The Annual Swiss Spaghetti Harvest, Towing Icebergs And The Time-Travelling Insider Trader
The Great Swiss Spaghetti Harvest
For one of the most famous and enjoyable days of the year, the origins of April Fools Day are somewhat vague. There is no country or year that can lay exclusive claim to April Fools Day, it just kind of happened, and then increased in popularity.
The decision to mark April 1 by pulling pranks, staging hoaxes and trying to fool your friends and co-workers is a social phenomenon that has fermented over centuries, across the world, and only came into somewhat official usage off the back of infamous newspaper hoaxes in the US and the UK in the 1800s.
Wikipedia has an interesting round-up of notes on the origins of April Fools Day, but can't decide on a region or decade from which April Fools Day surfaced. There is also a comprehensive collection of the best newspaper, internet and radio pranks pulled over the decades that is well worth checking out.
Likewise, the UK Guardian has a thick excerpt from a book on April Fools Day here, detailing some of the best pranks pulled in the past 160 years.
Probably the most famous and successful TV-based April Fools gag was 'The Great Spaghetti Harvest', where locals in a Swiss village were filmed gathering spaghetti from trees. Millions of BBC watchers in England were fooled by the straight-faced report.
Gathering The Spaghetti
'The Great Spaghetti Harvest' could be called the most successful April Fools Day gag ever because it was harmless, it caused no panic, no injuries (unlike some fake tsunami pranks) and people recall the memory of it with great fondness. Millions were fooled, but most were happy to be fooled :
The Spaghetti tree is a fictitious tree, a joke designed to fool those who do not know how spaghetti is produced. The report that it is a product grown on trees was first produced as an April Fools' Day joke by the BBC TV programme Panorama in 1957, reporting on the bumper spaghetti harvest in Ticino, Switzerland due to the mild winter and "virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil".
Pasta was not an everyday food in 1950s Britain, and was known mainly from tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce.
Panorama cameraman, Charles de Jaeger dreamed up the report due to his remembering how he had been ridiculed by a teacher while he was at school, for being stupid enough to believe that spaghetti grew on trees.
An audience of approximately 8 million watched the programme, broadcast on April 1, and hundreds phoned in the following day to question the authenticity of the story, or ask for more information about spaghetti cultivation and how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. The BBC reportedly told them to "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best".
Time Travelling Insider Trader
My personal favourite April Fools Day gag, and one I must admit had me going for a few minutes, purely from a love of science fiction I assure you, was the tale of the time-travelling stock market speculator, who turned an $800 into a few hundred million in only a couple of weeks.
The story originally appeared in Weekly World News in 2003, but Yahoo News ran the report in full on their site, which is where I came across it :
NEW YORK -- Federal investigators have arrested an enigmatic Wall Street wiz on insider-trading charges -- and incredibly, he claims to be a time-traveler from the year 2256.Fantastic story. Weekly World News followed up its 'exclusive' a few weeks later to report that Carlssin had been bailed by a mysterious benefactor, and then disappeared without a trace.
Sources at the Security and Exchange Commission confirm that 44-year-old Andrew Carlssin offered the bizarre explanation for his uncanny success in the stock market after being led off in handcuffs on January 28.
"We don't believe this guy's story -- he's either a lunatic or a pathological liar," says an SEC insider.
"But the fact is, with an initial investment of only $800, in two weeks' time he had a portfolio valued at over $350 million. Every trade he made capitalized on unexpected business developments, which simply can't be pure luck.
"The only way he could pull it off is with illegal inside information. He's going to sit in a jail cell on Rikers Island until he agrees to give up his sources."
The past year of nose-diving stock prices has left most investors crying in their beer. So when Carlssin made a flurry of 126 high-risk trades and came out the winner every time, it raised the eyebrows of Wall Street watchdogs.
"If a company's stock rose due to a merger or technological breakthrough that was supposed to be secret, Mr. Carlssin somehow knew about it in advance," says the SEC source close to the hush-hush, ongoing investigation.
When investigators hauled Carlssin in for questioning, they got more than they bargained for: A mind-boggling four-hour confession.
Carlssin declared that he had traveled back in time from over 200 years in the future, when it is common knowledge that our era experienced one of the worst stock plunges in history. Yet anyone armed with knowledge of the handful of stocks destined to go through the roof could make a fortune.
"It was just too tempting to resist," Carlssin allegedly said in his videotaped confession. "I had planned to make it look natural, you know, lose a little here and there so it doesn't look too perfect. But I just got caught in the moment."
In a bid for leniency, Carlssin has reportedly offered to divulge "historical facts" such as the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden and a cure for AIDS.
All he wants is to be allowed to return to the future in his "time craft."
