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April Fools Through Occamâ??s Razor: A Case for Pranks, Hoaxes, and Practical Jokes

The Principle of Occam’s Razor states “the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in observable predictions of explanatory hypothesis or theory.  The principle is most often expressed as Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, or entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.” Okay, what does that mean?

Leonardo Da Vinci stated it this way, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

While Albert Einstein stated, “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Popular culture simply states it by the acronym KISS; “Keep it simple stupid.”

I don’t know exactly when April Fools first started, but I know a good prank, hoax, and practical jokes (PHPJ) when I see one. The best and first way ahead is to keep our aforementioned geniuses in mind when planning for this unique pseudo holiday.

a). Keep it simple.

b). There must be rules of engagement (ROE).  A good portion of PHPJ occurs at our places of work, so this would only make sense.  We don’t want to lose our jobs or have someone else lose their job, especially in this present economy.  In fact, the PHPJ should be enjoyed by all, to include the mark (target).  The PHPJ should not be harmful, damage property and of course should not break the law. 

So, with this in mind I call upon one William A. Perry, who works for the Melbourne, FL Police Department and is no stranger to PHPJ.  He states in the online forum Police Link, the Nations Law Enforcement Community these simple ROEs.  I’ve paraphrased some of them so that everyone can apply them:

1. Practical jokes are pulled on friends only.

2. Don’t do anything hateful or spiteful. (Remember this is your friend.)

3. Don’t do anything that is going to damage someone’s personal property (You never know how sentimental an object is.) Don’t damage public/company property…

4. Do not do anything that will negatively impact work or the job.

5. Do not do anything that will embarrass your company.

6. Someone must act as a control rod ensuring that the joke does not go too far. (This person will be responsible for safety.  It is a good idea for this person to know the rules of engagement.) This person will ultimately be responsible for shutting down the joke if it starts to escalate.

7. If at all possible try to pass off the practical joke as training… Sometimes it really can be.

8.  I’ve added this one: The more people involved in a practical joke, the funnier it is.  It’s a great stress reliever in the work place.

Now, we have a great set of rules of engagement, the mentorship of outstanding geniuses, and the enthusiasm to light a roman candle and put it in the men’s toilet!  Stop!  Remember, no damage to public or company property.  Keep it simple stupid. 

Here are some great ideas:

1. Make several notes for your friends that say “I’m sorry I damaged your car. Please call this number and I will take care of the repairs.” Leave the notes on their cars.  The number you leave is the number for time.  Or answering machine # they don’t know, but the recording is a fictional Mental Asylum, “Thank you for calling Greater St Louis Mental Institution.  All operators are busy at this time; we’re experiencing a high volume of calls.  Please call back later.”

2. Tell two strangers/friends (if friends, they don’t know each other) who will later be introduced to each other that the other person is hard of hearing and speaks loudly. Be sure to emphasize that the other person is very sensitive about it. Then introduce them.

3. Slipped some of those anti- shoplifting strips into the lining of your friend’s favorite jacket.  You might even be able to get the store involved.  Of course, invite your friend to that store.

4. Maybe you can find something to prank having to do with your job.  For instance, in the Air Force, we would send people out to get a bucket of prop wash, or a roll of flight line.  Prop wash is a current of air created by a propeller and Flight Line is the actual place where planes take off.  It’s a nice kind of play on words; of course, getting as many people involved as possible is what makes them great.

Now, if you are one of those legendary PHPJ, who just has to out do everyone, and it has to be very elaborate, and yes, better than last year.  Go for it!  Note, you can break the guidance of KISS; however, do not break the rules of engagement!  Hey, a KISS between friends is just a KISS but Da Vinci and Einstein is a couple of guys who know a whole lot more about stuff than you and I. So have fun, soon it will be April Fools day!

For additional April Fools’ ideas, go to the two sites listed below:

April Fools’ Day On The Web: The most complete listing of April Fools’ Day Jokes that Web Sites have run each year from 2004 all the way until the present:

Museum of Hoaxes: Top 100 April Fools’ Day hoaxes of all time:


About the Author

Kevin L. Johnson has worked in the field of system security and information systems since 1982. He’s worked with radio teletype systems, mainframes, personal computers (PC) and networked information systems; Local Area Networks (LAN), Wide Area Networks (WANS), as well as the World Wide Web (WWW), creating some of the first web sites for the US Air Force. He has honorably served well over 26 years of military service, working in both the Army National Guard and the United States Air Force. He’s programmed, built personal computers and workstations, produced technical solutions, troubleshot and managed LANs and WANS, and worked with some of the best IT professionals in the field. He has been a member of the IEEE Computer Society, HTML Guild, Black Data Processing Association (BDPA), and the International Association of Managers of Technology (IAMOT). He is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and currently the owner and founder of Virtual Resource Systems.