Google The Future? Only on April 1

SYDNEY — If you rushed to the Internet to book one of airline Virgin Blue’s “no chair fares” for half price as advertised in Australian newspapers on Tuesday, you might have found one message on its Web site: April Fools!

Various companies and media organizations got into the swing of April 1 when pranks are allowed until noon with a range of hoaxes designed more to amuse than trick people.

Britain’s Independent newspaper reported that foul-mouthed TV chef Gordon Ramsay was banning swearing in all his restaurants after Sydney authorities refused an application for him to set up an eatery on the grounds of “decency.”

And competitor the Daily Telegraph featured a story based on BBC footage of a colony of penguins that flies thousands of miles to the rainforests of South America to bask in the sun.

Google Australia announced that it was to launch a new feature “enabling you to search for content on the Internet before it is created” so you could get tomorrow’s news today, including share prices and sports results.

“This is awesome. I can now check the questions ahead of time and impress my girlfriend by knowing all the answers to ‘Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?'”said Wazza from Queensland on Google’s site.

In North America, Google was offering to take Earthlings to Mars with an initiative called “Virgle.”

Speaking of pranks and Virgin Airlines, Virgin Blue, Australia’s second-largest airline, put an ad in newspapers across Australia that read, “Stand Up And Be Discounted,” offering half price fares if passengers would stand for a flight with a complimentary calf massage for flights of over two hours.

“We’ve had over 1,000 click-throughs on the Web site we set up,
and people had a very good humor about it. We like to have a bit of fun,” said Virgin Blue spokeswoman Leonie Vandeven.

Some pranks backfire

April Fools’ Day dates back centuries, but its origins remain unclear.

The Museum of Hoaxes, a Web site set up by self-described “hoaxpert” Alex Boese in 1997, said references began to appear in the late Middle Ages.

But Boese said the most widespread theory about its origin dates back to late 16th century, when France switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, meaning the start of the year moved from late March to Jan. 1.

Those who continued to celebrate the New Year during the week that fell between March 25 and April 1 had various jokes played on them — but Boese said there was no evidence to back this.

He does, however, list the top 100 April Fools’ Day hoaxes, which is headed by the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. This dates back to 1957 when the BBC news show Panorama announced Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop due to a mild winter with footage of Swiss peasants pulling spaghetti strands from trees.

But not all April Fools hoaxes work out.

The worst hoax, according to Boese, was in 1998 when a newspaper owned by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday informed readers that U.S. President Bill Clinton had decided to lift sanctions against Iraq. It admitted later that it was just joking.

Boese said April Fools’ Day has never been a widely celebrated tradition, but he believed pranks were becoming more common with the Internet offering fertile ground.

“Also advertisers have come to realize that a funny prank can generate lots of good publicity,” he said in an e-mail.

As for hoaxes that backfired this year?

Police in the Australian state of Queensland are considering charging a woman who rang paramedics just after midnight claiming her baby had stopped breathing after falling off a bed. Two ambulances rushed to her house to find it was a hoax.

“This was a particularly insidious hoax call,” said a statement from the emergency services department.

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