The cruelest month (as T.S. Eliot called it) has officially begun, and many people will doubtless play silly pranks on others today. But why? Nobody really knows the origins of April Fool's Day. But we do know that holidays associated with jokes have been around a long time. In Ancient Rome the December festival of Saturnalia was distinguished by a Carnaval-like atmosphere in which tricks and hoaxes were par for the course. As for modern April Fool's Day, one of the earliest mentions in English is by the antiquarian John Aubrey, who in 1686 wrote "Fooles holy day. We observe it on ye first of April. And so it is kept in Germany everywhere." April Fool's Day went with English settlers to the American colonies, although my cursory research hasn't turned up any examples of colonial pranks or japes (I can't imagine the Puritans would have gone for that sort of thing). The earliest mention I can find of April Fool's Day in America is in the April 1, 1870 New York Times, which warned its readers, "Today is April Fool's Day. We hasten to inform the people of this great City of this fact, and to put them on their guard at the earliest hour practicable. If anyone is imposed upon before they have read the Times, it is because they have not a due sense of what should be the first duty of the day, and it serves them right. " Well then. April Fool's Day has occasioned some truly inventive pranks over the past century or so. Here are three of my favorites: In 1957 the BBC news program Panorama broadcast footage of farmers gathering what appeared to be long strands of pasta off tree branches, while newscaster Richard Dimbleby informed viewers that Swiss famers had "an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop that year." Hundreds of people called the BBC wanting to know where they could buy spaghetti bushes. Well into the twentieth century many Europeans still rode horses into cities. In 1961 an Italian newspaper announced that horses would have to be outfitted with signaling and brake lights just like cars. Many horse owners showed up at mechanic's garages with their horses, to the bewilderment of the mechanics. In 1998 Burger King announced the introduction of the "Left-Handed Whopper." According to the ads, the new whopper contained the same ingredients as the original but all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the convenience of Burger King's left-handed customers.