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The line between "ingenious prank" and "random, petty cruelty" is always extremely thin, and on April Fools' Day we collectively decide to just ignore it altogether. But in a world where most pranks are just random pointless lies, it's nice to sit back and acknowledge the ones that people actually put some effort into.

NOTE: Many of these will still get you arrested.

6
A Billionaire Terrifies London With an Inflatable UFO

Virgin Group

Shopping for wallets big enough to hold his obscene wads of cash (and pants big enough to hold the obscenely bulging wallets) apparently gets boring for Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Everything. So he combats that boredom by tormenting the people around him with a never-ending series of pranks. Usually it's low-level stuff, like calling Virgin customer service and demanding to speak to Richard Branson. On one such call, his own assistant put him on hold for an amount of time that would turn Comcast green with envy before coming back to say, "Sorry, Richard, but you appear to be out of the office at the moment; can someone else help you?"

Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"Only if they work for New Fucking Assistants, Inc."

Then there's the time he invited his business partner to dinner and staged a fake burglary of said partner's house, only to earn himself an overnight stay in the slammer when his guest left the dinner early and called the police before Branson had time to come clean. But the top spot on his list of achievements goes hands-down to the time he convinced London that it was being visited by aliens.

Virgin Group
Hordes of Englishmen immediately ran outside in their bathrobes
to lie down in front of bulldozers.

On March 31, 1989, the space-obsessed Branson and a co-pilot took off in a hot air balloon designed to look like a flying saucer, otherworldly flashing lights and all. Their plan was to take a short flight and land in Hyde Park as a promotional stunt, but uncooperative winds transformed their short flight into a War of the Worlds-style public panic. As they hovered over highway M25 the traffic stopped cold, with scores of panicked motorists bailing from their cars to ring the local constabulary from emergency roadside phones. One woman was so taken aback by the "invasion" that she stood in front of the window of her apartment describing the slow-moving craft to a radio station while completely forgetting that she was nude.

via disclose.tv
"Wow, Earth girls really are easy."

Either in hopes of finding additional confusedly naked females or the possibility of breaking out their best one-liners while fending off an alien invasion with their billy clubs ("I guess you won't be ... sticking around."), British police kicked into immediate action. As the UFO came to its eventual landing spot, bobbies timidly approached, truncheons drawn and ready to give E.T. a jolly good whack on his elongated noggin. That's when an honest-to-goodness E.T. did pop out -- accompanied by plumes of smoke -- and the police promptly shat themselves and ran away.

That isn't a joke, by the way. In addition to his co-pilot, Branson had dragged aboard a dwarf in an alien costume (along with shit-tons of dry ice) for the express purpose of scaring the hell out of whoever happened to be nearby after their landing. When your prank checklist includes "hire a dwarf" and "rent a dwarf-sized alien costume," you know you've hit the level of either true genius or horrible, horrible person.

Virgin Group
Either way, Branson ran with the "Evil E.T." thing way more than Spielberg ever did.

5
MIT Students Prank the Same Building Again and Again

Michael Bauer / Eri Izawa

Anachronistically founded in 1861 (because technology hadn't even been invented yet in 1861), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology didn't truly step into the nation's eye until the construction of its fancy-pants campus on the banks of the Charles River over half a century later, the centerpiece of which is the ultra-recognizable Great Dome:

John Phelan


But history is not why you'll remember the Great Dome. Nope, you'll remember it because it's that building MIT students once dressed up as R2-D2.

Gabor Csanyi
Not Pictured: Its neighboring structure, the Fabulously Golden Dome.

Over the years, students have somehow managed to sneak everything from Doctor Who's TARDIS (psh, nerds) to small airplanes onto the building in the middle of the night. The MIT campus never knows when it'll wake up to find, for example, a police car complete with flashing lights just, you know, chillin' on top of the dome.

Michael Bauer / Eri Izawa
It had just ticketed a pilot for going 550 mph in a 35 zone.

The police car found its way up there and onto international news in 1994. And the prank deserved each and every bit of that worldwide attention, because the students went all out on this one: The cop car, numbered pi because of course it was, came complete with a license plate reading "IHTFP" (MIT's unofficial slogan), a uniformed dummy occupant holding a box of donuts, and a parking ticket on the windshield.

Greg Kuhnen
Reciting fewer than 75 digits of pi automatically gets you thrown in the drunk tank.

So how the hell did a bunch of students manage to lug an entire car to the top of a building while cheap beer is a thing that exists? Well, the trick was that it wasn't an actual police car. Instead, the pranksters had gotten themselves a Chevy Cavalier, slapped a convincing police paint job on it, deconstructed the entire body, lugged it up a goddamn building in the middle of the night, and then reconstructed it over a wooden frame on the roof. All without being seen or heard.

