- Snipe hunt
A snipe hunt, a form of wild-goose chase that is also known as a fool's errand, is a type of practical joke that involves experienced people making fun of credulous newcomers by giving them an impossible or imaginary task. The origin of the term is a practical joke where inexperienced campers are told about a bird or animal called the snipe as well as a usually preposterous method of catching it, such as running around the woods carrying a bag or making strange noises such as banging rocks together. Incidentally, the snipe (a family of shorebirds) is difficult to catch for experienced hunters, so much so that the word "sniper" is derived from it to refer to anyone skilled enough to shoot one.
The snipe hunt may be assigned to a target as either part of a process of hazing, in which the object is to initiate the snipe hunter into the group, or as part of a process of ostracism intended to encourage (or force) a person, perceived to be an unwanted interloper, to withdraw from the group's presence.
A fool's errand is a task that cannot be accomplished because of fate or because it is a joke. It comes mainly in two varieties: trying to find something that does not exist, or trying to accomplish an impossible task. Others who are aware of the prank will often redirect the victim to several different places.
The prank often involves the use of jargon, where the immediate meaning is not obvious. It can also depend on a new recruit's unfamiliarity with the business, such as being sent on a search for an ID10T form (pronounced I.D. Ten Tee).
In carny, a type of fool's errand is known as the key to the midway.
- In the U.S. Marines and the US Army, an inexperienced Marine/soldier may be asked by a superior to get an ID-10T (IDIOT) form, a BA-1100N (Balloon), an ST-1 (STONE), a Humvee key, chemlight batteries, exhaust sample, muzzle blast, the gun report, left handed grenades, or a box of grid squares. Other ones include telling young Marines/soldiers to walk up to a senior leader and tell them they need a PRC-E8 or PRC-E7. (Prick E-8, or E7 a military pay grade.) In the artillery branch, it is also common to tell a new Marine/ soldier to knock on the side of an armored vehicle and if it echoes mark it with chalk, i.e. "checking for weak spots". In the mechanical field, sending a Marine/soldier to the motor pool to retrieve a spark plug for a diesel engine, or in a communications unit the unsuspecting serviceman might be sent out to find a can of frequency grease.
- In the US Air Force, some activities such as gathering "flight line" or a bucket of "prop wash" have similar purpose, sending someone out for a bottle of "K9P (canine pee, i.e., dog urine)".
- In the US Navy, new sailors may be put on watch at the bow of the ship to look for the mail buoy or given a broom or mop with instructions to find and kill the sea-bat allegedly infesting some portion of the ship. It is also popular to send them to retrieve sound-powered phone batteries, or to go to stores and ask for ten feet of freeboard. Before the days of solid-state (electronics), inexperienced young men were sequentially directed through a series of supply compartments to request a Fallopian tube for a malfunctioning radio, RADAR or SONAR. In the aviation community, it is common to have new sailors ask QA for the keys to the aircraft or the line shack for 1,000 feet of flight line. It is also common aboard ship to have a sailor ask for bulkhead remover. The Operations Specialists in the Combat Information Center have been known to call up the Surface Warfare Officers on the ship's bridge watch team asking them to urgently get a visual on the incoming B1RD (bird) or GU-11 (gull) contacts.
- In navies across the world, on a young or new member's first trip across the equator they may be asked to keep watch for the Equator Buoy Line. This is more effective when the weather is undesirable.
- In the US Coast Guard, new crew members aboard cutters may be asked to go to the Damage Control shop and ask the lead enlisted damage controlman for the keys to the sea chest. The sea chest refers to a large pipe where ocean water enters for use in the cooling systems and for the fire main. This question often results in the damage control officer, chief or lead petty officer accusing the victim of sabotage, as opening the sea chest underway would result in rapid flooding. Also common include request for new members to get a DC Punch from the one of the Damage Controlmen who in turn hit them, be requested to calibrate the radar by being wrapped in tin foil and made to walk around the focsle and stand in various poses, or to look for the mail buoy because the captain is expecting a important letter or package, who are subsequently reprimanded for missing the non-existent buoy during their watch.
- Navy and Merchant Marine newbies are sometimes sent to all parts of a ship in search of a can of yellow paint. Experienced crew being familiar with the ruse keep sending the dupe to other ends of the vessel to ask different personnel for the elusive can of yellow paint. Invariably if the newbie is at the stern, the yellow paint will be described as being at the bow-end—and vice versa.
- Sending anyone off to ask for a frammis is a fool's errand, since no such frammi exist.
- In the Boy Scouts of America, new scouts are often sent to retrieve a left-handed smoke shifter, go on a snipe hunt, ask other camps for some elbow grease, find an inflatable dartboard, or borrow a "cup" of propane or some white lampblack.
- Machinery parts that sound real, but if considering the actual machine, cannot exist: muffler bearings, diesel engine spark plugs, piston return spring, canooter valve, headlight or blinker fluid, or a top/bottom radiator hose for a Volkswagen Beetle (which is air-cooled and therefore has no radiator).
- Tools that do not exist, such as a metric adjustable wrench, a brass magnet, a sky hook, a key to the oarlocks, a key to the pitcher's box, 3-foot metre stick, shelf-stretcher, board-stretcher, metal stretcher (in plumbing, a pipe-stretcher), brick bender, hole remover, or left-handed versions of usually achiral tools (wrench, hammer, or screwdriver), or tools made out of unlikely materials, such as glass hammers.
