I love hoaxes, pranks, and instances of social engineering. (Broadly referred to as “culture jamming.”) In the past couple weeks, here in Blacksburg, I’ve delighted in staging improvisational jokes and fictions. In every instance, it was only funny to me, which is fine, because I’m only looking to amuse myself. When I meet a complete stranger that I’m reasonably sure that I will never encounter again, it is not uncommon for me to invent an entirely new persona for me. I’ve been a the country’s youngest heart surgeon, a rock star (“I’m big in Japan”), a European unable to communicate in any language attempted by the would-be conversationalists, an achluophobic with related bowel problems, a British exchange student, a college professor specializing in plastics engineering…the list goes on and on. I don’t feel bad about this, and there’s no reason why I should. I’m not a particularly exciting person to meet, so I feel that if I can provide somebody with a more enjoyable experience with no harm done, what the heck? Once I get to know some co-conspirators here at Virginia Tech, I hope to stage some larger pranks.

Here are some of my favorite pranks:

Poultry Funeral: Jeffrey Vallance bought a chicken at the grocery store and promptly took it to a pet cemetery and had them give it a proper burial, all with a straight face.

War Protest Protester: Lorin Partridge shows up at protests against the war in Iraq, waving a sign reading “War is Groovy” and “Killing People Is No Big Deal.” Says Partridge of the protestors: “These folks are not thinkers; they are only a crowd that operates with a unit mind. These rich people from Los Gatos come out here to put on a good-guy badge and talk about the injustices done to poor Afghani children, but they don’t even care about the homeless people in their own neighborhood.”

Balloon Pilot: In July of 1982, Larry Walters strapped 42 helium balloons onto a lawn chair, grabbed a six-pack of beer, and went 16,000 feet into the air. He was spotted a few hours later by a TWA pilot, who radioed to the ground that he’d just passed a guy in a lawn chair.

Spoon Day: In the fall of 1983, four Johns Hopkins students stole 1,000 spoons from the dining hall over the course of a week. Then, one night, they planted all of them in the ground in front of the dining hall. The next morning, their curved ends shining in the early sun, one of the cooks showed up, surveyed the scene, and declared “This be spoon day!”

Arm the Homeless: A perennial prank is the “Arm the Homeless” program. Press releases are sent out announcing that a chapter of Arm the Homeless is opening in the area, and they’ll be performing outreach, firearm safety training, and distributing firearms to the homeless. The story is so rich that the press can’t pass it up, and they inevitably run a breathless story, complete with interviews with “program founders” and “homeless people” who have benefited from the program.

Dihydrogen Monoxide: “DHMO is a colorless, odorless chemical compound, also referred to by some as Dihydrogen Oxide, Hydrogen Hydroxide, Hydronium Hydroxide, or simply Hydric acid. Its basis is the unstable radical Hydroxide, the components of which are found in a number of caustic, explosive and poisonous compounds such as Sulfuric Acid, Nitroglycerine and Ethyl Alcohol. DHMO is a constituent of many known toxic substances, diseases and disease-causing agents, environmental hazards and can even be lethal to humans in quantities as small as a thimbleful.” Of course, DHMO opponents have their dissenters, who argue that the substance is beneficial, safe, and wholly benign. Of course, most people would agree that DHMO — aka H2O — is probably OK stuff.

Gorilla Clowns: According to the Coventry Evening Telegraph, a hunter in Uganda has been shooting gorillas with a tranquilizer gun and, while they’re unconscious, dressing them in clown suits. Reportedly, six of them have been found in this condition. Says the chief warden of the game preserve, “We are dealing with a very sick mind.”

Due credit to The Culture Jammer’s Encyclopedia for these. Many, many more stories can be found there.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »