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April 2006
Status: Paraphenalia for the superstitious
image A Japanese company is selling a portable ghost detector that fits on a keychain. I can't really understand the machine-translated text, but it looks like the detector glows red in the presence of a ghost, and glows blue otherwise. It costs 2,079 Yen, which is about $18. Not too bad. Compare this to the ghost detectors sold by Abate Electronics which start at $93 (and they don't even fit on your keychain!). It goes without saying that I'm sure these things have been rigorously tested to conform to the highest scientific standards. (via OhGizmo)
Categories: Paranormal
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 28, 2006
Comments (16)
Status: anti-counterfeit technology
Last year I posted about a group of MIT students who created an Automatic Scientific Paper Generator, capable of creating "random Computer Science research papers, including graphs, figures, and citations." One of the papers created by this program was accepted for presentation at the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics. To stop something like this happening again, researchers at the Indiana University School of Informaics have invented an Inauthentic Paper Detector. It's supposed to be able to tell whether a paper has been written by a human or a machine. The researchers write: "The main purpose of this software is to detect whether a technical document conforms to the statistical standards of an expository text... We are trying to detect new, machine written texts that are simply generated not to have any meaning, yet appear to have meaning on the surface."

I tested the Inauthentic Paper Detector by having it analyze the last couple of entries I've written. It told me: "This text had been classified as INAUTHENTIC with a 38.4% chance of being authentic text." I guess this confirms the theory that the real Alex drowned in Loch Ness back in September 2004 and was replaced by replicant Alex. (via New Scientist)
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Science
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 28, 2006
Comments (15)
Status: Undetermined
image There's some debate over at Flickr concerning whether this image is real or photoshopped. The person who took it (Kris Kros) swears that it's real. But doubts have been raised by Hugo who argues that "such a crisp capture of a jet, in front of an extremely detailed moon, in complete darkness, with no apparent noise, was quite extraordinary." I can't tell one way or the other. Though Hugo is absolutely right to point out that in almost all pictures of planes flying in front of the moon, the turbulence of the jets is visible... but it's not visible in this picture.
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 27, 2006
Comments (15)
Status: Fake body parts
image This could be useful at baseball games. It's the Beerbelly, "a removable spare tire that serves a stealth beverage." Basically it's a bladder that you fill with your drink of choice and strap around your belly, thereby (when worn beneath a shirt) camouflaging it as a beer gut. (Thanks to Emily de Saint Jores for the link)

The beer bladder would definitely be more fun to wear than the empathy belly, which is a "a multi-component, weighted 'garment' that will -- through medically accurate simulation -- enable men, women, teenage girls and boys to experience over 20 symptoms and effects of pregnancy." (I thought I had linked to the empathy belly before, but it didn't come up on a search of the site.)

And while you're at it, you might as well strap on a whizzinator prosthetic penis as well. To complete the theme, I would post a link to an artificial lactating breast, like the one featured in Meet The Fockers, but I don't think any company actually makes such a thing.
Categories: Body Manipulation
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 27, 2006
Comments (8)
Status: Real
Tamakia Gant asks: "Are these real? They look so amazing!!!"

Yeah, they are pretty cool. And they are real (real sculptures, not real people!) They're the work of Australian hyper-realist sculptor Ron Mueck. According to the Wikipedia entry about him, "Mueck's sculptures faithfully reproduce the minute detail of the human body, but play with scale to produce disconcertingly jarring visual images."
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Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 26, 2006
Comments (11)
Status: Undetermined
Following a post about how California got its name, Boing Boing added an interesting reader comment alleging that Idaho got its name because of a hoax:

"When a name was being selected for new territory, eccentric lobbyist George M. Willing suggested 'Idaho,' which he claimed was a Native American term meaning 'gem of the mountains'. It was later revealed Willing had made up the name himself, and the original Idaho territory was re-named Colorado because of it. Eventually the controversy was forgotten, and modern-day Idaho was given the made-up name when the Idaho Territory was formally created in 1863."

