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alt.shenanigans - FAQ and guidelines for posting

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Archive-name: shenanigans-faq
Last-modified: 1996/01/30
Version: 2.0

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
       - alt.shenanigans - FAQ and guidelines for posting -

   ALT.SHENANIGANS was created for the discussion of harmless
practical jokes, known herein as "shenanigans".  Other practical
jokes, pranks, tricks, randomness, and generally just acting silly,
are also discussed.  Obviously I can't control what is posted, so
there are no rules - but this document should give you some idea 
of what the group was intended for. At the very least, please read
section 0 below before posting to the newsgroup.

This FAQ is maintained by michael moncur (altshen AT
with help and/or suggestions from:

Charles Perkins
Thomas Lund
Daniel Reinker
Curt Siffert 

Also, thanks to the following for their suggestions and corrections:

Scott Flanagan, John Wolter, Aaron L Dickey,
Blake P. Wood, Jim J Moskowitz, Constance L. Villani, 
Jacob Solomon Weinstein, Russell Schulz, Jorn Barger

[ and several folks whose names I've lost track of ]

   If you have any additions, corrections, or condiments for this FAQ,
please send them to me (altshen AT

   This FAQ and most others are available via anonymous FTP at the site  This one is /pub/usenet/news.answers/shenanigans-faq.
It's also available from the alt.shenanigans archive at the site at /pub/users/m/mgm/shenanigans/shenanigans-faq.

 0.  What's alt.shenanigans all about?
 1.  What exactly is a shenanigan?
 2.  What ISN'T a shenanigan?
 3.  What NOT to post in alt.shenanigans (Frequently Annoying Questions)
 4.  History of alt.shenanigans - Net Shenanigans and attempts
 5.  Shenaniganisms and their meanings (alt.shenanigans terminology) 
 6.  Shenanigans We've All Heard Before
 7.  Books relating to shenanigans
 8.  Resources for useful materials
 9.  Organizations devoted to shenaniganism
10.  Shenanigan info available online, related newsgroups, etc.

0. What's alt.shenanigans all about?

This newsgroup is for discussing shenanigans - our word for harmless
practical jokes. Generally, the following types of discussion are
found here:

- Descriptions of shenanigans that have been pulled off
- Questions about technical details of proposed shenanigans
- Requests for ideas for a particular situation
- Requests for help with a planned shenanigan
- Information and discussion about other shenanigan-related resources

Before posting to the newsgroup, be sure to read this FAQ. Also keep
the following in mind:

- If you're asking for ideas, give us some specifics. Don't just ask
  for "ideas for a shen at school". Give us some information so that
  we can help. Also, be creative - come up with a few ideas. Don't
  just expect everyone else to come up with ideas for you.

- If your posting doesn't describe a shenanigan (or an idea for one)
  it is traditional to include an ObShen - or Obligatory
  Shenanigan. This is a brief shenanigan description or idea at the
  end of your message. These generally make your message more
  enjoyable for those of us who are interested in shenanigans.

- Try to avoid crossposting. Shenanigan-related messages are rarely
  appropriate in other groups. Also check the newsgroups when you
  are replying, and trim them if necessary.

- Use an informative subject line, such as "What can I do with
  400,000 plastic fruits?" or "Need ideas for bar mitzvah shen". This
  will help other readers decide whether to read your message.

1.  What exactly is a shenanigan?
A shenanigan is something that is done for no purpose other than to
confuse or fool its intended victim.  Shenanigans differ from the
mainstream usage of "practical jokes" or "pranks" in that they are,
above all, harmless.  Throwing eggs at someone's car is a prank;
Handing out eggs with odd sayings written on them at a mall is a
shenanigan.  I hate to use this example, but most of the things you
see on "TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes" are shenanigans.

