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April 2009
Why did pranksters steal a lamb from Jim Dufosee's field on Salisbury Plain and leave it on a doorstep of a house in Pound Street. Nobody knows. However, the picture of the lamb being held by the farmer should provide you with your daily dose of cuteness. [wiltshire.co.uk]
Categories: Animals, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 08, 2009
Comments (0)
Hoax Website: The smell of books aroma spray. "Now you can finally enjoy reading e-books without giving up the smell you love so much. With Smell of Books™ you can have the best of both worlds, the convenience of an e-book and the smell of your favorite paper book. Smell of Books™ is compatible with a wide range of e-reading devices and e-book formats and is 100% DRM-compatible. Whether you read your e-books on a Kindle or an iPhone using Stanza, Smell of Books™ will bring back that real book smell you miss so much."
Categories: Literature/Language, Websites
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 07, 2009
Comments (6)
• People are angry at a bar in New Zealand for placing fake parking tickets on thousands of cars in Auckland as an April Fool's Day prank/promotional stunt. The thing is, these fake tickets weren't like the typical ones that, upon examination, are obviously fake. These were exactly identical to real tickets in every detail except for listing a different website and phone number. As a publicity stunt, I'd say it crosses the line. [stuff.co.nz]
Categories: April Fools Day, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 07, 2009
Comments (1)
Jill Hunter Pellettieri writes in Slate.com about how she hates those notices you now find in all the hotels asking you to re-use your towels in order to "Save Our Planet." Like her, I find them to be disingenuous. The real beneficiaries are the hotels, not the environment, because the hotels save lots of money on laundry costs, and they don't bother to pass those cost-savings along to the customers. [slate.com]
Categories: Business/Finance, Scams
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 07, 2009
Comments (24)
Deacon Freeman Moore doesn't think that the fake grave someone dug behind his church was a funny prank. It had a black, wooden cross at one end, with the name "Eli" on it. He called the police, who did a bit of digging before deciding it was a hoax. [ajc.com]
Categories: Death, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 06, 2009
Comments (1)
It's safe to use the bathroom again. Two weeks ago a New York man said he was robbed in a bathroom stall in the Atlanta airport. He was just sitting there, doing his business, when two men poked their heads "over the top of the stall," pointed a silver handgun at him, and demanded his wallet. Police have now determined the robbery report was a hoax. [AJC.com]
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 06, 2009
Comments (2)
Shroud of Turin News: A Vatican historian says she's uncovered documents indicating that between 1204 and 1353 the Shroud of Turin was kept hidden by the Knights Templar, who worshipped it as a holy relic. Apparently they required their members to "venerate the image by kissing its feet three times." (Some of their other rituals may have involved spitting on the cross, stripping naked and kissing their superior on the buttocks, navel, and lips, and submitting to sodomy.) The Vatican is still remaining mum about whether they think it's the genuine shroud in which Christ was buried, or a forgery. [Times Online]
Categories: History, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 06, 2009
Comments (5)
A slight over-reaction, perhaps. Two guys at a science park pranked a colleague on April 1st by moving his car. When the guy couldn't find his car, the science-park security force naturally thought it must be a terrorist threat and evacuated the entire building. [Chester Evening Leader]. Update: Here's a link that should work. Plus, this article (unlike the first one I linked to) makes clear that what actually happened is that the guys moved the car into a restricted parking lot, meant only for nuclear engineers, which is why the security got nervous.
Categories: April Fools Day, Hate Crimes/Terror
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 06, 2009
Comments (3)
• An online brokerage, Zecco, pretended to give customers multi-million trading accounts on April 1st. Funny until customers began doing actual trades with the money. Lots of blogs were linking to this story, calling it the worst April Fool's ever. (I'm not sure about that. It's still not as bad as some on the official list.) But now the company is saying it was an accident, not a purposeful prank.
Comments

• A Chinese doctor hasn't cut his hair in more than 60 years. He says doing so is responsible for the health of his patients. I'm sure there's a name for this logical fallacy, but I'm not sure what it is. [Daily Express (with pic of long-haired doc)]
Comments

Car and Driver's April Fool's Day hoax claiming that President Obama had ordered that Chevrolet and Dodge withdraw from NASCAR seems to have been one of the few AF hoaxes this year that actually fooled a significant number of people. [USA Today]
Comments

• Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the rest of his new government posed for an official photo in Jerusalem on April 1. But when the photo appeared in the ultra-orthodox newspaper Yated Neeman, all the women had been digitally removed from the photo. Apparently ultra-orthodox Jews don't like the idea of women in politics and seem to believe that if they can't see them, then they don't exist. [Suomen Kuvalehti]
Comments
Categories:
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 06, 2009
Comments (0)
Car and Driver's April Fool's Day hoax claiming that President Obama had ordered that Chevrolet and Dodge withdraw from NASCAR seems to have been one of the few AF hoaxes this year that actually fooled a significant number of people. [USA Today]
Categories: April Fools Day, Politics
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 06, 2009
Comments (1)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the rest of his new government posed for an official photo in Jerusalem on April 1. But when the photo appeared in the ultra-orthodox newspaper Yated Neeman, all the women had been digitally removed from the photo. Apparently ultra-orthodox Jews don't like the idea of women in politics and seem to believe that if they can't see them, then they don't exist. [Suomen Kuvalehti]
Categories: Photos/Videos, Politics, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 06, 2009
Comments (4)
An online brokerage, Zecco, pretended to give customers multi-million trading accounts on April 1st. Funny until customers began doing actual trades with the money. Lots of blogs were linking to this story, calling it the worst April Fool's ever. (I'm not sure about that. It's still not as bad as some on the official list.) But now the company is saying it was an accident, not a purposeful prank.
Categories: April Fools Day, Business/Finance
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 06, 2009
Comments (0)
A Chinese doctor hasn't cut his hair in more than 60 years. He says doing so is responsible for the health of his patients. I'm sure there's a name for this logical fallacy, but I'm not sure what it is. [Daily Express (with pic of long-haired doc)]
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 06, 2009
Comments (5)
Every year on April 1st there are a few news items that stump me. Are they, or are they not, April Fools? Here are the puzzlers from this year:

