Falling for it

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2003, 12:00am

Would you believe spaghetti grows on trees?

Panicky Hong Kong was the victim of an April Fool's prank last week, but people shouldn't feel naive or humiliated.

Hoaxes have been done before, sometimes with spectacular consequences.

Last week a 14-year-old boy almost tipped an already twitchy Hong Kong public over the edge when he published a bogus Sars news story on his Internet home page.

It showed insensitivity to victims, and inconvenienced thousands who misunderstood its dark mirth.

Only emergency announcements by the government calmed the masses.

It was a poorly judged practical joke that went wrong. But non-malicious monkey business is common on April 1.

Many humourous and harmless hoaxes have been pulled on the first day of the fourth month.

The Web site www.museumofhoaxes. com tells of an incident in 1957 when the respected BBC current affairs programme Panorama announced that Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop.

Footage showed Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees.

Viewers called up the BBC asking if they could grow their own spaghetti trees. The site tells how Discover magazine reported in 1985 that respected wildlife biologist Dr. Aprile Pazzo had discovered a new species in Antarctica: the hotheaded naked ice borer.

These fascinating creatures had bony plates on their heads that could become burning hot, allowing them to bore through ice at high speeds.

They used this ability to hunt penguins. Discover received more mail in response to this article than they had received for any other article in their history.

Also on the site there is the story of how in 1989 thousands of motorists driving on the highway outside London looked up in the air to see a glowing flying saucer descending on their city.

Many stopped to watch the bizarre craft float through the air.

The saucer landed and locals called police to warn them of an alien invasion. When a door opened a small silver-suited figure emerged and frightened an approaching policeman.

The saucer turned out to be a hotair balloon that had been specially built to look like a UFO by millionaire adventurer and entrepreneur Richard Branson.

English newspaper the Daily Mail says the museum of hoaxes site once ran a story about Kimo Nakajimi, who had entered the London Marathon but thought that he had to run for 26 days, not 26 miles.

The paper reported that Nakajimi was now somewhere out on the roads of England, still running, determined to finish the race.

Supposedly various people had spotted him, though they were unable to flag him down.

The error was attributed to Timothy Bryant, an import director, who said, 'I translated the rules and sent them off to him.'

'But I have only been learning Japanese for two years, and I must have made a mistake.'

Another story on the site tells of the time when Burger King published a full page advertisement in the USA Today newspaper announcing a new item on their menu: a left-handed Whopper.

According to the advertisement, the new whopper included the same ingredients as the original Whopper (lettuce, tomato, hamburger patty, etc), but all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees.

The following day Burger King issued a follow-up release revealing that although the left-handed Whopper was a hoax, thousands of customers had gone into restaurants to request the new sandwich.