November 13, 2008

Jokes, Of A Practical Nature

Humor and the workplace are not mutually exclusive. Or at least they shouldn't be. If they are it might be time for a new job. I'm in the middle of a book called Then We Came To The End which is pretty much all about work, office politics and the downfall of a company when the dot-com boom went bust. The book got me thinking about work and a recent conversation about hardboiled eggs got me thinking about workplace practical jokes. (Don't worry, I'm no more insane today than I was yesterday. The linkage between practical jokes and eggs will soon become clear.)

Peanuts. I used to share an office with a guy who got lots of shipments of stuff, mainly carefully packed computer equipment. All this equipment came packed tight with styrofoam packing peanuts. Combine those with a frequently traveling co-worker and a little time and you've got yourselves the making of a brilliant practical joke. Packing peanuts were stuffed in ever nook and cranny of her desk - every drawer, every overhead cabinet. A strategically placed ceiling tile was removed and packing peanuts were placed in the ceiling. A MacGyver-like rig of string and binder clips moved the ceiling tile aside when the overhead cabinets were opened. It worked like a charm and the result was an overwhelmingly devastating landslide of packing material the likes of which the office had never seen.

Inversion. I've learned from first hand experience that nothing quite freaks people out like meticulously turning everything in someone's office upside down and replacing it in the exact same place in which you found it. Similarly, turning small items - like pencil holders, name plates, staplers, etc - over and fixing them to ceilings also confuses victims and provides a great deal of amusement.

Egg Hunt. After a week at the beach, I returned to my office one Monday to find an inbox flooded with email I had to deal with and a rather faint, odd smell in my office. I plowed through the email, thinking nothing of the smell. On Tuesday, the smell was a little worse and, for some strange reason I couldn't hear folks who called me on my office phone. Still, I worked and went to meetings thinking nothing of it. By Wednesday, however, the smell was unavoidable. I went in search of whatever had died in my office. I couldn't find it. And oddly, a few buddies who worked down the hall kept calling me and I still couldn't hear them very well. It was then that I actually looked at my phone. Something squishy and brown was making its way through the holes in the mouthpiece. Further investigation revealed a similar substance coming from the earpiece. And whatever it was, it smelled like death. I used a pair of scissors to pry apart the handset revealing two very old and disgusting hardboiled eggs. I'd been had in perhaps the most disgusting way ever.

Green Computing. Grass grows quickly. Especially grass that's planted in the bottom tray of a keyboard. So fast that, hypothetically, were you to plant grass in a keyboard on a Monday, water it faithfully and keep it in the sun, you'd probably end up with a nice, fresh green keyboard by the time a coworker returned the following Monday. Hypothetically, of course.

Cruising. A coworker had, more than once, exclaimed her love of Tom Cruise. This was before his Oprah couch-jumping days but I somehow doubt that's her love has waned. We acquired several hundred copies of a Tom Cruise headshot and wallpapered her entire office with them. Seeing hundreds of Toms staring back at us was a little surreal. And frightening.

Dear John. After the egg thing - one of the greatest office pranks in my own personal history of victimization - it was important to ensure the instigator was repaid appropriately. Now, this instigator was pretty particular about his office chair. So, what better way to repay him than replace that carefully selected chair with a free-standing, fully functional portable toilet?

What kind of practical jokes - including those in the office - have you been a victim of? Or played upon others?

Posted by Chris at November 13, 2008 6:37 AM

I can't believe your timing sometimes...

I just started working with some coworkers in another office who are *very* fashion conscious men. Given the technical nature of our work and my utter horror at what they spent on a single outfit, I knew this had to be remedied.

We have a higher up who is in charge of some of the work we all do. Nice guy, fighting cancer, needed amusement. I figured I could help with that. I asked him what size the two coworkers wore. Using terms like "Big Bear" and "Little Bear" in e-mail, of course.

I then went looking for wolf shirts. If you don't know what I mean, it's those shirts with pictures of wolves on them in nature settings. If you go to any MIT/CalTech school, you're likely to see more than a fair number of them. The mall failed me (!), but I found THESE on the Internets:

I then purchased said shirts, wrapped them individually, and attached a note from "Management" regarding a concern that attire in the office was leading our clients to believe that we were not fluent in their technologies, needed specific individuals to show leadership, provided attire enclosed, please provide photo to named higher up to show good faith. And sent this through interoffice mail to their office in care of another coworker (dubbed "Sly Fox") to place on their chairs after a meeting with a client that I knew wasn't going to go spectacularly.

