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Pranks
About two weeks ago a story hit the news wires about a car that landed on the roof of a house in Fresno, CA. The story goes that Benjamin Tucker stole the car, was driving fast, but lost control as he was going round a corner and hit some landscaping rocks, causing the car to become airborne. And it flew through the air until it landed on the roof of a nearby house.


The autoshopper blog points out that this chain of events is highly improbable:

Let’s put together some relevant facts for the sake of reason. The speed limit was 30 MPH, which suggests really high speeds might be difficult to attain on a small community road. The apartment received no major interior or structural damage. It also seems insanely improbably that small landscaping rocks would cause a car to receive more than a few feet of lift. Ergo, the current official explanation is a bit difficult to stomach.

So could the story of the car that landed on a roof possibly be a prank, or a hoax? Well, putting cars on top of buildings is a classic prank. For instance, back in 2006 I blogged about a car-on-a-roof senior prank. But I haven't seen anything related to this current story to suggest it was a prank. Apparently the driver leapt out of the car once it landed on the roof, fell to the ground, and broke his leg. So if it was a prank, the joke was on him.

Unless some other details emerge, I'm going to have to go with the car getting up there by accident, as unlikely an event as that might have been.






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Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 18, 2012
Comments (8)
Apparently Bethel College in Kansas has a history of pranks. Enough so that there's now a website dedicated to collecting all the pranks perpetrated there. The site has a great name: CowsInTheLibrary.com. The name refers to an actual prank at Bethel, but also (perhaps unintentionally) gives a nod to Neil Steinberg's classic book about college pranks, If At All Possible, Involve A Cow.

Bethel's most famous prank is Herman Bubbert, a fictional student "who began appearing on class rolls and in the pages of local newspapers sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s." Bubbert is now the curator of Cows In The Library. (via mennoweekly.org)
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 25, 2011
Comments (1)
Coning (or cone-ing) involves ordering an ice-cream cone at a fast-food drive-thru window, and then taking it by the ice cream instead of the cone when it's handed to you. If you do a search for coning on youtube, you can see a lot of examples of it. Even Justin Bieber is a fan of coning.

It's a strange prank because it inverts the typical logic of pranking. Usually pranks involve humiliating or one-upping a victim. For instance, a victim sits on a whoopee cushion, prompting everyone to laugh at him. But in the case of coning, the prankster pays for the ice cream cone and then proceeds to ruin his own cone by grabbing it incorrectly. The person handing him the cone isn't put out in any way. They may be puzzled by the strange behavior, but they're not inconvenienced. In other words, in coning the prankster becomes the victim of his or her own prank.

I was confused by this until (at the risk of greatly overanalyzing this) I realized that coning is essentially a form of breaching experiment. Breaching experiments are a form of experimentation used by social psychologists. They involve acting in a way that violates an unwritten rule of social behavior, and then observing how people respond to this violation. The experiments reveal that society functions smoothly because we all (usually) obey these unwritten social rules. Sniggle.net has collected some examples of famous breaching experiments, which include volunteering to pay more than the posted price for an item, ordering a Whopper at McDonald's, or saying hello at the end of a conversation.

Breaching experiments are most frequently associated with the work of Harold Garfinkel (who died earlier this year). The NY Times, in its obituary of Garfinkel, wrote:

He wrote about so-called “breaching” experiments in which the subjects’ expectations of social behavior were violated; for example, a subject playing tic tac toe was confronted with an opponent who made his marks on the lines dividing the spaces on the game board instead of in the spaces themselves. Their reactions — outrage, anger, puzzlement, etc. — helped demonstrate the existence of underlying presumptions that constitute social life.