 Although there is much overlap between practical jokes, pranks, and
shenanigans, I would like to make this distinction:  The victim
responds to a prank by saying, "Damn those kids!" or "I'll get you for
this."  (Or by taking legal action.)  A shenanigan, on the other hand,
receives a response such as "Why would anyone go to the trouble?" or
"I don't get it." from 'normal' citizens, or is responded to in kind
by a fellow shenaniganist.

  In short, if you laugh at it, even if you're the victim...  It's
probably a shenanigan.  Obviously different people laugh at very
different things, so use your judgement and know your victim.

  It should be noted that this is strictly "my" definition of the
term, and any similarity to your definition or the dictionary's is
entirely coincidental.

2.  What ISN'T a shenanigan?

- Physically harmful things, such as putting Nair in a shampoo bottle,
ex-lax in someone's food, or sugar in their gas tank.

- VANDALISM.  Putting bubble-bath in a fountain, breaking things,
repainting people's mailboxes or houses.  Sometimes funny, but these
are pranks, and usually illegal, and not shenanigans.

- THEFT.  Switching price tags (if you actually BUY the things),
stealing books from libraries, etc.

- RUDENESS.  Saran-wrapping toilets.  Throwing water balloons at
someone who wasn't expecting them.  Anything that forces someone to
change their clothes.

   Bear in mind that there can not be a solid list of "what is/isn't a
shenanigan", since it varies depending on the victim.  For example,
throwing water balloons at businessmen is not a shenanigan, but
throwing them at your brother may be okay; throwing water balloons at
me is okay, but throwing them at Bill Clinton is a Felony in the
United States.

   One final rule...  When in doubt, post it anyway.  The worst that can
happen is a silly flamewar, and when a flamewar happens on alt.shenanigans,
it's hard to tell if it's real or fake.  Also, notice that every time a
flamewar erupts someone will make the classic "So, was your posting
supposed to be a shenanigan?" post.  Watch for it.

3.  What NOT to post in alt.shenanigans (Frequently Annoying Questions)

 Once again, I'm not in any control - but these are some things that you
may regret if you post them.  See also #6 below, "Shenanigans we've
all heard before", before you post any great new ideas you may have.

1.  I'm really annoyed with X.  Could everyone do me a favor and send
    really huge files to his email address?

 There are two major reasons not to post this:  first, it's stupid,
blatant, and harms everyone by overrunning the bandwidth of the net.
Second, this is alt.shenanigans - if you're foolish enough to post this,
expect the mail to come to YOUR address instead.
  However, if you see such a post, PLEASE just ignore it.  You don't
really know if the person who posted it was even using his own account,
and everyone will suffer.

2.  What can I do about the guy who always parks in my parking space?

  I don't know why, but these questions keep coming up.  The answer is
simple - ask him not to.  If that doesn't work, you're on your own.  A
shenanigan might confuse him, annoy him, or make him mad, but I doubt it
will convince him to stop parking there.

3.  How can I get revenge on my noisy/messy/annoying

  Well, if you're good-natured, and the person in question is too, a
shenanigan may be a good revenge. However, the people who post these
sorts of questions tend to want something more severe. In that case,
call your local authorities, or consult the alt.revenge newsgroup.

4.  You can't even spell 'vociferousness', so why do you
think you know so much about shenanigans?

  Well, I know that all newsgroups are plagued by spelling flames, but I
can dream, can't I?

 4.  History of alt.shenanigans - Net Shenanigans and attempts
  Many shenanigans have been perpetrated on the Internet, USENET, and
on alt.shenanigans itself.  Someone has a list of them, but it isn't
me.  :)  If anyone can dig it up, please email me - if not I'll
eventually complete this section by browsing through the archives.

  Most recently, the most successful net.shenanigan ever was pulled on
a newsgroup called  [Insert brief description
of the a.c.t. shenanigan here.]  I also am attempting to compile an 
archive of the postings involved in this shenanigan...  Let me know
if you've already done such a thing.

