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July 9, 2011 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Friends are holding a computer prank contest. Need ideas.

Friends and I are holding a computer prank contest. We're all software developers and must code our own pranks.

Only friends that have willingly agreed to participate in the contest will be pranked. I don't intend to put my prank on any unsuspecting person's computer.

That aside, here are the pranks rules:
1) Pranks cannot be malicious in nature (ie, deleting files, preventing OS from loading). However pranks can feign malicious activity (ie, moving files around, fake blue-screen-of-death, pop-up dialogs that say files are being removed, etc.)
2) No keyloggers.
3) No illegal activity.
4) No outside programs. We must code our own prank from scratch.

Everyone participating in the contest runs either Windows XP or Windows 7. I'm not too worried about getting my program on the victim's computer because most friends leave their computers unattended (and logged in) when I visit. Also, I'm not concerned with how to hide the process from the user. I've already got that figured out.

I don't want something so complicated that it will take me more than a month to code in my spare time.

I do want a prank that acts so subtly that it will take the victim a while to figure out that something is not right, but something that will still drive them batty.

For example, a program that takes only *1* file off the user's desktop and puts that file into its own sub-directory (on the desktop). The program will execute so infrequently, say once a week, that the user won't immediately suspect a prank program running in the background, and perhaps think that they are just going crazy.

Any ideas? I looking for something that will make for a good laugh. Maybe something that involves something ridiculous, like unicorns or Chuck Norris? I don't know. Give me your ideas.
posted by nikkorizz to Computers & Internet (44 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, the best prank anyone ever played on me was replacing the background image on the desktop with a snapshot of my desktop, then hiding all the icons. So it looked exactly like the computer would normally, but clicking on icons did nothing. It was really funny afterwards, not so much before I figured it out. Would work on the static XP desktop, maybe not so on a themed out Win7.

Messing with the colors, like the April Fools prank MeFi played on us a few years back, would be a good one too, I think. Particularly if it was subtle at first.
posted by gemmy at 1:50 PM on July 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

System language to Russian. But only on days that are prime numbers.
posted by Leon at 2:03 PM on July 9, 2011

The lowest-tech computer prank I ever played was the one that freaked out the prankee the most: post-it on the bottom of the mouse. More complicated variations here.
posted by apparently at 2:13 PM on July 9, 2011

Move keys around on keyboard. I'd stick to just the letters though, possibly only a few of them.
posted by herox at 2:17 PM on July 9, 2011

something that draws translucent lines and/or shapes (or even text) on the screen would probably be really damn annoying.
posted by jimw at 2:17 PM on July 9, 2011

hmm.. change some of the file associations so that when say, you click on an .mp3 it opens excel instead. Repeat for other file types... .doc opens in internet explorer, etc.
posted by herox at 2:18 PM on July 9, 2011

swap mouse buttons, you do that in Mouse Properties.. pretty simple.
posted by herox at 2:22 PM on July 9, 2011

Assign a system sound to mouse clicks, then fire it LOUD then soft then LOUD (i.e. double clicks are BANG click), or only when specific controls are hit - i.e. the close button; or a "slide" sound on every taskbar thumbnail, but only during the 15 minutes of every hour.
posted by disclaimer at 2:27 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

edit: LAST 15 minutes...
posted by disclaimer at 2:28 PM on July 9, 2011

Top suggestion for "subtle and batty" - Every hour, transpose two adjacent items in the Start Menu.

If you can track down hooks to find window sizes and positions, play with those - make windows shrink by a few pixels every time the system is idle for more than a minute. Make window positions and sizes randomize a little every time they're minimized and brought back, so stuff doesn't go back to the right place.

If you're feeling especially mean, make a program that occasionally sets all the system fonts to Comic Sans.
posted by NMcCoy at 2:29 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

A long time ago there was a program that would generate little cockroaches under windows. So that when you closed, resized or otherwise fiddled with a window, roaches would run all over your screen looking for cover. Maybe too hard to code on XP or 7 but it looked real creepy on 95.
posted by Splunge at 2:30 PM on July 9, 2011

A program that watches what's being typed and sporadically auto-completes words and sentences according to some ridiculously-trained Bayesian model?

