Best Pranks, Hoaxes & Cons In History

Apr 1, 2014

Credit via

April 1st. A day dedicated to rubber bands on faucets, tinfoil-wrapped cubicles, plastic-wrapped cars, and universal remotes. A lot of terms are thrown around in connection to April 1st  - prank, hoax, practical joke, con, gag, shenanigan. While we can likely agree that all of these terms have some aspect of "fooling," how do they differ in nefarious-ness? So let's get down to it -  how do pranks, hoaxes, and cons differ from each other, and what are some of the best?

Thankfully, Virginia spoke to Kembrew McLeod to clear things up. Kembrew is a professor of communication studies at the University of Iowa, who chronicles the history of pranking in his book, Pranksters: Making Mischief in the Modern World. Kembrew differentiates pranks, hoaxes, and cons as such:

PRANKS -  "public provocation and [the prankster] uses mass media to circulate it in order to make a thoughtful, socially conscious point."

HOAXES - "uses the same tactics [as pranks] but the purpose is essentially to either self-promote or make fun of someone else."

CONS - "also use the same strategies, but they use the strategies in the service of ripping you off."

We have a list of some of the best pranks, hoaxes, and cons in history right here, from the adorable to the enormous:

  1. Mental Floss has a list of Youthful Pranks of 5 Famous People from good ol' Abe Lincoln to Steve Wozniak. While they are all clever and funny, I especially get a kick out of Steve Jobs' prank. He and a friend passed out posters advertising "Bring Your Pet to School Day." Sitcom-style hilarity ensued with a classroom full of unruly cats and dogs.
  2. The Left-Handed Whopper was a, ahem, whopper of a prank. In 1998, Burger King created a full-page advertisement targeting their left-handed customers. Left-handed people might one day rule the world, but they are apparently fooled by fast food pranks.
  3. This next one is a bit of a prank-ception. Boston University professor Joseph Boskin fooled the country about the origin of April Fools. His story included a king named after a Jewish noodle pudding. Yeah.
  4. Italy's secret spaghetti trees.
  5. No list of pranks is complete without The War of the Worlds.
  6. For all the writers out there, this next one is cringe-worthy. Newsday columnist Mike McGrady, with the help of colleagues, penned a terribly salacious and irredeemable novel  called Naked Came the Stranger that, in the end, actually became a bestseller.
  8. No, planetary alignment will not reduce gravity.
  9. Where my grammar peeps at?! You'll appreciate this grammar-themed prank from The Guardian about the Isles of San Serriffe.
  10. The Trojan Horse, of course. The con to begin all cons.

Do you have a famous prank, hoax, or con to add to our list? Comment on our Facebook page!

For more on all things April Fools, check out the full show post here.