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It’s April Fools’ Day! Let’s talk origins and great geeky pranks

Article posted on 4/1/2021

I absolutely love a good joke.

As long as the joke doesn’t hurt or disparage someone, I’m 100% for April Fools' pranks. While some corners of the internet are to be avoided on April 1st, I personally always look forward to some of the funny prank products that game and tech companies come up with for that day. 

I got curious about the origins of April Fools' Day, so I did a bit of searching online and found a few different accounts. The most credible explanation of its origin is on History.com, which claims that although its exact origins remain a mystery, there is an early account on April 1, 1700 of English pranksters playing practical jokes on each other, thus popularizing the tradition.

Some historians speculate that the tradition dates back to starting in 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. People who were slow to receive the news or failed to recognize the start of the new year had moved to January 1, and continued to celebrate it during the last week or March through April 1, were suddenly the butt of many jokes. 

From History.com: “These pranks included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as poisson d’avril (April fish), said to symbolize a young, “easily hooked” fish and a gullible person.

April Fools’ Day spread throughout Britain during the 18th century. In Scotland, the tradition became a two-day event, starting with “hunting the gowk,” in which people were sent on phony errands (gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, a symbol for fool) and followed by Tailie Day, which involved pranks played on people’s derrieres, such as pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on them.”

Now that the history is covered, I thought we’d take a look at some of my favorite gag products and posts from game and tech companies from the last several years. This is by no means an exhaustive list - there are tons and tons of these, and I’d love to hear which ones are your favorites, too!

Blizzard Entertainment - Crabby the Dungeon Helper

Back in 2011, Blizzard introduced a little April Fools' joke of their own: Crabby the Dungeon Helper. This little azure crab would offer helpful tips and tricks for tackling those tough dungeons - not unlike Microsoft’s Clippy, who was absolutely essential for writing those tough college essays, right?

Blizzard has had quite a few great jokes over the years, but I think Crabby is by far one of my favorites - and I’m not even a World of Warcraft player! 

Duolingo - The Duolingo Pillow

Want to learn another language, but finding the time is tough? That’s okay, the Duolingo Pillow has you covered! With this incredible product, you can learn a language overnight and wake up bilingual in the morning. 

The Duolingo pillow offers 3 languages - Spanish, French, and Italian - with promises of adding Japanese in 2039. The website for this prank is actually very clever and entertaining to look through. The joke first debuted for April Fools' Day in 2016.

YouTube - Rickrolled

You know Rickrolling - who doesn’t? It’s one of the oldest jokes of the Internet, and I’m sure at one point or another we’ve all either been Rickrolled or have unleashed it on an unwitting friend or family member.

In 2008, YouTube took the joke to an entirely different level by redirecting all featured videos on its main page to the famous Rick Astley clip. Considering the huge amount of traffic YouTube had, even back then, I think it’s fairly safe to say that they essentially succeeded in Rickrolling the entire internet. 

Thinking about this one still makes me laugh!

Google - The Screen Cleaner

I love it when a company really commits to their jokes - and back in 2019, Google absolutely did. Not only did they have a fairly large volume of gags, but their execution was meticulous, flawless, and funny. I love this trailer for the screen cleaner who lives inside of the Files app!

2019 also saw Google introducing several other gag products, including Snake in Google Maps, the Google Tulip, and Spoon Bending for Gboard.

Walt Disney World - Snears

They’re not a tech or gaming company, but I found these while I was doing my searching and I got a great giggle out of them. What better way to enjoy snacks at Disney than out of a set of Mickey Mouse ears on your head!? 

You can see the link to the tweet containing the silly video in the header above. Hilariously, I read lots of comments about people who wished this product was real - I guess they gave Disney quite an earful.

I’m not sorry.

ThinkGeek - Literally Everything

Ah, ThinkGeek - I miss that website so much. You can still find some ThinkGeek products over at GameStop, but it’s not the same and doesn’t have nearly the same amount of selection. I was devastated when that site shut down; for the longest time, it was the only place I could get quirky nerd apparel and decor. 

What I loved about ThinkGeek so much was their humor - especially around April Fools' time. They had some pretty epic pranks over the years - some of them were so beloved that they eventually became actual products! I’ve selected a few of my favorite prank videos and included them below, but you can see the full list linked in the header above.

The Technomancer hoodie actually went on to become a real product! 

This never became a real thing, but I have to admit: if it was, I'm that weirdo who'd hang it up in her house.

What a bunch of geeks - I love it so much.

Saved the best for last! This one also went on to become a real product and is one of my favorite ThinkGeek jokes. 

April 1st is an awesome time to enjoy some good, clean fun online. What are some of your favorite April Fools’ Day gags? Share with me!