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Accidental catfishing. The best prank one student never planned.

a collage of illustrated presents, a notebook, two phones with text messages, a succulent, and a cartoon dinosaur atop a building
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We asked, you answered: What’s the best prank you remember at Utah State University?

While sifting through submissions we couldn’t help but notice some common themes emerge. For instance, Aggies like moving heavy things where they ought not to be—like dinosaur mascots balanced on apartment rooftops and electric wheelchairs perched atop the Block A.

You are partial to glitter bombs. And water wars. You are perhaps too talented at sneaking into apartments to remove items like doors and light bulbs and food. Speaking of which, you enjoy placing food where no food should go—ramen in the bathtub, sardines in the closet, oranges in the oven. But our favorite submission was a classic case of an honest mistake that spiraled out of control and led one freshman to confess to a prank she never intended to play on her entire apartment. Sophomore Kelsey Benson explains how it happened.

I like switching up my airdrop name, and at the time this story took place my phone was named Fried Napkin. This was my very first semester at USU and my first-time having roommates. Well, a few weeks in my roommates notice an airdrop nearby named Fried Napkin and feeling totally embarrassed, I don’t own up to it. This leads my roommate to assume it’s a neighbor and she begins sending them photos. Of course, I accept, and she continues to send photos. This becomes a regular thing after a few days. 

“Feeling totally embarrassed, I don’t own up to it.”

At this point, it’s too late to awkwardly say it’s me, I just lied to my cool, brand new roommate so I hope it goes away. It does the exact opposite. My apartment begins asking neighbors if they know who Fried Napkin is. To make it worse, neighbors start accusing their roommates. Other people start changing their airdrop name to Fried Napkin. Things are out of hand, and I happen to have one of those apps where you can text from a random number. So, I message my roommate from an anonymous number telling her “hey, this is Fried Napkin. This all got out of hand, I think you’re great.” I send this hoping it will end it all, but it just takes it to a new level.

“I send this hoping it will end it all, but it just takes it to a new level.”

Before I know it, I am consistently texting as Fried Napkin, who at this point is assumed to be a He (I am not). I’ve avoided suspicion so far and we have a list of suspects. This has now been going on for MONTHS. I’m way too afraid to confess now. I’m terrified of how far this has gone. My neighbors have done phone checks at this point. I know people who think fried napkin is some creepy stalker. I want to confess at some point, especially since I’ve become such good friend with my roommate! but I want to make sure people like Fried Napkin first, so I start dropping off a gift or two on my own porch from Fried Napkin.

“I want to make sure people like Fried Napkin first, so I start dropping off a gift or two on my own porch.”

 This goes on until eventually, I decide to confess. At Christmas, my apartment does a Christmas gift exchange, and I give my roommate a small notebook telling her how it all happened. Amazingly, my roommate’s amazing sense of humor saved me from an awkward living situation, and I was forgiven for accidentally catfishing her. We now laugh and she miraculously doesn’t hate me. We’re still tight to this day! That’s the story of Fried Napkin.

“I give my roommate a small notebook telling her how it all happened.”

We had questions, too. For starters, what is catfishing?

It’s a term to describe behavior where a person provides false information or false hope about who a person is messaging online, Benson explains.

Why not just own up to being Fried Napkin in the first place?

Well, do you remember being a freshman and meeting your roommates for the first time and wanting to make a good impression? For Benson, most of her apartment roommates were juniors and she was intimidated. They were older and knew how things worked on campus, she says. So after they snapped roommate photos and began sharing them with each other using the airdrop functions on their phones, her unusual Fried Napkin name felt too silly to claim—at first.

“I can’t tell you how many times I thought this will blow over,” the international studies major laughs.

Instead, finding out who Fried Napkin was became a sort of bonding experience for the new roommates. They even roped in neighboring apartments to the sleuthing exercise. And soon, weeks turned into months and instead of it being too soon to reveal the secret, Benson felt it was too late.

“Just think of how it would look from their perspective,” she says.

“I needed public opinion of Fried Napkin to be up,” she says. “I just wanted Fried Napkin to be a good person, not a stalker.”

– Kelsey Benson

And by this point in the semester, the boyfriend of one of her roommates was suspicious of Fried Napkin and thought he was a creep. So when Benson randomly drew her name for the apartment’s Christmas gift exchange, she knew the time would never be better to confess. But she needed to improve Fried Napkin’s image first.

“I needed public opinion of Fried Napkin to be up,” she says. “I just wanted Fried Napkin to be a good person, not a stalker.”

The Pocatello native came to USU for its strength in preparing students for work in humanitarian aid. To improve sentiment towards the elusive Fried Napkin, Benson secretly dropped doughnuts and succulents off for her roommate to discover. At the gift exchange, the notebook proved to an integral tool for smoothing out the mess.

“This is the best way this could have ended,” her roommate told her. (She has asked not to be identified since some elements of the story are somewhat embarrassing. We understand.)

But why does a person even have an app that can produce random phone numbers on their phone? Does Benson do phone banking or sales as a side hustle? The apps emerged for products like the early ipods for texting purposes, she explains. Users adapted workarounds to communicate with each other, and yes, sometimes to prank one another.

“Pranks have changed with COVID-19,” Benson says, adding that pranks don’t involve a lot of people now and are “less about physical contact.” Social distancing measures have shifted pranks online—not wiped them out entirely. Pranks are alive and well at Utah State, Benson smiles.

By Kristen Munson

All illustrations by Liz Lord ’04.

Review overview