Today each of those students is probably running a Fortune 500 company, and that's still less impressive to us than the "police car hack."

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4
The Yes Men Give a Speech on Behalf of the World Trade Organization (With a Giant, Shimmering Erection)

The Yes Men

We've previously mentioned a famous stunt by the activist duo the Yes Men, in which they successfully posed as a representative of Dow Chemical on BBC News and caused Dow's stock to go down quicker than your mom on $2 Shot Night at the Moose Lodge. But when you've made it your express mission in life to fuck with people by impersonating other, more powerful people, you've pretty well earned yourself a prominent spot on any estimable pranks list.

This time, let's look at the time they presented to a roomful of textile experts while sporting a gigantic, LCD-screen-equipped, golden dong.

The Yes Men
Later officially licensed by HBO as the only appropriate way to binge-watch Game of Thrones.

It all started when the Yes Men put up gatt.org, a website proclaiming to be an official publication of the World Trade Organization. Thanks to the infinite infallibility of Google, the website was soon taking over the searches of people looking for the actual WTO and, before you know it, the guys were receiving requests to attend speaking engagements as the organization's official representatives.

So they had a priapistic Oscar statue costume whipped up -- you know, as one does -- and hopped on a plane for a textile conference in Finland. There, after giving a presentation to a large group of "textiles scientists, engineers, and managers" on subjects such as the Civil War ("fought over the textile cotton"), Andy the faux WTO-man ripped off his velcro-equipped suit and tie to reveal his golden getup and the gloriously inflatable "Employee Visualization Appendage," a hi-tech contraption allowing managers to keep track of their employees.

The Yes Men
Never has a close-up been more warranted.

The best part? No one -- no one -- got the joke. The purposely offensive speech received resounding applause, and the leader of the conference sat Andy at the table of honor ... with the conference leader's daughter. No word on whether she had to scoot and share her chair with the Midas dong.

3
A Prankster Tricks the Texas State Legislature Into Officially Honoring a Serial Killer

Paul J. Connell/Boston Globe

Tom Moore was a Texas state legislator who was sick and damn well tired of resolutions being passed without anyone so much as reading them. But rather than giving up and watching porn on his phone during legislative sessions like any respectable lawmaker, Moore decided to do something about it.

So, on April 1, 1971, Moore proposed a resolution to honor a most esteemed man, one Albert DeSalvo, for his "dedication and devotion to his work" in "unconventional techniques involving population control and applied psychology," thereby allowing "the weak and the lonely throughout the nation to achieve and maintain a new degree of concern for their future."

Brockton Police Department
Truly, it takes a lot to measure up to his far-reaching grasp.

The entire legislature, either tear-filled at the thought of commending such an upstanding and unconventional citizen or having read not one single word of the resolution, because fuck you, nobody signs up to be a lawmaker because they want to read laws all goddamn day, voted unanimously to pass the resolution. Unanimously.

To fully appreciate the genius of Moore's accomplishment, we must note that, first off, the resolution clearly stated that the man being honored -- Albert DeSalvo -- was from Massachusetts, otherwise known as "one of the 49 states that is absolutely not Texas." Also, this was 1971, and Albert DeSalvo, aka the Boston Strangler, had just spent the better part of the '60s choking women to death and escaping from mental institutions in Boston. This guy spent so much time on the news that he could've been Walter Cronkite's co-anchor, had his nickname included literally any other word than "strangler."

Harry Benson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The Red Sox would pay further tribute to DeSalvo by choking for another 33 years.

His point proven, Moore quickly withdrew the resolution and explained to his fellow legislators whom they'd commended while gently suggesting that maybe they should, you know, actually read the laws they vote for from now on. Still, it can be said that, for however brief a time, Texas once officially honored a serial killer for his work.

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2
Bored Sailors Fake an Invasion of Australia

National Archives of Australia

Charles Lightoller, fourth officer of White Star Line's Medic (yes, that White Star Line), was bored. The ship was delayed in Australia's Sydney Harbor with no clear launch date in sight -- and if there's one thing you don't want stuck in your harbor, it's a bored sailor.

via williammurdoch.net
"I can only stand here and be smoldering for so long, you know."

