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Cornelliana

Come April, ’tis the season for a Sun parody.

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Don't believe everything you read: A samplingi of joke issues, stretching back to the Thirties. Images: courtesy of the Cornell Daily Sun; Harvard Crimson courtesy of Alan Flaherty '62, BME '63. Images: Courtesy of the Cornell Daily Sun; Harvard Crimson Courtesy of Alan Flaherty '62, BME '63

Don’t believe everything you read: A sampling of joke issues, stretching back to the Thirties. Images: courtesy of the Cornell Daily Sun; Harvard Crimson courtesy of Alan Flaherty ’62, BME ’63. Images: Courtesy of the Cornell Daily Sun; Harvard Crimson Courtesy of Alan Flaherty ’62, BME ’63

In 1938, the Daily Sun broke the bad news: spring break was cancelled. “A sub-committee . . . discovered that marks were so far below the required standard that they felt some immediate drastic action was necessary,” the paper reported on April 1. “Authorities expressed some doubt that any further holidays would be granted this term.”

Unbeknownst to the gullible students who cancelled their tickets home, the story was part of a long-standing Sun tradition: it was the lead item in one of the many joke issues that have been making Cornellians chuckle, panic, and groan for decades. Over the years, the paper has produced fake stories both outlandish and quasi-believable, from a news report that freshmen would undergo mandatory Slope Day breathalyzer tests to coverage of an alleged lawsuit by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. ’44—who, the paper said, was suing popular government professor Isaac Kramnick for appropriating his wild-haired coiffure. “The Sun is an independent paper,” notes current editor-in-chief Tyler Alicea ’16, “and one of the things that comes with that is being able to laugh not only at ourselves, but at our university.”

‘I still remember the sinking feeling as it slowly dawned on me that I’d been had.’So what makes a good joke story? Alicea says that a certain level of plausibility is essential, and that “the best ones are subtle and play on current events.” In 2008, for example, the paper riffed on the fact that a slew of famous architects had had their design proposals for Milstein Hall rejected. The Sun wrote that the school had bribed industry luminary Frank Gehry to finish the plans—paying him off with “relics from Frank Lloyd Wright’s grave.”

Occasionally, the Sun’s japes have spread beyond campus. In 1959, its staff replicated the Harvard Crimson, detailing the arrests of football players for conspiring to throw a game; in 1965, they similarly aped the Daily Princetonian. The prank issues were substituted for the actual publication, distributed across their respective campuses—and sold to amused Cornellians. “In today’s social media age, I would guess it’s much harder to trick people,” muses former associate managing editor Mike Ullmann ’80, who worked on prank issues during his Sun days. “Everyone is so skeptical of what they read online.”

In decades past, in addition to the April Fool’s edition (which now appears on the twentieth, because April 1 falls over spring break), the Sun produced a fall prank issue, which usually featured a gag that preyed on unsuspecting freshmen. It often tricked them into action—say, announcing the need for new housing assignments because New York State had outlawed coed dorms—and prompted panicked visits to Day Hall. “The receptionists would be waiting and smiling and telling them they’d been fooled,” says Ullmann. “I recall one year, they gave a lollipop to each student who showed up—a ‘sucker for a sucker.’ “

One such article, which alleged that GPAs would drop due to a change in the grading system—and whose bone-chilling subtitle declared “Only 10% Can Get A’s”—thoroughly duped Greg Busby ’82, who approached his animal science professor about it. “I still remember the sinking feeling as it slowly dawned on me that I’d been had,” Busby, now an assistant director at Cornell Information Technologies, recalls with a chuckle. “I just had to ask the professor. I couldn’t have asked the TA.”

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