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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Does pasta grow on trees? A look back at famous April Fools' pranks

Mar 15, 2024 02:42PM ● By Randal C. Hill

One Monday evening in 1957, the switchboard at the BBC’s London office lit up with a flurry of activity. Calls poured in with bewildered viewers inquiring about where they could find a spaghetti plant.

A segment on the English current affairs program “Panorama”—much like America’s “60 Minutes”—had shown Swiss farmers harvesting freshly grown spaghetti in their annual spaghetti harvest. The broadcast left many convinced in the existence of pasta plants. 

On the news the following day, the BBC admitted that the footage was a hoax—an April Fools’ Day prank.

On April 1, 1980, those fun-loving BBC Brits announced that Big Ben’s clock face was going digital. They even said that the first caller could claim the clock’s massive hands. It’s unknown how many viewers fell for that one.

Practical jokes have been a source of human amusement for centuries. While historians have suggested various ancient rites and festivities as potential originators, consensus on the inception of April Fools’ Day remains unknown.

The U.S. has seen its fair share of April Fools’ pranks. Here are a few that I remember:

On April 1, 1985, Sports Illustrated’s article about Sidd Finch and his impossible 168 mph fastball certainly threw readers a curveball (the current record is 106 mph).

In 1992, NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” aired Richard Nixon, impersonated by Rich Little, announcing another run for the presidency with the slogan, “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.”

Fast food chains have dished out their share of pranks as well. In 1996, Taco Bell claimed to have bought the Liberty Bell, rebranding it as the “Taco Liberty Bell.” This surely rang some alarm bells. 

Two years later, Burger King cooked up the idea of a “left-handed Whopper.”

These playful hoaxes are part of a broader tradition of sending the gullible on fools’ errands: seeking a left-handed wrench at the hardware store, blinker fluid at the auto shop, pigeon’s milk at the grocery store or “The History of Eve’s Grandmother” at the bookstore. The spirit of April Fools’ Day shows us that laughter often lies in the unexpected and absurd.

Of course, not everyone finds humor in such traditions. In 2021, Thailand Police announced that posting or sharing false news online could lead to a maximum of five years in prison. 

While many applaud the cleverness and wit of some April Fools’ pranks, there are those on the receiving end who may feel such jests are in poor taste or even harmful. Perspectives on these pranks can vary widely, but one thing is clear: as April 1 approaches, it’s wise to keep a vigilant eye on the media, especially the internet. Consider yourself cautioned—and perhaps, prepared for a plate of fictitious spaghetti.