Thursday, April 01, 2021

April Fools: A short history

Yes, it is that time of year again, as most of you quickly figured out, and once again, AQ could not go a year without some sort of shenanigans to celebrate the day. It's a yearly tradition that has been happening every year since 2006. That year, it was a small event, where random themes would be used every time you loaded a page. 

In 2007, it was another small prank--this time, introducing a slew of new icons. At the time, AQ still felt very new and people were constantly suggesting new icons. I included some of the real suggestions among the fake icons, but some of them were clearly ridiculous. It was meant more as a joke. I didn't think anyone would really believe that I would entertain the idea of adding such a massive number of icons. It would have been so unwieldy! People wouldn't even be able to remember what all of them meant! And a number of the icons were just so absurd. (Dinosaur crossing? Really?) Nobody would really think it was a real feature.

But many people did.... much to my surprise!

So the next year, in 2008, I came up with a ridiculous idea... but could sound somewhat plausible. I figured if the previous year's implausible idea fooled people, a plausible idea could fool a lot of people!

So I pondered the most horrible thing that could happen to letterboxing--the stuff that would give people nightmares if it were true. What if... AQ joined forces with McDonald's to promote letterboxing as a fun and healthy activity for children?

I'd create a McDonald's-based theme and make a grand announcement. That was it. Relatively simple and easy. I swung the idea by Wassa for his thoughts. Even then, I knew he was a gold mine of ideas when it came to pranks. And he did not approve of the idea at all! "No," he told me, "this is definitely not acceptable. It must be bigger! Much bigger!"

Then he followed up with: "We can do much better."

We...? Somehow, I lost control of my own April Fools joke. I didn't have time to work on anything more extensive, but Wassa said not to worry about it--he'd take care of everything. As if that was going to put my unease at rest.... *shaking head*

I knew a little about what was he was up to. He needed my help to create a system that would automatically create hundreds or even thousands of new McAccounts to sell the illusion that McDonalds was promoting letterboxing and thousands of new members were joining. 

He created the McBoxer alias--supposedly a marketing director at McDonald's headquarters months ahead of time to seed the story, built up McBoxer's bona-fides on the message boards and found willing helpers to record real plants in boxes near McDonald's headquarters.

The only known photo of McBoxer.
He does look a little shady....
I'm not sure why anyone would have trusted him.

He found help to create an entirely new McLetterboxing website, which I knew about because I bought the domain name and added space on the server for the site--and the site even included an actual letterboxing-themed happy meal. He found I don't know how many people before the Big Day to post to the message boards, saying that they went into McDonald's to see for themselves if the story was true and posting about their (positive) results.

The amount of hours and preparation that went into this joke was vast. I knew Wassa was a wonderful source of ideas, but I was truly scared at the size of his ideas.

And then the Big Day arrived. April Fools. I had automated the announcement to post automatically on the home page because I was on a thru-hike and far from civilization. Eventually, I saw some of the posts when another hiker lent me his smart phone to read some of the message boards, but I wouldn't read the entire day's posts until I made it to the next trail town a couple of days later. (To this date, April 1, 2008 still ranks as the busiest day of posting ever on AQ.) But for the most part, I was basically MIA for the Biggest and Most Awesome April Fools prank ever played on AQ.

I didn't realize it at the time, but Wassa was also missing the fruits of his creation. It was on this date when he picked up his new dog, Lucy, and he spend a good portion of the day just driving to Livermore and back. He was a little disappointed miss the unfolding of his epic creation. But it's a little ironic: I, who initially conceived of the idea and certainly played an important role as well as Wassa that super-charged the idea into letterboxing history, were both missing the actual fireworks.

Wassa largely missed the unfolding of his greatest
AQ prank to pick up this cute little dog, Lucy.

There have been many more gags and pranks over the years, some better than others, but none of them really matched the epic heights that McBoxer pulled off--and likely never will again. We've batted around ideas for such epic pranks, but now everyone expects there to be shenanigans, and immediately post reminders of the fact. Sometime people even post a day or two early pondering what might be in store for April Fools. We can't really pull anything big off anymore because y'all are watching too closely and too suspicious of us. So the gags now tend to be more amusing in nature. Inside jokes, ridiculous features, or whatever. If some people fall for it--awesome! If absolutely nobody does.... well, I hope they got a laugh out of it anyhow. =)

Anyhow, Wassa emailed me that Lucy--the dog that entered his life during the Great McLetterboxing prank, had been suffering from health problems and had to be put down yesterday. So Wassa spent part of the afternoon yesterday scrolling through the old McLetterboxing posts, reliving the day he picked up Lucy. And marveled that not only did that joke work so well, but that is was probably improved by not having him around to respond or react as much. So in her own special way, Lucy contributed to the Great McLetterboxing April Fools Day prank. Thanks, Lucy! Rest in peace!

This post is long enough as it is, so I'll post tomorrow about the details of this year's April Fools prank which has its own interesting and unusual plot twists.... 

Thanks for the assist, Lucy! =)


Wassamatta_U said...

Thank you, Ryan, for such a lovely tribute to my little Lucy. I miss her so much, but this post brought a huge smile to my face. I have to admit, on the day we picked her up, I was a little upset and perhaps a bit grumpy to be missing all the fun... but as soon as I picked her up (she was SOOO tiny!) all that melted away.

Meanwhile, if you have an hour or so, I encourage people to do a "Message Board" search for "April 1, 2008"... it is HILARIOUS to watch it unfold. I couldn't have scripted it better if I wanted, and, again, the fact that I was largely NOT trying to "move things along" (which would definitely have been my inclination) made it build up naturally and beautifully. I have literally "thanked" Lucy every year since with a special treat on "our day" (April 1st) for her unwitting cooperation.

We had to have our treat a day early this year, and my heart is now breaking.

Wassamatta_U said...

Link to see the message posts for that day (by far an all-time record):

Eidolon said...

Lucy, go find Community and Cemetery, they will take care of you. *hugs*

Unknown said...

A canine can be your best and most loyal friend. Sometimes better than a relative. When one leaves your life you can feel the same pain as when a human passes. RIP Lucy and Wassa stay strong.

MO UR4me said...

Wassa, I'm so sorry for your loss! That day was the best prank ever. I am disappointed every year with the people who spoil the yearly attempt by mentioning it immediately. Do they need to look smart or something? It's a joke people, don't give away the punchline!!

Ant Hilarie said...

Ever-so-slightly-disappointed that there WASN'T a McDonald's LetterBoxing Happy Meal....imagine the toy surprise inside! I totally would have gone for it. >:-)

So sorry to hear about sweet Lucy passing on. They bring so much light but it breaks your heart when they have to go.