March 5, 2021

5 Great April Fool's Jokes (Before The Internet Ruined Everything)

For the past few years, every April 1st, I steel myself for the inevitable barrage of "jokes" on the internet from our favourite corporations. Google will announce some semi-clever (but obviously fictional) new product like the MentalPlex, other tech companies will follow suit, corporate social media accounts will tweet out some meme-adjacent jokey image to show they're hip, and public relations people will send out fake press releases.Nobody - well ok hardly anybody - will actually be fooled by these. After a decade and a bit of these internet japes, we're all long past being surprised.But cast your mind back to that cloudy prehistoric time before the internet, when people got their information from such quaint sources like "the radio", "television", and "newspapers", when it was possible to pull a prank on an entire country. Here's TextNow's rundown of the best of pre-Internet April Fool's jokes:

1. The BBC Spaghetti-Tree Hoax

Back in 1957 the British Broadcasting Corporation ran a three-minute story about a farming family in Switzerland harvesting a "bumper crop" of spaghetti, which was attributed to a mild winter and the "virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil."To be fair, spaghetti was relatively unknown at the time in the UK, so many Britons were perhaps unaware that it's made from wheat flour and water. Afterwards the BBC fielded loads of questions from viewers for pasta-tree gardening tips, making The Great Spaghetti-Tree Hoax truly the gold standard of hoaxes.

2. The Taco Liberty Bell

Proof that corporations don't actually need the internet to make a joke that falls flat: In 1996 Taco Bell ran this a full page ad in a six major US newspapers to announce that Taco Bell had purchased the Liberty Bell, to be renamed the "Taco Liberty Bell."Cue thousands of panicked calls to both Taco Bell HQ and the National Park Service in Philadelphia to see if the bell had actually been sold. Unfortunately the NPS in Philly hadn't been told about the joke, so I assume they had a very very frustrating day on the phones.

taco liberty bell

3. Instant Swedish Color TV

Now lest you think it's just the British and Americans who are gullible, turns out those snooty Europeans aren't much better. In 1962 Sweden's lone television channel SVT, which only broadcast in black-and-white, had their "technical expert" come on camera on April 1st to explain how you can modify your television to show color by covering the screen in nylon. The explanation (which is masterclass in fake technical jargon) described how a fine mesh over the screen can "bend light" so that the image appears in color.[embed][/embed]

4. Alabama Changes the Value of Pi

In a hoax that will probably cause the mathematicians reading this to break out in hives, the The April 1998 issue of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter claimed that the Alabama state legislature had voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi from 3.14159 to the "Biblical value" of 3.0.

5. Drunk Driving on the Internet

I'm a big fan of this one mostly for the thoughtful attention to prank detail, and for the descriptive phrase "lair of slop." In the April 1994 issue of PC Computing, columnist John C. Dvorak wrote about a bill going through Congress that would make it illegal to use the internet while drunk. According to Dvorak, the bill had come about because the Internet was often referred to as an "Information Highway." He noted that, "Congress apparently thinks being drunk on a highway is bad no matter what kind of highway it is." The bill was supposedly numbered 040194 (i.e. 04/01/94), and the contact person was listed as Lirpa Sloof. (Read that name backwards.)