We all know (or should know) about the Instructables April Fools Contest. Instead of the typical joke idea, I decided to create an entry about my almost unbelievable ability to create the hardest stone known to man in How to Make Synthetic Diamonds. Hopefully folks will appreciate the delicious irony of pranking Instructables for an Instructables contest.
Step 1: Develop an Interesting Premise
Instructables readers are inquisitive, but most folks arent likely to read a detailed description of something like unlocking an extra 10 analog ports on an arduino microcontroller. Try to come up with a basic theme that appeals to the majority of readers.
For my prank, I decided to take something most folks value (diamonds) and invent a way for nearly anyone to make them. The idea being that even those folks who dont usually dabble in advanced chemistry might be interested in seeing how diamond could be made cheaply.
Step 2: Come Up With a (semi) Plausible Overall Explanation
Do some initial research. Find out if known science has a method of doing anything close to what you're proposing. You don't need to become the world's foremost expert on the subject, just learn enough about existing science/ technology to convincingly emulate it.
After reading Rory Earnshaw's PopSci article "Smelting in a Microwave", I knew I wanted to incorporate a microwave oven into my story. I was pleasantly surprised when Wikipedia revealed that chemical vapor deposition is a method of growing diamond involving microwaves - SCORE!
Step 3: Add One or Two Small, Quirky Element to the Process
Remember, part of what you'll have to explain (perhaps just implicitly) is why no one else has done or called attention to this before. Usually, a combination of seemingly unrelated ingredients or techniques is enough to satisfy basic skepticism.
In my prank, I introduced the idea of adding olive oil to one small section of the graphite as the "secret" to making diamonds in a microwave. I further established that the olive oil should be applied via 100% cotton thread - as this could possibly make-or-break the whole process.
Step 4: Keep It Simple
Don't go overboard with crafting an elaborate series of steps. If the initial idea is sound, even a basic explanation will seem convincing. Sometimes you can over-plan these things.
Being fascinated by the announcement last year that scientists had discovered a way to generate x-rays by peeling scotch tape in a vacuum, I tried to justify adding a step in my fake-diamond-making-process that required x-rays. But in the end, I felt it would add too much complexity to the project. Not to mention, it'd be hard to create a plausible justification for it.
Step 5: Don't Be Offensive
Keep in mind that, naked upper-body paster casting notwithstanding, Instructables aims for a general audience. So even though you might think posting in-depth instructions on how to kidnap and eat people is hilarious, NOBODY ELSE DOES!
In my story, I was able to generate a human interest angle - my 10th wedding anniversary. That part of the story was true. It was also somewhat serendipidis that a) the modern 10th anniversary gift is diamond jewelry, and b) the diamond is April's birth stone. However, my anniversary isn't April 1st... it's the 10th. (And, yes, I did get her something besides this "diamond" pendant.
Step 6: Take Good Photos
Words alone will only get you so far. To have a decent chance of convincing someone of a far-fetched claim, you've got to have convincing imagery. Some folks are pretty PhotoShop capable, and go that route. But it's my opinion that good ole' mocking up a situation and photographing it works best.
Everything in my photos is 100% real. It's my explanations of what's in the photos that's fake. I did use oil on the thread; but the thread wasn't 100% cotton. I did nuke the graphite in my microwave; but only for about 10 seconds (and it ARCED LIKE CRAZY). There was a lump of carbon left over; but it was overcooked angel hair pasta, not diamond. I really did make the pendant in the last step; but it was just a crumb of burnt pizza crust encased in epoxy.
Step 7: Be Mindful of Time-Zones
Obviously, not everyone lives where you do. A truly clever April Fool's Day Joke isn't delivered on March 31st... or on April 2nd. Make sure your post publishes on April Fool's Day.
This is my one (admittedly minor) error. I didn't realize until after posting that Instructables uses "Left Coast" time. As such, my publish date is about 3 hours too soon. I did go back and make a few edits after the original posting that changed the edit date. But my original entry will forever be tagged as "published: Mar 31, 2009" - oh well.
Step 8: Manage the Comments
Even "real" articles have their critics. So, expect a good number of folks to be skeptical of your post, and express this in the comments. How you deal with these will greatly influence how many other folks you fool.
There are 3 types of comments: uncomplimentary, complimentary, and irrelevant. You can't control the first type, but you can add a few of the other two to dilute the effect of the first. I seeded my comments with 1 supportive and 1 irrelevant comment from friends, just to get things started.
Don't Get into an Argument
The more technical your subject matter, the more likely someone's going to "prove" you wrong. You'll be tempted to reply to their comments with a well thought-out counter-argument. But it probably won't help. Silence is usually the best reply.
Bury Their Comments Instead
Keep in mind: someone trying to expose your well-crafted prank has already made up their mind , and you won't change it. But you can lessen the chance that their comment will influence the next reader by burying it.
Because Instructables display the most recent comments first, adding a new comment to an existing thread will jump that entire thread to the top. This way, one well-placed (even irrelevant) comment by you could push an unsavory recent comment pretty far down the list.
Step 9: Don't Take It Too Seriously
Sure, we'd all like to win the recognition of our peers (and not to mention, a sweet Instructables T-Shirt), but don't get too bent out of shape if some folks don't fall for your prank.
For me, I take comfort knowing that for a short time, as many as 7,000 people lived in a magical world where it was possible to make a diamond in your microwave... and I made that possible.
First Prize in the
April Fools Contest