15 Shocking Pranks, Practical Jokes and Hoaxes

In honour of April Fool’s Day, here are 600 years of fast ones that you won’t believe people actually pulled off.

1 / 15
Pile of fresh red apples
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1400s: A Moveable Feast

Thomas Betson, the prankster-monk, pulls off one of the earliest documented practical jokes when he hides a beetle inside a hollowed-out apple and fools his fellow monks into believing that the mysteriously rocking apple is possessed.

You won’t believe the origins of April Fool’s Day!

2 / 15
Full moon at night
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1835: Lunar Life

The Great Moon Hoax is the first big media trick. The New York Sun prints an article claiming that astronomers have discovered life on the moon. More articles appear over the next few weeks, and the country is gripped by moon fever.

Check out these other fascinating facts about the moon!

3 / 15
Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcasts is one of the most famous practical jokes
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1938: The Ultimate War

Orson Welles’s radio broadcast of War of the Worlds convinces millions of listeners that earth is under attack by aliens. Many flee their homes, pray in houses of worship, and, eventually, curse Welles’s name.

If you want to bring your A-game to trivia night, here are some pop culture facts to keep in mind!

4 / 15
Spaghetti pasta being drained
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1957: Pasta Plants

A BBC News documentary about the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest depicts farmers pulling strands of spaghetti from trees. The network is deluged with callers asking where they can buy a spaghetti tree.

These outrageous news stories prove that sometimes life is stranger than fiction.

5 / 15
Three young horses
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1959: Beastly Indecency

Prankster extraordinaire Alan Abel dreams up a campaign calling for animals to wear clothing, and the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals is born. Spokesperson G. Clifford Prout appears on Today to promote the group’s catchy slogan: “A nude horse is a rude horse.” Eventually, 50,000 concerned citizens sign its petition, and even Walter Cronkite gets hoodwinked—until it’s discovered that Prout is actually comedian Buck Henry.

You definitely need these funny animal pictures in your life!

6 / 15
Vintage television set
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1962: Colour Conversion

The broadcasting technician for Sweden’s lone television station appears on the news to announce that, thanks to a new technology, viewers can convert the existing black-and-white broadcasts into colour. All they have to do is pull a nylon stocking over their TV screen. Thousands try it.

Learn about the petty conflicts that changed history!

7 / 15
Baseball on the mound
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1985: Pitching Prodigy

Sports Illustrated runs a story about Sidd Finch, a Mets rookie pitcher with odd training methods who can throw a baseball 168 mph with pinpoint accuracy, even though he’s never played the game before. Instead, he mastered the “art of the pitch” in the mountains of Tibet. In reality, Finch exists only in the mind of the author George Plimpton.

We’re counting down the worst mistakes in sports history.

8 / 15
Taco Bell restaurant
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1996: A New Bell

Taco Bell announces it has bought the Liberty Bell and is renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Outraged citizens complain to the Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, where the bell is housed.

Don’t miss these totally true lawsuit stories!

9 / 15
Water being poured into clear glasses
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1997: Killer Compound

The chemical compound DHMO is “colourless, odourless, and kills thousands of people every year” through “accidental inhalation,” reads a widely circulated e-mail, calling for a ban. Furthermore, it’s now “a major component of acid rain” and is “found in almost every stream, lake, and reservoir in America.” One California town becomes so alarmed that residents debate banning foam cups, which are shown to contain DHMO. They nix the idea upon learning that DHMO is actually water.

10 / 15
Burger King location with signage
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1998: Burger Switcheroo

Burger King introduces a new item to its menu: the Left-Handed Whopper, specially designed for southpaws. According to the company, the new Whopper includes the same ingredients as the original version, but all the condiments are rotated 180 degrees.

These secrets from fast-food restaurants will make you think twice about where you eat!

11 / 15
Group of children in India
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2004: Compensation Con

On the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal, India, chemical plant disaster that killed thousands, Jude Finisterra, a representative from Dow, tells a BBC audience that the company finally accepts full responsibility for the tragedy and plans to compensate victims to the tune of $12 billion. Only after Dow’s stock plummets does the BBC or anyone else realize that Finisterra is not connected with Dow, but with the Yes Men, a political prankster group.

12 / 15
College football game
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2004: Football Folly

At the annual Yale-Harvard football game, Yale students, dressed as the Harvard pep squad, distribute placards to their rival’s fans. On cue, the Harvard faithful lift them up and unwittingly spell “We Suck.”

13 / 15
Toilet in white washroom
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2007: Wired Waste

Google introduces TiSP (Toilet Internet Service Provider), which supplies free broadband via the sewer system. A user flushes one end of a fibre-optic cable down his toilet; an hour later, it’s recovered and connected to the Internet by a team of Plumbing Hardware Dispatchers. Chat rooms are filled with interested parties asking, “Can this be true?”

Don’t miss these hilarious April Fool’s Day pranks from around the world!

14 / 15
Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin
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2008: Political Prank

Days before the U.S. presidential election, a Canadian disc jockey is able to reach vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin by phone and convince her that he is French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Palin fails to pick up on any of the hints that the conversation is a joke, even when he says, with an exaggerated, Pepé Le Pew–style accent, “From my ‘ouse, I can see Belgium.”

These other pop culture artifacts from the 2000s will make you cringe.

15 / 15
Tetris video game
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2012: Tower of Tetris

Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had long been renowned for their elaborate hoaxes, but even they considered this their “Holy Grail”: A team of hackers installed lights in each of the 153 windows of the campus’ 21-story Green Building, and via wireless connection transformed the lights into a giant, functioning game of Tetris, visible throughout much of the Boston metro region.

Next, check out these short jokes anyone can remember!

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest