Johnny Monsarrat April Fools

Johnny Monsarrat and the Ballooniverse

This prank is written up as part of a crazy story of self-discovery in my forthcoming book! Email me to learn how about the book.

Fall 1994. I was a PhD student in computer science at Brown University, and the pressure is getting to me. Time for some stress relief!

filling balloons
Filling the balloons
Johnny Monsarrat prank
Christine ties off a balloon

I've always wanted to fill a room with balloons, after experiencing how difficult that was back in 1985. I'd been an MIT student and foolishly thought blowing up a few hundred balloons manually would do the job. It turned out to be not enough balloons and too hard on my lungs.

This time we'd do it the professional way. My thesis advisor, Tom Dean, had innocently given me a key to his office. Now I would put it to good use.

I rented tanks of compressed air and a bunch of balloons. We sent word around to all the students and suddenly there was a group ready to help!

I'd chosen nitrogen instead of compressed air. Nitrogen is actually less expensive because it's a by-product of making compressed oxygen. Nitrogen wouldn't float the balloons like helium, but nitrogen is probably the most inert gas. 75% of the atmosphere is nitrogen. The balloons were pretty cheap too... although they wouldn't have been if I'd bought the fancy self-closing ends. Instead, we tied them by hand. A little hard on the fingers, but do-able.


Tom tries to get some work done
Johnny Monsarrat balloons
Johnny Monsarrat wades through the balloons

It took six hours with four tanks of air. Actually, three tanks of us filling the balloons and tying the ends. would have done it, but two of them leaked so it was good we had all four. We used 2,200 normal 9-inch balloons to fill up a medium sized professor's office.

We started out with the tanks in the room. One person would fill the balloon, using a special adapter nozzle on the tank. Another person would tie off the balloon, and then throw it into the far corner. When the corner filled up, we backed out to the middle of the room. When that filled up, we backed out to the corridor and stuck the balloons through the doorway one by one. Occasionally someone would wade in and sweep the balloons further in.

We ran out of balloons a couple of feet below ceiling height. Good enough.

This prank may have been an inspiration for the later Wall of Wheat Puffs prank, and it goes along with the Hot Tub on Campus and Dance Club Elevator pranks.

This was a prank I was expecting to get into a little trouble for, but it turned out everyone loved it. I even got a writeup in the department newsletter.

A rollicking romp of an adventure that contains this prank is featured in my new book. Email me to learn how about the book.