  If you are planning a net shenanigan, remember two things:  first,
to be a shenanigan it should be harmless, and second, discussing a new
net.shenanigan on alt.shenanigans is a Bad Idea, since your intended
victim might be reading it.  That's what mailing lists are for...

5.  Shenaniganisms and their meanings (alt.shenanigans terminology) 
  A brief glossary of terms you'll see in alt.shenanigans:

  Words meaning "shenanigan":
"shen" - a shortened form which has come into recent use.
"jake" - a discordian term for something done to create chaos.
"jape" - a dated term meaning practical joke.
"practical joke" is obvious; occasionally abbreviated "PJ".
"pranks" are usually considered different from shenanigans in that
shenanigans are harmless and pranks aren't.  See "What is a
Shenanigan" above.  "Practical Joke" may have the same connotation.

  Words meaning "One who performs a shenanigan":
perpetrator, perp, shenaniganer, shenner, shenster, shenaniganster,
shenaniganizer, shenaniganist, hooligan

  Words meaning "The intended victim of a shenanigan":
victim, mark, recipient, target

  ...and finally, "shenaniganism" is the lifestyle or belief system
of one who devotes a large part of his/her life to shenanigans.

6.  Shenanigans We've All Heard Before
  There are certain things that get posted about once a month by different
people.  Perhaps this is a shenanigan itself; If not, here are some of
them so that you can avoid being the one to post them.

[alt.shenanigans veterans:  I'm probably forgetting a few of these.
 Suggestions are welcome.]

1.  DORM PRANKS.  I'm sure there are some creative ones - I've heard some
great ones - but there are certain ones that haunt us:  "Pennying" someone
into their dorm; rearranging their furniture; bricking up their doors;
and so on.  Chances are that, unless you made it up yourself, (and
often, even if you did) we've heard it.

2.  Using "Business Reply Mail" cards to mail, say, for example, BRICKS...
Not only is this not a shenanigan; it's also illegal and simply doesn't
work.  Here's a quote from a United States Postal Service bulletin:

 "When someone attaches your business reply envelope to a larger package
(or even to a brick), you don't have to accept it and pay postage.  Postage
is due on non-letter size pieces only if the sender affixed your business
reply _label_."  [Editor's note:  Yes, the "brick" bit is in the
bulletin.  Their parentheses, not mine.]

7.  Books related to shenanigans

[This list is by no means complete.  If you've got any such books, or
can clarify something about these ones, kindly mail me the info as below.
Dates and Publishers would be nice, too.]

- Richard P. Feynman, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"

 Feynman was one of the world's greatest theoretical physicists and
was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics; but this is not a book about
science.  It's a collection of stories from his past, ranging from
scientific discovery to meeting girls - and many of them are
first-rate shenanigans.  An excellent book, particularly if you think
that scientists are boring.

- Richard P. Feynman, "What Do _You_ Care What Other People Think"

 A second book by Feynman, this one is mostly serious.  It includes
some stories from his past, and the latter half of the book tells of
his experience in the committee that studied the "Challenger
Disaster".  Despite a more serious tone, it's a funny and enjoyable
book.  Feynman died in 1988, and will be missed.

- Penn Jillette and Teller, "How to Play With Your Food"

 A collection of food-related magic tricks, shenanigans, pranks,
and humorous stories.  Includes props for some of the tricks.

- Penn Jillette and Teller, "Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends"

 Another collection by Penn and Teller, again with props included.
Also, the book is a shenanigan in itself - try reading it and
be prepared to be confused at first.

- Don Novello, "The Lazlo Letters"
     ...and "Citizen Lazlo:  The Lazlo Letters volume 2"
  Workman Publishing, NY, 1977 and 1992

Don Novello (who played Father Guido Sarducci on Saturday Night Live)
has collected a series of letters written by himself under the
pseudonym of Lazlo Toth.  The letters are to world leaders, corporate
giants, and others, and most include a reply.  A humorous inspiration
to the literary-minded shenaniganist.