I had never heard this before, so I did a little research. It turns out that Willing did indeed claim to have invented the name Idaho. But whether he did or not is uncertain, since his claim was first published fifteen years after the first appearance of the word. Plus, he was a bit of a self-promoter and not entirely trustworthy. I found the following discussion of the Idaho question in an article by Erl H. Ellis published in Western Folklore, Oct. 1951:
The first known use of this name was by or before a Congressional committee early in 1860, when the proposal to create a new territory of the Pikes Peak region was before the Congress. In the April 18, 1860 issue of the Rocky Mountain News, Mr. S.W. Beall wrote back to Denver and stated that this name Idaho seemed the most popular suggestion before the committee. On May 10 and 11, 1860, the Congressional Globe mentions the proposals for the Territory of Idaho, and noted that Idaho was an Indian name signifying "Gem of the Mountain." When the territory with Denver as its center was later created, the name Colorado was substituted at the last moment for Idaho. How this name came before the Congress very early in 1860 is unknown. If this was an Indian name known to the miners who flocked to the gold fields in 1859, no mention of the fact was ever made in the newspapers of those days. So perhaps the name was invented by one Dr. George M. Willing; at any rate he claimed to have done so. Willing came to Denver in 1859 from St. Louis and became a candidate for election as delegate to the Congress, despite the lack of any right of the gold miners to have a delegate in Washington. Even though Willing lost the election, he went on to Washington and posed as the properly elected delegate. He claimed that he there invented the name Idaho, it being suggested by the presence of a little girl, Ida. His relation of the matter was published by a friend of his, William O. Stoddard, in the New York Daily Tribune for December 11, 1875...

The Territory of Colorado was actually created February 28, 1861. That was the end of the official interest in the word for the Pikes Peak area. It was after these "Colorado" events that we find the word being used in what became the state of Idaho. In December, 1861, the territorial legislature of Washington created an Idaho County, and it later became a county of the state of Idaho. Joaquin Miller, the "poet of the Sierras," was responsible for several versions of how the word Idaho was first put into that form by him in the winter of 1861-1862. In one of these accounts Miller spells the name "E-dah-hoe" and says that it was an Indian word meaning "the light or diadem on the line of the mountain." A number of historians of the state of Idaho have accepted this story from Miller, but others have noted that the name was well known and used before Miller appeared upon the scene. The Territory of Idaho was created on March 3, 1863, again after the Congress nearly adopted another name, Montana.

Even if Idaho did get its name from a hoax, Des Moines can lay claim to a funnier name origin. The Peoria indians told the first white settlers that the tribe living in that area (their rivals) was named the Moingoana, which became the root of Des Moines. But it turns out that Moingoana was really the Peoria word for "shitfaces".
Categories: Literature/Language, Places
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 26, 2006
Comments (11)
Status: Undetermined (but probably real)
imageThis outdoor advertisement transforming a New York City manhole into a steaming cup of coffee was apparently created by Saatchi & Saatchi for their client Folgers. The question is: was this actually done in real life (i.e. were vinyl covers placed on top of manholes), or has the picture simply been photoshopped? The picture itself seems to have been first posted at coloribus.com, and someone has posted a comment there claiming to be from Saatchi & Saatchi and confirming that the coffee-manhole campaign was real. But I can't find anything official from Saatchi & Saatchi in which they take credit for the campaign. Still, my hunch is that it's real.
Categories: Advertising
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 26, 2006
Comments (17)
Status: Fake
image This photo of a London bus displaying Google Adsense ads was posted on the Digital Point Forums on April 2nd. It since has been making its way around the internet. It's definitely photoshopped. The white google ads show no variation in color or shadowing. It was probably some kind of late April Fool's Day joke. Still, it would be a clever form of outdoor advertising. (via Fresh Creation)
Categories: Advertising, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 25, 2006
Comments (4)
Status: Undetermined
image Last Friday a man was found floating on a makeshift raft in the Skagerrak strait between Sweden and Norway. He claimed that he had been set adrift four days ago by another ship. He also said that his name was George Williams, and that he had been born in Cape Town. Within a day he had added details to his story and now said that his parents were Russian-Jewish parents, but that he had been given up for adoption at an early age. Authorities doubt that he could have been floating out there for four days, given the cold temperatures. So the guy presents a bit of a mystery. Who is he really? And how did he end up on a raft in the middle of the ocean? The story has shades of last year's Piano Man mystery. (Thanks to Asheim for the links)
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 24, 2006
Comments (2)
Status: Strange guerrilla marketing campaign
image Brussels Airlines has been experimenting with a bizarre campaign to raise awareness about the threat of getting pickpocketed in airports. Their agents have been covertly slipping plastic hands into the bags of people who aren't paying enough attention to what's going on around them. Imagine opening up your bag and finding a hand in there. I think I'd freak out. The campaign was created for Brussels Airlines by the agency LG&F. (via Coolzor)
Categories: Advertising
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 24, 2006
Comments (19)
Status: Art Forgeries
Konrad Kujau was the forger responsible for creating the Hitler Diaries. After he served his prison sentence, he became something of a minor celebrity in Germany, and his "authentic fakes" of famous paintings became sought after in their own right by collectors. Kujau died in 2000, but now his great-niece, Petra, has been charged with selling hundreds of fakes of his fakes. The Times reports that:

Petra Kujau, 47, faces fraud charges for selling at least 500 fake Kujaus to clients worldwide through an internet auction site for more than €550,000 (£381,000). Some of the oil paintings, bought from art schools in Asia for as little as €10 apiece, fetched up to €3,500 because the Kujau signature inflated their value.

