The Oldest Trick in the Book

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Egyptian hieroglyph depicting the use of the Oldest Trick in the Book 6,000 years ago.

The Oldest Trick in the Book is the infamous "Tapping on a person's left shoulder when you're standing on their right." This trick was first chronicled in cuneiform by the Ancient Sumerians. This chroniclization also created "The Book" itself. In this article, we will chronologically list, from oldest to newest, the tricks in the book.

Ancient Tricks

The Shoulder Tap

Like, 10,000 B.C.(I think): When Hammurabi wished to bring levity to the situation, He would stand on a person's right, and reach over and tap on that person's left shoulder. As a result, the victim would invariably look to his left, where no one was standing, all would laugh, or by law, Hammurabi would stone them.

The Check is in the Mail

9000 B.C.: On Atlantis The lazy, shiftless, shady dealing Atlanteans came up with the next to oldest trick in the book, "The Check's in the Mail". Atlanteans did not like paying bills, and often, had spent much of their paychecks on beer and weed. To get landlords, creditors, and deities (see Zeus the Moose} off their backs, they would tell the creditor "The Check is in the mail!". This would allow the Atlanteans to pawn something, or duck out.

Something on Your Shirt

5000 B.C. In Egypt's Old Kingdom, the Pharoah, Menes (who wasn't really a meanie, just, had an odd sense of humor) enjoyed a good laugh. One of his favorite tricks (and the third oldest trick) was to tell a person "You've spilled wine on your tunic!" When the victim looked down, Menes would flick them on the nose. At the time, this was not an "old gag".

He Went Thataway

3500 B.C.: During the Chinese Dang Dynasty, Mongol invasions were a big problem. The hordes would come down, ask where the Emperor was, and would demand ransom for his kingdom from him. Finally, an aide to the Emperor known as Yu Tso Dum pointed the opposite direction that the Emperor had actually gone, and led the Mongol hordes off of a cliff.


2500 B.C.: Socrates (pronounced "SO crates") was a famous philosophizer, he was also a practical joker. He was the originator of the infamous "Ahomosezwut" gag. When a rival philosopher, or particularly adept student pointed out an error in his reasoning, Socrates would rapidly counter with "Ahomosezwut" (a homo says what). The rival, unable to understand, would ask "What?" Socrates would then say "Exactly."

Ding Dong Dash

2000 B.C.: The Israelites, under King Solomon, were constantly at war with their neighbors the Philistines. Solomon was wise, he was also a wiseguy(nyuck nyuck nyuck). Solomon enjoyed making the Philistines look stupid. The Philistines had a bell attached near the flap of their tents. According to their religion, Baal would ring the bell, and anyone who came out to greet him would be blessed with good fortune. Solomon enjoyed sneaking into the Philistines' camp, ringing the Baal bell and running away. The Philistines, expecting to find Baal, found no one. Later civilizations discovered the trick of combining this with a burning bag filled with dog feces.

Red Hot Flush

1500 B.C.: The Harappan civilization of the Indus valley were among the first to have sewer systems, and even running water and indoor flush toilets. The Harappans began the Indian bathing ritual, they also developed the next prank on the list. Archeologists have discovered that in houses with older and younger siblings, often, when the older sibling was taking a shower, preparing for the courtship ritual, the younger sibling would sneak into the bathroom and flush the toilet. The rapid loss of cold water pressure would force only hot water into the shower, resulting in a blast of hot water, instead of the carefully regulated warm water.

Your Shoelace is Untied

375 B.C.: In Ancient Rome, the glory of the Republic was in full flower. However, one man grew ambitious, that man was Julius Caesar. Caesar would become the first dictator of Rome (he was also a dick). One of his favorite pranks while in the Senate was to inform Cassius his sandals were unlaced. Cassius would bend over and attempt to re-tie them, this invariably caused his toga to separate, exposing his undergarment. It was then that Caesar would strike, Caesar would grab Cassius' undergarment and pull up sharply, causing the garment to be wedged between Cassius' buttocks. Cassius would yelp in surprise and pain, and Caesar would laugh til he cried. Caesar would eventually receive his comeuppance in a belated April Fools Prank gone awry, but that is another story.

Middle Ages and Renaissance

Burning Bag of Dog Feces

435 A.D. In this year, Rome fell with a loud crash. Vandals, pushed out of their homeland by Huns, swept into the Roman Empire, and eventually into Rome herself. The Vandals brought with them a number of brilliant pranks, including TP-ing, Vaseline on the door handles, and outhouse tipping. Their most famous prank, and the one which caused the Romans the most consternation, was the burning bag of dog feces. The prank was similar to the Israelites' Ding Dong Dash, but with an added twist. Before the escapade, the Vandals would collect dog feces in a paper bag. The pranksters would then sneak onto the porch of a Roman villa, light the paper bag, put the burning bag on the doorstep, ring the bell, and hide. When the master of the house opened the door, he would see no visitor, only a small fire! Having no ready fire-fighting equipment, the victim would attempt to stomp the fire out, this would only get dog feces all over the bottoms of the victim's sandals, creating a disgusting, foul-smelling mess. The Vandals found this to be hilarious.