(Not sure if that counts as a keylogger. It doesn't record anything, but it does snoop on the keyboard)
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:32 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Disturbing face, 100% transparency, laid over the whole screen. Reduce transparency by 1% per day.
posted by Leon at 2:38 PM on July 9, 2011 [18 favorites]

The rick roll is a classic; you could write something that monitors DNS lookups for short URLs and intercept & change them to the canonical astley video say, 5% of the time. Since the short URL is obfuscated to begin with it would take a while to figure it out - they'd just think someone who is NOT you is messing with them.

There's enough malware out there that does this sort of thing that it shouldn't be hard to find sine prior art to repurpose,
posted by phearlez at 2:54 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

remove several keys (caps lock/alt/ctrl), tape down, replace keys?
posted by timsteil at 3:02 PM on July 9, 2011

Intercept all browser image requests and apply a very slight Gaussian blur.
posted by anaelith at 3:28 PM on July 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

To expand on qxntpqbbbqxl's suggestion, an autocorrect that creates common typos, not 100% of the time (too obvious) but maybe 30% of the time.

For example, it turns "the" into "teh" and "help" into "halp". The trick is that it would have to operate very quickly (at or close to typing speed) so that the person being pranked never notices a word being changed from correct to incorrect.
posted by dephlogisticated at 3:31 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

Eeeevery now and then just silently eat a few keystrokes.

Then escalate: start swapping keys. Just for a few keystrokes once in a while at first, then on a longer duration.

Eventually the whole keyboard would only be responding about 50% of the time, and typing something totally wrong when it does work.

Make sure you can remove it of course! Watch for some complicated chord or a particular phrase being typed blind.

Or: slowly push the screen's gamma settings around; again, have it be bigger changes over time. Drop R G or B to nothing so it looks like the monitor/cable is on the fritz. You could start simulating ghost images, bad reception, etc, if you were ambitious, kinda like Cathode...
posted by egypturnash at 4:01 PM on July 9, 2011

Every hour, make the desktop clock move forward or back three minutes, so that the accuracy of the clock is constantly drifting.

Code a program that detects specific types of activity in Microsoft Word and pops up Clippy (or a Clippy look-alike) to offer helpful suggestions.
posted by dephlogisticated at 4:04 PM on July 9, 2011

generate a list of all desktop icons, then every say 5th time anything is launched from the desktop intercept and launch the icon right below it. you could do this with autohotkey no problem... friend thinks they clicked the wrong one until the pattern emerges and them assumes they need to troubleshoot mouse settings etc...
posted by chasles at 4:20 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

1) 1% chance that any given "can" becomes "can't", "can't" becomes "can", "will" becomes "won't", etc.

2) Whenever the computer has been idle for 30 minutes, undelete everything in the Recycle Bin.

3) Once an hour, if they happen to be composing a message in Outlook at that moment, hit Ctrl-Enter to send it as-is.

4) Every four hours, unmute the volume if it's mute.

5) If they have multiple monitors, misalign one of the monitors by a few additional pixels each day.

6) Whenever they try to run a program, have the system pause an additional .05 seconds before running it. So they gradually acclimate to having an obnoxiously slow machine.

7) Periodically delete all login cookies.

8) Dunno how feasible this is, but could you set two different machines to be remote-desktop-ing one another, and then switch the physical boxes? So each person's computer remains adequately responsive and appears to contain all the data that it used to -- but physically pressing eg the shut-down button on one box affects the counterpart machine as well.

Autohotkey plus the #NoTrayIcon keyword might be an easy but subtle way to implement some of these. You all deserve each other.
posted by foursentences at 4:54 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have to admit, these are some awesome ideas. They are all making me chuckle.

