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April Fool's Day, 1998
The Left-Handed Whopper. (1998) Burger King published a full page ad in USA Today announcing the introduction of a "Left-Handed Whopper" specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans. The new whopper included the same ingredients as the original Whopper (lettuce, tomato, hamburger patty, etc.), but all the condiments had been rotated 180 degrees, "thereby redistributing the weight of the sandwich so that the bulk of the condiments will skew to the left, thereby reducing the amount of lettuce and other toppings from spilling out the right side of the burger."
The next day Burger King revealed that thousands of customers had gone into its restaurants to request the new sandwich. Simultaneously "many others requested their own 'right handed' version."
Guinness Mean Time. (1998) On March 30, Guinness issued a press release announcing it had reached an agreement with the Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England to be the official beer sponsor of the Observatory's millennium celebration. According to this agreement, Greenwich Mean Time would be renamed Guinness Mean Time until the end of 1999. In addition, where the Observatory traditionally counted seconds in "pips," it would now count them in "pint drips." Finally, a Guinness bar would open in the astronomy dome and the Observatory's official millennium countdown would feature a Guinness clock counting "pint settling time" with a two-minute stopwatch.
Guinness issued the announcement as an embargoed release, meaning that reporters who received the release weren't supposed to write about it until the day it was issued to the public on April 1. However, the Financial Times broke the embargo (not realizing that the release was a joke) and discussed the announcement a day early in an article titled "Guinness to sponsor the Old Royal Observatory." It criticized Guinness for exploiting the millennium excitement to promote its brand name, declaring that Guinness, with its Greenwich tie-in, was setting a "brash tone for the millennium."
When the Financial Times learned it had fallen for a joke, it printed a curt retraction, stating that the news it had disclosed "was apparently intended as part of an April 1 spoof." Guinness spokesman Roy Mantle said, "The best thing to say is that they pipped everybody to the post and we were very pleased to see that actually in such an august organ as the Financial Times." In a separate statement Guinness took a more charitable tone, explaining that "The Financial Times was running a perfectly serious business piece and Guinness faxed over the spoof among other information. It wasn't really his [the reporter's] fault."
MITkey Mouse. (1998) The homepage of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology displayed some startling news: the prestigious university was to be sold to the Walt Disney Co. for $6.9 billion. A photograph of the university's famous dome outfitted with a pair of mouse ears accompanied the news.
A press release explained that the university was to be dismantled and transported to Orlando where new schools would be added to the campus including the School of Imagineering, the Scrooge McDuck School of Management, and the Donald Duck Department of Linguistics. The fact that the announcement appeared on MIT's homepage lent credibility to it. But in reality, the announcement was the work of students who had hacked into the school's central server and replaced the school's real web page with a phony one.
Nat Tate. (1998) On the eve of April Fool's Day, a lavish party was held at Jeff Koons's New York studio to honor the memory of the late, great American artist Nat Tate — a troubled abstract expressionist who destroyed 99 percent of his own work before leaping to his death from the Staten Island ferry. At the party, David Bowie read aloud selections from William Boyd's soon-to-be released biography of Tate, Nat Tate: An American Artist, 1928-1960. Critics in the crowd murmured appreciative comments about Tate's work as they sipped their drinks. What they didn't know is that Tate had never existed. He was the satirical creation of William Boyd. Bowie, Boyd, and Boyd's publisher were the only ones in on the joke.
Alabama Changes the Value of Pi. (1998) The April 1998 issue of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter contained an article claiming that the Alabama state legislature had voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi from 3.14159 to the 'Biblical value' of 3.0. Before long the article had made its way onto the internet, and then it rapidly made its way around the world, forwarded by people in their email. It only became apparent how far the article had spread when the Alabama legislature began receiving hundreds of calls from people protesting the legislation. The original article, which was intended as a parody of legislative attempts to circumscribe the teaching of evolution, was written by physicist Mark Boslough.
South Park Bait and Switch. (1998) The animated Comedy Central series South Park had been heavily promoting that on the April 1 season premiere of the second season of the show, it would reveal the identity of the father of a character Cartman, thus resolving the cliffhanger it had left viewers with the season before. The April 1 show began as normal, with clips shown from previous episodes, but then a message flashed on the screen stating it had all been an April Fool's joke. Nothing was going to be revealed. Instead the episode focused on the completely unrelated adventures of the flatulent characters Terrance and Philip. Fans of the series were irate. Comedy Central received over 1500 angry emails. A spokesman admitted that the fans "got the joke... they just didn't like it." Fans had to wait until April 22 before the identity of Cartman's father actually was revealed.