Turning Off the Lights and Pretending You're Not Home

1066 A.D.: After the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror led his Norman armies throughout Britain, conquering. (What did you expect he'd do with a last name like "Conqueror"?) Many Saxons actually welcomed the Normans, shouting "Norm!" whenever the Normans rode up.(In fact none of the Normans were called Norm, except one but he had to stay home that day because his mummy didn't like him playing with the bigger boys) Other Saxons were not so enthusiastic. Ivanhoe (so named because his Dad was named Ivan, and his Mom was... well, you've probably figured out by now) for example resisted; his resistance was due to the heavy taxes the Normans placed on the Saxons. Ivanhoe's method of resistence was unique for its time. Rather than just kill the Tax Collector and steal the taxes, Ivanhoe went for a more peaceful approach. Whenever the tax collector rode up, Ivanhoe would extinguish all of the torches, and blow out all of the candles in his castle. He would then hide behind the curtains, and order all of his servants and family members to do the same, making it appear to the tax collector that no one was home.

The Delbert

1337 A.D. The Crusades were a long and difficult struggle. European knights traveled thousands of miles from their homes to reach the Holy Land. After long difficult fighting over the holy city Jerusalem, King Richard the Lionhearted decided that enough was enough. He received reports that his nephew Prince John was persecuting Robin Hood, and decided to head for home. Before he and his knights left for the long drive back to England, Richard, who also had the lion's bladder, extolled everyone to pee before the group left Jerusalem. His brother-in-law, Delbert, reported that he didn't have to go just then. Richard warned that he was not stopping along the way. When the group reached a 7 Eleven in Tyre, Delbert requested a pit stop. Richard was very angry at this delay, but stopped anyway. Delbert was the only one who had to go, and since no one liked Delbert, the knights decided to drive off while Delbert was still inside peeing. This is the origin for the practice of leaving the least popular party member behind at a pit stop. To this day, some scholars still refer to the practice as "Delberting"

Spyglass Shiner

1538 A.D. The astronomer, Copernicus, spent hours gazing at the stars through his telescope, often leaving it only to eat and sleep. His understudy, Galileo, saw this as a great opportunity for humor. On a day when Copernicus was expecting a visit from his patron, Galileo coated the eyepiece with burnt coal. Copernicus wanted to get another quick gaze in before his patron came. When the nobleman finally arrived, Copernicus greeted him, with a coal-blackened eye. It wasn't until his patron was already gone that Copernicus discovered Galileo's mischievous act.

The Hot Foot

1610 A.D. During the infamous Spanish Inquisition, the grand inquisitors often used torture and cruelty to gain confessions for sins, be they real or imagined. One inquisitor, Xavier Fuego, believed that surprise and pain could be combined to speed the confession process. While the victim was sitting at a table being questioned, Fuego would sneak under the table and place small splinters of wood between the victim's toes. While the victim was distracted by the questions of Fuego's accomplice, Fuego would light the splinters. Eventually the splinters would burn down to the skin. The victim would scream in shock and pain, Fuego's accomplice would exclaim "The devil is burning your feet because you are lying!" When the victim confessed, Fuego would pop out from under the table laughing wickedly.

Modern Pranks

Prank Call

1876 A.D. Alexander Graham Bell, and his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, were working hard on developing the first telephone. On March 10, they were finally successful. When Bell first tested the phone, he had Watson go into another room with the receiver. Then, Bell uttered the first prank call: "Mr. Watson...Come here....I want you!" Watson replied, angrily, "Who is this?! I swear I'm gonna come over there and kick your ass!!" and slammed the receiver down. Watson never figured out who had made this call, but both he and Bell would be remembered forever.

Plastic Wrap on the Toilet

1892 A.D. The modern flush toilet was invented. Many people incorrectly believe that it was invented by Thomas Crapper. While Crapper did not invent the first flush toilet, he did patent major improvements. Crapper worked for the man who actually invented the flush toilet, Mr. John Loo. Loo put all the ideas together that would form the toilet we know and love. Crapper was jealous of Loo's fame, he wanted to create an invention that people would remember him for. Thomas Crapper invented the next of our pranks. In the pottery's bathroom there was one of Loo's new inventions. Crapper decided to "get one over" on Loo. He spread transparent plastic cling wrap over the top of the bowl, but under the seat. When Loo went to urinate, he did not see the plastic wrap, and urine splashed all over the bathroom...Crapper, hearing Loo's cries, laughed uproariously.

Who can Hit the Softest?

1932 A.D. Max "foul" Schmelling became Hitler's champion. He had won this honor by defeating Heinrich Himmler in a split decision in the famous "Furor for Der Fuhrer" match. Schmelling defeated Himmler by calling for a "time-out". During the time-out, Schmelling challenged Himmler to a contest to "see who could hit the softest". Himmler agreed, Schmelling allowed Himmler to go first. Himmler struck Schmelling on the shoulder with a feather-light tap. "My turn!" Schmelling cried, hitting Himmler with all of his considerable might, Himmler flew across the ring and fell down. "Guess you win!" Schmelling replied. This forced the Split decision for the match, two of the five judges argued that technically, Himmler had been knocked out in a "time-out" a clear violation of the rules. The other judges reasoned that Himmler was a sucker, and Schmelling's joke was hilarious, therefore Schmelling should get the win. Hitler agreed that it was a suckerpunch, but a damned funny suckerpunch. Hitler would procede to use the same trick on Stalin in 1940.(see Axis of Power)

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