April 1st . . . Newspaper & Magazine Pranks

It’s April 1st, also known as April Fool’s Day, and today we take look back at some notable pranks of the past played by newspapers and magazines from across the world. 

Clown Paper

Scientific American columnist Martin Gardner wrote in an April, 1975, article that MIT had invented a new chess computer program that predicted “pawn to queens rook four” is always the best opening move.


In The Guardian newspaper, in the United Kingdom, on April Fools’ Day, 1977, a fictional mid-ocean state of San Serriffe was created in a seven-page supplement.


A 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated, dated April 1, featured a story by George Plimpton on a baseball player, Hayden Siddhartha Finch, a New York Mets pitching prospect who could throw the ball 168 miles per hour (270 km/h) and who had a number of eccentric quirks, such as playing with one barefoot and one hiking boot. Plimpton later expanded the piece into a full-length novel on Finch’s life. Sports Illustrated cites the story as one of the more memorable in the magazine’s history.


Associated Press were fooled in 1983 when Joseph Boskin, a professor of history at Boston University, provided an alternative explanation for the origins of April Fools’ Day. He claimed to have traced the practice to Constantine’s period, when a group of court jesters jocularly told the emperor that jesters could do a better job of running the empire, and the amused emperor nominated a jester, Kugel, to be the king for a day. Boskin related how the jester passed an edict calling for absurdity on that day and the custom became an annual event. Boskin explained the jester’s role as being able to put serious matters into perspective with humor. An Associated Press article brought this alternative explanation to public’s attention in newspapers, not knowing that Boskin had invented the entire story as an April Fool’s joke itself, and were not made aware of this until some weeks later.


Taco Liberty Bell: In 1996, Taco Bell took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times announcing that they had purchased the Liberty Bell to “reduce the country’s debt” and renamed it the “Taco Liberty Bell”. When asked about the sale, White House press secretary Mike McCurry replied tongue-in-cheek that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold and would henceforth be known as the Lincoln Mercury Memorial.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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