11 of the Greatest Pranks of All Time

Rebecca O'Connell / istock
Rebecca O'Connell / istock

Think that time you filled your friend’s dorm room with hundreds of water-filled plastic cups was impressive? These large-scale pranks made headlines around the world—and will give you something to aspire to.

1. BBC ANNOUNCES THAT BIG BEN IS GOING DIGITAL.

In 1980, a BBC World Service news announcement reported that Big Ben would be given a digital display. Not only that, the iconic clock’s now-useless hands would be given away to the first four people who called in. While most people reacted with shock and anger, one Japanese seaman immediately called the station with hopes of claiming his prize.

2. AN ICEBERG APPEARS IN SYDNEY HARBOUR.

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On April 1, 1978, residents of Sydney, Australia, awoke to find a gigantic iceberg floating in Sydney Harbour. Days before the prank, electronics entrepreneur Dick Smith announced that an iceberg he had towed from Antarctica would be arriving in Sydney the following week (to give the exact date, he felt, would be a tip-off). And sure enough, there it was. The public was agog at the spectacle—the Australian navy even called Smith to ask if he needed help mooring his iceberg—until a rainstorm revealed the iceberg for what it truly was: A barge covered in sheets of white plastic and fire-fighting foam.

3. TACO BELL BUYS THE LIBERTY BELL.

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In 1996, Taco Bell tried to take corporate sponsorship to a whole new level by buying a bit of history. On April 1, the fast food chain took out full-page ads in six of the country’s biggest newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Philadelphia Inquirer, announcing that "in an effort to help the national debt," it had purchased the Liberty Bell. According to the (fictional) bulletin, the Liberty Bell would remain available to the public but would split its time between Philly and Taco Bell's headquarters in Irvine, California.

Distressed calls (including from aides to two U.S. senators) to the National Park Service and Taco Bell headquarters prompted Taco Bell to issue a second—this time real—press release revealing the hoax and pledging to donate $50,000 for the Liberty Bell’s upkeep.

4. A BRITISH NEWS SHOW CONVINCES VIEWERS THAT SPAGHETTI GROWS ON TREES.

"It isn't only in Britain that spring this year has taken everyone by surprise," BBC current affairs program Panorama began a broadcast by saying in 1957. "Here in the Ticino, on the borders of Switzerland and Italy, the slopes overlooking Lake Lugano have already burst into flower, at least a fortnight earlier than usual. But what, you may ask, has the early and welcome arrival of bees and blossom to do with food? Well, it’s simply that the past winter, one of the mildest in living memory, has had its effect in other ways as well. Most important of all, it’s resulted in an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop."

The three-minute segment included footage of Swiss spaghetti harvesters pulling the pasta off tree branches. Hundreds of Britons, many of who didn’t eat the Italian dish regularly, called the BBC to ask how they could grow a spaghetti tree of their own. Without missing a beat, the BBC replied, "Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."

5. WISCONSIN STUDENTS MOVE LADY LIBERTY TO LAKE MENDOTA.

University of Wisconsin students Leon Varjian and Jim Mallon made a bold campaign promise in order to win election to the Wisconsin Student Association in 1978: They would bring the Statue of Liberty to Wisconsin’s Lake Mendota. The two won the election and, in February 1979, they set out to make good on their pledge. It took Varjian and Mallon three days—and $4000 of student fees—to assemble their Lady Liberty proxy out of plywood, chicken wire, papier-mâché, and muslin cloth and assemble it on the frozen lake.

This wasn’t Varjian’s first prank (although it may be his most time-consuming); in 1977 he petitioned to have the school named the "University of New Jersey" (Varjian’s home state) so that "students could go to a fancy East Coast school without moving." Mallon, on the other hand, would go on to create the cult comedy television show Mystery Science Theater 3000.