- There are also two other books of similar letter-writing pranks:  
  "Outrageously Yours" by Bruce West, 1986 
  "Modest Proposals" by Randy Cohen, 1981
  Specifics on these would be appreciated.

- Harry Anderson, "Games you can't lose:  A guide for suckers"
  Pocket Books, 1989

Harry Anderson, the magician, comedian, and sometimes actor on Night Court
and Dave's World, wrote this collection of sucker bets and such.

- Peter van der Linden, "The Official Handbook of Practical Jokes," Signet,
   ISBN 0-451-15873-3, 1989 and "The Second Official Handbook of Practical
   Jokes," Signet, 1991, ISBN 0-451-16924-7

  Two collections of practical jokes, urban legends, and delightfully bad

- "Legends of Caltech" and "More Legends of Caltech", authors unknown
This details both Rosebowl shenanigans, the Hollywood sign changeover,
and a bunch of other random shenanigans done by Caltech students.
Caltech is also where Richard Feynman taught and goofed off 
for many years.
I think the books are available from the Caltech bookstore:
(818) 395-5121 - at least, they used to ship them everywhere...

- Neil Steinberg, "If At All Possible, Involve A Cow" 
ISBN:  0-312-07810-2
St Martin's Press, 1992

A book about college pranks in general; it covers a number of different
universities, and has a chapter devoted to comparing MIT pranks to
Caltech pranks.

RE/Search Publications, RE/Search #11 "Pranks"
ISBN 0-940642-10-7
RE/Search Publications, 20 Romolo #B, SF CA 94133

Interviews with: Tim Leary, Abbie Hoffman, Paul Krassner, Mark Pauline,
Boyd Rice, Monte Cazazzo, Jello Biafra, Bruce Conner, John Waters, and 
Henry Rollins.  More about pranks than shenanigans...  but there's a fine

- The Journal of Irreproducible Results (periodical)

 This Journal publishes parodies of scientific studies.  It is conceivable
that any shenanigan with the pretense of scientific rigor or possible
technological utility could be sent in for publication.  Here's the
submission address:

     Marc Abrahams, Editor
     The Journal of Irreproducible Results
     c/o Wisdom Simulators, Inc.
     PO Box 853
     Cambridge, MA 02238
     [send a SASE for writers' guidelines]

- Games Magazine (periodical)

Games has a lot of puzzles, brain teasers, contests, and information on
gaming in general.  It also, however, presents a lot of dirty tricks
including fake ads, practical jokes (every april issue), and even the
odd Penn & Teller trick.  Some of the past articles have
discussed practical jokes, carnival gaffs, and sucker bets.

8.  Resources for useful materials

  Since creativity is at the heart of shenanigans, there is no set of
"tools" that one needs; What one needs is merely the right attitude.
Nonetheless, some items just inspire shenanigans, and it's nice to
keep a few handy.

Johnson Smith Company
4514 19th St. Court East
PO Box 25500
Bradenton, FL  34206-5500

  This company sells all of the "classic" practical joke items - joy
buzzers, water balloons, fake parking tickets, ad infinitum.  Send for
a catalog.

Oriental Trading Company
P.O. Box 3407
Omaha, NE  68103-0407
(800) 228-2269

  OTC doesn't sell anything that is intended for practical jokes -
but it's a goldmine for the creative shenaniganster.  Balloons, rubber
balls, plastic fish, funky toy sunglasses, stickers...  All sold by
the dozen or by the gross, at incredibly good prices.  Call and ask
for their catalog - they'll ship it UPS for free.

American Science and Surplus
PO Box 48838
Niles, IL
(708) 982-0870

   An EXCELLENT catalog with scientific and all sorts of other bizarre
surplus items, many ready-made shenanigans in themselves.  It's also
fun to read the catalog cover to cover, as their descriptions are
quite amusing.  