Keep them coming.
posted by nikkorizz at 5:22 PM on July 9, 2011

Definitely remap DNS records for popular or common sites in their hosts file. Have a program that rotates the results.
posted by wrok at 5:30 PM on July 9, 2011

Every time the screensaver goes on, and a web browser window is open, you open a new tab that goes to a specified (obnoxious?) website. So when they go back to the computer and deactivate the screensaver - tada! It looks like they were browsing
posted by Joh at 6:38 PM on July 9, 2011

On the topic of "simple and maddening", if they use Firefox then tamper with their userChrome.css/userContent.css in either blatant or subtle ways.
posted by NMcCoy at 6:47 PM on July 9, 2011

Create a new font and call it "Arial." Have the glyph for the N be M and vice versa. Remove the existing Arial and set it as the default font.

On Windows 7, in display settings, you can rotate the screen to portrait mode. I believe that there is a shortcut associated to this. Randomly execute this shortcut twice with a few seconds in between.

Flip the keyboard mapping for the ten-key so it lays out like a telephone.
posted by Jacob G at 7:02 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Place shutdown command in startup folder.
posted by No Shmoobles at 7:14 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I add a "sleep 3" statement to the victim's .bashrc (or equivalent). This causes a three-second delay when a new terminal session is opened; which is long enough to be annoying, but not long enough to cause the victim to assume something malicious has happened.

Another fun one is to schedule the victim's web browser to open something like at some time in the future. "at" works well for that.
posted by jrockway at 8:32 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

In the Control Panel, switch the left and right mouse buttons. Simple, yes, but amazingly frustrating.
posted by SPrintF at 8:48 PM on July 9, 2011

Every 72 hours, the mouse inputs flip direction—so that moving the mouse up now moves the cursor down and moving it left moves the cursor right—and a little window pops up asking whether the user would like to keep these changes (OK/Cancel). The user experiences several moments of frustration as they attempt to move the cursor to the Cancel button. When they succeed and click on it, everything goes back to normal. But 72 hours later...
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:55 PM on July 9, 2011

I can't find it now, but I've seen a css file that would slightly blur text, leave out words, flip images etc. I think it was something like "annoycss", but can't seem to find it. You could set it as a default css and let it do it's thing.

We used to use a shared vnc session to run demo's. At the time, we usually didn't bother turning off control from the other users. So we would just wait till someone was typing in a password field, and then send a couple extra key strokes.

Developers? Add a new unit test. Make sure it only fails on their machine. Or always fails, unless say, you run `ls` first. Or have a certain app in the process list. Something subtle so that you could sit at their machine, and always make the test pass. Maybe only pass if the mouse cursor is in the upper right corner of the window.
posted by alikins at 8:59 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

If in the us, switch the keyboard mapping to French (a and swapped) or uk (try and find a backslash)
posted by azlondon at 9:09 PM on July 9, 2011

I coded some stuff like this, back in the day, and had some great fun with it - my major problem was finding people to use it on. :-) Still is, I guess - pretty sure my wife would not be amused. But plenty of ideas for you!

For maximum effectiveness, you want things where it's not obvious that there's anything going on - either the user just blames him/herself for screwing up, or the computer for being quirky. Sure, there's any number of fun pranks where it's obvious the user is being pranked, but if you're looking to truly drive them batty then you don't want them to know anything overtly weird is happening.

Some stuff I did (some have already been suggested above) and ideas off the top of my head:

1. Eat random keystrokes or mouse clicks.
2. Transpose random keystrokes, switching them with nearby keys (assuming QWERTY). Replace "e" with "w", for example. To make this really effective, don't do it often - randomly every 100th keystroke or something.
3. Every so often, double (or triple, or whatever) the current keypress. They type "cat" and get "caaaat".
4. Or, have a given key just stop working reliably - every 10th or 20th time the "g" key is pressed, have it not work. OK, enough keyboard ones now.
5. Switch the left/right mousebutton - but again, rarely - so very occasionally they get a right-click menu when they meant to left click.
6. Have the mouse subtly drift towards an edge/corner of the screen.
7. Every once in a while, minimize the active window. Drives people *crazy*.
8. Every once in a while, mute the volume. Or have it gradually soften or something.
9. Randomly change the cursor to an hourglass cursor (Win32 used to let you do this; not sure if it still does). The system won't actually *be* busy but it'll look like it.
10. Reset the titlebar of the active window, to replace random characters with garbage - "Microsoft Word" becomes "MicrXsoXXXXrd", where X is some random ugly unicode value, like you'd get if data got corrupted somewhere.
11. Do that for bitmaps/icons, too - replace pixels with random garbagey values to make things look corrupted. You could do this anywhere - in icons, in images retrieved from the web, anywhere.
12. Cover the right side of the screen (maybe the rightmost 100px?) with a black rectangle that's always on top of everything else - it'll make it look like that area of the screen just isn't being drawn, ever.
13. At regular intervals - say, every 30 seconds - generate a Windows "ding" sound. The user won't know where it's coming from or how to stop it, but boy will it be torturous waiting for the next one. For bonus points, make sure you un-mute the sound before ding-ing.
14. A little more malicious than I'd like, but you could just close the active window periodically. Again, might be kind of mean; the user could lose his/her documents or solitaire game or whatever.
15. Repeatedly pop up messageboxes saying something cryptic like "Error 0x59ac143: improper access credentials in module a99cv3". Whenever they click OK, pop up the same message again, so it never goes away. Make it always on top.
16. When a browser is launched, launch about 50 copies of it.
17. Periodically reset the clock and timezone to GMT.

That's probably enough for now, but you get the picture. You can have endless fun with some knowledge about how to plumb the depths of Win32, and people who don't lock their computers. Enjoy!
posted by captainawesome at 9:22 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Okay, last one. A program called TribbleMaker.

TribbleMaker creates files named #Tribble (a number and the word Tribble). Naturally, the icon for these is a little Star Trek tribble. When you click on the icon, it makes a cute tribble noise. That's it. TribbleMaker places a #Tribble file in a random folder every X hours. Also every X hours, every existing #Tribble file replicates itself once in the folder in which it was created. Therefore, if the user doesn't continually find and delete these tribbles, the population in each inhabited folder grows exponentially.

Of course, you may want to put a cap on the maximum number of tribbles that can inhabit a folder, in case the user doesn't notice and shit really starts to get out of control.
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:54 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

Subtly changing the color balance/temperature throughout the day, like Flux, but randomly.
posted by empath at 12:09 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're coding it yourself on Windows, I'll second the Autohotkey recommendation.
(here's the page for keys remapping for example)
posted by motdiem2 at 3:41 AM on July 10, 2011

A few from college: monkeying with their MS Word auto-correct ("Professor X" = "Professor X is boring!") and sending "we are watching you..." messages to friends' (shared on the network) printers. Oh, and attempting to spoof a display name of a girl that a friend had a crush on using MS Messenger.

Others ideas:
  • If they listen to lots of music on their computer using foobar or any other audio player with DSP plugins, you could try doing something that gradually slows the pitch on of the music. Or maybe warbles it almost imperceptibly.
  • A program that shifts the mouse pointer a few pixels in a random direction right before the left click is processed.
  • Set the double-click speed really slow. (mostly this will be annoying when they try to rename files)
  • If they're not using a big monitor: figure out a way to make the browser content always slightly wider than the browser window, so they have to scroll right and left every time they want to read text. (you can thank my netbook for that idea...)
  • General pranking tip: do two pranks--a really obvious one so they think they find it, and then do another, subtler one that catches them offguard later.

posted by ropeladder at 4:50 AM on July 10, 2011

Configure their web browser to use a (local, on the same machine) proxy. Have said proxy rotate, invert, flip, or mirror 1 in 20 images that come through, at random.
posted by fings at 7:11 AM on July 10, 2011

There was this thread from this past April Fool's Day. Mostly office-based, but some computer pranks.

