Fire Hazard Cayenne

Needed – Cayenne Pepper. Electric Cooker.

This is a very good one. Sprinkle a good dose of the pepper on the ring element. Turn the ring on and leave the room, shuting the door behind you with your friends in the kitchen not looking at the cooker (this is easy if you have a joint kitchen living room, wait till they are watching TV). This will result in the pepper burning into the air and your frends eyes streaming and throats burning.

Lightbulk Flash

Needed – Small wad of brillo pad.

When friend is out sneek into his room. Take his lightbulb out (power off!). Stick brillo into socket. Leave. When friend switches on light the brillo acts like a fuse and blows up(small flash and quite loud noise). Be careful with this one, it has been known to knacker the odd light switch.

Password Anti-hack

While in grad school, I was an “assistant” in a lab which contained two pdp-11/23’s running UNIX System 2. Much of my education came from jokes played on me by my more knowledgeable friends. I’m sure I deserved them; I was into writing multi-player games, and I got a kick out of writing special caveats that only I knew about; these caveats could give other players invisible handicaps. (Don’t ask me for the games; they’re very terminal dependent and I don’t even know where they are anymore.) We once wrote a multi-player version of Walter Bright’s empire from scratch. I added H-bombs (like fighters, but when they hit a city it goes neutral, and when they hit a neutral city it goes away, etc) Only, the program was rigged so that when a certain friend completed an H-bomb, he got this dialogue that ended with the H-bomb developers testing the bomb in his own city! It was VERY funny.

[1] The lab contained two kinds of terminals; Zenith-something-or-other for one pdp and TVI-something-or-other for the other. The console for each pdp was some other type (e.g., vt100 or somesuch). I normally logged in on a Zenith in a particular spot. One day my first attempt to login failed and my second succeeded. I thought nothing of it, and continued. Later, I happened to be on the console when I did a ps and noticed a program running in the background belonging to one of my friends, B. Although it was not uncommon for real work to be done this way (and the program had an innocent sounding name), I poked around in B’s directory to see if I could figure out what it was doing (I was root; what a feeling of power!). An ls revealed a very strange directory name; under that directory lived some interesting looking programs and files.

It turned out that B had written one of those password-catching programs, and had run it on my favorite terminal, apparently hoping that I’d login as root there. The directory name was an escape sequence that caused an “up-cursor, carriage-return”, so an ls on a Zenith would overwrite the funny directory name with the next file/directory. I had done the ls on the console (different escape sequences) by pure luck.

I figured out the file in which B was writing the login name and password, and replaced my login and password (yes, his program worked!) with: “B is a bad boy”. Eventually he came in. I casually asked him about the background process, and he had a simple explanation ready. I then left him to the “Zenith” room, and went to the adjoining “console” room and waited. His reaction was quite rewarding.

[2] B waited almost a year to try again, and this time he was nasty. I was working on a huge program, a dbms, for my Master’s thesis. I was having some trouble debugging, and looking at the prospect of spending yet another semester finishing it. During a particularly frustrating session, another friend stopped in to mention that B had done something to my ..profile; I thanked him and checked it out.

It was a very subtle change; I don’t remember how I happened to notice it. My PATH was set with /usr/bin in front of /bin (default on our system was /bin in front of /usr/bin). I looked at /usr/bin, and found an executable cc, owned by B. Further exploration revealed that B had written new read() and write() primitives; his cc arranged that the resulting a.out would get the bogus primitives. These primitives read or wrote garbage about 1/6 of the time. Can you imagine debugging a dbms with this handicap?

So, how to get back at him? I figured the first step was to pretend I hadn’t discovered his little trick, so I modified my makefile to run /bin/cc directly. After a day or so, B stopped in to ask how I was doing, and I told him everything was going well. He happened to notice my /bin/cc lines, and asked why I did that. I told him I had some simple shell scripts named “cc” scattered about, and didn’t want to accidentally pick one up (this was before aliases). He swallowed it.

The next day, /usr/bin had an executable make to go with the cc. B’s make made a backup copy of the makefile, changed all the /bin/cc’s to /usr/bin/cc’s, and ran the real make; when the make finished, it moved the original makefile back. I was amazed at the trouble he had gone to — and got a good lesson in shell programming as well!

