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January 18, 2008

In which I pranked my German class

It's odd, but the subject of pranks came up during my day twice yesterday. Jessica had to leave school early due to illness. I went and picked her up and on our way to the doctor, we stopped off at McDonald's. While we were eating, she asked me for my best prank I had ever pulled on anyone. Then, last night I was browsing on the message boards at TTNMC for the first time in a long time, and found a discontinued thread from last summer devoted to pranks that people had pulled. I got to thinking, and I have decided that there were two pranks that I was involved with while in high school that need to be discussed here. One of them, the German Class Incident, I told Jessie about yesterday, and will tell you about now. The other one is the infamous PEN Pals story. That one deserves its own post, however, so I will relate that story sometime this weekend in its full glory.

The German Class Incident took place during my junior year of high school (1987!). I have no idea today where the idea came from, but I read about it or saw it on TV or heard about it from someone or something, and decided I was going to give it a try. The idea was simple: fool as many people as possible in the class into thinking something was going on when really, the only thing going on was my prank. It actually turned into a fascinating look at mass group psychology/behavior.

The key to success was going to be me having some time by myself in the room before class. That was easier than you might think it would have been. Let me describe the classrooms at my school. The school was laid out like a big square, with classrooms on both sides of the corridor. The classrooms on the right side of the hall were actually double classrooms, with one opening out into the hall, the other opening outside of the school, and an open doorway connecting them.

My German class was in one of the outer rooms, that had the door that went out onto the sidewalk. So, when the class was seated facing the chalkboard, behind us to the left was the passage leading to the inner classroom (and from there out into the school hallway). Behind us to the right was the door going outside. I sat in the far right row, so I could sit sideways in my desk and lean my head back against the outside wall of the school.

Are you with me so far?

I had German in third period. There was a 10 minute "break" between second and third periods (or maybe it was between first and second, I don't remember for sure. Whatever. I had German after the break, so there you go). I never figured out why we had that break, but for some reason they gave us five extra minutes between those two periods. Most people spent that time standing out in the hall chatting. Some would go into their classrooms and set their books down then go back out into the corridors. I was usually one of the first to come back into the classroom and take my seat, and there were always lots of unaccompanied books on desks when I came in.

My idea was to write a note in block letters, "Look on the back wall above the outside door. Pass it on." Realize, of course, that there was nothing on the wall. That was the prank, see. I snuck into the room in the middle of break, before anyone else came in. I folded the note and slipped it into the textbook of the person who sat in the front left corner of the room (all the way across the room from my seat), then drifted back into the hallway. A couple of minutes later I re-entered the room at my usual time and took my seat. The teacher came in and class began.

Frau Neace's teaching style was a lot of chalkboard work, so she usually had her back to the class as she taught. I kept a surreptitious eye on the girl in the front left seat. She opened her book and the paper fell out. I held my breath as she read it, then turned her head to look in the back corner above the outside door. Her eyes narrowed and she frowned, obviously confused. She looked back down at the note, then back at the wall. She clearly had no idea what she was supposed to be seeing. She passed the note on to the person behind her, but she kept turning and sneaking little peeks at the wall.

Over the next ten minutes, the note made its way up and down the first two rows of seats. The entire left side of the room was murmuring to itself as people who had seen the note turned to look and discussed it quietly as they tried to figure out what was going on. People in the next row over were talking to them too, trying to find out what was going on.

A quick aside here. If you ever try anything like this, let one person in on it beforehand. That way you won't have to sit there as the only one who knows what's really going on. For me, it was a guy named Steve. He sat right in the middle of it, and kept shooting me these looks like, "Dude!" For my part, I was keeping my eyes glued on the teacher so no one would see that I was trying hard not to die laughing as the left side of the classroom plunged into chaos.

Finally, the teacher noticed. She turned around and asked what was going on. By this time, the note was halfway up the third row. The person that had the note took it up and showed it to the teacher, saying something like, "We're trying to figure out what this is all about." Frau takes the note, reads it, then looks up at the wall. She looks back at the note, then back at the wall. Squints. She asks the left side, "What is this?" No one knew. It had just appeared out of nowhere and was getting passed around. By this time, the right side wants to know what the note says, so Frau reads it aloud. "Look on the back wall above the outside door. Pass it on." When she said that, every head in the room turned to look at the back wall above the door. It was magnificent. It looked like one of those clich├ęd shots of a tennis audience you see on TV. It was all I could do to keep a straight face. I looked above the door like everyone else, but I already knew what was there.


Frau threw the note away, and life went on in German class. Steve and I shared laughs afterward, and I never heard it mentioned again. I don't know if anyone ever figured out what really happened or not. If they did, they never mentioned it to me. It was really cool, though, watching half the class get more and more confused and unsettled as the other half got more and more antsy to find out what was happening. Definitely an interesting group psychology experiment, if anyone ever gets the chance to try it. I'd be curious to find out if it works as well on adults as teens, but there's really never a chance in the adult world to do anything like that. That classroom setting is something that goes away after a certain age.

One last observation regarding group psychology and behavior. It's not prank-related, but it came to mind as I was telling that story. I was at a crowded post office a few years ago. I sat and watched the crowd at the door for a while before I went in. There was a double door, but only one of the doors was being used. Someone would go through, hold it for the next person, who would hold it for the next person, and so on. Some were going in, some were going out, and there was actually quite a line queued up to go through this one door. I figured the other door was locked. I went down and pulled on the other door, and it opened! I went through and held it. Someone else came through, and by the time I came back to leave, both doors were in use.

My conclusion based on that observation is that most humans tend to be lazy sheep that blindly follow the lead of others who went before them. Unless someone is brave enough to open the other door first, forget it. It will stay shut and everyone will keep using the same old door. That's why U.S. automakers don't encourage alternative-fuel technology, that's why you never see Libertarian candidates in national debates, and that's why no one wants to coach the Falcons. Sheep, I tell you.

PEN Pals story coming soon. Get ready, Ben!


"The Rake" said...

Interesting.....very interesting

Benjamin said...

I remember the PEN PALS story vividly, but you never told me this one, you gunky! BRILLIANT!

Alas, I work in a cube farm now, so there's no effective way to re-create this sort of chaos short of pulling the fire alarm... and that's generally frowned upon.

m00kie said...

zomg - that was one of the funniest things I've read in a while. I sure would have liked to been there and in on the prank!