30 March 2012 17:41 | By Hugh Wilson, contributor, MSN Him

Best ever April Fools' jokes

From pranks to hoaxes, the likely to the unlikely, here are the best ever April Fools' jokes.

Volcanic ash shoots into the sky as the Mayon volcano erupts in the Philippines (© Nelson Salting-Associated Press)

If you're told to fetch the elbow grease this Sunday, head down to the hardware store for a 'long weight', or asked where the exotic island of San Serriffe is, you'll probably yawn theatrically and say "yes, yes, great, I get it, April Fools' Day".

Which just goes to show what an incredulous, cynical lot we are these days. In the past, people would fall hook, line and sinker for April Fools' Day hoaxes, dashing off angry letters to newspapers and searching supermarket shelves for tins of Swiss tree-grown spaghetti.

Which means pranksters have to try really hard these days to come up with good April Fools' Day tricks. Luckily, there are still plenty of us willing to try. Here are 10 of the best, from the recent and more distant past.

The Taco Liberty Bell

In 1996 American fast food giant Taco Bell took out full-page adverts in half a dozen newspapers claiming that it had bought the Liberty Bell, one of that nation's great historic symbols. From then on, the ads claimed, it would be named the Taco Liberty Bell.

Ignorant of the significance of the day, hundreds of concerned citizens jammed phone lines at the National Historic Park in Philadelphia, where the bell was housed, in an attempt to register their disgust. Even a couple of politicians fell for the hoax.

But as a promotional tool, the Taco Bell hoax fell a little flat. Law professor Ronald Collins was one of many who questioned the good taste of the "best joke of the day".

"If this is merely being playful, you have to wonder if next time, someone might do the same thing with a crucifix," he wrote.

Whopper, fries and drink from Burger King (© Gene J. Puskar-Associated Press)

The 'left-handed whopper' from Burger King - a whopper of a lie

Left-handed whopper from Burger King

What a whopper it was in April 1998, when Burger King took out a full-page ad to announce the arrival of the left-handed whopper. According to the company, all the ingredients of the famous burger had been rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of the company's left-handed customers.

Did they fall for it? A press release from Burger King the next day revealed that thousands of southpaw customers had asked for the new burger, and a similar number of right-handed customers had specified their requirement for a right-handed burger.

Gravity's pull

In April 1976 Patrick Moore told listeners of BBC Radio 2 that at 9.47am precisely a unique alignment of Pluto and Jupiter would cause a momentary reduction in the Earth's gravitational pull. If listeners jumped in the air at the right moment, they would experience a weird floating sensation.

And at 9.48am listeners started to call the BBC to say that they had indeed floated. Some people even claimed they had floated around their rooms. There are reports of one angry listener ringing up to say that he had floated vertically upwards and banged his head on the ceiling.

Gmail paper printouts?

The paperless office has long been one of the promises of technology. But in 2007 Google decided that the idea of a paper-free environment was passé. Instead, users of its Gmail email service would be shipped, on demand, an archive of their email transactions in paper form. Adverts on the back of each sheet would offset the huge cost of this gargantuan effort.

President Nixon

In 1992 many gullible Americans believed one of the most reviled men in the nation's history was going to run for president again. Yes, the man who resigned from office over the Watergate affair in the mid 70s was about to restart his political career, under the winning slogan "I never did anything wrong, and I won't do it again." Droves of listeners to NPR's Talk of the Nation programme rang in to register their disgust, and to tell Nixon - impersonated by comedian Rich Little - that they were not going to give him the chance to not do anything wrong again, no siree!

Penguin falling into pool enclosure (© Kirsty Wigglesworth-Associated Press)

Falling penguin, not flying - big difference

Flying penguins

In 2008 the BBC released a short film containing the most incredible footage. It showed the Adelie penguins of Antarctica in flight. According to narrator Terry Jones, some of the penguins had (re)evolved the ability to fly in response to the long, harsh Antarctic winter and, instead of huddling together for warmth as most penguins do, made an annual migration to the rainforests of South America. The birds were shown landing in the tree canopy.

Both the Mirror and the Telegraph were in on the joke and ran the story on their front pages. Other outlets almost fell for it, until realising that the name of the filmmaker, Prof Alid Loyas, was an anagram of April Fools' Day.

Volcano eruption

This may be the best April Fools' ever.

On 1 April 1974 the residents of Sitka, Alaska, woke to see a plume of thick black smoke rising from the crater of Mount Edgecumbe, a long dormant volcano that towered over the town. Residents rushed onto the streets and the authorities were summoned. A chopper was scrambled, and as it approached the mountain the smoke thickened, as if the volcano were about to erupt.

It didn't. As the pilot hovered over the crater, he finally made out the cause of this volcanic activity. A huge pile of old tyres was burning in the mountain's gaping mouth, and next to it, in 50 foot letters, were the words "April Fool".

The hoax was the work of local prankster Oliver "Porky" Bickar, whose handiwork was soon splashed across newspapers worldwide.

Sydney Opera House with the Harbour Bridge in the background (© Russell-McPhedran-Associated Press)

Sydney: not well known for its iceberg proliferation

The Sydney iceberg

When a giant iceberg appeared in Sydney harbour in April 1978, the locals were expecting it. Local businessman Dick Smith had promised residents the very freshest ice for their drinks, straight off an iceberg that he was towing from Antarctica.

Thousands lined the harbour to get a view of the iceberg, which duly arrived towed by a tug. Unfortunately, the skies opened and the iceberg was revealed for what it really was - a huge mound of white plastic sheeting topped with shaving cream and fire-fighting foam.

Highway patrol

In April 1994, at the very beginning of the internet revolution, an article in PC Computing magazine claimed that politicians in America were having a lot of difficulty understanding the differences between an information superhighway and a regular highway. According to the article, a bill was going through Congress that would make drunkenness on the internet illegal.

Apparently, the bill would let the FBI snoop on anyone suspected of drunkenness on the World Wide Web. It was rumoured that Senator Edward Kennedy had sponsored the bill, and his office fielded so many outraged phone calls that he was eventually forced to release an official denial of having anything to do with it.

Long run

In April 1981 the Daily Mail ran a story about Japanese distance runner Kimo Nakajimi, who had entered the London Marathon but, because of a translation error, believed he had to run for 26 days rather than 26 miles. According to the paper, Nakajimi was still out and about in the English countryside, still running and determined to complete the run. He had been spotted several times, the paper said, but no passer-by had been able to flag the determined athlete down.

So what will it be this year? We have no idea, but if you read on 1 April that the London Olympics have been moved to Macclesfield, or that the biggest political story of the moment centres on a Cornish pasty, don't believe a word of it! Oh, hang on...

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