They were pretty sure it was me, even with all my precautions, but the pictures they sent... So worth it!

Posted by: alektra at November 13, 2008 6:55 AM

One gal in our office has a black umbrella with polka-dots. One rainy day, as her umbrella hung in her cubicle, we filled the inside with the paper dots from the three-hole puncher. The realy funny part was that before she left for the day, it stopped raining so she didn't open her umbrella to find the surprise. Weeks later, as she was getting out of her car, she opened her umbrella in the company parking lot to have thousands of paper dots cover her and the interior of her car. Still to this day she has no idea who did this horrible thing.

Posted by: harrylips at November 13, 2008 7:37 AM

The portable toilet is excellent but OMG you need to *LOCK YOUR OFFICE* when you go away.

Just how does a hard boiled egg fit inside your phone? I hope you got anew one. That is beyond foul.

My best office prank (which does not top yours) is this: I had a co worker who kept a green plastic alien on his desk. One day I took it and photoshopped an image of an immigration letter telling him the alien was in detention and he owed a number of fines and taxes plus a court date for harboring illegals.

Posted by: jessica at November 13, 2008 7:48 AM

OMG! You're Jim from "the Office"!

I must be working in the wrong office (or wrong profession) because there are NO practical jokes going on here.

(Please tell me you got a new phone after the egg thing)

Posted by: Robyn at November 13, 2008 8:09 AM

In one of my former workplaces, we went on "deskwars" one year. One coworker had his entire cube foiled - every individual piece of equipment. Another received the packing peanut treatment. One had his entire desk taken apart and rebuilt with milkcrates.

The best was my boss - we got him twice. First we took post it's and wallpapered his entire office (that took forever, but was awesome). The best was right after there was some construction done in the area. We found a piece of a plywood construction wall that fit the hallway in front of his office door exactly. We installed it and hung a framed copy of a quote from him. 'Twas excellent.

Posted by: melissa at November 13, 2008 8:11 AM

Fun times. Sigh! Sadly attorneys do not have a sense of humor.

My former Executive Director and I did an April Fool's edition of the weekly in-house newsletter. We exaggerated odd working habits. Attorney X who insisted that the will templates had to be adjusted each time we received a shipment of paper. We mocked me for my arrival time. Both our phones were ringing at regular intervals with complaints.

I did a practical joke edition of our external company newsletter for that same ED's 50th birthday. He has a sense of humor. It worked out well after he realized that we didn't really mail the newsletter to clients with a photo of him doing obscene things to his breasts shaped birthday cake.

Posted by: Maria at November 13, 2008 8:29 AM

Since you mentioned packing peanuts...

When I was in college one of my frat brothers had a room where the bedroom was an closed space built into the attic above his room. You accessed it via a ladder and it was maybe 10 feet long by 4 feet wide - completely enclosed.

I worked at the book store and had access to virtually unlimited used packing peanuts.

You can probably see where this is going. I filled his sleeping quarters wall to wall, floor to ceiling with packing peanuts. 20 years later I wouldn't be surprised if there are still a few of those peanuts wedged into the corners of the space.

Posted by: COD at November 13, 2008 8:47 AM

I was part of a prank team in my sorority. Our favorite one freshman year was to (a) place opened, pop-top, tuna cans underneath the actives beds - slid all the way back. The smell was ridiculously overwhelming, but it took a few days to figure out where it was coming from.

(b) back before the days of cordless phones (jesus am old), we removed all the cords from the phones -- so they could ring, but never be answered.

Posted by: Pammer at November 13, 2008 9:05 AM

This one guy in my office is a big fan of pranks. He likes to do stuff like changing people's nametags, bringing extra stuff into their offices, etc. A couple of co-workers decided to get him back by "decorating" his office. They put post-it notes with smart remarks on them all over the walls, placed a toilet seat cover on the seat of his desk chair, filled his desk drawers with packing peanuts, lined the floor with bubble wrap ... they went all out. The best part was the singing greeting card they placed under the door. They rigged it so it would fall open and start playing Kool and the Gang's "Celebration" when he opened the door.

Posted by: Fraulein N at November 13, 2008 9:17 AM

I've only ever worked in one office that was capable of pranks. Most of them were small time. One of my coworkers would rearrange things on my desk because he always worked later than me. It was just little stuff like that. Mostly, we enjoyed downtime disguised as hard work. Given the nature of our office and the similar personalities of a majority of my coworkers, when I would be in the classrooms rearranging the furniture for the next set of classes, at least three people would join me and we'd just sit around talking and it would appear, many times, that we were actually discussing work.

