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April Fools Day
There's a lot of speculation in the town of York, New Hampshire Maine about the skunk signs that were placed on many traffic-enforcement signs on April 1st. The signs feature hand-painted, smiling skunks wearing yellow sashes with the word "Enforcer" painted on. The signs also have a drawing of a zebra with the statement, "Whoever says they did it, didn't do it." When asked if the police were going to be contacted, Community Development Director Steve Burns said, "They're our No. 1 suspect." After collecting all the signs, Burns received a mysterious note made from words cut out of newspapers: "Honorary special agent Burns, enforcer skunks in your protective custody ... Be watchful. ... escape possible!" [Seacoast Online]
Categories: Animals, April Fools Day, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 08, 2009
Comments (4)
• 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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Happy April Fool's Day!!!

Click Here for a list of some of today's April Fool's Day hoaxes.

And here for the top 100 April Fool's Day hoaxes of all time.
Categories: April Fools Day
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 01, 2009
Comments (8)
Electrical engineer Aziz Inan, of the University of Portland, recently noticed that April 1st, 2009 is a square root date. From USA Today:

April Fool's Day, April 1, 2009 is 04/01/2009, or 4012009, which has 2003 as a square root (2003 * 2003 = 4012009.)...
The next April Fool's square date doesn't fall until April 1, 6016 (2004*2004 = 4016016.)

Of course, this is of no significance whatsoever. Or is it???
Categories: April Fools Day
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 31, 2009
Comments (12)
A new site (in French), roulez-leko.com, appears to announce the imminent introduction of the Leko, "the car by Ikea". The suspicious part: the car is set to debut right around April 1st. However, it could be legitimate because the first week of April is France's Sustainable Development Week, which the text on the site states that the debut is part of. We'll know soon enough if it's a hoax or something real.

If it is real, it serves as a reminder that companies should avoid making major product announcements on or around April 1st. Link: carconnection.com
Categories: April Fools Day, Technology
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 23, 2009
Comments (6)
An urban legend has been circulating for a number of years that mockingly describes April Fool's Day as a holy day for atheists:

FLORIDA COURT SETS ATHEIST HOLY DAY
In Florida, an atheist created a case against the Easter & Passover holy days. He hired an attorney to bring a discrimination case against Christians, Jews & observances of their holy days. The argument was, it was unfair that atheists had no such recognized day(s). The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the passionate presentation by the lawyer,the judge banged his gavel declaring, 'Case dismissed.'
The lawyer immediately stood objecting to the ruling saying, 'Your honor, how can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter & others. The Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur & Hanukkah. Yet my client & all other atheists have no such holidays.'
The judge leaned forward in his chair saying, 'But you do. Your client, counsel, is woefully ignorant.'
The lawyer said, 'Your Honor, we are unaware of any special observance or holiday for atheists.'
The judge said, 'The calendar says April 1st is 'April Fools Day.' Psalm 14:1 states, 'The fool says in his heart, there is no God.' Thus, it is the opinion of this court, that if your client says there is no God, then he is a fool. Therefore, April 1st is his day. Court is adjourned.

This Florida court case never occurred in real life, and the point of the story is to brand atheists as fools. Nevertheless, the idea of designating April 1st as an "Atheist Holy Day" seems to be growing in popularity among atheists themselves. At least, I've seen an increasing number of blog posts in support of the idea.

From a historical perspective, April 1st is an interesting choice as an Atheist Holy Day, because the Christian church has had a complex, often antagonistic relationship with traditions of Foolery. Early christianity held the symbol of the Fool in high esteem. St. Paul described Christ as being like a Fool, and medieval monks aspired to be "Fools for Christ." There was also the Festus Fatuorum, or Feast of Fools -- a medieval Christian holiday observed around January 1. It was a day on which low-ranking clergy would symbolically usurp the roles of their superiors. A mock bishop or pope would be elected and paraded through the streets. The clergy would dress up as women, sing bawdy songs, play dice at the altar, and substitute stinking smoke for the incense. The historian Rogan Taylor described it as being "like a religious chimney sweeping, brushing away the year's repressed and hidden blasphemy, in a riot of filth and irreligion."

However, by the seventeenth century church officials had largely succeeded in suppressing the celebration of the Feast of Fools. The Church was uncomfortable with the symbolism of the Fool. After all, the Fool is usually embraced by opponents of the establishment, but the Church was itself the establishment.

So since the church exiled Foolery from its midst, it would be somehow fitting if atheists were to adopt April Fool's Day as their own. And why not? The values that the Fool represents (mischief, paradox, uncertainty) do seem to be more compatible with atheism than with modern mainstream Christianity.
Categories: April Fools Day, Religion
Posted by Alex on Fri Mar 20, 2009
Comments (12)
Too close to the real thing. Yachting Monthly reports that the April Fool it inserted into its current issue ruffled a few feathers:

In our bid to insert some authentication into the prank about children competing in world sailing stunts we used the fictitious name: Ocean Youth Association. We did not foresee that by Googling this name - which according to Caroline White of the Ocean Youth Trust many people did - her own organisation and that of the Association of Sail Training Organisations came up. Both these organisations were then contacted by folks seeking clarification.

Unfortunately, they don't seem to have the April Fool itself on their site.
Categories: April Fools Day, Sports
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 16, 2009
Comments (0)
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