Hoax Museum Blog: Pranks

Park Rules (and other fake signs)

Jeff Wysaski's hobby is putting up fake signs at various locations such as stores, museums, or in the street. He posts examples of his creations on his blog Obvious Plant. The very first fake sign he put up was in a park, listing the Park Rules, which included that "Dogs must be clothed." Perhaps an allusion to Alan Abel's Society for the Indecency to Naked Animals? more…

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London’s pranks and hoaxes — Londonist offers a brief list of some of London's pranks and hoaxes. They don't include any that aren't already listed here. But they do include quite a few links back to the museum!
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Abu Sharmouta and the Gag Name Prank — The classic example of the "gag name" prank is to tell a reporter your name is "Haywood Jablome" — and hope the reporter doesn't think too long about what phrase that name sounds like.

Haywood Jablome digging out a snowdrift. Fargo Forum - Dec 27, 2009

An older example: back in 1930, students at Cornell made headlines by getting politicians to praise the legacy of one "Hugo N. Frye" (you go and fry), supposed founder of the Republican party in New York state.

A more recent version of the prank occurred earlier this year when San Francisco station KTVU reported that the pilots of the crashed Asiana Airlines Flight 214 were "Captain Sum Ting Wong," "Wi Tu Lo," "Ho Lee Fuk," and "Bang Ding Ow." The station had apparently been told those names by an NTSB intern who was subsequently let go.

And the gag name prank has now again been in the news — but this time with an Arabic twist.

Following an armed robbery at the University of Houston, a TV correspondent for KTRK news interviewed a student who claimed to have been a witness. He told the reporter his name was "Abu Sharmouta."

Footage of this interview has become an "internet sensation" in the Middle East, because "Abu Sharmouta" was not the interviewee's real name. The phrase means "father of a whore" in Arabic. (I'm guessing it's the Arabic equivalent of "S.O.B.")

Not only did the interviewee give a false name, he also lied about having witnessed the crime. He was a U of H student who later explained he pulled the prank on the spur of the moment as a way to blow off steam during finals. [albawaba.com]

I'm giving this prank the thumbs down. It seems to me that the gag name prank becomes meaningless if you use foreign phrases that a reporter can't reasonably be expected to know. Though evidently it was humorous to Arabic speakers to hear this bogus name repeated on the news.
Posted: Thu Dec 19, 2013.   Comments (2)

Santa in Kinky Boots — Macy's decision to include the cast of the broadway musical Kinky Boots in its Thanksgiving Day parade was criticized by some conservative groups — since Kinky Boots features drag queens, and (so the conservatives argued) this made it inappropriate for the children watching the parade.

But instead of being repentant, Macy's seemed to be doubling-down on its support of Kinky Boots when a flyer started to circulate online announcing that Macy's would be having an event in its kids department hosted by a Santa in kinky boots: "Bring your whole family to see Santa wearing a glittery addition to his traditional outfit!"

Both Harvey Fierstein (who stars in Kinky Boots) and a Broadway news site believed the flyer was real and reposted it, but subsequently deleted their posts when they realized the flyer was a fake. [pagesix.com]
Posted: Mon Dec 16, 2013.   Comments (0)

Spaceman First-Class Bob Percy — In February 1959, Bob Percy, rush chairman of the Psi Omega professional dental fraternity at the University of Southern California, was kidnapped by his own pledges and dressed in a "space helmet, toe-less tennis shoes, sweat pants and shirt with chained hands and feet." He was then taken to the airport and put on a plane, with no idea of where he was going and no money.

The picture below was taken as he was boarding the plane.

Halfway through the flight he figured out he was en route to Las Vegas, by overhearing a passenger.

Once in Vegas, he called the Las Vegas Sun, told them his story, and they put him in touch with the publicity agent at the El Rancho Vegas hotel, who gave him some money for his return trip. The airline made out his ticket to "Spaceman First-Class Bob Percy."

