Who hasn’t pulled a prank on a friend (or been on the unfortunate end of one)? Maybe you’re a fan of prank videos on YouTube or you constantly reference Bart’s prank phone calls to Moe from The Simpsons. Either way, here are 42 facts about pranks, pranksters, and other prank related items that might get you inspired—or have you looking over your shoulder.
42. Word Origins
The word prank comes from the Dutch pronken meaning to flaunt or show off—"prance" comes from the same route. The first recorded use of the word prank in relation to the pulling of a practical joke was around 1520-1530.
41. Prank Bestseller
American humor writer H. Allen Smith wrote a best selling book entitled The Compleat Practical Joker that was released in 1953. The over 300 page book details many pranks and practical jokes committed by Smith and noted prankster Hugh Troy. The book became a bestseller in both the United States and Japan.
40. Hugh Troy
American painter Hugh Troy is perhaps best known for his many legendary pranks. The one-time architecture student at Cornell was apparently suspended by school administration after printing a fake newspaper with the headline “President breaks wind for new aeronautical college.” Other notable pranks include leaving a trail of rhinoceros footprints on campus and for creating a fake ear out of dried beef and placing it at a Van Gogh exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
39. The Mysterious History of April Fools’ Day
The true origins of April Fools’ Day are unclear. However, there is one theory that suggests that the day of pranking originates with the changeover from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, when New Years Day shifted from April 1 to January 1. Those still celebrating on the first day of April were deemed “April fools.”
38. Literary Reference to April Fools
Chaucer’s 14th century novel The Canterbury Tales is thought to be the first recorded reference to April 1 being a day designated for fools.
37. Scottish April Fools
In Scotland, April Fools’ Day has been historically referred to as Huntigowk Day. Huntigowk is a contraction of "hunt the gowk," which is the Scots word for a cuckoo or fool.
36. April Fools Day in December
In many Spanish-speaking countries, a holiday similar to April Fools’ Day is marked on December 28, which is the Christian Feast of the Holy Innocents. It is tradition for people to prank others on this day and, similar to saying “April Fools” following a prank on April 1, pranksters on December 28 utter a phrase such as “Innocente palomita que te dejaste engañar” ("You innocent little dove that let yourself be fooled") or “¡Inocente para siempre!” (“Innocent forever!”).
35. A Fishy Day
In France, April 1 is referred to as “Poisson d’Avril,” or Fish of April. French children celebrate their version of April Fools’ Day by taping a paper fish to the backs of their friends and family and shouting “Poisson d’Avril” once the prank victims discover the ruse.
34. The Legend of Sidd Finch
The April 1, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine contained a story on an exciting and totally fake new pitching prospect for the New York Mets named Hayden Siddhartha “Sidd” Finch. According to the article, Finch could throw at an unbelievable 168 miles per hour, preferred to pitch with one foot bare and the other in a hiking boot, and made a pilgrimage to Tibet to learn yoga. Despite the sheer ridiculousness of the article, many enthusiastic Mets fans wrote to the magazine demanding more information on their new pitcher.
Sign up to our newsletter.
History’s most fascinating stories and darkest secrets, delivered to your inbox daily. Making distraction rewarding since 2017.
33. Taco Liberty Bell
Also on April Fools’ Day 1998, Taco Bell took out ads in many leading US newspapers, including the New York Times, announcing that they had purchased the iconic Liberty Bell and renamed it the Taco Liberty Bell. They claimed that the purchase would help reduce the national debt. The stunt was successful, as the fast food chain saw a sizeable uptick in sales in the days following the release of the ad.
32. Candid Camera
One of American television’s earliest hits was the hidden camera prank show Candid Camera. The series was based on a similar radio concept called The Candid Microphone. Candid Camera first hit the airwaves in 1948 on ABC and in the decades since has been revived many times by different networks, most recently by TV Land in 2014. Local versions of the show have also been produced in other countries.
31. Candid Camera for the 21st Century
Candid Camera was the inspiration for the popular MTV prank show Punk’d. The Ashton Kutcher-hosted series saw unsuspecting celebrities get into staged bizarre and outlandish situations in front of hidden cameras. Celebrities that were pranked on the show include Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, and Serena Williams.
30. Soren Sorensen Adams—Prank Device Genius
Soren Sorensen Adams was the inventor and manufacturer of many novelty products that became cherished by pranksters worldwide. The Danish-American Adams was the man behind items such as sneezing powder, itching powder, the dribble glass, the snake nut can, the stink bomb, and the joy buzzer.
29. The Ever Reliable Whoopee Cushion
The whoopee cushion is another classic prank device. The round, air-filled piece of rubber emits a sound mimicking flatulence when unsuspecting victims of the prank unknowingly sit on the device. This ruse dates back to the Ancient Romans, while the modern concept of the whoopee cushion was invented in the 1920s by the JEM Rubber Co. in Toronto, Ontario. The company tried to sell their idea to noted novelty item producer Soren Sorensen Adams, but he refused out of fears that the product was too vulgar.