6. MIT STUDENTS BUILD A GIGANTIC GAME OF TETRIS.

Students at MIT devised the idea of turning the 295-foot tall Green Building on campus into a larger-than-life, playable Tetris game in 1993—and in 2012, they finally made it a reality. It took the hackers four years of planning and two months of sleepless nights in order to construct what the MIT student newspaper The Tech called the "holy grail of hacks." Through a complicated system of wirelessly controlled LED lights, the talented engineers transformed 153 of the building’s windows into the falling colored blocks, which were controlled by players at a podium.

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During "The Great Rose Bowl Hoax" of 1961, Caltech students orchestrated a surprise for the University of Washington Huskies during their halftime card stunt show (in which people in the stands used signs to spell out messages of support for their team). A crafty group of Caltech students broke into the dorm housing Washington’s cheerleaders and changed each of their thousands of instruction note cards. During halftime, the prank went off without a hitch: When the Huskies fans flipped their signs over, they spelled out "Caltech." The prank made national news.

The best part of the mischief? Caltech doesn’t even have a football team. The Huskies were playing the University of Minnesota in that Rose Bowl game.

8. NIXON ANNOUNCES HE'S RUNNING FOR RE-ELECTION.

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In 1992, National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation reported that Richard Nixon, who resigned in 1974 following the Watergate Scandal, had declared his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. To corroborate their story, NPR played a clip of Nixon declaring his intention to run and claiming, "I never did anything wrong, and I won't do it again."

As is the way of these things, callers flooded NPR with questions and cries of outrage. It wasn’t until the second half of the program that host John Hockenberry revealed that the whole broadcast had been an April Fools' Day joke. Comedian Rich Little—nicknamed "The Man of a Thousand Voices"—was responsible for "Nixon’s" speech.

9. SWEDISH NEWS STATION CONVINCES READERS THAT STOCKINGS CAN TURN THEIR BLACK-AND-WHITE TVS TO COLOR.

A 1962 April Fools' Day broadcast from what was then Sweden’s only television network, SVT, told viewers that they would be able to see the normally black-and-white broadcast in color… if they had the right materials.

"Technical expert" Kjell Stensson explained to viewers, in highly scientific details, that if they stretched a pair of nylon stockings over their television sets, the light would be filtered in such a way as to allow them to see the broadcast in color. To best see the results, Stensson recommended, viewers would need to move their heads from side to side as they watched. Needless to say, the thousands of viewers who fell for the hoax looked a little bit silly.

10. AN EASTER ISLAND FIGURE WASHES ASHORE IN THE NETHERLANDS.

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While Swedes were covering their TVs with stockings, the Dutch thought an iconic landmark had washed upon their shores. On March 29, 1962, a man walking on the beach near Zandvoort, Netherlands, found what he could only identify as an Easter Island statue. A few days later, on April 1, an expert flew in from Norway to inspect the figure and declared that it was indeed an authentic artifact, carried from the South Pacific to Europe. The statue was put on display in the town’s center for all to see.

By day’s end, the sculpture’s creator, a Dutch artist named Edo van Tetterode, had come clean and confessed to planting the "artifact" on the beach. The following year, Tetterode founded the National April 1st Society, and, in a tradition that would carry on until his death in 1996, awarded a small bronze Easter Island head trophy to the perpetrator of the year’s best prank.

11. ALABAMA CHANGES THE VALUE OF PI.

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The Alabama state legislature forever changed math, science, and the world as we know it in 1998, when it declared that the mathematical constant pi would now be valued at 3.0, instead of the usual 3.14159—or so claimed the April issue of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter. In a story by April Holiday for the "Associalized Press," experts argue for and against Alabama’s radical change, which was said to be made because 3.0 is a "biblical value." The story quickly went viral—email existed in 1998, you guys!—but no one knew the real extent of the hoax’s success until Alabama legislators began receiving hundreds of calls in protest.

This story originally ran in 2015.

The 10 Best Movies of 2018, According to Rotten Tomatoes

The Weinstein Company
The Weinstein Company

We're a few weeks into the new year, but it's not too late to catch up on the best movies of 2018. If you're looking for a place to start, why not check out the top 10 films most widely loved by critics last year, according to Rotten Tomatoes.

