! And beware, on this day, some Irish drivers may drive on the right side of the road, which happens to be the wrong side - they normally drive on the left side of the road. However, on Orkney Islands, you have to wait until noon to start pulling pranks.

Down south, in Brazil, they call it o dia das mentiras, i.e., the day of lies, or dia dos bobos, day of fools. This is the day for brincadeiras, pranks. It became popular after a satirical magazine called A Mentira wrote a spoof headline on April 1, 1828, that the Emperor of Brazil, Don Pedro, had died.

Dia das Mentiras in Portugal is the day to throw flour on unsuspecting people. Curiously, the Spanish, Latinos and Filipinos celebrate this day as the 'Dia de los Santos Inocentes' or Holy Innocents Day, not in April, but on December 28 - to honour the babies who were massacred by King Herod who was trying to kill baby Jesus, according to the Bible.

In Poland, Prima Aprillis is a day for joking and pranking everyone and anyone. Serious activities are usually avoided on this day. This culture is so all-pervading that there is even a historical precedent.

In 1693, the military alliance between the Commonwealth and Leopold I against the Ottoman Turks was signed on April 1. But to prevent the pact from becoming fodder for Fools' Day jokes, it was antedated to March 31.

The Danes of Denmark enjoy playing jokes on two days of the year - on April 1 called Aprilsnar, and on May 1 called Maj-kat or May-cat. Among the best jokes in their media is the one which said that the statue of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen had been sold to China, upsetting its people no end.

In Sweden, if you succeed in tricking someone, you run away shouting, "April, April, you stupid herring, I can trick you whenever I want!" One doozy was the report by the paper Goteborgs-Posten in the 1950s that the island of Oland in the Baltic Sea had dislodged from the seabed and was adrift, which greatly alarmed the locals.

Greece celebrates by saying "Kali protaprilia" - Happy 1st of April - and by playing practical jokes on friends and neighbours. The Greeks believe that the person who pulls it off will have good fortune throughout the year. In 1995, the Greek Ministry of Culture got into the act, announcing it had found the tomb of Socrates near the base of the Acropolis, along with a small container of the hemlock poison that killed him.

Some unforgettable hoaxes

On All Fools' Day every year, we are flooded with a number of new and innovative hoaxes. The earliest recorded April Fools' Day gag was the invitation to the public to view the annual washing of the lions at the Tower of London, way back in 1698. It promised that the lions, housed in the menagerie in the Tower, were going to be washed in the moat. Apparently, enormous crowds turned out, only to be fooled.

On March 31, 1989, a glowing flying saucer landed on a field in Surrey. Two policemen, who were sent to investigate, saw a small figure in a silver space suit walk out of the spacecraft and ran away in the opposite direction. Only later was it revealed that the flying saucer was a hot air balloon specially built to look like a UFO, and the alien in it was a midget. It was supposed to land in London's Hyde Park on April 1, but had been blown off-course. Meantime, it had terrified the locals. It was a prank played by Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Records.

On April 1, 1992, airline passengers descending into Los Angeles Airport experienced momentary panic when they looked out of the window and saw an 85-foot-long yellow banner on the ground that spelled out in 20-foot letters, 'Welcome to Chicago'.

Authentic fake news

Think there is a lot of fake news around? Well, wait for April Fools' Day, when the media cuts loose and blatantly publishes fake news and spoofs.

In 2017, British newspaper The Daily Mail splashed a world exclusive announcing that Prince Harry had married his fiancée Meghan Markle in a secret wedding in Las Vegas. The ceremony package cost $300, said the report, and included flowers, music and a souvenir photo.

Even better was their story in 1982, when it published an article titled 'Do not adjust your set - it could be your bra!' The article said that 10,000 brassieres made by a local manufacturer had a defect. The copper support wire in them produced static electricity on being exposed to heat, which was being emitted by thousands of unsuspecting women, and was interfering with the reception of television signals. You could check if your bra was rogue by taking it off and shaking it a few inches above the TV. One of the people fooled was the chief engineer of British Telecom who ordered that all his female employees' bras were to be checked for this phenomenon.

In 1950, Norway's largest newspaper announced that the government-owned Wine Monopoly, the Vinmonoplet, had received a large shipment of wine in barrels from France but it had run out of bottles. To get rid of the extra wine, they were running a one-day sale, selling the wine at 75% off and tax-free. The public had to bring their own containers for the wine. The next day, long queues had formed outside, with people holding buckets, only to learn of the hoax. One hoaxee turned hoaxer when he poured some wine into his bucket, took it to work and told his colleagues about the incredible sale. All of them rushed off to the store. The one fact in the story: bottles were really in shortage in the post-war years.