- Another variation includes being sent to procure a "long weight" or "long stand", the idea being that the dupe will reach the shop (or equivalent source of the mythical object) and place the request. The target is then left waiting by the shop keeper (who is presumably familiar with the trick) and thus receives a long wait.
- Fetching a quantity of something that can not be contained, for example, a bucket of vacuum or of propane, a bubble for a spirit level, steam, flight, a box of replacement RPMs, or shore line, striped or tartan paint, prop wash, or sparks (especially sparks from a grinder).
- Items that are patently ridiculous (such as striped/camouflage paint, dehydrated water, smoke bender, a box of nail holes, pre-dug post holes or a rubber flag for rainy days) or figurative (such as elbow grease).
- Members of orchestras are sent to "find the tacet" when their part calls for it.
- New nurses may be sent to pick up a "neck tourniquet".
- In sailing, an inexperienced crew member may be asked "to not forget to wind up the compass".
- In restaurants and other facilities with cold storage for food, it is not uncommon for a new worker to be asked to fill garbage bags with hot air and place them in the freezer in order to "prevent freezer burn".
- In offices or other workplaces where paperwork is required, the target of the prank may be sent out to purchase some 'verbal agreement forms'.
- In grocery stores, it is common for new workers to be asked to replace lobster claw bands, retrieve toilet paper bleach, refill the water fountain, or shake containers of salad dressing so that they do not harden.
- In retail stores, it is common to ask new or inexperienced employees to go find the Wall-stretcher or the Shoelace repair kit.
- In the pizza-making business, newcomers are told to look in the fridge for the dough repair kit. Also, the batteries for the ovens are sometimes asked for.
- In casinos, new roulette dealers might be instructed to go ask the pit boss (usually in another pit) for a 'wheel crank' in order to wind up the roulette wheel. Its perceived 'perpetual' motion is actually maintained by the dealer gently spinning the wheel before releasing the ball in the track.
- In 5 class restaurants a new waitress may be asked by the chef to ask a customer if they "want some melted ice."
- In television, a new production assistant or engineer may be sent to find the chroma key, which is sometimes said to fit into the genlock.
- In Chem labs, an intern may be sent to fetch a sample of 'aqueous water'. (Aqueous meaning soluble in water, suggesting that this sample is somehow capable of dissolving into itself, which is impossible.)
- In law firms, a new associate may be asked the status of the penske file.
Particularly skeptical novices can be caught out by a request for a large- or medium-sized small tool. Although sounding ridiculous, these do in fact exist: the small tool is a small trowel-like implement used in building and brick-laying, and comes in several sizes.
Many regions have an imaginary being used as a snipe hunt. In Bavaria, tourists were taken on extended expeditions to search for chamois eggs, or on all-night Wolpertinger stakeouts. In Scotland, tourists are told about the Wild Haggis hunts, while in the Western United States, they may be warned about the savage jackalope. In Australia, foreigners may be warned to remain alert for drop bears, bunyips or hoop snakes, mythical creatures that are a popular joke amongst the locals. In Wyoming, natives warn tourists to watch out for rattlesnake eggs. (Rattlesnakes don't lay eggs; they give birth to live offspring.)
In France, Switzerland and the north of Italy, particularly in mountains like the Alps or the Jura Mountains, tourists are sent to hunt the dahu, an imaginary mammal whose left legs are shorter than its right legs, so that it can walk easily along a mountain slope. A practical way to hunt the beast is to call him from the back: it turns around and falls, because of its long legs on the top and his short legs on the bottom. In Spain and Portugal, new people at a campsite are sent at night to hunt gamusino, an imaginary small animal which is usually said to only appear at night.
In the Philippines, a mythical mammal called a Sigbin or Amamayong has been used in a more criminal manner. The descriptions of the creatures vary, but generally, they are said to have the curious habit of walking backwards with its head twisted between its hindlegs to see and having the ability to turn invisible at will. They are considered members of the fairy/underworld folk, who are usually portrayed as malevolent. The popular notion that a sigbin would bring wealth and good luck to anyone who manages to catch one was used successfully by con men in extorting large amounts of money from gullible families. These self-styled 'sigbin hunters' often using pictures of albino rabbits or kangaroos to the uneducated as 'proof' of actually having seen one. Sigbins were also said to have blood which can cure any kind of ailment (a popular con man catchphrase being Even AIDS!) which also made families of people with a mysterious incurable ailment with no access to doctors more vulnerable to such attempts at fraud. Similar confidence tricks also involve other popular legends like Yamashita's gold.
In Mexico, a common trick is to send people to find tenmeacá (tenme acá, which means "keep me here"). This can be said to be a spice, a medicinal herb or a decorative flower, depending on the situation. Similarly, in the Dominican Republic, a person is told to ask for a "tenteallá" (tente allá, translated to "keep you there"). The meaning of this word is also variable to fit the situation (an office supply, a beauty product, etc.).
- The Little Red Book of Firehouse Pranks by Jeff Hibbard (ISBN 0-9667810-0-7)
- Snipe hunt at TV Tropes
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