The pledges who did all this to Percy were said to be in store for "some sort of punishment." But I haven't been able to find out what that punishment was.

I was never a member of a fraternity, but I always thought it was the pledges who went through hazing rituals like this, not the rush chairman.

Daily Trojan - Feb 25, 1959

Posted: Wed Oct 23, 2013.   Comments (1)

Telekinetic Coffee Prank — The video of the "Telekinetic Coffee Shop Prank" has gotten over 30 millions views on YouTube in 4 days. So it's definitely served its purpose, which is to promote the upcoming release of the Carrie remake.

A lot of people have questioned whether the customers in the coffee shop were real or actors. But according to Andrea Morales, the actress who played the telekinetic coffee woman, the customers definitely were real. She says in an interview with the NY Daily News, "We got some awesome reactions. Some people got really into it. A constructor worker actually came toward me to calm me down, saying everything was going to be okay." 

Posted: Fri Oct 11, 2013.   Comments (1)

Invasion of the Housekeepers, 1909 — The Cowichan Valley Citizen has dug into its archives for a story about a 1909 hoax that caused a small army of housekeepers to descend upon Victoria, British Columbia, in response to a want ad that turned out to be a prank:

'Hoax' goes too far: Victoria's invasion of the housekeepers
Cowichan Valley Citizen

First to become aware of the invasion of foreign domestic help was V.C. Maddock, a city realtor. For days, he'd had to explain to job applicants, some of them very insistent, some of them in tears, all of them frustrated and mystified, that he wasn't the "H. Maddock" who'd placed an ad in the Seattle Times. A steady stream of women to his office, all seeking the position so glowingly advertised, had finally driven him to distraction - and the police.

Posted: Fri Oct 11, 2013.   Comments (0)

Cow Tipping Debunked Once Again — Cow tipping has been thoroughly debunked before, but Modern Farmer's recent article on the subject is interesting nevertheless. It emphasizes that cows are not easy animals to tip over because they've got a lot of mass, they're very stable on their feet, and they're difficult to sneak up on.

To underscore how difficult it is to tip a cow, the author, Jake Swearingen, notes that farm vets often need to get a cow down on its side to perform a medical exam, and it's not easy to do. The process is called "cow casting." The vets use ropes and teams of highly-trained individuals, and often things still go badly wrong, as the video below shows.

Posted: Mon Sep 23, 2013.   Comments (0)

The Bunny Ears Prank Revisited — Rugby player Manu Tuilagi recently apologized for making bunny ears behind David Cameron's head during a photo shoot outside of 10 Downing Street. Cameron replied, "No need to apologise, I know it was just a bit of fun." [espn scrum]

This got me thinking again about the history of the Bunny Ears prank, a topic I last posted about back in 2006. How old is the Bunny Ears prank? Does it predate photography? Nobody knows.

After a bit of searching online, the oldest example of making bunny ears that I could find is this 1944 World War II photo in which a French woman (apparently a prostitute) is jokingly making bunny ears behind the head of an American soldier. Her hand isn't fully in the frame of the photo, but it's clear what she's doing.

However, I'd be surprised if there aren't earlier "bunny ear" photos. They're just hard to find. Like looking for a needle in a haystack. But I'm sure they must be out there somewhere, hidden away in family photo collections.

As for the history of the gesture, I would guess that it's very old and that it does predate photography, because the idea of giving someone ears seems to me to be a reference to the ass-eared hats traditionally worn by fools (the "fool's cap").

"Fool's Cap Map of the World," ca. 1580.

So even though we call the gesture "bunny ears," my theory is that the prankster is actually symbolically giving their victim the ears of an ass, and thereby making them look like a fool.

Fools and jesters have been wearing ass-eared hats for a long time. Here are some pictures of fools in the middle ages wearing the ass-eared hat.

The association between ass ears and fools goes back to antiquity. An image found on an ancient terracotta vase shows a Roman jester wearing an ass-eared hat. And in mythology, there's the story of King Midas whose ears were transformed into those of an ass by Apollo, after Midas said he preferred the music of Pan to that of Apollo.