28. I Need Amanda Hugginkiss!
Throughout the 1970s, Jim Davidson and John Elmo would prank call Red Deutch, the proprietor of the Tube Bar in Jersey City, New Jersey, asking for customers with phony names that were comical puns. Deutch would regularly fall for the ruse and call out the made-up names like Al Coholic and Pepe Roni. The prank calls were recorded on audiotape and widely circulated amongst their friends. These pranks calls were the inspiration behind the long-running gag on The Simpsons where Bart similarly prank calls local barkeep Moe.
27. Caltech and the 1961 Rose Bowl
MIT’s West Coast rivals Caltech are also known for their pranks. In 1961, they managed to alter the planned crowd placard display at the annual Rose Bowl Game. They swapped the original cards with cards that spelled out “Caltech,” which were eventually raised by the unsuspecting fans of the Washington Huskies. What makes this prank so funny was not only that Caltech was not playing in the game (the Huskies were facing the Minnesota Golden Gophers), they don’t even have a football team!
26. Never Gonna Give Up Rickrolling
If you were on the Internet in 2007, chances are you were the victim of a rickrolling—the popular online prank which involved a falsely labeled hyperlink that would lead those who clicked on it to the music video of British pop star Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
25. Triple Threat: Actor, Director, Prankster
George Clooney is a noted celebrity prankster, wreaking havoc on both his co-stars and his many famous friends. Some highlights include placing large potted plants outside of Julia Roberts’ hotel room so she couldn’t get out during the filming of Ocean’s Twelve and taking Matt Damon’s pants to a tailor to trim away an inch from the waist every few days, tricking his Monuments Man co-star into thinking that he was gaining weight.
24. An April Fools Love Story
April Fool is the title of a 1964 Bollywood film in which a man obsessed with practical jokes falls for a woman with similar interests. Eventually their practical jokes lead them to trouble, as they become targets of an international crime syndicate. The movie was directed by Subodh Mukherji and stars Biswajeet and Sairo Banu.
23. The (Non-Existent) Snipe Hunt
Dating back to the 1840s, the snipe hunt is a popular American prank played on newcomers to summer camps. The prank involves tricking a person into hunting for a mythical creature called a snipe. The unsuspecting hunter is deserted by his fellow campers and left alone in the dark. The prank is considered a rite of passage in many summer camps and in many organizations such as the Boy Scouts.
22. Windy City Heat
The 2003 television movie Windy City Heat follows aspiring comedian Perry Caravello embarking on his first feature film role. Unbeknownst to Caravello, however, the film is completely made up and part of one elaborate practical joke. Over the course of “filming” for the fictional movie, Caravello is subject to a series of wild pranks, such as being thrown into a manure-filled dumpster and drinking milkshakes made with very odd and unappetizing ingredients. The film was produced by Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel, who also appear in the film.
21. Pranking and Panicking Parents
In 2013, comedian Nathan Fielder encouraged his Twitter followers to text their parents with the message “got 2 grams for $40,” followed up by another message “Sorry ignore that text. Not for you.” The reactions of parents freaking out over their children possibly being drug dealers are hilarious.
20. Harvard-Yale Rivalry
Perhaps inspired by the 1961 incident with Caltech, during the annual Harvard-Yale football game in 2004, a group of students from Yale disguised themselves as members of the Harvard Pep Squad and managed to distribute placards to students in the Harvard section with a pretty funny message. When the placards were held aloft in unison, they spelled out “We Suck”.
19 A “Messi” Prank
Speaking of sports rivalries, there is perhaps no other rivalry more intense today than the one between Spanish soccer clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. That’s why a 2016 prank by soccer website Goal.com was so dastardly. They released an April Fools' news article claiming that star Barcelona player Lionel Messi was moving to Real Madrid for a deal worth half a billion euros. The giveaway that it was all a ruse was that the author of the article was Lirpa Loof (April and Fool spelled backwards).
18. San Seriffe
On April Fools’ Day 1977, the Guardian newspaper released a seven-page insert describing the Indian Ocean island nation of San Seriffe. The nation was comprised of two primary islands called Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse and its capital was Bodoni, all of which are of course references to typography and punctuation, not geographical facts.
17. The Arrival of Color TV?
On April Fools’ Day 1962, the lone Swedish television station at the time aired a tutorial on how to get a color transmissions by placing a stocking over your television set. The clever ruse tricked many people into going into their drawers and grabbing their nylons to try it out for themselves.
16. The Simpsons Meet April Fools’ Day
The April 1, 1993 episode of The Simpsons entitled “So It’s Come to This: A Simpsons Clip Show” featured Homer and his son Bart trading a series of April Fools’ Day pranks. Eventually it leads to Bart to rigging one of Homer’s beer cans to explode once opened. Unfortunately, the explosion is much larger than anticipated and Homer is sent into a coma, triggering a series of flashbacks and reminiscings—not a bad way to segue into a clip show.
15. April Fools’ Day Injuries
April Fools’ Day injuries don’t just happen in cartoons. According to Statistic Brain, there are 175 April Fools’ Day related injuries each year in the United States. But compared to the 89 million people who play April Fools' Day pranks on people, that's not really so bad.
