#6: Nixon for President
In 1992 National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation program announced that Richard Nixon, in a surprise move, was running for President again. His new campaign slogan was, “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.” Accompanying this announcement were audio clips of Nixon delivering his candidacy speech. Listeners responded viscerally to the announcement, flooding the show with calls expressing shock and outrage. Only during the second half of the show did the host John Hockenberry reveal that the announcement was a practical joke. Nixon’s voice was impersonated by comedian Rich Little.#7: Alabama Changes the Value of Pi
The April 1998 issue of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter contained an article claiming that the Alabama state legislature had voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi from 3.14159 to the ‘Biblical value’ of 3.0. Before long the article had made its way onto the internet, and then it rapidly made its way around the world, forwarded by people in their email. It only became apparent how far the article had spread when the Alabama legislature began receiving hundreds of calls from people protesting the legislation. The original article, which was intended as a parody of legislative attempts to circumscribe the teaching of evolution, was written by a physicist named Mark Boslough.#15: The Case of the Interfering Brassieres
In 1982 the Daily Mail reported that a local manufacturer had sold 10,000 “rogue bras” that were causing a unique and unprecedented problem, not to the wearers but to the public at large. Apparently the support wire in these bras had been made out of a kind of copper originally designed for use in fire alarms. When this copper came into contact with nylon and body heat, it produced static electricity which, in turn, was interfering with local television and radio broadcasts. The chief engineer of British Telecom, upon reading the article, immediately ordered that all his female laboratory employees disclose what type of bra they were wearing#62: Freewheelz
The April 2000 issue of Esquire magazine introduced its readers to an exciting new company called Freewheelz. This company had a novel business plan. It intended to provide drivers with free cars. In exchange, the lucky drivers had to agree both to the placement of large advertisements on the outside of their vehicle and to the streaming of advertisements on the radio inside their car. Strict criteria limited the number of people eligible to receive a free car. Not only did you have to guarantee that you would drive over 300 miles a week, you also had to complete a 600-question survey that probed into personal information such as your political affiliations and whether you were concerned about hair loss. Finally you had to submit your family’s tax returns, notarized video-store-rental receipts, and a stool sample. The entire article, written by Ted Fishman, was a satire of the much-touted “new economy” spawned by the internet. Attentive readers would have caught on to the joke if they had noticed that Freewheelz’s official rollout on the web was slated to occur on April 1. But readers who didn’t notice this tip-off flooded the offices of Esquire with calls, demanding to know how they could sign up to drive a free minivan. The satire also went over the head of the CEO’s of a number of real internet start-ups with business plans similar to that of the fictitious Freewheelz, companies such as Mobile Billboard Network, Freecar.com, and Autowraps.com. Larry Butler, the CEO of freecar.com, later confessed to Fishman that he was so scared at the prospect of this new competition that he cried when he first read the article.
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