Time for Some Anti-Gravity

If you’re looking for the perfect gift for a friend with an April 1 birthday, try Sidd Finch’s "Universal Time: A Modest Proposal to Revolutionize the Fourth Dimension" (Raca Press, 2006).

Finch brilliantly summarizes the problem with flying from Chicago to Prague, with stops along the way in London, Dakar, Ho Chi Minh City and Rio de Janeiro: Day is night, night is day, and you have no idea what time it is. Arranging a conference call with colleagues in Adelaide, Atlanta and Atlantis is equally confusing.

How can we end our crippling reliance on time zones? Finch’s universal time proposal solves the problem, because — hold onto your hats — within his system, time never changes. You simply call your associates and schedule the call for 2:30 p.m. tomorrow, which is, coincidentally, when the Czech ore markets open, one hour after sunrise.

Note that within universal time, 2:30 may be breakfast time in some places and bedtime in others, but there’s no changing of watches, clocks and sundials. Midnight may be midmorn, but six is six the world around. Are you for it, folks? Do you feel the mojo?

OK, you’ve got me: I’m preparing a joke for our soon-to-arrive April Fool’s Day. An AFD hoax should be a marginally believable tale that has a sprinkling of clues — an insane airline route, Atlantis, Raca ("fool") Press — to show readers that it’s not. Media AFD joking is almost a lost art these days, and that’s too bad, because amid our weighty problems, we can often use some anti-gravity devices.

It’s been 21 years since Sports Illustrated ran an article by George Plimpton about a rookie New York Mets pitcher, Sidd Finch, who could fire a baseball at 168 mph. Finch had purportedly learned, while living in a Tibetan monastery, to throw a ball 65 mph faster than anyone had ever before, and with astounding accuracy. Mets fans celebrated their team’s coup, but SI soon admitted the story was an AFD joke.

Some hoaxes have starred food items. In 1957, BBC television reported that a mild winter and the vanquishing of spaghetti weevils had allowed Swiss farmers to bring in a record spaghetti crop. The BBC showed video of happy peasants harvesting — from trees — noodles that, because of years of dedicated cultivation, had a uniform length. In 1994, British ads announced a special Mars Bar, The Emperor, which purportedly contained "32 pounds of thick chocolate, glucose and milk" and was on sale only on April 1.

In 1998, Burger King took out a full-page ad in USA Today to introduce a new menu item, a "Left-Handed Whopper," which would be the same as the original Whopper except that condiments would be rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of a potential 32 million left-handed customers. In 2002, a British supermarket chain offered a genetically modified "whistling carrot," with air holes that would cause it to whistle like a kettle when it was perfectly boiled.

Disney anxiety has led to some prankish news stories. In 1986, Le Parisien complained that the Eiffel Tower was about to be dismantled and reassembled in the new EuroDisney theme park. In 1998, the MIT homepage reported that Disney was purchasing the university for $6.9 billion and moving it to Orlando, Fla., where a Scrooge McDuck School of Management would be added.

Hoaxes concerning gravity itself used to be AFD staples. In 1934, the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung described an invention by which a person could fly by blowing into a box attached to his chest, thus starting up rotors that created a suction effect. In 1976, British astronomer Patrick Moore announced on a radio program that a peculiar planetary movement would create an upward gravitational pull that would make people lighter that day — and dozens of listeners phoned in to say the experiment was successful.

I’ve written this column a week in advance to challenge readers to use their own AFD creativity. It’s up to you.