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Which April Fools’ Day pranks are too good to wait?

april fools' day pranks
April is the cruellest month...

In 1957, families gathered around their tiny black-and-white sets to watch Panorama. It was a simpler time: the UK had entered the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time, John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos made everyone terrified of blonde children, and Norwich City Council took a brave leap into the future by installing an £85,000 Elliot 405 computer – worth it for the whopping 16KB of memory. Brits, in the words of Harold MacMillan, “had never had it so good”.

So, as the reassuring voice of Panorama’s Richard Dimbleby (the original and best Dimbleby) opened a segment about agriculture in Switzerland, viewers had nothing to fear…

The “spaghetti tree” April Fools’ Day hoax may make us well-travelled 2018 types scoff, but thousands of people twisted it around their fork and ate it up at the time. Curious gardeners even called up the BBC to ask about buying spaghetti seeds and starting a plantation in, say, Blackburn. The Beeb’s reply? “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.” Wonderful.

It remains the gold standard of April Fools’ Day pranks, but you can still capture a bit of that spaghetti tree magic with our list of tech-themed hoaxes. Despite not being as elaborate as the BBC’s effort, they’re still a sure-fire way to annoy family and friends.

April Fools’ Day smartphone pranks

Forget partners or pets, the most important thing to us nowadays is our smartphone. That makes it an ideal target for mischief. Here’s how to convince someone that their brand-new iPhone X is cracked, force them to fall out with their parents forever or make them hang on your every “word”.

Smashed screen hoax

This one requires a bit of CIA-style subterfuge. Wait until your target leaves the room without their phone (which might be a while) and quickly unlock it. If it’s an Android, install the excellent Broken Screen Prank app, which is the ultimate example of “does what it says on the tin”.

Open the app, select one of the four cracked screen overlays, decide whether you want the prank to be initiated when your target taps or shakes the phone and select how long you want it to last. For maximum annoyance, I’d recommend a tap of the phone “smashing the screen” for one minute. The result, as you can see, is surprisingly convincing…April Fools' Day pranksHowever, its effectiveness will depend on the susceptibility (*cough* gullibility *cough*) of your victim and you may need Daniel Day-Lewis-level acting skills to pull it off. For example, when I put on my best distraught face, whined “oh no, my phone’s broken” and showed the screen to my fiancee, she quickly replied: “That’s one of those naff apps, right?” Oh well.

Don’t worry iPhone owners, I haven’t forgotten about you. Unfortunately, there isn’t a tool as good as Broken Screen Prank available for iOS, but if you’re willing to fork out $0.99, Broken Screen Wallpaper Prank is a decent alternative. Simply download the app, set up one of the many wallpapers and wait for the swearing to begin.

The cruellest smartphone prank

WARNING: Only attempt this trick on friends or family members you know will find it funny. The Big Tech Question takes no responsibility for any arguments/fist fights/civil wars it may cause.

If you’re feeling particularly dastardly at the beginning of April, here’s an incredibly simple, time-honoured trick that will temporarily ruin someone’s life: switch their contact details.

Got a friend who’s in the very early stages of a relationship? Steal their phone and switch their new beau’s number with their mum’s. On most modern phones, the process only takes a few taps and seconds, but the damage to your friendship may take longer to heal…

Keep your friends waiting

This one’s just for the iPhone users. As this simple website explains, you can send a GIF of the “message in progress” dots via iMessage and drive the recipient up the wall.

Annoying, isn’t it?

April Fools’ Day pranks: PC or Mac

There’s a long history of practical jokes in computing: from Charles Babbage making a fart noise with his Analytical Engine in the nineteenth century (probably), to Bill Gates taking the ball out of Paul Allen’s mouse (also probably) and Steve Jobs trolling a Starbucks employee (oh wait, that actually happened), people have always found new methods to irritate, distract and scare their colleagues, friends and family. Here’s a roundup of some of the newer PC and Mac-based April Fools’ Day pranks.

Fake update screen

We all know just how hair-pullingly annoying Windows 10 Updates can be: they have a knack of appearing just before an important meeting or ten-hour Celebrity First Dates marathon. If only there was a way to create a fake Update screen to trick your friends…April Fools' Day pranksTo put a lifelike, moving version on someone’s screen, head to this webpage and then make your browser fullscreen (in Google Chrome, you may have to uncheck the “Always Show Toolbar in Full Screen” option in the View dropdown menu in the toolbar). To be particularly “tricksy”, as Gollum would say, sneak into the office before everyone else and watch as they waste half of the morning waiting for “Windows” to finish updating.

Fake malware

This mean prank has very much got its finger on the tech pulse: convince your target that they’ve fallen victim to WannaCry-style ransomware – albeit for just a few seconds.April Fools' Day pranksThe webpage, which can be found here, works in exactly the same way as the Update screen trick above and is surprisingly authentic: there’s a bright red window, skull and crossbones on a padlock, terrifying countdown and even hackers’ atrocious spelling. It’s only when you look closer at the bottom-right corner – and we sincerely apologise for the bad language – that it becomes clear it’s a not-so-elaborate hoax.

Set a screenshot as the desktop background

If you want your victim to question their sanity and, if all goes well, throw their PC or Mac out of the window, try setting a screenshot of their desktop as their desktop background. Why bother? Well, when they try to move any of the icons on their desktop, they’ll find another identical and immovable icon underneath. It’s a deliciously meta trick.

This evil process can be repeated multiple times to create a truly mind-boggling sight. Exhibit A: a desktop that totally isn’t mine…april fools' day pranksIf the target has a Mac, minimise all of their windows and press Cmd+Shift+3. A screenshot will appear on the desktop – right-click it and select Set Desktop Picture. Once that’s done, retreat to a safe distance while cackling maniacally. If you want a more complicated effect, as in the image above, set the desktop background, move a few folders around then repeat the process ad infinitum.

If they have a Windows PC, press Windows Key+PrtSn and head to Pictures | Screenshots – or use the Snipping tool. Once you’ve found the screenshot, right-click on it and select “Set as Desktop Background”, you fiend.

You can also simply set a screenshot of open windows, potentially very embarrassing ones such as the Chelsea FC homepage, as their desktop background, but I find that it lacks the lyricism of the icon trick.

Flip the screen

Ah, an old classic. If you want to relive the good ol’ days of mucking around in your school’s computer labs, simply press AltGr + the up arrow key. This scores high on the annoyance scale as it’s so quick to do and can be repeated indefinitely – or until a colleague clubs you over the head with a stapler.

Turn a keyboard into a beautiful cress garden

april fools' day pranks
A cress keyboard, courtesy of Bluestone National Park Resort

Okay, I’ll be honest – I have nowhere near the patience required to make this one work, but it’s pretty impressive. The folks at Bluestone National Park Resort in sunny Pembrokeshire, Wales, have put together an in-depth guide for growing cress in a keyboard.

However, if you find yourself buying an exact replica of your colleague/soon-to-be-ex-partner’s keyboard and then spending hours carefully nurturing tiny cress sprouts, I think it might be time to have a long look in the mirror…

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About the author

Max Figgett

Max has written for numerous websites and magazines over the years. Whether it’s about ancient hardware or software secrets, no Big Tech Question is too obscure for him to tackle.

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