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Pranks
The Proposal Rejection Prank is a perennial favorite. Back in 2005 I posted about how a couple had developed a routine they were performing at basketball game halftime shows, in which the guy would propose to the girl in front of the entire crowd. But instead of saying yes, the girl would break into tears and run away. It never failed to get a reaction from the crowds.

The PrankvsPrank duo recently performed the identical stunt at various locations outdoors. Their resulting youtube video currently has over 4 million views.

Categories: Pranks, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Mon Feb 18, 2013
Comments (0)
Bridges Auditorium stands on the campus of Pomona College in Southern California. A frieze on the front of the building displays the names of five great composers: Wagner, Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, and Schubert. But for a few days in April 1975, Chopin's name disappeared and was replaced by that of another iconic, but more modern composer — Frank Zappa.




For years, no one knew who put Zappa's name up there. But in 2012, the pranksters finally revealed themselves, submitting a dossier about their prank to Pomona College Magazine, which published the details in its Nov. 2012 issue.

The pranksters were Pomona math majors John Irvine and Greg Johnson (both class of 1976). Although neither of them were Frank Zappa fans, when they learned that Zappa would be performing at Bridges on April 11, 1975, they decided his name should be on the building. And they elected to have him take the spot of Chopin, since Chopin was their least-favorite composer among the five on the building.

To pull off the stunt the pair created a 15x5-foot frieze out of Styrofoam with an aluminum frame, weighing 70 lbs. The frieze displayed Zappa's name, bookended by a bust of him on one end, and a marijuana leaf on the other.


Fellow conspirators in the math department helped them to learn that between 2 and 3 in the morning was the time when campus security was least likely to walk by the auditorium. So this is when they installed their frieze.


Irvine working on the Zappa bust (left); accessing the roof (right)

They gained access to the roof of the auditorium by extending a ladder from an adjacent building. They managed to position the frieze in place, wedged it into the recessed space of the Chopin frieze, and then secured it with heavy fishing line.


Hauling the frieze into place

The next morning the campus woke to find their handiwork.

Unfortunately, the pair hadn't managed to pull off the prank in time for Zappa's concert. They were a week late. But still, what they did is remembered as Pomona's greatest student prank.

The Zappa frieze remained in place for several days before being taken down by campus officials. The pranksters decided to keep their identity a secret in order to maintain a sense of "mystique" about the prank.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 15, 2013
Comments (3)
Viewers of The Steve Wilkos Show on CBS affiliate KRTV in Great Falls had the program interrupted on Monday by an emergency alert that delivered this warning:

Civil authorities in your area have reported that the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living. Follow the messages on screen that will be updated as information becomes available. Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies as they are extremely dangerous.


Seems that someone had hacked into the station's emergency alert system. The police (who are looking into the matter) report that four people called them to check if the alert was true. [greatfallstribune]
Categories: Death, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Tue Feb 12, 2013
Comments (3)
In April 1944, the University of Southern California held its annual Campus Queens beauty contest. Each dormitory and sorority was allowed to put forward one candidate. Several "non-org" (or non-affiliated candidates) were allowed to enter the contest as well. This made for a total of 20 contestants vying for the title. Six winners would be selected by an all-university vote. Their prize was that their full-length portrait would appear in the university yearbook. (Not much of a prize, but I suppose it's something they could show their grandkids later in life.)

However, that year an imposter appeared among the candidates. Can you spot who it was?


The odd-woman-out, or odd-man-out as it were, was Sylvia Jones. She was actually a he — Cal Nixon, a male USC student who had dressed up as a woman as a prank in order to enter the contest.


What made this slightly more than just your average campus prank was the involvement of Max Factor, the famous makeup artist for the Hollywood stars. Factor had agreed to do Nixon's make-up, decking him out in a "gossamer-gold wig" and half-inch eyelashes. He also supplied a professional glamour photographer to take the picture used for the contest.

Unfortunately, Jones/Nixon never got a chance to see if he/she could win the title of Campus Queen, because a co-conspirator told the administration about the prank before the final vote could take place, and the Dean of the University, Francis Bacon, promptly declared that a male Queen wouldn't be allowed. So all the votes for Sylvia Jones were thrown out.

The prank, once it was revealed, made national news, thanks to a wire story that appeared in hundreds of papers.


Today what Cal Nixon did may not seem like a particularly noteworthy or shocking prank, but it was different times. Though, of course, we're still dealing with gender issues in beauty contests, such as that flap last year about whether Jenna Talackova, who was born a man but became a woman, could compete in the Miss Universe Canada pageant [Daily Mail]. Talackova looks a lot more like a woman than Jones did!


