Hans Zinsser was a bacteriologist who wrote a memoir called As I Remember Him. In this excerpt he writes about a classic prank perpetrated by an American student upon an unsuspecting French housewife
French Housewife found here
“His rooms were on the third floor and under them the proprietress of the first floor shop had on her windowsill a goldfish tank in which she kept several fish and a very small turtle. My friend, leaning out of his window, could look down directly into the tank and he often watched her as she broke breadcrumbs for her pets and muttered terms of endearment. One evening he suddenly conceived a brilliant idea.
The next day he went to the fish markets and bought a series of 6 turtles ranging in size from one like a 5 franc piece to one about 6 inches across. At the same time he bought wire, cheesecloth and a bamboo fishing pole which he smuggled into his rooms after dark and from which he fashioned himself a very small net. Each day after that, very early in the morning, he would lean out of the window, fish out the turtle and put in a bigger one.
The first she didn’t notice but when the second one went in she muttered “Tiens, tiens.” When the third one appeared she began to show signs of excitement, calling first her husband, then the neighbours. There were animated discussions. The fourth turtle turned the place into a public sensation. The fifth one started a riot – not without some tragedy, for this turtle started to chew the fish. A reporter came in and wrote a headlining story, Madame Perrier became famous.
image found here
The student never put in the 6th turtle as the tank wasn’t quite large enough but he had a still more brilliant idea. He began to make the turtles small again. He skipped the fourth one and put in the third, which diminished the animal to half size in a single night. Now the excitement really began and the shop did enormous business. The student skipped to the original beast and Madame Perrier became a national heroine by giving her “Magic Turtle” to the Jardin des Plantes so the biologists there could observe it should it ever start enlarging again…..
Turtle cartoon from here