Buy 2 Get 1 Free

Finally another prank!

I love replacing signs with phony versions, but opportunities for this are limited. I usually have to stumble upon a location where a sign is missing already. 

This summer, I realized that a sidewalk lean-to sign could be placed almost anywhere! I decided to build one and lock it to a tree somewhere in town.

I bought two pre-cut sheets of plywood (2x4 feet) at Home Depot, steel cable, and a length of white PVC tubing. Total price was about $10.

I could not find hinges that would work in this application, so I planned to use the tube to make my own.

Ken pointed out the shortcomings of the tube-hinge and suggested nylon zip-ties instead. I used his suggestion. I already had the zip-ties, and enough paint to do the job.

I planned to make a sign that read "Free Sandwiches" with a red arrow that pointed in an undeterminable direction, creating a confusing situation for hungry customers and nearby counterpeople alike. The best spot, I figured, would be somewhere far from a deli, cafe or store.

People who really wanted a free sandwich would be forced to ask anyone on the same block as the sign. They would have to ask, or at least consider asking such absurd places as a photocopy center, a woman's clothing boutique, the nail shop, a law office, etc.

Ken's second suggestion was to change the sign to read "buy 2 get 1 free", and, for the first time ever, I embraced two suggestions in one day.

I cut a stylize arrow from 1/4" scrap wood. 

Free sandwiches would cause too much of an uproar, possibly resulting in the speedy removal of my beautiful sign painting. A simple sign advertising "buy 2 get 1 free" is, in my opinion, not very compelling, and it could apply to almost any shop in the area.

To load the joke, I attached the arrow with a center pivot. This arrangement allowed it to spin around, making it even less reliable.

In this photo, you can see the heavy wire I employed to make the arrow well balanced on the pivot. I didn't want the arrow pointing straight down or up.

It worked very well. A flick of the finger sent the arrow spinning.

I don't know who used the "spinning arrow on a sign" gag first. I know it is in the first Jurassic Park film.

I began scouting for the perfect spot for the sign. I wanted a heavy concentration of retail outlets, high traffic and visibility, with something solid to attach the sign to. I also didn't want it to be directly in front of any one business.

I located the perfect spot on J Street between 22nd and 23rd in Santa Rosa Beach.

I attached the cable with crimped aluminum collet. This technique is used by people who leave those rogue newspaper stands everywhere.

This method was cheaper than using a padlock, but it meant that I had to bring bolt cutters to attach the sign.

Going against my own advice, I installed the sign in the middle of the night. Doing anything in the middle of the night looks suspicious, so I prefer to get things like this done in the daylight.

Tom and Amy came along to assist.


The first few days of a prank like this are critical. Either someone will take notice and take action, or they won't. I never know.

At first light, I walked back and snapped a photo.

The sign stayed! It was subtle enough to avoid any motivated attention.

In this photo, the arrow is pointing right, towards a little brick mini-mall.

In this photo, the arrow has been spun right, across the street to the shops there.

At the time of posting this story, the sign had been up for 17 days. Keep your fingers crossed!

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September 30, 2003.

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