April Fool's Day, 2000

Esquire magazine introduced its readers to an exciting new company called Freewheelz in an article titled "There Are No Free Wheels." Freewheelz apparently planned to provide drivers with free cars. In exchange, the lucky drivers had to agree both to the placement of large advertisements on the outside of the vehicle and to the streaming of advertisements on the radio inside the car. The company had already begun a limited but very successful rollout of this offer in Barrington du Lac, a posh suburb of Chicago. Strict criteria limited the number of people eligible to receive a free car. Not only did you have to guarantee that you would drive over 300 miles a week, you also had to complete a 600-question survey that probed into personal information such as your political affiliations and whether you were concerned about hair loss. Finally you had to submit your family's tax returns, notarized video-store-rental receipts, and a stool sample. The first company to sponsor these free cars was Stayfresh Tampons. Supposedly a number of minivans were already on the roads displaying the tampon advertisements. Other potential sponsors were said to include DearSkin.com, a company described as "an eco-marketing venture that sells leather coats and gloves made exclusively from the hides of deer that have been humanely culled from suburban woods." Skip Lehman, founder and CEO of Freewheelz, explained that he had come up with the concept for the company while brainstorming with some friends. They had been trying to think of all the things that could be distributed free via the internet: free computers, free internet service, free music, free Web pages, free cigarettes, free booze, free dates. Then it had occurred to Lehman: free cars! The entire article, written by Ted Fishman, was a satire of the much-touted "new economy" spawned by the internet. Attentive readers would have caught on to the joke if they had noticed that Freewheelz's official rollout on the web was slated to occur on April 1. However, readers who did not notice this barraged the offices of Esquire magazine with phone calls, demanding to know how they could sign up to drive a Stayfresh minivan. The satire also went over the head of the CEO's of a number of real internet start-ups with business plans similar to that of the fictitious Freewheelz, companies such as Mobile Billboard Network, Freecar.com, and Autowraps.com. Larry Butler, the CEO of freecar.com, later confessed to Fishman that he was so scared at the prospect of this new competition that he cried when he first read the article. Butler later decided that the responses of readers who thought the parody was real actually validated his business model. He ended up paying Fishman $25,000 for the rights to the website Freewheelz.com. Fishman had paid $75 to register the site.

15th Annual New York City April Fool's Day Parade
A news release sent to the media stated that the 15th annual New York City April Fool's Day Parade was scheduled to begin at noon on 59th Street and would proceed down to Fifth Avenue. According to the news release, floats in the parade would include a "Beat 'em, Bust 'em, Book 'em" float created by the New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle police departments. This float would portray "themes of brutality, corruption and incompetence." A "Where's Mars?" float, reportedly built at a cost of $10 billion, would portray missed Mars missions. Finally, the "Atlanta Braves Baseball Tribute to Racism" float would feature John Rocker who would be "spewing racial epithets at the crowd." CNN and the Fox affiliate WNYW sent television news crews to cover the parade. They arrived at 59th Street at noon only to discover that there was no parade. The police informed them that they had received no notification of a parade. Reluctantly, the reporters realized that they had been hoaxed. The prank was the handiwork of Joey Skaggs, an experienced hoaxer. Skaggs has been issuing press releases advertising the nonexistent parade every April Fool's Day since 1986. Another parade is planned for April 1, 2001. Some of his other recent pranks include 'The Final Curtain,' a cemetery where artists design their own monuments before they die.

The British Daily Mail announced that Esporta Health Clubs had launched a new line of socks designed to help people lose weight. Dubbed "FatSox," these revolutionary socks could actually suck body fat out of a person's feet as they sweated. The invention promised to "banish fat for ever." The socks employed a patented nylon polymer called FloraAstraTetrazine that had been "previously only applied in the nutrition industry." The American inventor of this polymer was Professor Frank Ellis Elgood. The socks supposedly worked in the following way: as a person's body heat rose, and their blood vessels dilated, the socks drew "excess lipid from the body through the sweat." After having sweated out the fat, the wearer could then simply remove the socks and wash them, and the fat, away.

M3 Zebra Crossing
Early morning commuters travelling on the northern carriageway of the M3 near Farnborough, Hampshire encountered a pedestrian zebra crossing painted across the busy highway. The perpetrator of the prank was unknown. A police spokesman speculated that the prank, "must have been done very early in the morning when there was little or no traffic on the motorway." Maintenance workers were quickly summoned to remove the crossing, which was apparently not too difficult to do since the pranksters had used emulsion paint rather than gloss. The police noted that, surprisingly, they had received no calls from the public about the crossing.

OPEC Free Fuel Offer
An official announcement appeared on the website www.opecinfo.com declaring that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, after 22 hours of emergency negotiations with independent fuel operators, was close to deciding to offer motorists around the world free fill ups on the first Saturday of each month for the next six months. Motorists would simply have to print out and complete an online form which they could then present at any gas station to receive their free fill up. Gas stations would, in turn, submit customer's receipts to OPEC to receive a full reimbursement for their costs. It was anticipated that the free offer would create enormous traffic jams on every Saturday that it applied. Apparently some commuters took the announcement seriously and appeared at gas stations with their completed forms, demanding free gas. It turned out that the OPEC website and announcement was the handiwork of JokeWeb.com, an online humor site. A spokesman for the site claimed that JokeWeb.com would honor the offer and pay all those who had filled out the form $50 worth of gas every Saturday for the next six months.

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