Roman jester wearing a hat with ears

So potentially the behind-the-head ear gesture could date back to antiquity. Though I've never seen references to it from before the 20th century. But then again, I haven't spent much time looking.

The corollary to my theory is that I don't think the bunny ears gesture has anything to do with the cuckold's horn gesture, even though the two are similar. And even though some people assume that bunny ears must be a form of cuckold's horns. For instance, this 2009 BBC News article makes that assumption:

the link between horns and infidelity remains deep-rooted... In Britain, the word "cuckold" is old-fashioned. But youngsters still love to stick their fingers up behind their friends' heads in photographs, to make them look silly.

But ears are not horns. They're different symbols. The bunny ears gesture doesn't have the sexual connotations that the horn gesture has. Which is why making bunny ears is dismissed as playful joking around, whereas making the horn symbol behind someone's head (as Silvio Berlusconi did behind the head of the Spanish foreign minister in 2002) is viewed as extremely insulting.

Posted: Fri Sep 20, 2013.   Comments (1)

The Royalton’s Special Tea Blend —

George Jean Nathan
Orson Welles was fond of telling the following story about drama critic George Jean Nathan (1882-1958) — a story which is repeated in the recently published My Lunches with Orson, Peter Biskind (ed.). [via the Legends & Rumors Blog]

Orson Welles: Let me tell you a story about George Jean Nathan, America's greatest drama critic. George Jean Nathan was the tightest man who ever lived, even tighter than Charles Chaplin. And he lived for forty years in the Hotel Royalton, which is across from the Algonquin. […] He never tipped anybody in the Royalton, not even when they brought the breakfast, and not at Christmastime. After about ten years of never getting tipped, the room-service waiter peed slightly in his tea. Everybody in New York knew it but him. The waiters hurried across the street and told the waiters at the Algonquin, who were waiting to see when it would finally dawn on him what he was drinking! And as the years went by, there got to be more and more urine and less and less tea. And it was a great pleasure for us in the theater to look at a leading critic and know that he was full of piss. And I, with my own ears, heard him at the 21 [Club] complaining to a waiter, saying, "Why can't I get tea here as good as it is at The Royalton?" That's when I fell on the floor, you know.

Of course, it's impossible to verify a story like this, and I wouldn't put it past Welles to have made it up. However, a 1962 article by Charles Angoff in The Atlantic did report that Nathan switched from tea to coffee toward the end of his life, supposedly for health reasons, but maybe because he had finally realized what was in the tea!

A few months before he died, I had tea with Nathan at the Algonquin; he was (as far as I knew him) more a tea drinker than a coffee drinker, though toward the end of his life he took to frequent coffee drinking on the ground that his doctor had told him that coffee was better for the circulation than was tea.

Posted: Tue Sep 17, 2013.   Comments (0)

Mystery Letterbox — A red letterbox has appeared on the side of a bridge crossing the Thames in the village of Sonning-on-Thames. It's accessible only from the river. The Royal Mail says it's "a mystery to us."

What makes this story doubly strange is that spoon-bender Uri Geller happens to live in this town and was interviewed about it by the BBC. He speculates that "the ghost of a mischievous little girl" might have put the letterbox there.

Uri Geller mystified by letterbox on Thames Sonning Bridge
BBC News

Entertainer Uri Geller and other villagers say they are mystified by the appearance of a red letterbox in the middle of a bridge. The box has been placed on a buttress on the downstream side of the bridge, which crosses the River Thames.

Posted: Wed Sep 11, 2013.   Comments (3)

Bricked-in Car Prank, 1964 — October 1964: The work of pranksters. A car boxed in by brick walls on a foot bridge of the North Branch of the Chicago River in the 5000 block of North Spaulding. Source: Chicago Daily News.

Posted: Thu Aug 29, 2013.   Comments (2)

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