The Classic Ping-Pong Ball Avalanche



144 Ping-Pong Balls
1 Victim
Deployment Device (see below)
Bait (optional)

Deployment Device

I used a wide shallow box just large enough to wedge into the space above the top shelf in the cabinet. in order to minimize non-deployed balls, I cut a piece of cardboard to fit inside the box at a slant. This not only ensures 100% deployment, but it should give me some distance as well. I laid the box on it's back to fill it, then covered it with a box lid, which I taped in place to prevent premature deployment. Once the device was in place, I was able to cut the tape, close the cabinet doors with the cover still in place (and one edge sticking above the edge of the cabinet), and then to slide the cover out.

Ping pong balls cost .10/each in bulk. That means that one gross of ping-pong balls rings in at just under $15. One gross (144) of ping-pong balls, properly used, constitute a high yield comedy investment. Normally, I view April Fool's Day the same way I view Valentine's Day - strictly for amateurs. I made an exception in this case, because I haven't pulled an April Fool's Day prank in a long time, and because the ping-pong ball avalanche is just the sort of classic joke that is missing from the Modern April Fool. Here's how I did it:

The key is placement. I selected a head-height cabinet above my victim's desk, and when he left for the day I went to work. I designed my Deployment Device to fit snugly onto a high shelf in the cabinet, so that I could avoid the difficulty of securing it. Since I couldn't count on my victim opening the cabinet at a specific time, I baited it with a piece of paper, sticking conspicuously out from between the cabinet doors. A compulsively neat individual, (the primary reason I chose him) I know he won't even sit down before investigating this irregularity. You can skip the bait if you feel certain that your victim will open the cabinet right away, or if you are okay with the time-bomb approach, you can rig the cabinet and let him open it hours, or even days later. The downside with this is that you don't know who your audience is going to be. I work at a lawfirm, so I felt that sort of imprecision would be ... bad.

Comic events like this are usually best when even the audience is surprised, but since I had chosen an early morning event I was forced to tip off a few office mates in order to ensure a good audience. Whatever you do, DO NOT TIP OFF YOUR SUPERVISOR! Even if your supervisor is a great person, a good friend, and has an excellent sense of humor, he may feel duty bound to tell you not to go through with the joke. The whole point of the ping-pong ball joke is that it is low outlay, high return. Getting fired for disobeying your boss' orders seriously increases your outlay, and undercuts your comic return. After the fact, your supervisor will most likely feel free to laugh along with you, since he is not an accessory to the act. The final step is your own placement. If you happen to share an office with your target, you are set. In my case, I have a separate office, so I prestaged some upgrade work on the computers for early morning in order to guarantee a front row seat.

As it turned out, the best part was not the initial event (he opened the cabinet carefully, limiting the deployment), or even the accusation phase (where he systematically accused everyone of the prank except me), it was the "do unto others" phase. My target decided to target someone else, but didn't think out the installation of the deployment device properly, and triggered it on himself. Twice.


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© Joe Utsler, 1998