The Wide World Of Pranks

     We’ve all heard about them. Some of us have perpetrated them. The easier and more common ones – filling someone’s bedroom with Styrofoam® peanuts, or turning every item in his room upside-down – have lost their humor value through overuse and are merely irritating. But there are still a few that can tickle one…as long as you’re not on the receiving end.


     When I was in college, one weekend some contemporaries of mine who were at “loose ends” decided to exercise their dubious sense for vengeance upon an officious Resident Assistant. As it happens, that fellow had left campus for the weekend. He’d made the mistake of taking the train and leaving his Volkswagen behind. So his “friends” took the opportunity to break into it – it was easy with a mid-Sixties Beetle – hotwire it, and re-park it in the lobby of his dormitory. They then proceeded to call Campus Security and have a parking ticket put on it.

     They thought themselves clever, but they were unaware that some CalTech students had already one-upped them. Those gentlemen emptied their target’s dorm room of everything movable, disassembled his Beetle, and reassembled it in the target’s dorm room – with a parking ticket affixed. Surely this is an adequate demonstration of why undergraduates need to be kept busy.


     An old friend of mine told me about a corker from Buffalo, New York, whence came Grover Cleveland and spicy chicken wings. Two bored young men, resolved upon doing something memorable, marched into the city and picked out a barber shop. Back then, the tradition of the helically striped barber pole was still alive and widely practiced. Our heroes negotiated to purchase that barber’s pole, asked for and received a written bill of sale, and told the proprietor that “We’ll come back later to pick it up.”

     And come back for it they did…at 2:00 AM. They were toting the pole down the street when a cop saw and stopped them. He arrested them on suspicion of theft and hauled them into the precinct HQ, at which point they showed the bill of sale to the watch commander. The WC let them go.

     Within fifteen minutes of their release, another cop had stopped and arrested them and brought them to the precinct HQ, where the same scene was played out a second time. This time, the watch commander put out an APB to all on-duty police that “If you see a couple of kids toting a barber pole, leave ‘em be. They’ve got a bill of sale.”

     By dawn there were no barber poles left in the City of Buffalo.


     While we’re on the subject of chicken…we are, aren’t we?

     The rise of wireless digital communications has made pranks possible that were impossible only a little while earlier. One that never fails to tickle me involves a pair of neighbors at odds over what constitutes endurable noise. The noisier family is unwilling to acknowledge the grievance of the quieter household. So the young son of the quieter family went looking for a way to take vengeance. He found it in the unsecured wireless printer of the noisemakers.

     Whenever the noisy folks get cranked up – music, television, a family fight, what have you – our hero sends a document to their wireless printer. 

     The noisy family is apparently on the clueless side. To this date, they have no idea why this is happening.


     System Administrators must be sobersided types. The power inherent in SysAdmin privileges can be used for many things…some of them quite funny, at least in the aftermath.

     At one place I worked, the SysAdmin was seriously underappreciated. He was seldom treated with the degree of respect appropriate to one who bears System Administration powers. Also, he was perhaps not quite as serious an individual as a SysAdmin should be. After one particular engineer had treated him especially badly, he decided to strike back.

     First he inserted into his target’s logoff procedure a simple script that would display a GIF guaranteed to freeze the blood: one that made it appear as though a script were formatting his hard disk. After a brief time interval on display, the GIF would disappear and the user would be logged off. Thus it would appear that all the user’s personal files had been irretrievably wiped.

     Second, he incorporated in his target’s logon procedure a keyboard diverter that captured all the user’s keystrokes. In response to anything but the ls command (this was a LINUX-based shop), the diverter would respond with ?Unrecognized? and the prompt. In response to the ls command, it would respond with a carriage return and nothing else. This, of course, caused the unhappy engineer to panic and run to the SysAdmin shrieking of disaster.

     The SysAdmin listened briefly to the panicky engineer, held up a hand, and said “Let me try it.” He logged into the engineer’s machine remotely, quickly and silently executed a command that undid his previous hackings, and demonstrated that everything was as it should be. That sent the engineer back to his desk bewildered and shaking his head. When the door had closed behind him, the SysAdmin had hysterics.