I never really understood the post-it note on the mouse... Wouldn't everyone immediately check underneath if it's being screwy?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 1:05 PM on July 10, 2011

A couple of elaborations on things I've seen here already…

1. I've tried the "take a screenshot of your friend's desktop and make that their desktop," but iterated a number of times until the screen is absolutely covered in copies upon copies of each icon. bonus points for actually keeping them somewhere onscreeen, hidden among a dozen decoys of each one.

2. I'll be shocked if such a thing exists anymore in the modern world, but back in the DOS days there was a utility for the Microsoft mouse we bought that let you recalibrate what it would regard as "up." It was nominally meant to compensate for slight rotation of the mouse due to holding it at a natural angle, but you could also calibrate it so that "up" was mapped to "diagonally down-right" and everything else was appropriately rotated as well (so that to move the mouse cursor to the left, you'd have to move the mouse diagonally up-and-to-the-right). That was a fun thing to deliberately screw up when I was a kid, I must admit.

3. My brother once set up a VNC session on a roommate's computer while he wasn't home, and waited until he was typing something, and would occasionally hit an arrow key or enter or shift at random while his roommate typed. Not too frequently, of course. Just enough to annoy him.
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:19 PM on July 10, 2011

Create something that changes the volume setting every few hours up or down. I used to have a cheap set of speakers that had volume problems - the volume would fluctuate noticeably up or down if the speakers were inactive for a few minutes. It was incredibly unnerving to be listening to mp3s at a normal level, walk away to get a drink or something, and come back and resume playing to have the volume at a much higher or lower level. Even little things like hearing a system ding and then five minutes later hearing another one at a different volume irritated me.

Also, Nthing the idea of eating keystrokes or mouse clicks. Maybe just 1 out of a 1000; it would still be enough to bother someone but not enough to really look into the problem. It would take quite some time of that happening before I was sure it wasn't just my mistyping.

Anything that simulates hardware/human error is going to be a lot more effective - they'll be blaming their mouse/keyboard/hands/monitor/speakers instead of you.
posted by _DB_ at 11:10 PM on July 10, 2011

Slowly change the mouse speed/acceleration either up or down.

Also the double click rate and keyboard repeat settings.

Have it silently autocorrect every third "the" to "teh".
posted by jefftang at 4:27 PM on July 11, 2011

Here's another one for heavy music listeners, although I'm not sure what kind of OS hooks you'd need to pull this off. Shift the sound balance to the left, hold for thirty seconds, then back to center. Flicker between left and center for a few seconds. Back to center. Wait an hour or two. Start shifting again. Ideally increase the time that it stays completely left and decrease the time it stays center. Another alternative is to start dropping base or treble levels, in the same flickering pattern. If you do any of those right, you'll completely convince someone that their speakers/headphones are dying and annoy the heck out of them at the same time.
posted by anaelith at 6:59 PM on July 11, 2011

Less Immediately apparent:
- Task Scheduler configured to play Queen's "Princes of the Universe" (or anything over the top) every 2 hours
- Task Scheduler configured to play the Windows ding.wav or BEEP every 15 minutes
- Task Scheduler configured to execute the "show desktop" hotkey (Super+D) using AutoHotKey or AutoIT every 5 minutes.
- Change file association for .doc to launch Media Player and play a copy of the task scheduler's "Princes of the Universe" (name these differently so they can't be easily found and deleted). Doc's can still be open by launching Word first.

More immediately apparent:
- Flip the screen display (if the video card supports it) 180 degrees. For some displays this can be done with CTRL+ALT+(arrow keys)
- Task Scheduler configured to change the wallpaper to a random image (obviously something that would become quickly annoying like images of the real life peter pan or similar. (make sure to scatter the images and name them so they're hard to find...the script itself can locate them and name them to .bmps and reset the default wallpaper for you.).
posted by samsara at 5:39 AM on July 12, 2011

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