Posted by: Sparkle Pants at November 13, 2008 9:31 AM

My office had a tradition of "trashing" someone's office on their birthday. Well, my birthday was no exception. I walked in to find papers thrown every where.

Then my phone started to ring. When I went to answer it, it kept ringing. Like a moron I kept saying hello even though it was still ringing. It wasn't registering (I'm slow). Until I finally saw they had taped the little button down so even though I picked up the receiver the phone was still "hung up". They got me. :o)

Posted by: Leticia at November 13, 2008 10:12 AM

I don't work in an office where that would be tolerated, but we have lots of fun anyway. I'm no good at practical jokes. But I really, really, really like the grass one!

Posted by: k8 at November 13, 2008 10:57 AM

The "worse" ever is my coworkers putting balloons and streamers in my cubicle for my birthday. We're not very creative around here. Hehe.

When my CEO returned to the office after being out for a week with an eye surgery, I printed "Welcome Back" sign and taped to his door. It was created in Photoshop, blurred and smudged.

My former cubicle-mate was out for a week on a staph infection that started with a spider bite she scratched. She was returning a few days before Halloween, so we wrapped her cubicle in spider web. That's about it.

Posted by: oakley at November 13, 2008 11:04 AM

Nada. I've been working with engineers for almost 9 years now. No. Fun. Fun is wasting valuable company time, you know.

Posted by: Ames at November 13, 2008 11:20 AM

You're your office's Jim, aren't you?

My company would not smile at practical jokes, I'm afraid. Although once, when I was here late one night, I found a photo of my boss - it was an extreme close-up of him looking right at the camera - and I replaced one of my co-worker's desktop with it. That was pretty funny.

Posted by: Kalisa at November 13, 2008 11:40 AM

Awesome tricks...the green keyboard is not only funny, but makes a state about the environment too....very timely.
My favorite is very simple, but can be done over and over again. A simple piece of Scotch tape on the underside of someone's mouse makes for a quick and easy laugh each and every time. An oldie but a goodie.

Posted by: matt at November 13, 2008 12:26 PM

I used to work at a steel beam fabrication plant. Our favorite prank was to weld a cage around someones tool box. Close enough that using a cutting torch would ultimately cut into the tool box as well.
Another favorite for me was reprogramming the angle punch to put holes so close together that the structural integrity of the steel was shot. Mind you, that one has to be done with the full permission of the super and there has to be scrap steel to do it with. But the look on the operators face when it starts punching is well worth the time spent to set it up.

Posted by: Jeff A at November 13, 2008 1:46 PM

HILAROUS! We did some small time pranks but next week I am posting my major practical joke that we did at my office when I worked full time! I'll let you know when its up :) I am still fine tuning and trying to remember all the details! :)

Posted by: Kristin at November 13, 2008 2:20 PM

We work in consumer research - we just happen to research ALOT of air freshener type products. You know the kind that you plug into an outlet and it very quickly fills the room with that sickenly pungent "fresh berries" fragrance that you can almost taste??

So a coworker was taking a week long vacation. Let's say you stashed 50 or so fragrance oil bottles all over the office (some wedged in the false ceiling) and then... lets say you closed that door and put a DO NOT ENTER sign on it for a full week.

Imagine just how that might feel when you return from a week long vacation.

Posted by: wizood at November 13, 2008 2:25 PM

Those kept getting better and better! (And much better than that email of foil-wrapped cubes, etc. that went around a few years ago.) Kudos!

Posted by: Heather at November 13, 2008 2:51 PM

We only ever did small stuff too. My too favorites were:
1. Unplugging the phone cord to the receiver on my coworker's phone, putting a piece of transparent tape over the copper contacts, plugging it back in, and continually calling his line.
2. Going into a coworker's office when they were away at meetings throughout the day and lowering their chair by an inch or two each time. By quitting time, they were practically sitting on the floor.

Posted by: J at November 13, 2008 3:24 PM

I drink a lot of water and often have at least a few old water bottles on my desk. When I returned from maternity leave after my first child my co-workers decided to fill my office with HUNDREDS of used water bottles. They covered my desk, shelves, chair, cabinets...everything. There was one taped to my phone, one taped to the ceiling. I even found some in a cabinet when I moved out of that office a few months later!

We've done other things like wrap someones entire computer in office forms, jumble up the letters on their name plate, etc. when one co-worker returned from maternity leave we had taped over her door with various office forms. I've heard that someone once left a hunk of cheese in the back of a co-worker's desk drawer. I have to say that I love the idea of turning everything upside down!

