Allusionist 94. Harsh Realm

A load of Allusionist live shows will be happening in New Zealand and Australia in April-July! I’ll update as soon as the tickets are on sale for each event. Auckland, you’re up first.

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On 15 November 1992, the New York Times printed a ‘Lexicon of Grunge’, a list of slang terms from the Seattle music scene. ‘Harsh realm’ = bummer. ‘Wack slacks’ = old ripped jeans. ‘Swingin’ on the flippity-flop’ = hanging out.

Not familiar with any of these? It’s OK, it’s not because you’re a cob nobbler (= loser). They were all made up. By Megan Jasper. Now the CEO of Sub Pop records, she recounts her linguistic prank.

Stick around till the end of the show for today’s Minillusionist, in which Megan describes some of her other favourite pranks, and listeners contribute theirs - scroll down to the bottom of this post to read a whole load more.


The transcript of this episode is at


In February 2019, the Allusionist is sponsored by:  

  • Squarespace, your one-stop shop for creating and running a good-looking and well-working website. Go to for a free trial, and use the code ALLUSION to get 10% off your first purchase of a website or domain.

  • Babbel, the no.1 selling language-learning app in the world. Try it for free at or download the Babbel app.

  • The Proprioceptive Writing Center. Find out about the upcoming West Coast USA courses in this meditative writing practice at


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  • Megan Jasper is the CEO of Sub Pop. Keep up with their artists’ releases and tour dates at and Megan recommends Weyes Blood’s new album, due out 5 April.

  • This episode was produced by me, Helen Zaltzman. Martin Austwick makes the music that you hear in every episode, and composed some fake grunge especially for this one. Hear his work - with lyrics! - at

- HZ

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX.

On Twitter and Facebook I asked you about the best pranks you’ve played. Check the replies to those posts to see a whole lot of pranks, and below are a few highlights (Disclaimer: I am discomfited by most pranks).

Stole colleague’s desk chair after hours, gave it cartoon eyes and mouth, took Polaroids of it in compromising positions around the museum we worked in, then turned photos into a treasure trail for him to traipse round the next morning before he could sit down to start work.

No prank I've ever perpetrated could hold a candle to one my husband was involved in as an undergraduate music major. During some unsupervised late-night rehearsals in the music building, several friends loaded up every potted plant and potted tree in the building - quite a lot of them, apparently - and moved them all to the front of the main choir room. Some genius added a sign reading "Do not move these plants." The choir director basically navigated a thicket for several days before finally asking any questions.

I took a retired USAF cargo parachute... jacked up a car ...wrapped the car with the parachute... and tucked the parachute under the tires ... let the car down and went home with the jack.
HZ: Christo and Jeanne-Claude made an art career of this.

As students, a friend and I wrote an illegible letter to a fellow student wherein you could just make out the words "coming" and "to stay" (illegible sender's name).

A friend shaved off half his hair & beard for Halloween. That evening joined us for drinks, sat next to a woman he’d never met and never turned to look at her; after an hour he turned and she almost wet herself laughing!

When the film Snakes on a Plane was still in production and only really known to readers of a certain webcomic, I told a friend about it in a way that made him assume that I was making it up as a joke. Months later, he started seeing ads for it and was freaked out.

Put a sheet of bubble wrap under the bath mat. It’s simple, but glorious. I think I’ve done this to every roommate I’ve ever had.

Hubby once put quick-drying cement in the coffee mugs of his colleagues, so that they could only get a centimetre of coffee in the top of the mug.

I convinced a coworker that a newly-hired coworker had a glass eye, and that she didn't like to talk about it. Promptly forgot about it until dupe sent me a text four months later, promising revenge.

I printed out a bunch of TERRIFYING old-timey Halloween costume photos and mailed them anonymously to a friend with creepy poetry pasted on the back. He thought he was being targeted by a serial killer.

For April Fool's I ripped up an entire Sunday edition newspaper, opened an umbrella upside down, put all the paper bits in, closed it and put it back in the cupboard. Only problem was, it didn't rain on April 1st. Baffled outrage some weeks later.

My coworker put tape on the bottom of a neighbouring coworker’s mouse, switched their keyboard cable with his own, and proceeded to type strange stuff on the coworker's screen...

On a construction job, I Sharpied my coworker's tape measure to change all the 3s into 8s.

A friend boiled his flatmate’s eggs and put them back in the box in the fridge. The flatmate was very confused when he tried to crack them!

Our Christian school had mandatory chapel in the morning. During his senior year, my brother created a realistic full-size papier mache dummy of himself in a seated position, and left it in his auditorium seat for chapel. Just an absolutely ridiculous amount of effort to achieve the trivial effect of saving himself ten boring minutes in chapel.

My friend and I put a styrofoam head and a blanket strategically placed to look like a person in my roommate’s bed. He waited hours sitting at his desk chair before asking me to have my “other friend” get out of his bed.

The one I'm proudest of is the time I gave my boyfriend''s sister's family their own lost TV remote back as a Christmas present. Early December I heard the family had lost their remote in the summer. They said they had searched absolutely everywhere. Now they just used the few measly buttons on the back of the TV. I had a look and found it very quickly inside the sofa. I decided to nick it and give it back as an anonymous Christmas present. I put it inside an egg carton, wrapped it up and wrote a note on top using my non dominant hand. The note said something like "Thanks for the loan and merry Christmas from Santa!" First the children screamed! Then the adults screamed!! What on earth? Who did this?!  Who could it have been? The confusion lasted a few days. I was so so pleased.
HZ: WHAT? When a remote is lost, surely the first place you look is inside the sofa!

I changed my name in the wife’s phone to the name of our upcoming wedding venue. Two weeks before the ceremony I wrote her a text saying the roof had caved in and it was all off, was so worth it, her face.

In the early days of word processing, I sent a message to all staff in our office on 1st April. I thanked them for making the new word processing system such a success, but it was proving so popular that the initial batch of letters and numbers purchased, expected to last a year, was already running low. I advised that more were expected in our account by noon, but that for the morning anyone needing to use the letter "e" was asked to cut and paste one from an old document. Everyone thought this very amusing - except for the graduate trainee who spent ages rewording a document to avoid using E before asking whether we had four available.
HZ: That’s a very Oulipan prank.

I gaslit my coworkers over the span of two months as I slowly built a conspiracy wall behind me in my home office where I have 5-10 remote video meetings per week. They didn't say anything and were blown away at the end when I told them.

Managing a band’s tour in France, I convinced the drummer that the kilometres to miles ratio was tied to the € to the £ currency rate. The higher the Euro, the more miles to a kilometre. Took him days to work out it was BS.

I made people think that I am really famous in Sweden but had to leave thanks to a drug scandal.

When the weather was hailing, my mum told my cousins that some of the hail stones were lemonade flavour. Quite a sight, seeing kids running round the yard putting the ice into their mouths before dropping them to frantically test another, and another.

I convinced someone in our group that two unlikely people were dating and had them break up publicly in front of her for a weird reason.