March 30, 2008

Mousetrap - 142

To help you along to April Fools’ Day, the plan here was to come up with a complete column-full of weird but fictitious websites. But that we rejected partly because that would mean we would have to actually think, which we can manage only once a week or thereabouts, and partly because the web is rather more weird than even your columnist’s imagination.

Dream Holiday
Sans Serriffe
This is a very old joke. It dates back all the way to 1977, when the staff of the Guardian, in the UK, came up with a special supplement in the style of similar things done earlier about real countries. The supplement claimed to commemorate the tenth anniversary of San Serrife’s independence, and even had themed ads (which the advertisers actually paid for!) from major companies. It was one of the most successful public pranks ever, with many readers, who didn’t get the typographical in-jokes (the islands of Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse, the capital city of Bodoni, and other cities like Arial, Baskerville and Port Clarendon), falling for it completely. This page, on the community site Wikitravel, is a kind of ongoing homage to the hoax. In the style of the site, completely deadpan, it lays out a comprehensive traveller’s guide to the island nation, borrowing freely from the original joke, the literature derived from it, and with some new stuff as well. Have a great holiday!

History Lessons
Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes Of All Time
The Museum of Hoaxes is worth a visit on its own, for its Hoaxipedia. But this is a special treat, listing pranks dating back to the 16th century. Some favourites: the BBC radio gag that had people jumping in the air to feel the effect of lower gravity as a result of a planetary alignment; the Swedish TV station back in 1962, that had its viewers pulling nylon stocking over their sets to get a colour picture; the Swiss spaghetti trees; the moving of the Eiffel Tower. Also go see their Top 10 Worst April Fool's Day Hoaxes Of All Time page.

Searching for more?
Google
Since 2000, the search giant has been one of the go-to pages on April 1st. Their Pigeon Rank gag in 2002 was a personal favourite, and last year’s TISP broadband internet service (Toilet Internet Service Provider, which, the page claimed, would give users access through sewage lines). What’s more, they’ve mixed it up a bit, by actually launching real products on the day. Gmail was one; it’s unprecedented 1GB of free storage was unheard of at that time, so many people thought it was a joke. Which, of course, only helped spread the news faster. Worth keeping your eyes open, one way or another.

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to http://o3.indiatimes.com/mousetrap for past columns, and to comment, or mail inthemousetrap@indiatimes.com. The writer blogs at http://zigzackly.blogspot.com.

Published in the Times of India, 30th March, 2008.

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