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April Fool's Day, 1997
BMW WAIL. (1997) BMW announced a new feature for its cars — WAIL, which stood for "Wildlife Acoustic Information Link." It was a device designed to prevent animals from becoming roadkill by emitting high-pitched soundwaves (inaudible to human ears, but audible to animals) that sent critters scurrying out of the way:
"This operates on the same ultrasonic echo-sounding principle as BMW's Park Distance Control System. Sonic waves are emitted from the front bumper producing a warning call which alerts stray animals to the approaching car. This then encourages them to jump in the nearest hedgerow."
Internet Spring Cleaning. (1997) An email message circulated warning that the internet would be shut down for cleaning for 24 hours from March 31st until April 2nd. This cleaning was said to be necessary to clear out the "electronic flotsam and jetsam" that had accumulated in the network. Dead e-mail and inactive ftp, www, and gopher sites would be purged. The cleaning would be done by "five very powerful Japanese-built multi-lingual Internet-crawling robots (Toshiba ML-2274) situated around the world." During this period, users were warned to disconnect all devices from the internet. The message supposedly originated from the "Interconnected Network Maintenance Staff, Main Branch, Massachusetts Institute of Technology."
The joke was an updated version of an old one that used to be told about the phone system. For many years, gullible phone customers had been warned that the phone systems would be cleaned on April Fool's Day. They were cautioned to place plastic bags over the ends of the phone to catch the dust that might be blown out of the phone lines during this period.
The Great Comic Strip Switcheroonie. (1997) Comic strip fans opened their papers on April 1, 1997 and discovered their favorite strips looked different. Not only that, but in many cases characters popped up in other strips out of place. The reason for the chaos was the Great Comics Switcheroonie. Forty-six comic-strip artists conspired to pen each other's strips for the day. Scott Adams of Dilbert took over Family Circus by Bil Keane. Garfield and his owner visited the world of Blondie. And the character Nancy popped up in the Foxtrot comic strip wearing a Darth Vader outfit.
Thatcher Endorses Blair. (1997) The Independent reported on its front page that Labour Party member Tony Blair, who was campaigning to become prime minister, had offered former Conservative prime minister Baroness Thatcher a position as ambassador to Washington if she would endorse his candidacy in the general election and Labour were to win. It also said that Thatcher had expressed her admiration for Blair's "disciplined determination." The story was picked up by wire services and consequently reported as fact by the Australian Broadcasting Company, forcing it to subsequently issue a retraction. In reality, Thatcher had described Blair as a "boneless wonder."
Left-Handed Toshiba. (1997) Declaring that "there's nothing looney about the lefties," Toshiba announced the new "Toshiba Tecra F00-LDU" — a portable computer designed for left-handed users:
"The F00-LDU is a fully functional notebook packed with all the features you'd expect from the world leader in portable computing — only it fits left handed people like a glove. The major bays and keys are reversed for clarity and there's a stunning left handed screen."
Mouth Sounds. (1997)
NPR's All Things Considered interviewed Reed Summers, winner of a "Mouth Sounds" competition in Belleville, Illinois.
Summers explained that "mouth sounders" use their mouth, tongue, teeth, lips, and vocal chords to create a variety of sounds, such as the sound of an angry cockatoo, a goose, a train, and Bach's Toccata — all of which he demonstrated in the studio.
As the interview with Summers progressed, the sounds he made grew increasingly elaborate and realistic, causing host Robert Siegel eventually to declare, "If I hadn't seen you doing that in front of me just now, I would have assumed that was a recording."
Summers attributed his mouth-sounding skill to the fact that he didn't speak until he reached the age of 10, but instead spent his childhood listening to the sounds around him.