The list, reported by Cinema Blend, includes a mix of family flicks, action-packed blockbusters, and art house films. Marvel's Black Panther—which was a hit with both critics and moviegoers, and just became the first superhero movie to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture—tops the list as Rotten Tomatoes's best-reviewed movie of 2018 with a wide release. It's accompanied by two other superheroes movies: Incredibles 2 and Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (both of which earned Oscar nominations for Best Animated Film).

Last year proved that critics aren't prejudiced against sequels if they're well made, with Paddington 2 and Mission: Impossible - Fallout making the list along with the second Incredibles film. This list is limited to movies that had a wide release in 2018 (600 theaters or more), so some awards darlings like Netflix's Roma didn't make the cut. But there were a few indie hits that received wider showings and earned critical acclaim, including Bo Burnham's Eighth Grade and the Mister Rogers documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor?.

After checking out the full list below, you can start getting excited about the highly-anticipated films coming out in 2019.

1. Black Panther
2. Mission: Impossible - Fallout
3. BlacKkKlansman
4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
5. A Star is Born
6. A Quiet Place
7. Paddington 2
8. Incredibles 2
9. Eighth Grade
10. Won't You Be My Neighbor

[h/t Cinema Blend]

11 Fascinating Facts About Sam Elliott

Christopher Polk, Getty Images For Critics' Choice Television Awards
Christopher Polk, Getty Images For Critics' Choice Television Awards

Hirsute. Rugged. Laconic. For more than four decades, actor Sam Elliott has practically trademarked the persona of a latter-day cowboy. When Patrick Swayze needed a mentor for his philosopher-bouncer in 1989’s Road House, producers called Elliott. When the Coen Brothers needed a wise baritone narrator for 1998’s The Big Lebowski, they cast Elliott. When Bradley Cooper needed a foil for his remake of A Star is Born, he wisely got Elliott, who just earned his first-ever Oscar nomination (for Best Supporting Actor) for the role.

Check out some facts we’ve wrangled up about the performer’s life, his time on the casting couch, and one strange coincidence involving Smokey Bear.

1. His dad didn't want him to become an actor.

Sam Elliott and Bradley Cooper in 'A Star Is Born' (2018)
WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER PICTURES INC.

Born in Sacramento in 1944, a 13-year-old Sam Elliott moved with his family to Oregon, where both he and his father pursued their love of the outdoors. (His dad worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in charge of “predatory and rodent control.”) While they bonded over nature, their relationship grew divisive when Elliott told his father he wanted to become an actor. They were never able to resolve the matter before his father died of a heart attack when Elliott was just 18. “He died thinking, 'Man, this kid is going to go down the wrong path,” Elliott said. "And I think on some levels that was either hard on me or made me more focused in my resolve to have a career.”

2. He played Evel Knievel in an unsold TV pilot.

After moving to Hollywood in the late 1960s, Elliott scored a small role in a big film: 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. (He’s glimpsed only fleetingly during a card game.) In 1974, he had the opportunity to be the featured star, portraying daredevil legend Evel Knievel in a CBS television pilot. The series never went into production but wound up airing as a one-off special that March. Elliott went on to guest star in several series, including Hawaii Five-0 and Gunsmoke, before landing a lead role in a feature, 1976’s Lifeguard.

3. He got himself in some hot water with a studio.

Lifeguard looked to be Elliott’s breakout role: It’s a tale of a man approaching middle age who wonders if being a first responder is what he wants to continue doing with his life. Paramount, the studio behind the film, marketed it differently—as a sun-soaked teenage melodrama. Elliott chafed at the ads and made his thoughts known. “The one sheet [poster] for that film was an animated piece, and it had me in a pair of Speedos and a big busted girl on either arm,” he told NPR in 2017. “And it said, 'Every girl's summer dream' over the top of it. And I was like, wow.” Elliott complained in press interviews, a move he speculated led to Paramount cooling their heels on hiring him again.