So all these videos of coning pranks on youtube can be viewed as examples of amateur breaching experiments. (It's good to see that today's youth has such an interest in social psychology.) And from this perspective, it's interesting to observe the reactions of the fast-food employees to the coning. Most of them simply look with bewilderment at the prankster. Some laugh nervously. But a few get quite angry, even though the prankster isn't doing anything to hurt them. In one video, as a young woman tries to grab her cone by the ice cream, a McDonald's employee pulls the cone away from her and says, "I don't know what you think you're doing, but I could actually mush this in your face." He's obviously quite mad at her attempt to violate the unwritten social rule of how to properly take ice cream cones. (via scribbal.com)


Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 22, 2011
Comments (7)
zebra donkeyUnidentified pranksters broke into the Sussex Horse Rescue Trust in Uckfield, East Sussex and transformed "Ant" the donkey into a zebra by spray-painting stripes on him (express.co.uk). Ant wasn't hurt in any way, though the spray paint reportedly had a strong, unpleasant smell. The RSPCA condemned the prank: "It's shocking people would think it was funny to spray-paint a donkey in this way. We take reports of animals being painted very seriously." This prank immediately reminded me of the tradition of Tijuana Zebras, which I last posted about back in 2006. I noted then that the Tijuana tradition of painting donkeys to look like zebras was dying out, but perhaps it's reemerging in Sussex.
Categories: Animals, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 22, 2011
Comments (2)
There's a long history of hoaxers finding ways to slip fake stories into newspapers. Back in 1864 Joseph Howard tried to manipulate the New York stock market by sending fake Associated Press telegrams to newspaper offices. The telegrams claimed Lincoln had decided to conscript an extra 400,000 men into the Union army. Several papers printed the fake news. The stock market panicked, because the news suggested the Civil War was going to drag on for a lot longer, and Howard (who had invested heavily in gold) made a nice profit.

During the 1870s and 1880s, Joseph Mulhattan (a very odd character) made a kind of career out of tricking newspapers into printing fake stories. One of his more notorious hoaxes was when he fooled papers into reporting that a giant meteor had fallen in Texas. And on April Fool's Day 1915, a worker in the printing press of the Boston Globe surreptitiously made a minor alteration to the front page of the paper, lowering its price from Two Cents per Copy to One cent.

Technology changes, but the hoaxes remain much the same. And so yesterday a group of pranksters calling themselves The Script Kiddies (or TH3 5CR1PT K1DD3S) managed to hack into the Twitter feed of NBC News and posted a series of fake newsflashes. The first of these announced: "Breaking News! Ground Zero has just been attacked. Flight 5736 has crashed into the site, suspected hijacking. more as the story develops."

Obviously NBC News didn't much appreciate this. Their Twitter account was soon taken offline and the fake messages deleted.

The Script Kiddies perpetrated a similar stunt back in July when they hacked into the Twitter account of Fox News and posted tweets claiming President Obama was dead.

According to an interview they conducted with Think magazine, The Script Kiddies see themselves as anti-corporate activists, and they intend their pranks to embarrass and annoy the corporations they target.
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Journalism, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 12, 2011
Comments (1)
Here's an example of how people can interpret what is basically the same phenomenon in very different ways. Yesterday, kcautv.com (Sioux City, IA) reported that the Sioux City police were concerned about shoes hanging from power lines, noting that far from being just a harmless prank, the dangling shoes have a sinister meaning. They "give the alert that there is drug activity here. That you can find your drug needs at this location or in this area." (I've blogged about Secret Powerline Codes before).

However, over in Olney, Illinois (home of the white squirrels) a couple woke to find 31 hats hanging from a tree in their front yard. Instead of worrying that the hats had a sinister meaning, they concluded their presence there was just "good, clean fun." In fact, they decided their sons must have put the hats in the tree as a roundabout way of saying "Hats off to you, Mom and Dad," or "We'll always have a place to hang our hats."

The parents don't seem to have considered the possibility that the hats mean, "We're selling drugs here, Mom and Dad!"
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 08, 2011
Comments (6)
Yesterday the GOP debuted its own URL shortener. Wired.com describes the results:

Almost immediately after it launched yesterday, pranksters began using the service to link to controversial or ironically-intended websites such as the official site of the American Communist Party, a bondage website and a webpage advertising a sex toy in the likeness of Barack Obama. GOP.am started blocking such links apparently at some point Tuesday morning, and the GOP.am homepage is now offline.

Possibly the first branded URL shortener (Google also launched its own URL shortener yesterday afternoon), GOP.am was designed by the R.N.C.’s new media consultants, Political Media, to work somewhat like bit.ly in that it shortens URLs so that they can be more easily exchanged via short messaging services like Twitter.

