The switch from a terrestrial calendar to the stardates system means that, for most of the various crewmen living and working in the Federation, there’s no such thing as April. Therefore, there’s no such thing as April 1st, and further no such thing as April Fool’s Day. But although there’s no longer a specific day devoted to playing practical jokes on your fellow humanoids, the prankster spirit of the holiday lives on.
Somewhat surprisingly for a post-scarcity utopia largely devoid of interpersonal conflict, characters throughout the Star Trek franchise delight in pranking one another, with examples peppered throughout the various shows and movies. It turns out that pranks are about a lot more than simply having fun at the expense of other people, and through the way they’ve been used on Trek, we can learn a lot about the purpose pranking serves here on Earth.
Here are the eight most important pranks in the history of Star Trek:
8) Dax Moves Odo’s Stuff (A Few Centimeters)
As a changeling, Odo is acutely aware of the size, shape, and — most importantly — the positioning of all the objects around him. Which is why he found it so irritating when, on four separate occasions, Jadzia Dax broke into Odo’s quarters while he regenerated in his gelatinous state to move everything the slightest amount. Nobody but Odo ever would have noticed such a change, which shows what a brilliant prankster Dax is. Some of the best pranks should be artisanal, carefully crafted for the person on the receiving end. Jokes like tying someone’s shoelaces together are as simple as they are uncreative, and a truly tailor-made prank should tell the person being pranked ‘hey - I know you, I understand you, which I can prove by irritating the crap out of you.’
In Dax’s mischievous sort of way, she was showing Odo that she cared enough about him to learn all of his little idiosyncrasies, and really understood him as a person. Since, at the time, Starfleet was growing increasingly paranoid about the threat the Founders posed, Dax taking the time to annoy Odo the same way she would any of her other friends is, secretly, kind of sweet.
7) Doctor Zimmerman Pranks The Doctor
When The Doctor transmitted his program to the Alpha Quadrant to save his creator, Dr. Lewis Zimmerman, Zimmerman didn’t want The Doctor’s help. After all, the EMH Mark 1 was a notorious failure, renowned throughout Starfleet for its brusque, prickly manner as a physician. Eventually, Voyager’s holographic physician wore Zimmerman down though, and the first crack in the facade came when Zimmerman rigged The Doctor’s medical tricorder so that it believed everything scanned to be a Vulcan marsupial. Ultimately, the best pranks serve as acts of friendship —- either deepening an existing one or, in this case, beginning a new one.
6) Kirk Reveals He Was Bullied
Not all pranks are meant in good spirits, however. In The Original Series episode “Shore Leave,” the eponymous planet begins summoning a copy of Finnegan, an upperclassman who tormented Kirk throughout his Academy days. A window into a time in Kirk’s life when he wasn’t the coolest cat on campus, it also showcases the lingering harm you can cause someone when you prank people with bad intentions.
5) Jake Potts Pranks His Brother
In “Brothers,” a homing signal activated by Doctor Soong triggers a hidden program in Commander Data, forcing everyone’s favorite android to take over the Enterprise with truly terrifying rapidity. It would have been very much a no-harm-no-foul kind of situation, except that up in Sickbay, little Willie Potts was dying of parasites. Jake Potts, his older brother, had tricked Willie into thinking he’d accidentally killed him, and in his shame and terror Willie ran and hid, eating local fruits that caused his medical predicament. Data’s hijacking waylaid the Enterprise while they were en route to get Willie lifesaving medicine. Willie ended up all right in the end, but it showcased one outcome of the all-too-common occurrence of taking a joke too far.
4) Harry Kim Kisses A Cow
Tom Paris and Harry Kim grew to be closer to brothers than friends over their time in the Delta Quadrant, and one of the hallmarks of their relationship was jokes, ribbing, and pranks. Once, while Harry was enjoying a holo-date on the Fair Haven holoprogram, Tom replaced Harry’s female companion for the evening with a dairy cow right as Harry closed his eyes and went in for a kiss. As is often the case on Trek, this simple moment snowballed into an ever-expanding avalanche of unintended consequences, as the glitching holograms of the simulation began seeing through the perceptual filters and believed themselves to be beset by “spirit folk.”
3) Jake And Nog Unleash the Garanian Bolites
The sheer number of things that result from this simple moment are hard to overstate. In “A Man Alone,” only the fourth episode of Deep Space Nine, Jake Sisko decides to befriend Nog, one of the only other children aboard the entire station. Nog quickly gets Jake in trouble with the law by releasing some Garanian bolites onto an unsuspecting couple walking the Promenade, who rightly freak out when their skin first starts itching, and then changing all the colors of the rainbow.
This moment catches the attention of Keiko O’Brien, who decides to open a school aboard the station to help curtail the criminal idleness of the younger generation. Her teaching methods —- including her decision to stick to secular practices when discussing the wormhole rather than hewing to traditional Bajoran religious beliefs —- led to an anti-Starfleet uprising aboard the station that culminated in the classroom getting bombed by extremists, and also started the political career of Vedek (later Kai) Winn.
This prank also serves as a bonding experience for Jake and Nog, one of the most important friendships of the entire franchise. Without this prank, Jake would never have helped teach Nog to read, and Nog would likely have never become Starfleet’s first Ferengi officer. Furthermore, seeing Nog strike out on his own helped inspire his father to stand up to his brother Quark more, eventually leading to Rom becoming a labor leader, and subsequently quitting the bar to become part of the station’s maintenance crew. In that new role, Rom was able to devise self-replicating spatial mines that held the Dominion on the other side of the wormhole for months. Essentially, Garanian bolites saved the Alpha Quadrant.
2) Nog Spills A Bucket Of “Odo” On Jake
Pranks remained a part of Jake and Nog’s friendship as it grew, like in this joke where Nog, while supposedly helping Jake steal Odo’s bucket, pretends to trip and spills the contents of the bucket all over Jake. Jake, thinking he’s just been doused with a bucket of Odo, starts freaking out, before Nog reveals that he filled the bucket with oatmeal from the replicator. This prank is nowhere near as important as Jake and Nog’s prank with the Garanian bolites, but it makes the list for two reasons. One, it’s a really funny prank, and two, it’s always good to remember the simple delight of seeing Aron Eisenberg laugh with all the energy he brought to the role of Nog.
1) Doctor Crusher Takes An (Involuntary) Swim
When Worf got knocked into the icy waters of the (holographic) Atlantic during a gathering to celebrate his promotion, the Enterprise’s senior staff was wracked with laughter. When Data expressed his confusion as to why someone falling into a freezing ocean would be funny, Dr. Crusher explains that you simply need to get caught up in the moment and do something spontaneous. Data responds by shoving Beverly into the water, which nobody thinks is funny. This moment was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Data, who had long struggled to master human concepts like humor. As this list has showcased throughout, pranks and jokes are a key component to building and deepening friendships, and Data had forever found himself on the outside looking in at such interactions. Data decided to finally install the emotion chip that Doctor Soong had intended for him years earlier, which affected every decision he made throughout First Contact, Insurrection, and Nemesis.
Armed with this list and the lessons it contains, you can start planning pranks of your own - though without access to a holodeck, Garanian bolites, or an easy way to replicate three gallons of oatmeal, you’re going to have to work a little harder to pull them off. Just remember that the best pranks are done among friends, in the spirit of friendship.
Sean Kelly (he/him) is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. He occasionally gets depressed that he’ll never know what raktajino tastes like.