4. He was the voice of Smokey Bear.

Early in his career, Elliott was advised by people in the industry to hone his smooth drawl into something more in the leading-man mode. “They wanted me to speed up and enunciate,” he told The Saturday Evening Post earlier this year. “I went through trying to do that for a time, but I’m glad it didn’t work out.” Elliott’s voice become one of his hallmarks and was eventually put to use as the voice of forest fire mascot Smokey Bear in 2007.

The message hit home for Elliott, whose wife of nearly 35 years—actress Katharine Ross, who earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for playing Elaine Robinson in The Graduate—saw her home burned down in 1978 after a camp fire spread. He and the spokesbear even share the exact same birthday: August 9, 1944.

5. He got propositioned. A lot.

Going from audition to audition early in his career, Elliott told syndicated columnist Rex Reed in 1980 that the proverbial casting couch was real. “You cannot believe the casting couch stories I could tell you, man,” he said. “The clichés are all true. I’ve had propositions from men and women, and I’ve turned them all down. It’s probably hurt me, but I’m the one who has to live with that guilt. My conscience is clear, even though my career is still not setting the world on fire.”

6. The Coen brothers kept him working just because they liked hearing him talk.


Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Shooting 1998’s The Big Lebowski, Elliott has a climactic meeting of sorts with The Dude (Jeff Bridges), whose adventures he’s been narrating throughout the film. Shooting the scenes, Elliott was beginning to get exasperated at the Coen brothers's insistence he keep doing it. When they clocked 15 takes, Elliott insisted they tell him what they want. It turns out take six was perfect. They made him do it nine more times just because they liked watching him deliver his lines.

7. He's got a "big three" resume.

Elliott has dozens of acting roles to his credit, but he believes he’s best-known for just three roles: The Big Lebowski, Road House, and 1992’s Tombstone. “That’s the big three,” he told Vulture in 2015. “And it’s really because they repeat that sh*t all the time. None of them had great box office, and I wasn’t so good in any of them. You just can’t escape them. They keep showing up.”

8. He doesn't like social media.

Elliott is not one to broadcast his thoughts on Facebook or Twitter. In 2015, the actor told AARP Magazine that social media is of little interest to him. “Everywhere you look, people are looking at their hands,” he said. “In restaurants, it's like you're sitting in a patch of jack-o'-lanterns because everyone's face is lit up by their phone. Nobody's relating to each other.”

9. He doesn't really get the fascination with his mustache.

Sam Elliott, Garret Dillahunt, and Timothy Olyphant in 'Justified'
PRASHANT GUPTA, FX Networks

For most of his roles, Elliott sports a soup strainer of a mustache: Thick, plush, well-weathered. When he goes without—as in his turn as a villain on FX’s Justified—it can be a little disarming, in the same way Superman looks a little odd without his cape. But Elliott doesn’t quite understand the cult of hair around his facial style choices. “The whole mustache thing is a mystery to me,” he told Vanity Fair in 2017. “I’m working on this thing now, A Star is Born—somebody showed me on their cell phone one day that there was this contest online between me and [Tom] Selleck about who had the best mustache. It’s so bizarre.” (For the record, Elliott won't comment on who has the better lip warmer.)

10. He's an Oregon local.

Elliott and his wife spend a month out of the year near Eugene, Oregon. The sight of Elliott visiting hardware stores, restaurants, and other local haunts is common, and Elliott has become a beacon for people seeking a selfie with the actor. (He usually complies.) Eventually, Elliott hopes to move to Oregon full-time.

11. He's got a secret to staying grounded.

Elliott doesn’t appear to be too invested in the trappings of celebrity. “We stay out of town, and we don’t get in too deep,” he told Vulture in 2015. “We don’t believe all the sh*t in the rags. And we work hard. Katharine and I have a lot in common. We’ve got a 30-year-old daughter [Cleo] that we’re deeply in love with and still incredibly close to. Life’s good. We live in Malibu and have horses and dogs and cats and chickens. We shovel sh*t, man. That keeps you humble."

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