Jenna Talackova

For what it's worth, the final winners of the USC Campus Queens contest were Mary Blake, Jean Glover, Muriel Gotthold, Colleen Phipps, Lynn Walker, and Virginia Zerman.

Categories: Identity/Imposters, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Sat Feb 02, 2013
Comments (1)

This image that recently appeared on the May 4 cover of the Living section in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is all over the blogosphere. Does the heading say "Suit Yourself" or "Shit Yourself"?

The real question is whether this was an innocent accident, or an artist's prank. Kind of like the penis on the Little Mermaid video cover. The artist swore he didn't put it there intentionally, but that was kind of hard to believe. After all, how could he miss it?

Categories: Photos/Videos, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed May 09, 2012
Comments (6)
Scatology has always provided fertile ground for pranks and humor. In fact, I've read scientific speculation that farts and feces probably provided the inspiration for the very first jokes told (or staged) by our early hominid ancestors. Witness how modern-day chimpanzees find it endlessly amusing to fling their feces.

This might provide us with some context for the prank called Poop Dollaring. (Though it's probably more analysis than the prank deserves.) Its method is simple: smear feces on a dollar bill and then place it so as to "tantalize the gullible".

Back when people used pay-phones, a variant of the prank involved stuffing dog poop into the coin return box. Unfortunately I remember falling victim to this once as a teenager. It was disgusting.

Knowing about poop dollaring might, if nothing else, spare you from too readily picking up some money you see lying on the ground.

Of course, youtube provides us with quite a few examples of innocent victims getting poop dollared.

Categories: Gross, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed May 09, 2012
Comments (3)
Imagine you're going about your day, minding your own business, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, there's a goat! That's the premise of the goat prank that's become a tradition in Spokane, Washington. The link includes a video of a Spokane anchorwoman who keeps repeating excitedly, "I've been goated! I've been goated!":

Surprise! You Have Just Been 'Goated!'
khq.com

Spokane community members have the opportunity to play a great practical joke by having a real baby goat delivered to offices or meetings. A $50 donation to Wishing Star will send a goat to an unsuspecting friend or co-worker on the day of choice. The recipient will be asked to make a donation to Wishing Star to pay for the removal of the goat. Last year Wishing Star was able to raise over $20,000 through 'goating,' with five to six goats traveling to offices throughout Spokane each day.
Categories: Animals, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri May 04, 2012
Comments (1)
I noticed several odd pranks in the news:
  • Touching women's stomachs: Tosh.0 had a segment on his show about women's reactions when you lightly touch their stomachs while they're sitting down, and he encouraged his viewers to try this during the commercial break to see what would happen. According to Time, lots of people promptly began posting videos to youtube showing themselves doing this.

  • "I've buried the body": Over in Western Australia, many people are reporting that they're receiving a puzzling text message: "I have buried the body like you told me to. What do you want me to do now?”  Police are telling them to ignore the message, and are warning the pranksters that sending such a message could lead to fines or imprisonment. link: smh.com.au
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Sat Apr 14, 2012
Comments (2)
Marjorie writes in again, with a story told to her by an Aussie friend (in his words). What I love about this story is that it's set in a time and place where people actually left their cars unlocked, with the keys on the front seat, expecting that the cars would still be there when they returned.

I was living in Hobart in 1977 and, driving home, I noticed a friend's car parked outside the corner store at the bottom of my street. I was expecting her to come visit later that afternoon and thought she might be in the store, so I parked behind her. She wasn't in the shop, and I couldn't see her anywhere near. I went to her car, which was unlocked, and found her keys on the seat. I went back to my car and left my keys on the driver's seat, returned to hers, got in and drove home.

An hour or so later she emerged from the friend's house where she had been visiting. She immediately saw that her car was gone and recognised mine. Her companion was shocked to see her car missing and she played along, but when he insisted on going back to his house and calling the police, she stunned him by saying, "No don't worry about it... I'll just take this one!" With that, she got into mine and drove off, leaving him gaping in the middle of the street.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 13, 2012
Comments (2)
I recently received the following email from Marjorie:
In the late 50's, on the morning of April 1, a group of Sydney City Council workers went with jackhammers and other machinery and started an approved excavation in the middle of George St. (the main drag). Hoaxers from Sydney University called the police and warned them that a group of Uni Students dressed as Council workers were tearing up George St. They simultaneously went to the site and warned the workers that a group of students, disguised as police, were on their way to disrupt the job. The result was, understandably, chaos in the main street. I was told about this when I was about 19, (1963) but never saw an official report.