The year was 1900, and the Second Boer War was raging between Britain and the Dutch commandos in South Africa. Lightoller was more familiar with the conflict than most (seeing as his ship had just returned from South Africa), and he was fascinated by the Australians' fervor about the war (as he put it, when it came to Empire rights, the Australians were "more British than the English themselves"). After taking one look at Fort Denison -- basically a large fortified rock plopped in the middle of Sydney Harbor -- he concocted a plan to use the Australians' war fever as a miracle cure for his boredom.

After spending weeks gradually gathering supplies so as not to arouse suspicions, Lightoller and a few friends (one of said friends being a monstrous sack of gunpowder) hopped in a rowboat and snuck over to the fort one dark and drizzly night. As his cohorts hoisted a homemade Boer flag over the fort, Lightoller jammed an antique, 20-ton cannon full of shitloads of gunpowder and cotton, then snaked 50 feet of fuse around it. After lighting the fuse, the group scrambled back to their tiny rowboat and rowed toward the nearest piece of land ... which happened to be the grounds of the goddamn governor's house. The group presumably paused just long enough to ring the governor's doorbell and run before scampering -- shoeless and at least one shirtless -- back onto their ship just in time to see the big gun go boom.

White Star Line
And for their noses to painfully remind them about the bags of poop they forgot to leave behind.

And go boom it did. The massive blast blew out the windows of nearby buildings and woke Sydney right the hell up. Residents saw the flag waving over Fort Denison and completely lost their shit -- the Boers were attacking the homeland! It didn't take long for it to become apparent that they'd been had, however, and the populace soon went from demanding Boer blood to demanding reparations for their exceptionally soiled undergarments.

Clint Spencer/iStock/Getty Images
Remember, these are people who barely blink when giant spiders aim for their assholes.

Australian authorities boarded the Medic and demanded a sacrifice, but no one was willing to give up the pranksters. White Star Line had to pay for the damages, but they laughed it off and transferred Lightoller to their Atlantic route -- a series of circumstances that, strangely enough, led to him winding up on the Titanic and saving a ton of lives ... but that's a story for another day.

1
Ghost-White Pranksters Infiltrate the Royal Navy Disguised as an African Emperor and His Entourage

James Lafayette

In the early 20th century, the British military unleashed the theretofore most imposing piece of military hardware ever to lumber through the world's oceans leaving a salty trail of terror pee in its wake: the HMS Dreadnought. Jokester extraordinaire Horace de Vere Cole, meanwhile, possessed something even more impressive: a pair of balls that could out-ballast any battleship. And in 1910, he decided to use this remarkable testicularity to con his way into a personal tour of the latest and greatest in British killin' tech.

The plan? Cole and a group of friends would impersonate the entourage of the Emperor of Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia) in order to scam themselves an open-armed welcome onto the Dreadnought. To do this, four of his friends slapped on fake beards and blackface, because this was 1910 and people were awful. Did we mention that one of those friends was famed author Virginia Woolf?

James Layfayette
That's her on the far left. Yes, she has a fake beard. Yes, this is for real.

Cole himself impersonated a top-hatted member of the foreign office, because a true mastermind knows you should always make your friends do the most squirm-inducing part of the job. Adrian Stephen (Woolf's brother) rounded out the group as their "translator," while the others babbled in something vaguely resembling Swahili ... which wasn't even spoken in Abyssinia, but it didn't matter because all Africans sounded the same (see "people were awful," above).

W. Wright / Bishopgate
Cole likely babbled the same awful way when impersonating the Sultan of Zanzibar.

It was a brain-shartingly ridiculous plan, the only thing more ridiculous being how flawlessly it worked -- not only was the group welcomed aboard but "a band played, the crew saluted them, and African flags were hoisted to the masthead." And just when you thought this story couldn't get any more racist, the band leader played the Zanzibar national anthem rather than the Abyssinian one (because it was African and therefore close enough), while the group of impostors toured the entire ship and exclaimed, "Bunga bunga!" at anything they found particularly impressive. They were even invited to dine with the officers but had to decline in fake-Swahili because they were afraid that chewing would cause their shoddy beards to fall off.

Cambridge Picture Postcard Company
Unlike in this picture, they likely just hummed not-their-actual-pretend-homeland's anthem.

Coincidentally, the real emperor of Abyssinia showed up to visit England a few weeks after the group slipped away from the ship and into pranking legend, and when he asked to inspect the navy, he was surprised to learn that it was "quite impossible." Bunga bunga, indeed.

Zachary Frey is currently a student at Greenwich High School, and you can read all his other crazy articles and (not) be his friend here.

For more insanely awesome pranks, check out The 7 Ballsiest Pranks You Won't Believe Actually Worked and 4 Legendary Pranks Pulled Off by Celebrities.

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