As long-time readers of this column know, I do much of my reading on the treadmill. Average content keeps me going for half an hour, but I recently picked up a book that had me walking for 12 hours straight.
The book is Sidd Finch's Universal Time: A Modest Proposal to Revolutionize the Fourth Dimension (Raca Press, 2006). Mr. Finch brilliantly summarizes airline travel travails: Say you've just flown 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. What's worse, your boss in New York City has just asked you to arrange a conference call with colleagues in Adelaide, Atlanta, and Atlantis.
In today's world with its crippling reliance on time zones, you'll probably end up dazed and confused in an unforgiving city. Mr. Finch's universal time proposal, though, 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 6:00 is 6:00 the world around. Are you for it, folks? Do you feel the mojo?
OK, you've got me: This is an April Fool's Day joke. WORLD has an issue dated April 1 an average of only once every seven years, so if you've indulged me on this one you won't be similarly tested for a long time. Besides, this is a way for me to get into some of the outstanding AFD jokes of modern times.
The best, in my humble opinion, came 21 years ago when 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. Mr. 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" that purportedly contained "32 lbs. 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" that 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 airholes that would cause it to whistle like a kettle when it was perfectly boiled.
Disney anxiety led to some prankish news stories. In 1986 The Parisien complained that the Eiffel Tower was about to be dismantled and reassembled in the new Euro Disney theme park. In 1998 the MIT homepage reported that Disney was purchasing the university for $6.9 billion and moving it to Orlando, where a Scrooge McDuck School of Management would be added.
Hoaxes concerning gravity have also been 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.
And if my lack of gravity seems out of place in a serious magazine like WORLD, don't worry, all you fans of weighty matters-no more columns like this for many years.