I love emails like this. They bring out the hoax-history geek in me. So here goes.

What Marjorie describes is a prank that was first pulled off by the British "King of Pranksters," Horace de Vere Cole, in 1910. Cole is best known for the Dreadnought hoax of 1910, in which he and a group of friends dressed up as a group of Abyssinian dignitaries, and tricked the British Navy into receiving them with full ceremonial pomp on the H.M.S. Dreadnought.

He staged the "Pulling Up Piccadilly" prank (as he called it) soon after. He and a group of accomplices dressed up as workmen, walked over to London's Piccadilly Street, and started digging a hole in the middle of it. They asked a policeman to direct traffic around them as they worked, and the policeman, thinking they were real workers, did as requested. After half an hour of work, they all dropped their tools and retired to the nearby Ritz Hotel to watch the mayhem they had created.


An undated cartoon account of Cole's prank -- that gets the details of the prank wrong.

Cole is an interesting character. There was a violent, self-destructive side to his pranks, as if he felt compelled to lash out at the world around him. Although he inherited a great deal of money, he lost it all and died penniless. If you want to read more about him, I highly recommend a recent biography of him by Martyn Downer titled The Sultan of Zanzibar: The Bizarre World and Spectacular Hoaxes of Horace de Vere Cole.

The same prank was later reported to have been perpetrated by Hugh Troy in New York. (Troy was like the American counterpart to Horace de Vere Cole, but without the violent, self-destructive side). Or, at least, H. Allen Smith in his 1953 book The Compleat Practical Joker claimed that Troy repeated the prank, though Smith isn't the most reliable of sources:

Early one morning Troy led four companions down Fifty-fourth Street to Fifth Avenue. They wore overalls, carried picks and shovels and had provided themselves with red lanterns and 'Men Working' signs. Opposite the old Rockefeller residence they set to work ripping up the pavement. By noontime they had dug quite a hole in the street. Troy posted flags and signs and they knocked off for lunch. He led his grimy laborers into the dining room of a fashionable hotel near by. The headwaiter was horrified, of course, but Troy was prepared.
"It's all right," he whispered. "It's a little gag the manager wants us to put over."
After a hearty meal, during which some of the other diners stamped out of the place with their noses in the air, Troy led his men back to the excavation. They worked through the afternoon, widening and deepening the hole, then hung up the lanterns and signs and went home. The municipal authorities did not discover the hoax until evening of the following day and they were so bewildered by it that they never did find out who was responsible.

Marjorie's email was the first I had heard of an Australian version of the prank. So I did some searching in the National Library of Australia's newspaper archive, and eventually I found a brief reference to such an event — in the Perth Sunday Times, April 18, 1954.

The Sunday Times article discusses the tradition of student pranks during graduation week, complaining that Perth students hadn't been holding their own in this tradition when compared with students on the east coast of Australia. Towards the end, the author gives some examples of recent east-coast pranks (from around 1952). There's a brief reference to an Australian version of Cole's 'Pulling Up Piccadilly' prank at the bottom of the list:



I'm guessing that the story Marjorie heard (with the details about the students simultaneously warning the police and the workers) was an embellished version of what actually happened. Which isn't surprising, since pranks have a way of "improving" as they're retold. More likely, the students simply restaged Cole's prank. And it wasn't an April Fool's Day prank, but rather a graduation week prank. But it appears to be true that Sydney University students did stage the street-digging prank around 1952.

I'm not aware of any later stagings of the prank, but I'd be surprised if someone hasn't repeated it in the last half-century.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 06, 2012
Comments (0)
The Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1873 includes an article about the mathematician/inventor Charles Babbage. In this article, there's a page-long footnote discussing some hoaxes, and at the end of this footnote, there's a brief reference to the existence of a curious group that called itself the "Society for Insulting Women and Frightening Children":


What is this Society? I haven't been able to find it mentioned anywhere except in this Smithsonian Report. But it sounds like a clandestine group of 19th-century pranksters.

The footnote is signed "J.H.", which I assume stands for Joseph Henry, the Secretary of the Smithsonian at the time. He's a pretty credible source, so I assume he wasn't simply making up this Society.

If anyone has any information about this Society, let me know.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 15, 2012
Comments (2)
Add this to the 'Things on Roofs' file: Police in Houston, Texas received reports of a tiger sitting on the roof of an abandoned hotel. The animal was causing a bit of a traffic jam as drivers stopped to look at it. But upon investigation, it turned out to be a toy tiger. I'm assuming it was the work of a prankster, who's now out a pretty nice stuffed animal. Link: BBC News.

Categories: Animals, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 20, 2012
Comments (7)
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