Thoughts by Richard Bleil
And again, we are at April Fool’s Day. Time to humiliate your friends and coworkers all so you can point and laugh at them. It’s not a tradition in which I participate unless I can do something safe, not humiliating for anybody, and clever.
Too many tricks are too simplistic. Tying a dollar bill to a string and yanking it away at the last possible minute is anything but intelligent. And why is it shameful for anybody except the person trying to execute the trick? It really only demonstrates a lack of creativity, intelligence and maturity of the person trying to perpetrate it. In fact, on a blind date, my date tried to pull the trick on me. She pointed out the bill on the floor, and said, “you dropped that.” I looked at it, and simply replied, “nope, not mine.” She then tried to tell me that she saw it fall out of my pants pocket, except, I never have wadded up dollar bills in my pocket because I’m not seven. Some passerby tried to pick it up, and she saw it in time to yank it away so she could point at the dupe and exclaim what a great trick it was.
In chemistry, April Fool’s Day took on a different tone. One of my favorite tricks was the creation of a very simple compound that is stable when wet, but a shock sensitive explosive when it dries. If too much is left dried, it’s quite dangerous, but graduate students like just laying down a thin layer of the liquid to dry, which in turn would create a “pop” no more dangerous than the poppers you can buy where you pull the string in dollar stores. One of my favorite stories is where the older graduate students in a laboratory spread the liquid around on a floor, leaving a few spots open. They all knew where these “safe” spots were and could come and go easily, but the new graduate students kept having the floor pop under their feet.
I kind of pulled this trick on myself in a chemistry show. I loaded the head of one of three roses with the compound. Throughout the show, I would periodically pick up one of the safe roses. I picked one up and looked at it saying, “I love roses, they’re so pretty.” Later I picked up the other safe rose and smelled it, saying, “I love roses, they smell so nice.” Finally, even later in the show (about halfway through), I picked up the third and said, “I love roses. Sometimes they explode!” I tapped the rose on the edge of the table, and the entire bud exploded. Unfortunately, some of the compound hadn’t dried completely, and sprayed in a mist onto the floor in front of the table. Throughout the remainder of the show, the mist dried, and as I walked in front of the table, it would pop, much to the uproarious delight of my audience.
Don’t kid yourself. Overzealous “jokes” can actually turn deadly. Sadly, we see it happen far too often when hazing in fraternities returns in somebody’s death. No fraternity ever intends to kill their pledges, but it happens in pranks that are not very different from April Fools pranks (perhaps a bit expanded). In high school, one of the boys in my school spiked the teacher’s coffee with a drug while she wasn’t looking, and hilarity ensued. No, she didn’t die, but she could have. As little as 2 milligrams (or 0.002 grams) of fentanyl is lethal, for example. The drug kills about a hundred and fifty people every day, and this mass cannot be measured without laboratory equipment. Had it been fentanyl that these morons put into the teacher’s coffee could have easily killed her, then the harmless prank would have resulted in murder.
If you’re an April Fool’s Day enthusiast, have fun, but keep it sane. Try to be clever and unique instead of going for the low-hanging old pranks that have been run into the ground. Remember that it’s very easy to damage people’s reputations, and some people are easily emotionally hurt. I actually had an employee who hated it when I singled him out as an example, even if it was a good one, for fear of feeling dissociated from the other people working there. And be sure your jokes don’t backfire on yourself. I can tell you for a fact that I never had another date with my prankster again.