Edmund Scientific Company
101 E. Gloucester Pike
Barrington, NJ  08007-1380
(609) 547-8880

  Another scientific supply house.  A bit on the expensive side, but they
do have alot of useful items for the technically-oriented shenaniganist,
and a few bizarre novelty items - magnets of all sorts, telescopes and
lenses, weather balloons, and of course Sea Monkeys and jumping quarters.

Gall's Inc.
2470 Palumbo Drive
Lexington, KY  40555-4658
(800) 477-7766, fax (800) 944-2557

These guys are THE place to order all sorts of neat-o police equipment,
everything from breathalyzers to police car light bars and sirens and
firefighting equipment, etc.  It's a GREAT catalog to flip through no
matter what, and just about the only things the public isn't allowed to
order is car entry tools and police badges.  (Don't forget the POLICE

 Of course, don't forget the produce section at your local
supermarket.  You'd be amazed at how many strange looks you can get
just by carrying the right fruit or vegetable.  Try naming it and
talking to it for added effect.

9.  Organizations devoted to shenaniganism
  Although most shenanigans are done by "ordinary folks" and among
groups of friends, there have been attempts to organize groups of
hooligans for the purpose: 
  Random Student Organizations (RSO's) - These are rumored to exist at
many colleges and universities.  They are devoted to "randomness",
which usually involves doing strange things just to confuse people.
As such it qualifies as a shenanigan.  
  Unfortunately, RSO's aren't always the easiest people to contact.
If you're unsure if there's one at your institution...  Start your
own.  If there's one already you'll probably run into it.

  The Cacaphony Society - This is a loosely-connected bunch of
organizations in various US cities (San Francisco and Seattle are two
that I know of.)  They stay underground, since their activities are
occasionally above or below the law.  They are interested in creating
cacaphony (confusion) and tend to do it by behaving strangely in
public.  I've heard several of their escapades, and they're some of
the most elaborate and funny shenanigans I've heard...

  Any specific information on either of these organizations will be
eagerly added to the FAQ.

10.  Shenanigan info available online, related newsgroups, etc.

  Related newsgroups:  alt.folklore.urban is a newsgroup that deals
with "urban legends", and many shenanigans are urban legends - the
kidnapped garden gnome that sent postcards from throughout the
country, the students who stole all of the barber poles in a town...
Of course, these might have happened, probably more than once.  You
may also want to check out, alt.folklore.computers,, and of course If shenanigans
are too mild for you, try alt.revenge.

  The alt.shenanigans archive: All of the posts, good and bad, from
alt.shenanigans - down to the first post - are in this archive.  It's
usually within a week of up-to-date.  It's at, in the
/pub/users/m/mgm/shenanigans directory.  If you have trouble accessing
it, or don't have FTP access, send mail to altshen AT, and we
can possibly make other arrangements.  You'll also find the latest
version of this FAQ at this site.

 [The alt.shenanigans archive is currently a bit out of date; I'm
working on a way to automate it. Stay tuned.]

  The shenanigans mailing list:  This mailing list exists independently
of alt.shenanigans, and is used for planning 'unpublicized' shenanigans.
For further information, send mail to altshen AT .

  The alt.shenanigans Web Page:
  Includes basic info, access to the FAQ and archives, links to other
shenanigan-related sites, and the best of alt.shenanigans - a
compilation of particularly good posts to the group.

 This FAQ is Copyright (C) 1993,4,5,6 michael moncur.  It may be
distributed in any form as long as the file, including this notice,
remains intact.  Distribution in any collection sold for commercial
purposes is explicitly PERMITTED provided that you notify me of your
intent to do so.  Portions of this document were written by the people
who wrote them.  Actual mileage may vary.  Do not hang from towel or
insert head into towel loop. Cooking time may vary depending on size,
shape, and variety of potato.  Not the Beatles. Cape does not enable
user to fly.

...michael moncur, BC, OEADM - [X] fot#1...
  "I don't have any solution, but I certainly admire the problem."
      --Ashleigh Brilliant

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