Posted by: melissa at November 13, 2008 4:49 PM

Two of the box office guys at the theater where I work on weekends have desks that face each other and no separator between them. Alan is exceedingly anal about where stuff gets placed on his desk, to the point where things/spots are labeled. Chris doesn't care as long as you return anything you borrowed. For April Fool's, my friend and I flipped everything around, put all of Alan's stuff on Chris' desk, labels and all, and just dumped Chris' stuff all over Alan's desk. We even swapped Alan's Mac and Chris' PC.

We still haven't heard the end of it, and OH the emails that went around.

Posted by: Judy at November 13, 2008 5:33 PM

I owned a small company and was in the process of selling it to a huge conglomerate. I had about 15 employees. One morning I left a urine specimen cup (stolen from my doctor's office) on each of their desks with a memo stating that the buyer-to-be wanted all employees to be drug tested. A nurse would pick up the piss cups at noon.

They went ballistic. Needless to say, no work got done all morning. Everyone was running around screaming about their rights. Finally at noon, we all met in the conference room, each holding a cup of piss. I held up my own cup of urine and I said, I hated the whole idea of drug testing. In fact, I don't even like the looks of my urine -- let me run it through one more time. And then I drank it. (It was diet Peach Snapple of course).

They knew they had been had, and I was laughing my ass off, gloating over the fact that I had gotten every single one of them to piss in a cup. At which point one employee, a guy with a thick French accent, jumped up and yelled -- nobody peed in a cup -- I piss for everyone. He was a diabetic and the only one who could pass a drug test.

I left in a hurry before anyone realized that the piss cup in their hand could easily be thrown across the room at the boss with the sick sense of humor.

Posted by: Marshall at November 13, 2008 5:48 PM

A very simple joke is to put a piece of scotch tape on the sensor of an optical mouse. It renders it useless and it's hard to detect. Simple, but fun nonetheless.

Posted by: Arwen at November 13, 2008 7:05 PM

Ooooo.... I love practical jokes. A couple of my favorites are taping down the sprayer handle at the office kitchen sink and pointing it towards where the 'victim' would be standing at the sink. Then asking what's up with the water pressure and watching whoever tests it get sprayed.

And did you know that if you place bubble wrap under the welcome mat or the mat just inside your door, when someone walks across it, it sounds like gunshots. It's fun to watch the 'victim' do a little dance when it scares them.

And I once ragged a co-worker so hard about needing a haircut. He had thick black hair, and it was getting way long and curly -- I even told him the president of the company had mentioned his need of a haircut. He came in one morning with a buzz cut! Later that morning I opened my desk drawer to find ALL of his hair in 1/8" bits, scattered in the drawer. I never did get it all out.

Posted by: coolchick at November 13, 2008 10:44 PM

oh my gosh. you are king!

the only prank i've done.. was. um. k. grade five. we had a classroom sleepover (odd, i know) and the boys slept on one side of the class and the girls slept on the other side. i believe we brought a lot of dolls and snuck them in when the boys fell asleep and strategically placed them, and also bowls of warm water..

it was pretty funny for being ten.

but thats about it.

Posted by: cri at November 14, 2008 3:41 AM

Our office is a mean as it is fun. Lately we've been picking on people's phobias. I got my office plastered once with autographed headshots of pageant queens and then later with zombies everywhere, including desktop and screen saver. We've hidding animals in clothes, like a big frog statue in the blue boy suit (no really, and isn't that a weird phobia? asks the grown up who's afraid of zombies) several times in one girl's office. My boss has this giant set piece that she kept from one of our productions that she loves. It hung in her office like art. She went on vacation and we stole it and hid it about five months ago. She still hasn't found it. I think we prolly oughta give it back soon though. At least before year end evals, yes?

Posted by: OS at November 14, 2008 9:00 AM

I read that book a month or so ago. There were some things in it that reminded me so much of my job. And it made me laugh. A lot. Which, when you ride the bus and train, makes people wonder about you.

Posted by: hannita at November 14, 2008 12:08 PM

There are definitely no practical jokes going on in my workplace. Not that I don't have friends...just that we don't do that sort of things. Sounds like fun, though. :)

Posted by: Zandria at November 14, 2008 3:28 PM

I had a dream to make my commerce, but I didn't earn enough amount of cash to do that. Thank God my fellow suggested to take the business loans. Hence I used the auto loan and made real my dream.

Posted by: DELANEYElena at August 17, 2010 10:05 PM