Alarm Clock Fun

When my girlfriend and I were in our early teens (the age is important) we used to go to the local department store clock department. We would set all the clocks that had alarms to go off within minutes of each other a few minutes later. From a vantage point behind a rack of clothing we always got a chuckle when the alarms started going off and the poor sales clerk was trying to find out which ones were going off! (now, having been a sales clerk for a brief period during my college days, I don’t think that would have been particularly funny!)


This is a simple, harmless, and hilarious practical joke, that has claimed me as a victim. The setting is a pool hall, bar, or anyplace else with a pool (billiards) table. Place any ball at one end of the table and give your victim the cue ball. Challenge the victim to focus on the cue ball while walking around the pool table three times. At the end of the third time, the victim is to place the cue ball on the table, take a cue stick and hit the cue ball so that it stikes the ball at the other end of the table. This is very difficult to do; not because of a loss of coordination from walking and staring at the ball, but because while the victim is concentrating on the ball, you lick your finger and wipe chalk off the end of the cue stick. The victim will miscue almost every time. It gets funnier, because if the victim is like me, he/she will be determined and try it again.

We’re falling fast

A few months ago I was flying down to L.A. from San Francisco with a friend. He had stayed up too late the night before and promptly fell fast asleep as soon as we were airborne. The airline magazines soon paled, so I looked around for some way to entertain myself until we reached L.A. I went up the steward and asked if I could borrow one of the oxygen masks that they use in their little speech just before take-off. He looked puzzled and said that they didn’t work and were just for demonstration. I said I didn’t care, and much to my surprise, he gave it to me. I took it back to my seat, put it on, and strung the hose to the up just above my head. Then I reached down and shook my friend furiously. As he groggily woke up, I yelled, “Quick, put on your mask, we’re falling fast!”

The look on his face was pretty classic! Interestingly enough, he didn’t fall back asleep on the plane.

Reclining Nude Lead

Get a thin sheet of lead, cut out the outline of a reclining nude (trace from a magazine if you wish), tape it onto an inside wall of your suitcase. If you’re really artsy, glue or sew on a cover sheet, such that the deception is non-obvious when the people check it. Other shapes, or messages (taped onto cardboard) work too. Don’t do something that suggests a hijack attempt.

Missles Launched

Last year I had a job teaching an officeful of secretaries to use their IBM XT. Well, for April Fools Day, I inserted a Pascal program at the beginning of the AUTOEXEC.BAT file (runs on startup). The program essentially said “Hello, Department of Defense Missile Network…” and gave instructions which led to “Missiles Launched”, and “congratulations, you have just launched World War III. Say goodbye to everything you love.” I slowed down the printing to match 300 baud, so it looked quite threatening. After the “say good-bye message”, I had it tell the user to hit RETURN, after which the program said APRIL FOOL and went on to the normal programs.

The results were interesting. The people who were comfortable with the computer loved it. The real computerphobe registered only that this wasn’t her database program, and (as usual) demanded key-by-key instruction, ignoring the prefectly good instructions on the screen. No-one really was startled, they didn’t have the background.

Go Take a Flying Leap

An OSU Architecture prof (I’ll call him Dr. Jones) had a habit of telling his students to “Go take a flying leap” when they gave dumb answers. One student decided to take the prof to task; the class was taught in a second floor room so the student practiced jumping out the window (with the help of an assistant who would catch his arms as he jumped). The two got this down to an art, and one day provoked the “flying leap” comment from Dr. Jones. The student said, “Okay, if you say so,” turned around, and leapt out the window. His partner (who was supposed to grab him but say, “oh God, I missed him !”) *did* miss, and the jumper fell and broke his ankle.

No, this is not a cut on stupid practical jokes. The humor follows:

As a result of this episode, the department chairman had to file an accident report. One line of the form requires the DC to outline “What actions will be taken to prevent future recurrences of this accident ?”

The Department Chief answered, “In the future, all of Dr. Jones’s courses will be taught in the basement.”