This looks like a real breakthrough.
UPDATE: The Writer’s Almanac celebrates similar achievements by The Guardian and National Public Radio.
Today is April Fools’ Day, a holiday celebrating practical jokes of all kinds. Some people say that April Fools’ Day began in France in 1582 when the Gregorian replaced the Julian calendar, making New Year’s Day fall on January 1st instead of April 1st. At the time, news of such things traveled slowly, and it took many years for everyone to get up to speed. People who continued to celebrate New Year’s on April 1st came to be known as April Fools.
The news media have been responsible for some of the greatest April Fools’ Day pranks in history. In 1977, the London newspaper The Guardian published a seven-page supplement commemorating the anniversary of the independence of San Serriffe, a completely imaginary small island nation located in the Indian Ocean. The article described the geography of the nation — it consisted of two main islands, which together formed the shape of a semi-colon; the northern one was called “Upper Caisse” and the southern one, “Lower Caisse.”
The island’s natives were of “Flong” ethnicity, but there were also the descendents of Europeans settlers who had colonized the nation: “colons.” The two groups had intermarried over the years; their offspring were “semi-colons.”
The capital of the nation was Bodoni and the national bird, the “Kwote.”
In the supplement, there were even advertisements from real companies. Texaco announced a contest whose winner would receive a two-week vacation to the island’s Cocobanana Beach. Kodak placed an ad saying, “If you have a picture of San Serriffe, we’d like to see it.”
The day it ran, The Guardian was flooded with calls for more information. Travel agents and airline companies complained to the editor because the news had been disruptive to their businesses — customers refused to believe that the islands were only imaginary.
The Guardian has reused the prank on a few other April Fools’ Days — in 1978, 1980, and 1999 — and each time the island has changed location, moving from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea to the North Atlantic.
On this day in 1992, National Public Radio announced that Richard Nixon was running for president again. The news came on the show Talk of the Nation and included excerpts of Nixon’s speech announcing his candidacy, in which he said, “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.” It also featured analysis from real political experts.
Masses of people called in to express their surprise and indignation. In the second half of the show, host John Hockenberry revealed that the announcement was a practical joke, and that Canadian comedian Richard Little had impersonated Nixon.