But unlike bit.ly, GOP.am includes a toolbar at the top of the screen that follows the user as they click through to see whatever page the link goes to, and an animation of Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele walking around on the lower right as if he’s showing off the website — particularly awkward when that website is the alt.com bondage site.

How could they not have foreseen this would be the result if they created a URL shortener that made it look as if the GOP was endorsing any link a user entered?
Categories: Politics, Pranks, Websites
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 15, 2009
Comments (1)
A few days ago a fork appeared in the middle of a Pasadena road. It's located, appropriately, at a fork in the road, where Pasadena and St. John avenues divide. From the Pasadena Star News:

It turns out the fork is an elaborate - and expensive - birthday prank in honor of the 75th birthday of Bob Stane, founder of the Ice House comedy club, who now owns the Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena...
The wooden fork, is "expertly carved and painted," to look like metal, Stane said. "It's anchored in 2 1/2-feet of concrete and steel. It's not a public danger - unless someone drives into it."

(Thanks, Bob!)
Categories: Art, Places, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 06, 2009
Comments (6)
Patty Henken found a small envelope in a rocking chair she bought at auction. In the envelope was a key and a note giving her directions to where $250 in U.S. gold coins was supposedly buried in a lead chest. The note was signed "Chauncey Wolcott." There was also a request to contact the State Journal-Register newspaper of Springfield, if the treasure was found. The Associated Press tells the rest:

With help of a donated backhoe, Patty Henken tore up a vacant lot in Springfield, Ill...
The dig turned up nothing but bricks and old bottles. Henken planned to return Tuesday with the donated services of a man with ground-penetrating radar meant to detect any buried items, but the treasure note's promise may already be debunked.
An Iowa woman who read news accounts of the hunt said she knows Wolcott's true identity: John "Jay" Slaven, a notorious practical joker and coin collector who often used a typewriter in his pranks.
Slaven used the pen name "Chauncey Wolcott" and lived for decades at the location where the dig took place, until his 1976 death, according to Betty Atkinson Ryan of Mason City, Iowa.
Categories: Death, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 05, 2009
Comments (12)
An internet fad that managed to escape my attention is the "lying down" craze, in which people post photos of themselves lying face down, hands against their sides, in unusual locations. This sounded like fun to a group of British doctors and nurses: "The staff were pictured face down on resuscitation trolleys, ward floors and the air ambulance heli-pad during a night shift at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon, Wilts." Their mistake was to then post the photos on Facebook. Seven of them have now been suspended pending disciplinary hearings. [sun.co.uk]
Categories: Photos/Videos, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 10, 2009
Comments (5)
As noted by Beasjt in the forum, there's been a case of a phone prankster tricking a couple into smashing up a hotel room by telling them there's a gas leak. I reported a case of an identical prank in April.

The Boston Herald describes these incidents as part of a "wave of hotel pranks":

The Monday incident follows others from around the country:
In Arkansas, a caller posing as a sprinkler company employee convinced a motel employee to do more than $50,000 in damage to a motel as part of a "test" of the motel’s emergency alarms.
At a Comfort Suites in Daphne, Ala., a caller ordered a guest to turn on the sprinklers for a fire that wasn’t. The result: more than $10,000 in damage.
In Nebraska, a Hampton Inn employee was convinced by a caller to pull the fire alarm, later telling him the only way to silence the alarm was by breaking the lobby windows. The employee enlisted the help of a nearby trucker, who drove his rig through the front door.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 10, 2009
Comments (9)
Calling a store and asking "have you got Prince Albert in a can" is a prank call. Calling your grandmother 45 times and saying "You're going to die" is not a prank call. It's a sign of serious psychological issues. [google]

A 21-year-old woman faces felony charges after allegedly prank-calling her 69-year-old grandmother 45 times in one day, threatening to kill her. The woman faces five felony counts including harassment. A criminal complaint said she told police she was "bored" and "wanted to have some fun." ...
The criminal complaint said the suspect told investigators she wanted to scare her grandmother but didn't want her dead. She said she knew it was wrong but not illegal.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 06, 2009
Comments (3)
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