The best effect for a newspaper hoax is achieved when other newspapers fall for it. In 1983, New Scientist ran an article about a successful 'plant-animal hybrid' - a tomato containing genes from a cow. The cow-tomato apparently had 'a tough leathery skin' and grew 'discus-shaped clumps of animal protein' inside the fruit. Though there were several clues in the article that it was a joke, a Brazilian science magazine, Veja, swallowed the story, skin and all. It named the hybrid 'Boimate' and ran a feature that even carried a graphic of how the cow-tomato hybridisation occurred!

When newspapers go all out, can television and radio be far behind? The BBC has an irrepressible funny bone which gets an airing on April 1. One of its best gags was in 1957 when its current-affairs programme, Panorama, ran a three-minute segment showing a family in Switzerland harvesting spaghetti from the family 'spaghetti tree'. Pasta had recently been introduced in Britain, and few knew that the delicious tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce was made from wheat and flour. The segment showed happy villagers collecting the noodles from trees and said that there was a bumper spaghetti harvest that year, thanks to a mild winter and the virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil. The programme was narrated by respected broadcaster Richard Dimbleby and sounded so authentic that there were a lot of requests from people wanting to grow their own spaghetti. They were told that many people had got good results by sticking a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce.

In 1980, BBC also announced that the iconic Big Ben was going to be replaced by a digital display. The public protested, and BBC had to apologise.

In 1962, there were only black-and-white televisions in Sweden. That was when the Swedish national television network brought in a technical expert who told the public that its black-and-white broadcasts could be made colour by simply viewing through nylon stockings. Many Swedes still recall their fathers hunting for 'stockings for the TV'.

On this day in 1976, the English astronomer Patrick Moore broadcast a hoax on BBC Radio 2: at 9.47 am that day, there was to be a conjunction of planets Jupiter and Pluto. As Pluto passed behind Jupiter, the powerful combination of their combined gravitational forces would noticeably decrease gravity on earth.

Listeners jumping in the air at that exact moment would feel a floating sensation. Guess what: after 9.47 am, hundreds of calls poured in from people who had actually felt like they were floating.

In Canada, 1996, radio stations had people rummaging in their pocket change after announcing that some two-dollar coins had mistakenly been minted from real gold.
Best prank

However, amongst all these funny and not-so-funny gags, two stand out. First is the 'eruption' of Mt Edgecumbe in Sitka, Alaska. On the morning of April 1, 1974, Sitka residents looked out of their windows and saw a thin stream of smoke rising from the caldera of the dormant volcano. They thought that the mountain was erupting until a Coast Guard helicopter flew over and saw a 50-foot-tall message spray-painted on the snow – April Fool. The smoke came from 100 old tires soaked in kerosene and smoke bombs that had been air-lifted into the crater. The perpetrator was a Sitka resident named Oliver 'Porky' Bickar, who had been planning the gag for three years.

The second is a reverse prank played by the car company BMW. They published an advertisement on the front page of The New Zealand Herald that promised people that the first person to come to their showroom in his/her car could exchange it for a new, black BMW car. Everyone knew it was fake and ignored it... except for Tianna Marsh. She thought it was a hoax, but still took her 15-year-old Nissan Avenir to the dealership... and ended up with a NZ $50,000 pound BMW saloon. The number plate of the car? NOFOOL!

Worst prank

Some April Fool's pranks, though, weren't funny at all. In April 2000, Romania's Opinia newspaper published that 60 people were going to be released from the Baia Mare prison in Romania. Their loved ones travelled all the way to the prison and waited... only to be told of the 'joke'. The paper later published an apology.

Corporate pranks

Companies too get into the act. In 1998, Burger King advertised that they were introducing a 'Left-handed Whopper' for left-handed Americans. This new item had the same ingredients as the original whopper, but all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees, redistributing the weight of the sandwich, so that there will be less spillage out the right side of the whopper. Thousands of customers went into the restaurant to request the new sandwich.

Also, in 1996, Taco Bell announced that they were buying that icon of American freedom, the Liberty Bell, and it would henceforth be known as the Taco Liberty Bell.

Some hoaxes on social media

*The University of Dundee announced a Master's Program in Penguin studies.

*Burger King announced a Whopper-flavoured toothpaste.

*Virgin Train offered to tattoo season tickets on its passengers so that they would never lose them.

*Amazon Echo announced a Petlexa feature which allows pets to activate smart home-enabled toys and place orders on Amazon.

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April Fool's Day 2018: All you need to know

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