April Fools' Day

April Fools' Day (April 1, 2013)

Forgetting what day it was and unaware of her son's new-found love of pranks, Rodgers Forge resident Kim Morton walked unsuspectingly into the kitchen one morning and found herself soaked.

"I came downstairs dressed nicely for work," she says of that April 1st. "I cleaned up the breakfast dishes and walked to the sink. Using a rubber band and toothpick, [my son] had rigged it so when you turned the faucet on, the water came out right at chest level."

A change of clothes later, Morton says she and her husband, Will, were smiling. "Like a lot of things he does, it was aggravating, but we were impressed," she said of her then-7-year-old son, Elliott. "We had no idea he could even reach the sprayer! We didn't know he'd be that creative."

The first of April has been associated with pranks for centuries. Though the exact origin of the holiday is unknown, some scholars believe it began in France during the 16th century, with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, which moved the new year from the end of March to Jan. 1.

The story goes that those who did not know about the change were called "fools" and were the butts of practical jokes.

Today, jokesters all over the world use the advent of April to play pranks on unsuspecting friends, family and co-workers.

Some pranks, of course, are more successful than others.

"It should be something really unexpected," advises Marc Unger, an actor and comedian who is a regular on 98 Rock, WBAL and at Magooby's Joke House, his family's Timonium comedy club. "You want something grounded in truth, but taken to a bizarre level. That will get a lot of people believing it."

As a student at Randallstown High School, Unger was on the receiving end of one such prank, when a friend donned a ski mask and streaked through a pool hall that was a popular hangout — and pinned the incident on Unger.

"When I went to school that Monday, girls were giggling and talking in hushed voices about me," he said. "It took months before I found out who'd actually done it."

The best pranks are shocking, but they're not overly mean. "Comedy comes from a dark place," explains Unger. "It won't be funny if it's too tame." But don't get too dark, he warns: "Stay away from cancer. Or anything involving MRIs or CAT scans."

Unger suggests a more nuanced approach to pranking. "The more clever it is, the better," he says. "And it should be subtle enough to be believable."

Crystal Connor mastered the art of the subtle-and-believable prank when she pretended that her Baltimore family day care was closed on the morning of April Fools' Day. "I parked the cars off the drive, closed the curtains and put a 'closed' sign on the door," she said. "The expressions, of panic then relief, were priceless."

Connor knew her clients would have a good sense of humor about the prank. "They're like part of our family," she said. "I knew what was going on with their work and I wanted to prank them all. I stood at the door so I could see their faces — and to stop them from leaving."

According to International School of Protocol etiquette expert Cathleen Hanson, understanding your audience is key to a successful prank.

"For some people, a prank is always not OK," she said, "and for others, pranks are just good fun, something they enjoy." Like all matters of etiquette, Hanson says, appropriate pranking involves "thinking of the other person instead of yourself."

Office-based pranks can be especially touchy, warns Hanson. Before playing pranks at work, she recommends considering a few questions. "What is the culture of the office? Is the prank good fun? Are they jokesters? If they are, jokes are appropriate and can be fun — even a morale booster."

Hanson also recommends avoiding pranks that will embarrass the butt of the joke. "Pranks when someone puts out a photo that's not flattering or posts someone's private information — those go too far," she says.

The way Baltimore lawyer Dan Mayer tells it, life at a law firm is one prank after another.

As a young lawyer, Mayer worked long hours at a D.C. office. To blow off steam, he and his colleagues pranked each other all year long.

"We handled clients who had massive document production; there were always rooms full of empty boxes," he explains. "We'd go into offices and literally stack boxes from one end to the other. So when you walked in, you have to keep removing the boxes to get to the final row. It's easy to do quickly to fill up the room — but it's a nightmare to get undone."

Other pranks involved more planning. "If you knew someone would be out for a week, you'd plan ahead. With 10 or 12 boxes of tin foil, we'd cover the floor, entire desk, computers. I once came back from vacation to an entire computer, desk and walls encased in tinfoil. An entire room of silver. You just stare — it's unbelievable."

Hanson, the protocol expert, advises approaching the day with an easy-going attitude.

"Realize that the intention is not to be malicious. Let things go," she said. But if letting go is too hard, she said: "Get back at the person with another prank."