14. Sydney Iceberg
On April 1, 1978, a local businessman arranged for a large iceberg like entity to appear in the harbor in Sydney, Australia. The businessman claimed that he had towed the iceberg from Antarctica. Unfortunately, the rainy weather that day spoiled his prank, as the water washed away the shaving cream exterior and revealed the skeleton of a fake iceberg.
13. Berners Street Hoax
On November 27, 1810 Theodore Cook, under the name of a Mrs. Tottenham, commissioned a whole slew of merchants, tradespeople and dignitaries to converge on a house on Berners Street in London. The entire day people were dropping off deliveries including pianos and cakes and doctors and reverends came by as they were told someone was close to death. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Mayor of London, and the Governor of the Bank of England all came by. The presence of so much activity onto a quiet narrow street brought that part of the city to a virtual standstill. Cook undertook the whole ordeal because of a bet with a friend—he bet that he could make any given house in London the most talked about place in the city within one week.
12. Athanasius Kircher
Athanasius Kircher was a renowned 17th century scholar who specialized in ancient languages. He was also the target of many practical jokes. He was frequently given falsified items with inscribed gibberish and asked to decipher and translate it. One such item contained mirrored writing, which once decoded, read, “Do not seek vain things, or waste time on unprofitable trifles.”
11. Mozart: Child Prodigy and Prankster
Celebrated composer Mozart was known to play a few tricks on his friend Joseph Leitgeb. Leitgeb was a horn player and Mozart composed music for him written in multiple colors so it was intentionally hard to read. Even once Leitgeb managed to read the work, it was still incredibly intricate and complex—so much so that it was nearly impossible to play on the instruments of the time.
10. Taro Tsujimoto
In the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft, the general manager of the Buffalo Sabres Punch Imlach selected the fictional Japanese hockey player Taro Tsujimoto. Imlach reportedly got the name from a phonebook and the entire ruse was his clever way of protesting the very slow drafting process.
9. Senior Prank
It's a common tradition for outgoing seniors of high schools, universities, and other institutions to “leave their mark” by performing a series of pranks, much to the chagrin of school caretakers, close to the last day of the school year. In certain places, the designated day of senior pranks is called “Muck Up Day,” but it's often simply called "Senior Prank Day" elsewhere.
8. Hollyweed Prank Goes Up in Smoke
Following the legalization of recreational marijuana use in California in 2016, a prankster decided to refashion the iconic “Hollywood” sign to “Hollyweed.” Unfortunately for him, the prankster was later arrested for trespassing.
7. Another Theory that Fooled Us
In 1983, Boston University Professor Joseph Boskin created a fictional origin story for April Fools’ Day. According to Boskin’s false claim, the holiday dates back to a tradition of Roman Emperor Constantine I handing his duties to his jester Kugel (yes, like the Jewish dish) on April 1. Boskin told the story to a reporter from the Associated Press, who wasn’t so thrilled at being duped.
6. Spaghetti Tree?
An April 1, 1957 broadcast of the BBC newsmagazine show Panorama included a segment about a spaghetti tree harvest occurring in a small Swiss town. After the broadcast, the BBC switchboard lit up with interested viewers seeking to plant their own spaghetti trees. Spaghetti was still considered an exotic food item for most Britons, so they had no idea that spaghetti didn’t grow on trees or that they were victims of an April Fools' joke by the national broadcaster.
5. April Fools “Joke” by Two Fools
The eponymous hosts of Opie and Anthony pulled a “prank” on April Fools’ Day 1998 on their radio show on the Boston station WAAF. The two claimed on air that then-Boston mayor Thomas Menino had been killed in a car accident, using phony police reports to drive their point across. Opie and Anthony were both fired by the radio station for the stunt.
4. Hacks of MIT
There is a long running tradition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology of students performing large scale practical jokes that take place all throughout campus. These stunts are referred to as “hacks” and their elaborate designs aim to demonstrate the students’ intelligence and technical aptitude. Some notable hacks include placing a police car onto the top of the campus’ Great Dome and the construction of an upside down living room in an archway.
3. Dreadnought Hoax
In 1910, Horace de Vere Cole and a group of his friends dressed as Abyssinian royals and fooled members of the British Royal Navy into giving them a tour of the HMS Dreadnought battleship. One of the pranksters in the group was novelist Virginia Woolf.
2. The Perils of Ding Dong Ditch
Ding dong ditch, also known as knock, knock, ginger, is a common prank in which someone rings or knocks at an unsuspecting person’s door, only to run away before the door is answered. It seems like harmless fun, but in 2011 in Kentucky, a 12-year-old boy was shot in the back by a homeowner who didn’t find the prank amusing. A similar incident took place in 2016 in Oklahoma to a 14-year-old boy.
1. Prank Gone Awry
Over the last few years, you may have heard of the term “swatting.” Swatting refers to the practice of falsely reporting a serious crime in order to deploy a SWAT team to an unsuspecting residence or place of business. In December 2017, a swatting incident led to the death of an innocent 28-year-old man by police. The man behind the phony call was eventually traced and arrested. It turned out that the prank had come about because of an argument over a bet in the game Call of Duty worth $1.50.