Virgin's Animal Active gym for pets
The video for it looks like a spoof, and the language of the press release sounds kind of jokey:
The health club, which is being called Animal Active, is scheduled to open its doors later this year and will be a haven for animals in need of exercise or lifestyle management. Trained exercise co-ordinators will run a series of group exercise classes which will include Pooch Paunch Buster, Puuuroebics, Wag Attack, Canine Crunch and Pawlates.

At first I assumed it was a joke, but the weird-news expert Chuck Shepherd pointed out to me, "If it's fake, it's not all that original, for there are several pet spas in the U.S. and Britain that have regimens for overweight pets, and there are certainly treadmill rehab programs for injured animals." Plus, there's still no indication from Virgin that it was a joke. So maybe it's real.

The Invisible Lapland Tree House
As reported in The Sun, this is a new hotel in Lapland that consists of a box made of aluminum and covered in mirrored glass, that's perched in a tree.
The mirrored walls are specially designed to make the walls disappear into the landscape by reflecting the woodland canopy surrounding them. Visitors have to climb into their room by a rope ladder.

Doesn't sound implausible. And there are none of the usual clues (such as names that are anagrams of April Fool). But on the other hand, the picture looks photoshopped, this story hasn't been reported by anyone else, and the last line reads like a joke: "If the guests can actually find it, it should be very successful." Probably fake.



Masturbation Relieves Hay Fever
New Scientist reported that "Masturbation could bring hay fever relief for men." It's an odd story, and even odder to report it on April 1st. But this same story was also making the rounds back in Sep 2008, when it first appeared in The Journal of Medical Hypotheses. So I'm concluding that it's not an April Fool.
Categories: April Fools Day
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 02, 2009
Comments (10)
It's like the ultimate April Fool's Day joke that's been played every year, for at least the past 100 years. Probably longer. Journalists report that the most probable theory of the origin of April Fool's Day is that the celebration dates back to the late sixteenth century when people in France got confused by the calendar reform that moved the beginning of the year from April 1 to January 1. Those who continued to celebrate the beginning of the year on April 1 had jokes played on them and were called April Fools (or "poisson d'Avril" in French).

This year was no different. For instance, over at the Huffington Post, Alex Leo reported:
The origins of April Fools' Day are murky, but the likeliest explanation is that it began as a way to mock French people who were slow to switch to the Gregorian Calendar which changed New Year's from April 1 to January 1. These folks were labeled "fools" and some were sent on "fools' errands."

Andrea Thompson of LiveScience (in an article featured on the front page of Yahoo) wrote:
The most widespread theory of the origin of April Fool's Day is the switch from the old Julian to the Gregorian calendar (now in use) in the late 16th century. Under the Julian calendar, the New Year was celebrated during the week between March 25 and April 1, but under the Gregorian calendar, it was moved to Jan. 1. Those who were not notified of the change, or stubbornly kept to the old tradition, were often mocked and had jokes played on them on or around the old New Year.

It's time to kill this theory off once and for all. In fact, it shouldn't even qualify as a theory. It's just a historical legend. Here are the facts:
  • There is no evidence in the historical record to suggest people were mocked for getting confused about the date change. When reporters offer this as a historical fact, they're inventing history.
  • In fact, the beginning of the year was not celebrated on April 1 in any European country. The English began the year on March 25. The French began it on Easter Day. There may have been a few, rare occasions when Easter fell on April 1, but that wouldn't have been enough to create a strong association between April 1 and the beginning of the year.
  • Under the Julian calendar the year began... on January 1! So this was part of the Julian calendar that the Gregorian reforms didn't change, but actually reasserted.
  • The other dates (March 25 and Easter) had been adopted in some countries because their rulers had felt the year should begin on a date of greater theological significance. But these dates were mainly used for administrative purposes (which is why the tax year still begins later in the year in some countries). Among the general population, January 1 was widely regarded as the traditional start of the year. The reason the French King officially moved the beginning of the year back to January 1 in 1564 is because he was bowing to popular demand. That's when everyone was celebrating it anyway.
  • Here's the clincher: there are literary references to April 1 being a "fool's errand day" that date from before the calendar reforms. This being the case, how could the calendar reforms possibly have been the origin of the celebration?
  • Finally, serious historians don't give the calendar-change theory any credence. Instead, the general consensus is that April Fool's Day is descended from some ancient pagan tradition associated with the beginning of Spring. Beyond that, it's not possible to say much. As the folklorist Alan Dundes noted about April Fool's Day, "ultimate origins are almost always impossible to ascertain definitively."
I present all this information in my article on the origin of April Fool's Day, which is one of the top links on Google if you do a search for the origin of April Fool's Day. Most of the info can also be found in the Wikipedia article on the Gregorian Calendar. Nevertheless, I realize it's probably overly optimistic to expect reporters to do much fact checking when they're on a deadline and told to write a story about the origin of April Fool's Day, which is why I expect the calendar-change hypothesis to keep getting rolled out year after year by reporters, well into the future.
Categories: April Fools Day
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 02, 2009
Comments (5)
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