April Fool Hoaxes


(This 1201st Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on March 30, 2014.)


Each year at this time instead of trying to fool readers I have described past hoaxes: Piltdown Man, the Loch Ness monster, Uri Geller (who reportedly has now been asked to search for the missing Malaysian aircraft) and closer to home the Fox sisters and Cardiff giant. This way, instead of being taken in, you can feel superior to those who are fooled by this nonsense. But beware: we all harbor a strain of gullibility.


I have now come across the Museum of Hoaxes. Although the museum's claimed physical location in San Diego is itself a hoax, it does boast a delightful website at www.museumofhoaxes.com. I have drawn from that site's "Top 100 April Fool Hoaxes of all Time" a few of those pranks. In reading about them, you might consider whether you would have been taken in.


In a radio broadcast it was disclosed that Dutch Elm Disease caused redheads' hair to fall out. They were advised to stay away from forests for the foreseeable future.


The Orlando Sentinel featured a story about the newly imported, four-inch long Tasmanian Mock Walruses, which made wonderful pets. They purred like a cat, used litter boxes and ate cockroaches: a single TMW could clear a house of such vermin. The pest control industry was said to oppose the spread of these animals because they would eliminate part of their business. The newspaper switchboard was flooded with calls to find out how to obtain a TMW.


A London radio station announced a government plan to resynchronize the British calendar. It had gradually become 48 hours ahead of other countries due to switching back to and from daylight saving time. In response April 5 and 12 would be omitted that year. One caller wanted to know what would happen to the birthday she would lose.


A widespread internet message announced that the entire system would be shut down for cleaning from March 31 to April 2. Old email and websites would be purged by Japanese-built Toshiba robots. This updated an earlier hoax announcing that the phone system would be cleaned and people should place bags over theirs to catch dust blown out during the process.


A German radio station announced that Cologne officials had introduced a temporary regulation: city park joggers would be restricted to six mph during the squirrel mating season in order not to disturb the animals.


RealClimate.org posted information about the work of a New Zealand scientist, who had discovered that global warming was caused by the decline in that country's sheep population. White sheep reflect heat back into the atmosphere and with their numbers decreasing that heat was reaching the ground. In fact, the doctor warned of a feedback mechanism: the warming required fewer wool sweaters and underwear creating "a runaway sheep-albedo effect, similar to that leading to the torrid climate of Venus."


A professor announced on TV his newly developed "smellovision," which conveyed odors. To show how it worked he cut onions and brewed coffee. Many readers called in to confirm his demonstration saying that it was "like being right there in the studio."


In 1878, a year after Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, the New York Graphic announced that he had invented a machine that could transform dirt into cereal and water into wine. One of the newspapers that picked up this announcement was the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, which published a long laudatory editorial.


Associated Press reported that the mystery of the origin of April Fool's Day had been solved. Boston University history professor Joseph Boskin had discovered that Emperor Constantine established the tradition when he allowed his court jesters to rule his kingdom for one day. News media throughout the country reprinted the story. Finally Boskin admitted his hoax, Boston University issued an apology and many papers published corrections.


Burger King announced in a full page advertisement in the April 1, 1998 edition of USA Today introduction of a "Left-Handed Whopper," specially designed for left-handed Americans. According to the ad, the new whopper included the same ingredients as the original Whopper, but the condiments were rotated 180 degrees. Thousands requested the new sandwich while many others requested the right-handed version.


I doubt if those will be improved upon, but watch out on Tuesday.-- Gerry Rising