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Greatest April Fools' Day hoaxes ever

By Ben Grove, Staff writer
Published On: Mar 27 2012 05:11:14 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 30 2012 01:00:00 AM CDT
Taco Bell Liberty Bell prank

A cleverly crafted and well-executed April Fools' hoax can live on in history as a well-regarded bit of performance art.

Such was the case after the Madison Capital-Times in 1933 convinced many readers that the state Capitol collapsed amid explosions due to "large quantities of gas" generated by verbose politicians.

In 1996, people were outraged when fast-food chain Taco Bell took out newspaper ads to announce it had bought the Liberty Bell and renamed it the Taco Liberty Bell.

Even stodgy National Public Radio has joined the fun. A 1994 NPR story claimed teenagers were eagerly accepting offers to tattoo their ears with corporate logos (KFC, the GAP) to get a lifetime 10 percent discount.

So be on guard today for the next great prank, and enjoy these -- five of the finest April 1 hoaxes ever ...

old retro TV television

No. 5: Smellovision - 1965

Television was still a relatively cutting-edge, little-understood technology in the mid-1960s.

So for many viewers, it didn't seem too outlandish -- it passed the sniff test, so to speak -- that the amazing new world of TV could produce smells.

Smellovision was unveiled in a BBC segment, with an expert demonstrating a new technique in which aromas conjured in a TV studio could be pumped through home television sets.

An expert on the set even demonstrated by brewing a pot of coffee and chopping up an onion. He urged viewers to call in if they could smell anything and suggested that "for best results stand six feet away from your set and sniff."

Viewers reported that they could, in fact, catch a whiff of the distinctive scents. They apparently did not smell the, ahem, bull.

Jupiter planet space

No. 4: Gravity Disappears - 1976

BBC Radio 2 launched a stellar prank with news that at 9:47 a.m. on April 1, 1976, Pluto would pass behind Jupiter and that this alignment of the planets would result in a stronger gravitational pull from Jupiter, counteracting the Earth's own gravity.

Listeners who timed a jump just at the right moment would be able to experience weightlessness, an astronomer in the report claimed.

Hundreds of listeners immediately reported that they had been suspended in mid-air (along with their disbelief).

One woman said that she and 11 friends -- and the table they were seated around -- had begun to float during the cosmic moment. Another caller said that the gravitational release had been so dramatic that she hit her head on the ceiling.

Sidd Finch, Sports Illustrated hoax

No. 3: Sidd Finch - 1985

The discovery of a superhuman baseball pitcher who throws 168-mph fastballs (when the game's top hurlers rarely clock 100) would be explosive news indeed.

But easily duped sports fans didn't seem to question that the bombshell was instead subtly unveiled in a lengthy, carefully crafted article written by George Plimpton in a 1985 Sports Illustrated magazine.

The story profiled a 28-year-old "eccentric mystic" quietly training with the New York Mets. Hayden Sidd Finch was a former English orphan, a one-time Harvard student who learned to throw in Tibet -- and completely the fictitious imagining of Plimpton.

Mets fans and other sports fanatics swooned. But they might have paid closer attention to the words spelled out by the first letters of the story's secondary headline: "He's a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent lifestyle, Sidd's deciding about yoga -- and his future in baseball." (Happy April Fools' Day -- ah fib.)

Pi

No. 2: Alabama Pi - 1998

A notable event in the early history of hoaxes involving the Internet was a fake news story that reported the Alabama Legislature had voted to change the mathematical value of pi from 3.14159 (and the infinite number of digits that follow) to a simple round 3 because that's what the Bible teaches.

The author was listed as April Holiday, who worked for the news service "The Associalized Press."

The story was written by a scientist named Mark Boslough as a parody of attacks on the teaching of evolution. He pitched it to the group New Mexicans for Science and Reason, which published it. Boslough quickly posted his confession that it was a hoax, but the story lived on. Forwarded versions began to appear online that deleted the fictitious writer and news organization.

Alabama lawmakers were deluged with complaints and forced to explain that they had not concocted a new pi recipe.

Burger King Whopper hamburger, burger, fast food

No. 1: The Left-Handed Whopper - 1998

To many customers, Burger King merely seemed to be taking its "Have it your way" slogan to new extremes as it unveiled a new Left-Handed Whopper, which claimed to finally get the condiments in the right place for America's lefties.

A full-page ad in USA Today trumpeted the culinary curiosity on April 1, 1998.

The restaurant reported that lots of left-handers -- and righties, BK noted gleefully -- swallowed the prank whole, eagerly lining up to get the correct burger. No doubt Burger King reveled in the sales boost and free publicity the prank generated later.

Perhaps harried lunch-rush customers merely couldn't be slowed long enough to consider that the fully rotatable round sandwiches had never really been a problem before. Would more of them have caught on if the chain had offered a side of french fries for the brown-eyed?