Anyone heard of Sidd Finch or the island paradise of San Serriffe? How about the great Swiss spaghetti harvest?
Perhaps some of those names ring a bell as examples of April Fools jokes which have been pulled off over the years, usually by major media. Some of them take a lot of work, others are much more casual and sometimes it’s that casualness that makes them harder to discern as jokes.
Remember Sidd Finch? He was the pitcher the New York Mets discovered in a Tibetan monastery. As detailed in a Sports Illustrated cover story in 1985, Finch could throw the ball 168 miles per hour, with complete control. Unfortunately for Mets fans, Finch was solely the brainchild of writer George Plimpton. In a classic case, however, of a reverse Sports Illustrated cover jinx, the Mets won the World Series the following year without Finch.
It is perhaps fitting that the origins of April Fool’s Day (and even the spelling Fool’s, Fools’, Fools) are unknown. There have been a number of theories advanced, but none of them are the sort of things that make historians happy to support. In all of them, there are strong reasons, usually related to when they occurred, that argue against them.
Like the theory that says the first April Fools were those who forgot the first day of the year had been changed to January 1 from April 1. Unfortunately, April 1 was never seen as the traditional start of the year. That was always January 1. April 1 was used in some countries as the legal and administrative start, and still is, with many groups ending their financial year on March 31.
For many people, the best April Fools joke of all time was perpetrated by the BBC in 1957. The news show Panorama reported that a mild winter and the eradication of the spaghetti weevil meant the Swiss spaghetti harvest would be a good one. The announcement was accompanied by footage of peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. The BBC fielded many calls over the next days, a lot of them from people wanting to know how to grow their own spaghetti tree.
Of course, there are some who say that April Fools Day is something to be detested, not celebrated. These people are the ones who are usually taken in by any halfway-well planned trick, and are apparently incapable of coming up with their own ideas for jokes.
Often, people listen to news reports and read newspapers on April 1 with the thought in the back of their mind, “Is this a joke?” Of course, some people listen to the news and read the papers with the same thought in mind every day of the year.
Like it or not, April Fool’s Day is going to be with us for a long time yet. It’s a day which provides us the perfect chance to laugh at ourselves or, if we see the joke in time, to enjoy watching others who don’t realize it’s a joke.
So relax. There’s nothing in the paper today relating to April Fool’s Day and if you believe that, go back to the beginning of this column and read the first letter of each paragraph.