However, he refuses to reveal the location of the machine or discuss how it works, supposedly out of fear the technology could "fall into the wrong hands."
Officials are quite confident the "time-traveler's" claims are bogus. Yet the SEC source admits, "No one can find any record of any Andrew Carlssin existing anywhere before December 2002."
The story didn't end there, however. Apparently, a number of reporters decided to follow up the story, and some mainstream newspapers ran the report as a straight news item, long after April Fools Day, 2003, was over with.
From Snopes :
The spokesman at the US Security and Exchange Commission in Washington gives a weary sigh and then a slightly strained chuckle when he hears the words "time traveller" and "inside trader".
"This story is pure fantasy. There is no truth in it at all," he says. "This is the kind of story that belongs in the same file as 'Elvis Shrine Found on Mars.'
"You know something? We have had an enormous number of calls from the media on this one. It has been absolutely amazing. Of course, we had to look into it, but as far as we know, it’s just not true."
How To Tow An Iceberg
My second favourite April Fools Day hoax was one I completely fell for as a kid, living in Sydney in 1978. And it was great to be fooled. It was my first distinct memory of learning not to trust everything I read in newspapers or saw on television.
I'd read articles in the Omega science magazine about how fresh water shortages could one day be solved by towing icebergs from the Antarctic. So I was fully excited when Australian inventor and explorer Dick Smith announced that he was towing an actual iceberg into Sydney Harbour :
Dick Smith, a local adventurer and millionaire businessman (owner of Dick Smith Foods), had been loudly promoting his scheme to tow an iceberg from Antarctica for quite some time. Now he had apparently succeeded.It should be noted that no Australian media was in on the hoax. They completely and utterly fell for it.
He said that he was going to carve the berg into small ice cubes, which he would sell to the public for ten cents each. These well-traveled cubes, fresh from the pure waters of Antarctica, were promised to improve the flavor of any drink they cooled.
Slowly the iceberg made its way into the harbor. Local radio stations provided excited blow-by-blow coverage of the scene. Only when the berg was well into the harbor was its secret revealed. It started to rain, and the firefighting foam and shaving cream that the berg was really made of washed away, uncovering the white plastic sheets beneath.
I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure the arrival of the iceberg in Sydney Harbour was also shown as a live TV news broadcast, with a very excited reporter on the scene visibly crushed when the truth of Smith's Great Iceberg Tow became apparent.
Here's a couple of other classic April Fools Day hoaxes from the UK Guardian :
Leap Of Imagination, 1978
Patrick Moore was an ideal presenter to carry off an astronomical hoax. As weighty as Richard Dimbleby, with an added air of batty enthusiasm that only added to his credibility, he announced on TV on April Fool's Day 1976 that a "unique astronomical event" was going to occur at 9.47am. As the little planet Pluto passed behind Jupiter, he said, a "gravitational alignment" would reduce the Earth's gravity for a few moments. Anyone who jumped into the air at 9.47 would experience a strange floating sensation.
They did too - or at least hundreds of them thought they did. The BBC was flooded with appreciative calls from people claiming to have floated, including a woman who said that she and 11 friends had been wafted from their chairs and orbited gently around the room.
Moscow underground, 1992
As the former Soviet Union thawed, its sense of humour warmed up. In 1992, the Moskovskaya Pravda newspaper guyed the country's increasingly passionate embrace of capitalism with news that the city was going to build a second underground system. The Moscow underground, built by Stalin to impress the rest of the world, is a genuine wonder, with marble floors, classical pillars and even chandeliers, but it does get crowded. The newspaper explained, however, that the new system was not intended to relieve the crush. It was ideologically necessary under capitalism to have at least two of everything, "to destroy monopolies in the interests of competition".
Buried loot, 1840s
At the time in the 1840s when European visitors were denouncing American greed for a fast buck, one of the earliest newspapers April Fools, printed by the Boston Post, proved their point.
It electrified the city by announcing that a cavern full of gold, jewels and other loot had been found by workmen digging out the roots of a felled tree on Boston Common. Everyone could go and have a peek at the presumed pirate hoard, or cache left by the dastardly British, on April 1.
As an eyewitness recorded: "It was rainy, the Legislature was in session, and it was an animated scene that the Common presented, roofed with umbrellas, sheltering pilgrims on their way. A procession of grave legislators marched solemnly down under their green gingham with philosophers, archaeologists, numismatists, antiquarians of all qualities and the public."
Nothing awaited them except disappointment, the rain-soaked turf of the common and a small hole. And the Boston Post saying, "April Fool".
So what will be best, and thereby most believable, April Fools Day hoax this year?
We'll keep track and run a compilation on Monday of the best ones we come across.