Six of the best Wozniak wind-ups

Steve Wozniak
Steve Wozniak: "A lot of hacking is playing with other people, you know, getting them to do strange things"

When we discovered that Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, would be competing in Dancing With The Stars, we had two thoughts: one, could we get Steve Ballmer to go on, too? And two, is there anything Woz won't do for a laugh?

The answer to both questions, it seems, is no. For the tech industry's very own Joker, tomfoolery is never far away.

Here are six of Woz's best wind-ups.

6. The early years
When Woz was still at school, he printed fake but realistic-looking cards informing pupils of classroom changes, disrupting an entire morning's classes. When he built a fake bomb - complete with ticking sounds - the school was evacuated and Wozniak's guidance teacher recommended psychiatric treatment.

5. The zapper
At college, Woz built a zapper - a simple TV jammer that, when he pressed a button, would jam any TV channel. Enlisting a friend, Woz started zapping the dorm room TV; his friend bashed the set, and it magically started working again. As Woz recalls, "A few minutes later, it goes bad again. He hits it. Every few minutes he's got to hit it harder and harder... for weeks they had a guy stationed, and if the set went bad it was his job to hit it and make it go good."

Things got better when the TV did break and a repairman told the students that there was a problem with the antenna. Woz got the zapper out again, forcing a student to keep the antenna in the air instead of on top of the TV. On yet another occasion Woz noticed "that this guy has his hand on the middle of the screen and he has his foot up in the air on a chair. So I let the TV go good. He moved his hand away and made it go bad." As students played a kind of TV Twister, Woz kept on zapping.

4. The fake computer
When the first Apple was introduced at the First West Coast Computer Faire, Wozniak decided to unveil something else: the Zaltair, a computer he made up. He printed fake brochures with appalling puns such as "verZatility", "BAZIC" and "perZonality", sneaked them into piles of legitimate promotional material, and then blamed somebody else. Years later, Woz confessed. "I went out to dinner with Steve Jobs and told him the whole thing," Woz said. "He was beside himself. He had never once suspected me."

3. Pretending to be Pavarotti
When Woz told a waitress he was Pavarotti she believed it - despite arguably the most half-arsed attempt at opera singing in history. "Everybody at the table started laughing, so I figured the jig was up. But then I heard from Gina later on that this waitress had come over to Gina, and asked privately, 'does he really sing the national anthem?' And Gina said, 'Oh, he's a famous opera singer! He's got the voice of an angel!'" Woz laughs.

2. Fooling the feds
When the Secret Service caught Woz distributing two-dollar bills, they asked him for ID - so he produced a card claiming that he was "Laser Safety Officer, Secretary of Defiance" and showing a picture of him with an eye patch. "And the Secret Service didn't catch that it was a phony card!" he chuckles.

1. (Nearly) Pranking The Pope
In 1972, Wozniak had an unusual way of demoing blue boxes, devices that enabled you to make free calls illegally: he pretended to be Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and called the Vatican, asking to speak to the Pope. When the Vatican told him that The Pope was asleep but that someone would go and wake him up, Woz panicked and hung up.


Now read Wozniak interview: iPhone biggest disruptor of mobile biz

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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.