A snipe hunt or 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 snipe hunt may be assigned to a target as part of a process of hazing, however the word sniper is derived from a marksman with enough skill to shoot one.
A snipe hunt is a specific type of "wild-goose chase", where a person embarks on an impossible search. Where a wild-goose chase may be accidental, a snipe hunt is always initiated by a second person, as a prank.
The origin of the term is a practical joke where inexperienced campers are told about an imaginary 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. Real snipe (a family of shorebirds) are 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.
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- In the pizza-making business, newcomers are told to look in the fridge for the "dough repair kit".
- 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.
- Other common restaurant practical jokes include sending the new employee to another restaurant to borrow the "bacon stretcher", "lobster food", a "souffle pump", or a "can of steam". An alternate prank is to instruct the new employee to empty a coffee machine or hot water tower of its water (the machine being connected to a water line and thus never able to be "emptied").
- In logging, a new choker setter would be sent way uphill to the landing to ask the yarder operator for a "sky-hook".
- In construction, a "left-handed screwdriver", "board stretcher", "eye measures", "hammer grease", "wall expander", "glass hammer", "striped or tartan paint", "metric crescent wrench", "bucket of grinder sparks" or "box of assorted knots" are analogous pranks.
- In Switzerland, it is common for a painter to send his apprentice for a "frog hair brush" and for electricians to advise their apprentices to "wipe up the voltage drops".
- In the United States Navy, sending a new sailor after a "BT Punch" which is a fist-punch from a Boiler Technician that works in the Engine Room, "red lamp oil for the port running light" and "green lamp oil for the starboard running light" are similar pranks. Other examples are to send the naïve on a search for a "spool of water line", a "dropped gig line", a "bucket of steam", or the infamous "ID-10-T form" (idiot). First-time crew on carriers are occasionally assigned a "sea-bat" watch, in order to ensure "sea-bats" do not infest the aircraft engines.
- In the United States Air Force, a newbie is sent to get some "prop wash", "fallopian tubes", "K-9P lubricant" (canine pee), "flight line", or "keys to the aircraft".
- In the United States Army, a newbie is sent to get some "military bearing grease", "headlamp fluid", a "box of grid squares", an "'ID 10 T form'", a "bravo alpha 1100 november" (balloon), a "chemlight battery", an "exhaust sample" or a "cannon report".
- In the United States Marine Corps, a newbie (called a "boot") will be sent to a Gunnery Sergeant (pay grade E-7) for a "PRC-E7" (pronounced "Prick-E7").
- In the Canadian military, a common joke is tasking a new soldier to find a "brass magnet" to ease the collection of spent ammunition casings.
- In Boy Scouts, sending a new camper after a "Left Handed Smoke Bender" or "100 feet of shoreline" are similar practices.
- Former Major League pitcher Rick Sutcliffe would often send the young batboy out to the umpires during pregame to ask for the "keys to the batter's box". This is an age-old baseball prank.
- Financial Institutions in London, England, often send newcomers to another building or business to fetch "verbal agreement forms"
- In the Czech Republic, if one breaks a spirit level, they might be asked to go and "buy a new bubble". Other construction related jokes include buying a "brick bender"., "a bender straightener", or "aerosol nails".
- In the Czech Republic, a child might be sent to the pharmacy to buy some "semosel". Spelled correctly, "jsem osel" means I am a fool, or literally "I am a donkey".
- In Slovakia, one might seek to buy a "fajrontový kľúč", a term popularized by a song of the same name by the band Vrbovskí víťazi.
- In the Netherlands common prank objects are the Plintentrapje (baseboard ladder), a box of blue/red ignition sparks, nailheads, air anchors, wooden electrodes, a square hole drill, an AC battery and the colour bar (at TV studios).
- In the German marine similar requests are to go feed the bilge sow, to fetch frequency bending pliers or to check on the ship's middle brake (or to operate said brake, if the vessel has a winch).
In popular culture
- In Thimble Theater in the January 14, 1922, strip. Castor Oyl, not wanting Olive Oyl to sail to Dice Island with him, sent her to get a "dime's worth of longitude", expecting to be sailing before she gave up. Popeye made his debut in the strip, during this sequence.
- In the movie Up, Carl tries to fool Russell by telling him about snipes. Later, when they meet Kevin, Russell believes he has found it, leaving Carl in disbelief. Many sources, including Peter Docter's study guide to Up, say that Kevin's species is the mythical "Snipe", a fictional bird created to send foolish people on wild goose chases. Similarly in Dug's Special Mission, it is revealed that Alpha gave Dug a series of fool's errands, including watching a large rock to keep it from rolling, to keep him out of their way while they hunted Kevin (all of which backfired miserably).
- "Long Stand", a 1980s song by David Harley, is partly based on examples of apprentice hazing such as sending a lad off for a "long stand" or a "can of striped paint", though its main theme is unemployment.
- In "Help Wanted", the very first episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, a skeptical Mr. Krabs and Squidward send new employee SpongeBob on a mission to obtain a "hydrodynamic spatula with port and starboard attachments and a turbo-drive", thinking he will never be able to find such a spatula. However, SpongeBob successfully manages to locate this exact product in the local supermarket.
- In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, the police are diverted on a snipe hunt so that a mob can try to harm prisoner Tom Robinson.
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- The Little Red Book of Firehouse Pranks by Jeff Hibbard (ISBN 0-9667810-0-7)
- "The Snipe" from Henry H. Tryon's Fearsome Critters
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