     Be good to your SysAdmin, so he’ll be good to you.


     Got any of your own to tell us about, Gentle Reader?


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    • James Archer on March 19, 2022 at 12:07 PM

    Back in the late 80’s I was a route driver for an overnight company now long out of business.  One of my stops was a business that generated a lot of important paperwork that had to be delivered to their main headquarters overnight.  Obviously this was before the wide use of the fax machines.
    Anyway, I picked them up about 4PM and sometimes had to wait until the paperwork was finished before leaving.  One day one of the women asked me to look at one of the computers as it seemingly wouldn’t turn on and they knew that I had some knowledge.  I walked around behind the row of desks to the computer in question and noticed that the power cord to the monitor was almost pulled completely out.  In those days the power attachment was a male end directly attached to the monitor and the power cord that had a male end that went into the wall socket and a female end that went into the monitor.
    Checking that all of the staff were placed so that they couldn’t see what I was doing, I place my right hand on the top of the monitor and my left on the female cord end and intoned “Heal” quite loudly.  Of course the monitor came right on.  No matter how often I was asked, I only said that I healed it.

    • Michael Sinsabaugh on March 19, 2022 at 1:37 PM

    Back in my earlier days I was on a contract to provide IT support in a “mixed” environment (DOS based and Macintosh).  I provided support primairly for Macontash and my friend primairly for DOS.  Naturally, we had a friendly rivalry abouit whch was better. 
    One day he stepped out for a moment to help a customer and commited a critical error, he left his keyboard unsecured.  This being just the moment I was waiting for I quickly went to his computer, fired up MS Word, went into the proofing settings and configured it so that any time he typed “PC” MS Word would autocorrect it to “Macintosh”.
    What I didn’t expect was that he would send out a document to our program manger without proofing it.  He heard right back.  Of course he knew who to accuse but it took him a good 30 minutes to find the setting and fix it as there was no way in the world he was going to ask me.

    • George True on March 19, 2022 at 2:09 PM

    This brings back memories.  There were many practical jokes that we played on each other in my college fraternity.  All in good fun, and none of them harmful or malicious.
    The most innovative one involved a number of participants vs one selected ‘victim’.  Unbeknownst to him, his alarm clock had been reset to go off at 3:00 AM instead of 6:00 AM, while still showing a 6:00 AM time on its face.   When he went to the communal bathroom and shower, there were several other frat brothers, showering, shaving, etc.  After he was dressed and went to the dining room, there was a handful of brothers already sitting there eating cereal or toast. 
    He arrived for his 7:30 AM class unaware that he was three hours early.   It gradually dawned on him that something was amiss.   For one thing, he was the only one there.  For another, even in mid-winter, by 7:30 AM it should be starting to get light outside.  It was still dark when he arrived back at the frat house around 5:30 AM.  There was nobody waiting to razz him, because after he left the house, everyone involved turned out the lights and went back to bed.

    • John in Indy on March 19, 2022 at 4:51 PM

    A “friend” helped my with setting up a new computer (1990s), and to “remind” me to save my written work, left a bomb which, if I typed in Word for more than 20 minutes without saving, would lock all inputs, including CNTRL/ALT/DEL, throw a bluescreen, then show “format C: / yes” then do an x-search of the hard drive, which sounded like a format.  I was very unhappy with him.  He apologized by getting me tickets for Aerosmith, 3rd row center. Apparently he had also once worked for Ticketmaster, and had left them a present too.  John in Indy

    • Tsquared on March 20, 2022 at 1:20 PM

    In the early 90’s I edited my supervisor’s computer autoexec.bat with a call for a timestamp check on the autoexec file as the first command. If it didn’t match the autoexec.bat would be renamed with a count as the extension and my autoexec copied back to the root directory then re-boot. In my version of the autoexec.bat the startup sound was Nazareth’s Hair of the Dog. This went on for 3 months before I removed it.

  1. I changed the system font to Korean (a simple fix). There were other gags I learned about, but I was honestly too busy answering dumb questions to test them out.

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