About a year ago, I wrote an article outlining 10 silly office pranks I had witnessed during my years in IT. Surprisingly, that article proved to be one of the most popular pieces I have ever written. This year on April Fool's Day, I received email messages from several people asking me if I would write a follow-up article. You got your wish!
1: Overhead bins
At one of the offices where I used to work, each employee's cube was equipped with a series of overhead bins. These bins were metal cabinets that functioned similarly to the overhead bins on an airplane.
Someone in the office had a cardboard box that was just about the same size as the interior of the bin. The box lid had been cut so that it hinged on one edge of the box only, rather than having two flaps that opened in the middle (in other words, the box opened like a book).
Occasionally, we would fill the box with Styrofoam peanuts and place it in someone's overhead bin. We would use a bent paperclip to connect the box's lid to the bin's door. When unsuspecting victims would open the overhead bin, they would be buried under an avalanche of Styrofoam peanuts.
2: The new job
At one of my previous jobs, about a dozen of us would go out to lunch together each day. Normally, we would go to a sit-down restaurant, but one day we ended up at a fast food place. As we were leaving, one of my friends noticed that the restaurant was hiring and asked for a job application.
When we got back to the office, he filled out the job application in another friend's name. In an effort to totally humiliate the victim, my friend misspelled almost every word on the application. The application also said that the victim (who actually holds a master's degree) was a high school dropout and lived with his mother.
We all expected the victim to receive a letter of rejection in the mail. Imagine our surprise when he got a phone call from the restaurant manager who wanted to do a phone interview on the spot. Even though the prank didn't go exactly as intended, we all still had a good laugh.
3: Ransom note
Every year during the fall, one of the companies I used to work for would hire several hundred temporary workers to handle some of the seasonal demand. One year, the company began to have a serious problem with theft shortly after the temps were brought in.
One day I was strolling through the office and I noticed my friend's brand new laptop sitting on his desk unattended. I didn't want to see his laptop get stolen, so I did what any friend would do: I stole it myself.
Actually I didn't steal it. I hid the laptop in my friend's desk drawer so that it wouldn't get stolen. I started to leave my friend a note telling him where his laptop was, but a thief could have easily seen the note and stolen the laptop. So I decided I might as well have some fun and leave a ransom note for the "missing" laptop.
Unfortunately, the ransom note didn't go over so well. My friend was about to use his laptop to present a PowerPoint deck to a client. When he got back to his desk, he saw the ransom note and didn't bother to check his desk drawers. Assuming that the laptop had really been stolen, he went through the presentation without his PowerPoint deck.
4: Conference calling
One guy in the office liked to have fun with conference calling. For this prank, he would pick two victims and put both of them on speed dial. He would call the first victim's number, hit the conference button, and then quickly call the second victim. The two confused victims would usually end up arguing over who called whom. Meanwhile, the guy who initiated both calls would sit back and laugh as he listened to the resulting chaos.
Occasionally, he would use a variation of this stunt and connect someone else in the office to an outside phone number. For example, he would sometimes connect unsuspecting victims to adult book stores or certain government agencies.
5: Vaseline Intensive Care
The phones we used in one office had handsets with concave ear pieces. One summer, it became common practice to fill the area around the handset's speaker baffle with Vaseline so that when the victims answered the phone, they would get an ear full of it. The concave shape of the ear piece ensured that no Vaseline got on the base unit, so the prank wasn't spoiled.
After this prank had been played on various people around the office a few too many times, it didn't work anymore. Everybody got in the habit of looking at the handset before they put it up to their ear. However, this just upped the ante.
Since Vaseline had become too obvious, we started using magic marker. The phones were black, so we used a black marker on the handset. When our victims would answer the phone, they got marker all over themselves. Sometimes, we would color the ear piece, but other times we would color the handle. That way, they had marker all over the palm of their hand before they could even check the ear piece.
6: On eternal hold
Have you ever had one of those days when there are so many interruptions you just can't seem to get anything done? Once when I was having one of those days, I decided that enough was enough. My phone had been ringing off the hook, and my secretary kept reminding me about a bunch of paperwork that had to be completed. Needing a break from it all, I decided to have a little bit of fun.
Using my desk phone, I placed a call to my secretary's line. Rather than dialing her extension, I made an outside call. Whenever an outside call would come in, the caller ID would simply say "Outside Call." When my secretary answered, I disguised my voice and asked to speak to Brien Posey (myself). When she told me that he was on the phone, I told her I would hold. I spent half the afternoon on hold with myself, and my secretary was none the wiser.
7: Unplugged handset
Another way we used to have fun with the office phones was to disconnect the handset plug from the bottom. Because of where the plug was located, it gave the illusion that the cord was still attached. Whenever a call would come in, the person would try to answer the call, but couldn't hear anything because the handset was unplugged.
Of course, it was also fun to fake phone problems with a phone that was functioning perfectly. One day when one of my friends called me, I answered the phone and said "Hello" a couple of times as if I couldn't hear the person on the other end. Since I knew that my friend was listening to me, I slammed the phone onto my desk two or three times, making as much noise as I possibly could in an effort to deafen him. I screamed "Hello!" into the phone one last time before hanging up and swearing at the "malfunctioning" phone.
8: Chair drop
One of the companies I used to work for provided each employee with an ergonomic chair that could be adjusted at five or six points to provide optimal comfort. These luxurious chairs were also an endless source of entertainment.
It was possible to jam any of the adjustment levers into the open position by using the cap off an ink pen. Sometimes, we would put a pen cap into the chair's height adjustment. When the victim sat down, the chair would drop about a foot. We also rigged the backs of chairs so that the back would fall off if the victim leaned backward. It was a wonder that nobody ever got seriously hurt. I think everybody in the office fell victim to the collapsing chair at least once.
9: Junk mail
A local grocery store used to have a bulletin board filled with coupons and various mail-in offers. One of the advertisements on the board was a company that claimed to be able to stop small children from wetting the bed.
Someone in the office got the idea to take one of these advertisements and fill it out on a co-worker's behalf. For the next four years, the victim of this prank kept receiving snail mail at the office from this company. The letters he would receive were anything but discrete. Usually the envelopes contained big, bold print that said something like "Stop bed wetting now." Every time one of those letters showed up, we all had a good laugh. That prank was truly the gift that kept on giving.
10: A BAD server
Back in the days of Novell Netware 3.x, each Netware server had to be assigned a unique hexadecimal ID. Someone thought it might be funny to assign our primary server a hex ID of BAD.
At first, I really didn't think much of the ID that had been chosen. But it was absolutely amazing how many times vendors and consultants would be in our datacenter setting up something unrelated and freak out when they noticed a message on the server console stating that the server was BAD. The BAD server became something of a running joke, and on occasion we even used it as a test for candidates who were interviewing for a job in IT.
If you haven't had a chance to share your favorite office pranks with other TechRepublic members, now's your chance. What's the craziest practical joke you ever witnessed (or perpetrated)?
Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.