You're milling about Manhattan's South Street Seaport, when suddenly a bunch of people wearing "I heart NY" T-shirts simultaneously get down on their hands and knees and start crawling. What's going on?
The easy answer is that it's just another day in New York City. The other explanation is that Improv Everywhere's at it again.
The N.Y.-based prank collective "causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places" in a kind of street theater that turns unsuspecting passersby into the audience. Past hijinks have dispatched an excess of Best Buy clerks, simultaneously triggered a symphony of ringtones in a bookstore, and filled the New York subway with pants-less riders.
For its latest stunt, called The MP3 Experiment Ten, more than 7,000 participants with headphones pressed play at the same time to listen to an MP3 file filled with ridiculous instructions. Jokesters were told to dress as tourists to blend in with the crowd and thus better surprise prankees with their wacky synchronized moves.
"I want you to find a stranger who's not wearing headphones and stand behind them, following their every move," disembodied narrator "Steve" commanded, as amused and bewildered spectators looked on, snapping pictures with their smartphones. "Find a new random stranger and give her a dollar bill."
The hoards of pranksters also waved red flags, made and tossed paper airplanes (yes, they were told to clean up after themselves), and blew bubbles.
The MP3 Experiment Ten earlier this month marked a decade of Improv Everywhere's MP3 Experiments, which have brought synchronized silliness to cities like Berlin and Adelaide, Australia, and to college campuses like UNC Chapel Hill and Texas Tech.
Created in 2001 by performer Charlie Todd, Improv Everywhere has been labeled hilarious, annoying, and "a cross between thespians and hooligans." But as my CNET colleague Daniel Terdiman noted in a recent feature, "if there's one man in the world who can convince thousands of people to take off their pants in the subway... it's Charlie Todd."
A new documentary about the group, called "We Cause Scenes," takes an in-depth look at Todd's endeavor, which started as a small project, became an NBC television show that got canceled, and proceeded, with the help of growing social social networks like Facebook, to become a veritable prank empire.