From funny to fact: April Fool's japes that turned into predictions

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For any hoax to work, it needs a hint of credibility. But those responsible for making them up were surely astonished when they actually came true

When flying penguins are revealed on the nightly news, spaghetti is said to be harvested from trees, or a new decimal time system is announced, you know that 1 April has come around again. But, before you chastise the people who call the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, make space to grow more pasta seedlings, or run out to buy a new watch, remember that some of the very strangest tricks have, over time, become true. To celebrate April Fool's Day, The Independent on Sunday looks back at some of the best pranks that became reality.

1. Planet of the Apps

When The Sun ran an April Fool story last year about gorillas being given iPads to keep them stimulated, the paper had no idea it would kick off an animal trend. Months later, after reading the article, staff at the Milwaukee County Zoo in the US revealed how they had started weekly sessions with their orangutans and the electronic tablet. Mahal, a four-year-old male, and his 31-year-old adopted mother, MJ, were hooked from the outset. Orangutan Outreach, a New York conservation group, has launched an Apps for Apes campaign, which uses donated iPads for orangutan enrichment. More than a dozen zoos are now interested.

2. Facebook for the Unborn

In 2007, the technology site CNet posted a fake story about a social network called UltraSound that allowed unborn babies to document their lives in the womb. Aimed at "unborn children who want to blog their lives and post pictures and videos of their dwelling space to share with friends", it inspired one expectant dad. A year later, he invented Kickbee, a band worn around the mother's belly that would send kicks to Twitter, posting as tweets from the foetus itself.

3. Pink Football

Bristol Rovers FC were obliged to adopt a pink strip after an April Fool's Day trick backfired. When the shirt was placed on the club's official website as a joke in 2005, it attracted huge interest from fans. Demand was such that later that month, the League Two side revealed a limited number of the shirts would be produced as the official third kit for the next season. By July, they were delivered to fans. Former chairman Geoff Dunford said: "We tried to fend them off initially, but the momentum grew and grew, and ultimately we had no choice."

4. The self-cleaning car

German car-makers BMW are known for their legendary April Fool stunts, and, back in 1999, they celebrated the day by announcing a self-cleaning car window, which was reported in the Daily Mirror. Some five years later, motoring magazine Auto Express, revealed that the glass-maker Pilkington was in talks with several car manufacturers to bring in their very own self-cleaning glass with a special coating to break down dirt, which is then washed away by the rain.

5. iPhone predictions

Gadget site Pocket-lint was unaware that it was predicting the future back in 2004 when it used April Fool's Day to announce that Apple would launch a mobile phone add-on for the iPod. The advert asked: "Having become the market leader within the portable MP3 player arena, can Apple do the same with the mobile phone market?" The site admitted that it was a gag, and said it hoped Apple would make something like that "one day". Three years later, it unveiled the iPhone.

6. Strip Poker

When Irish bookmaker Paddy Power proposed, as an April Fool in 2006, to hold the world's biggest strip poker contest, it generated so much interest – hundreds requested to take part – that the Dublin-based company decided to organise a real naked contest four months later. Almost 200 poker fans bared all in an attempt to become the first World Strip Poker Champion and take home an exclusive Golden Fig Leaf trophy plus £10,000 cash.

7. The rat map

New York City and rats have long gone hand in hand, so when tech site CNet posted an April Fool story in 2007 about Ratatattle, a company behind a new Google Maps mashup that kept tabs on Big Apple restaurants that were infested with rats, it seemed like a pretty good idea. In fact, it was so good that it prompted the city's health department to launch a rat map a year later. The online "rat information portal" lets eaters see which establishments in the city have rodent problems.

8. Sleep like you're in Star Wars

Star Wars fans could not believe their eyes in 2009 when online retailer ThinkGeek introduced a sleeping bag in the shape of a Tauntaun, the furry snow beast who's warm carcass is used to save Luke Skywalker from death in The Empire Strikes Back. Fitted with printed internal intestines and a lightsaber zipper pull, there was only problem: it did not exist. But, after thousands of fans tried to order it, Lucasfilm gave clearance to the site to put the sleeping bag into production. Seven months later, it went on sale to fans for $99.99

9. Smell-O-Vision TV

In 1965, the BBC interviewed a professor who they said had invented a device called "smellovision". He sliced onions and brewed coffee in the TV studio, inviting viewers to confirm if they could smell the aromas at home; despite it being an April Fool, many confirmed that they could. In 1995, millions got their first real whiff of Smell-O-Vision when the BBC resuscitated the idea, issuing scratch and sniff books to launch the Children in Need appeal.

10. Space flights

Google issued a press release in 2008 outlining Virgle, a joint venture with Virgin, dedicated to creating a human settlement on Mars. The first manned flight to the planet was scheduled for 2016 – an April Fool joke that Richard Branson called a "potentially remarkable business". Now, thanks to Virgin Galactic, you can book a seat on a space flight. More than 500 people, including Ashton Kutcher, Angelina Jolie and Tom Hanks, already have. At £200,000 a pop, you can expect to experience zero gravity and see Earth from space. Commercial flights are expected to start next year.

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