I wonder if these fake Kujau forgeries will now also become collector's items? I wouldn't mind having one to hang in my office, but only if I can get it for €10, not €3,500.
Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 24, 2006
Comments (2)
Status: Real
Thanks to Mark Holah (aka Rennet) for bringing the Sardinian specialty known as Casu Marzu to my attention. Casu Marzu is a type of pecorino cheese infested with thousands of wriggling maggots. If the maggots are still wriggling, then it's okay to eat (if you have a strong stomach). If the maggots aren't wriggling, that means the cheese has become toxic. The wikipedia entry for Casu Marzu is so bizarre, that you'd swear it has to be a joke:

Derived from Pecorino Sardo, casu marzu goes beyond typical fermentation to a stage most would consider to be decomposition, brought about by the digestive action of the larvae of the cheese fly, Piophila casei. These larvae are deliberately introduced to the cheese, promoting an advanced level of fermentation and breaking down the cheese's fats. The texture of the cheese becomes very soft, with some liquid (called "lagrima") seeping out. The larvae themselves appear as transparent, white worms, about 8 mm (1/3 inch) long. When disturbed, the larvae can jump for distances up to 15 cm (6 inches), prompting recommendations of eye protection for those eating the cheese. Some people clear the larvae from the cheese before consuming; others do not.

However, Casu Marzu is quite real. It's been described in a number of newspapers and magazines including The Wall Street Journal and Bon Appetit. Taras Grescoe recently wrote about it in The Devil's Picnic: A Tour of Everything the Governments of the World Don't Want You to Try.

Apparently Casu Marzu isn't even the most disgusting food Sardinians eat. According to a 2004 article in Australian Magazine, that honor goes to 'tordi':

These are small, 10cm-long songbirds that feed on the island's plentiful myrtle berries. They are netted and poached, then served cold, three or four at a time, garnished with myrtle leaves. Their eyes are black, haunting, their necks spindly. They look like a plateful of baby dinosaurs. You are supposed to eat them whole - everything but the beak - in a few crunches.

If one is going to try some Casu Marzu, I think the perfect drink to wash it down would be some Army Worm Wine.
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 24, 2006
Comments (27)
Status: Real Pictures (but probably a fake caption)
Nettie forwarded me these pictures that are circulating around in Australia accompanied by this text:

A riding buddy of mine's father has some crazy fishing friends! These were taken down at Windy Harbour - off the South Coast of WA [Western Australia] near Northcliffe. See how close they are to shore!!
image image image image

image Nettie writes "I'd assume they were real enough as we do get some pretty big sharks around here although you'd have to be a complete moron to do what these guys are doing." True, but I'm guessing that the caption is wrong... that the guy in the picture isn't just some "crazy fishing friend." If you look closely at his shirt, you can see that it has a corporate logo on it that includes the word 'Shark' (the only legible word). So I'd assume the guy is a professional and knows what he's doing. Though I'm not sure what exactly it is that he's doing (or where he's doing it).
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 24, 2006
Comments (12)
Status: Real
I came across this cool picture of a tiger diving into water. My first thought was that it had to be fake, but from what I can gather (via machine translation) from the comments below the image, the photographer, Sergey Bidun, says that it's real. And he links to other, less spectacular, pictures from the same series. One question that people seem to be asking is why the tiger's claws aren't out. My guess is that it's been declawed.

There's an exhibit like this in Las Vegas where you can see the tigers used in the Siegfried and Roy show. At least, there was the last time I was in Vegas. (I don't know if Siegfried is still doing that show alone, or was it cancelled after Roy's accident?) But I don't think this picture was taken at that exhibit.

Update: Sergey Bidun posts that he took this picture at Six Flags Marine World in Vallejo.

Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 21, 2006
Comments (32)
image Ron Dentinger of the International Association of Pranksters and Hoaxers sent me an email to give me a heads up about the Association's website. Yes, it is a real association, which includes such esteemed members as Alan Abel and Cranky Media Guy. They met in February in Las Vegas. Their site includes a hoax photo challenge, which currently shows a photo of a man with a gorilla and asks whether it's real or a hoax. I'm guessing that it's real.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 21, 2006
Comments (10)
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