by Frederic Friedel
4/1/2019 – Last year we decided to abandon our decades-long tradition of tricking our readers with fake stories on April 1st. Instead, we said, we are going to stick to straight and truthful news. For those who are disappointed by this decision we bring you a really fun (and fully genuine) task proposed by Pal Benko for this auspicious day, and also take a look back at an historic prank we perpetrated in the past — just to prove we have not lost our sense of humour.
Not a(n) (April) first
This year Microsoft has banned April Fools’ Day stunts. “Sometimes,” marketing chief Chris Capossela wrote in a memo, “the outcomes are amusing and sometimes they’re not. Either way, data tells us these stunts have limited positive impact and can actually result in unwanted news cycles… [So] I’m asking all teams at Microsoft to not do any public-facing April Fools’ Day stunts. I appreciate that people may have devoted time and resources to these activities, but I believe we have more to lose than gain by attempting to be funny on this one day.”
For us the reason was slightly different. Over the course of two decades it became progressively more difficult to construct stories that do what they are supposed to: fool as many people as possible and at the same time be funny. We succeeded with this fairly well over the years, but the task of actually fooling people has today become almost impossible. On April 1st armed insurgents, equipped with advanced Google searches, coordinated in forum discussions, attack our news page and post instant messages telling everybody what the April joke was and how easily they had recognized it.
But there is another reason: the Internet has become filled with fake news, churned out on an industrial scale and used to con people into buying products they do not need, adopting views that are alien to them, and even causing them to vote against their own interests in vital national elections. No, the thought of entertaining people with made-up reports no longer seems as appropriate as it once was. This was probably the driving criterion behind Microsoft’s decision — unless it is an April Fool’s prank similar to the one we perpetrated thirteen years ago (a year before at least one full-fledged grandmaster was born). We will come to that in a moment. First here’s a fun task sent us by Pal Benko, specifically for today.
You can move pieces on the above board to try and solve Benko’s problem, right here in the browser. Naturally both sides are cooperating to make the mate possible. Computer assistance is thankfully not available to help with the solution. Actually, the problem has two solutions. If you find a sequence of moves that fulfils the task, please do not post it in our feedback section, where you can only state that you have found one or both solutions and perhaps how long it took you to do this.
Full solutions can, on the other hand, be sent to the editors using this feedback form. Your comments are most welcome. A ChessBase DVD signed by a number of famous players will be awarded to a reader. The winner will be drawn by lot from all those sending in the correct solution.
Now to a previous prank, perpetrated on April 1st 2006. This is what we wrote at the time:
ChessBase: no more April Fool’s jokes
In the past years our web site has published a series of elaborate April Fool’s stories. Not this year, and not any more. An international watchdog group was threatening news services as well as private pranksters all over the world with lawsuits for publishing false information as part of an April Fool’s prank. This unfortunate activity spells the end of an old tradition.
The April Fool tradition has it roots in ancient Rome, where playing practical jokes on friends was part of the celebrations of Hilaria (March 25). It evolved into the current-day April 1st practice in 18th century Europe. In England you were supposed to play your pranks during the first half of the day. The Scots reserved 48 hours for it. In France the tradition is known as “April Fish”, in Spanish the “dia de los Santos Inocentes”. The tradition came to America with early Scottish, English, and French settlers, where it was mainly about sending people on fool’s errands.
On our news pages we have carried on this tradition, always publishing, punctually on April 1st of each year, a fabricated story intended to entertain our readers. A list of the stories can be found below.
However, in this year we have been forced to abandon this practice, having received legal threats from a watchdog group calling itself “League for Truth and Veracity” (LT&V) in case we continue to “wilfully and knowingly publish false information that is aimed at maliciously misleading readers and visitors to the ChessBase news portal.”
The group, based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has offices in Georgia, Kansas, New York, London, Paris, Frankfurt and Moscow, objects to the “pagan origins of the April Fool ritual”. The plan of action appears to be to bring lawsuits against big news outlets, while sending cease-and-desist letters to private individuals who engage in practice by post, email or in some cases even verbally.
The cease-and-desist letters require the recipient to remit a legal fee of $35.50 for clerical expenses incurred by LT&V. Although civil liberties and free speech groups believe that the threatened legal action would have little chance of success, many people will comply with the letters and remit the amount, rather than risk a potentially expensive lawsuit. In the case of a big news portal like www.chessbase.com the sums involved are much higher. The prospect of extended litigation with LT&V has led us to abandon our traditional April 1st practice.
LT&V, it must be mentioned, has stated that the publication of intentionally constructed false stories, or their circulation by post or email, on April 1st is allowed under one condition. The story must carry the following disclaimer, clearly visible and in the same font size as the body of the text:
We warn you that the above story (letter, message) may contain false or spurious information, fabricated under the pagan tradition of the “April Fool’s” joke. It must not be taken seriously. We apologise for any inconvenience this story (letter, message) may cause to the reader.
We have decided against publishing a fabricated story with the above disclaimer, but advise our readers to use it in case they are intending to perpetrate an April Fool’s joke. Just copy and paste the text into your April Fool’s message. If you have already sent out such a message it is advisable to send a second message to the same person, quoting the original message with the disclaimer added (“We warn you that our previous message…).
So no more jokes without the mandatory disclaimer. LT&V informs us, however, that “meta-pranks” are allowed without the disclaimer. But we are not sure what “meta-pranks” could mean.
Of course this news item was fake — actually a meta-prank. For another eleven years we continued our tradition of fooling our readers on this April Fool’s day.