The Semicolonial State of San Serriffe

An April Fool's prank that had lots of Guardian readers fooled - except those who knew their typography. 

The Semicolonial State of San Serriffe

Nobody had ever heard of San Serriffe before April 1, 1977, when the Guardian published a special 7-page supplement on the 10th anniversary of that nation’s independence from Britain.


The archipelago was discovered by the English in 1421, colonised by the Spanish and Portuguese and later annexed by the British, ceded to the Portuguese and later for some time a condominium between the latter two nations. San Serriffe gained its independence in 1967. It took the independent nation 20 years of military rule (mainly by a general Pica) before it managed to elect its first civilian president, A. Bourgeois, in 1997.

San Serriffe’s exact location is a matter of dispute. It has been situated in the neighbourhood of the Seychelles, but it appears the island nation drifts as much as 1.4 km per year. Even this astonishing speed does not account for sightings of the archipelago in places as far-flung as the Bering Sea and  just off New Zealand’s South Island.

At the last available census (1973), the island counted just under 1.8 million inhabitants, of which approximately 574,000 Flong (the native ethnic group), 640,000 colons and semi-colons (European settlers and people of mixed race), 270,000 Creoles, 117,000 Malaysians, 92,000 Arabs and 88,000 others.

The country consists of two main islands, Caissa Superiore (Upper Caisse) and Caissa Inferiore (Lower Caisse), the latter of which has a prominent promontory, ending at Thirty Point. The islands are separated by the Shoals of Adze. The capital city, located on Upper Caisse, is the city of Bodoni. Other cities are Port Clarendon, Garamondo and Cap Em. The nearby island of Ova Mata is a Spanish possession. 

San Serriffe is, of course, not real. The country was one of the Guardian‘s most elaborate, and most successful April Fool’s pranks, and was ‘revisited’ by the newspaper in 1978, 1980 and 1999. One clue to its non-existence are the many references to typography, in its name (sans-serif is a letterform without the serif, which is the small line attached to the end of a stroke in a letter or symbol), its shape (a semicolon) and its cities (Bodoni is a the name of a series of typefaces of the serif type). An even more obvious clue was that an alternate name for the main island was Hoaxe. 

The idea for San Serriffe came from Philip Davies, then in charge of the Guardian‘s Special Reports department. “The Financial Times was always doing special reports on little countries I’d never heard of. I was thinking about April Fool’s Day 1977 and I thought: Why don’t we just make a country up?”

Many thanks to D. Zasoba for providing this link to a map of San Serriffe. More on its ‘history’ on this page of the Museum of Hoaxes.

Strange Maps #318

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
Keep reading Show less

Volcanoes to power bitcoin mining in El Salvador

The first nation to make bitcoin legal tender will use geothermal energy to mine it.

Credit: Aaron Thomas via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

In June 2021, El Salvador became the first nation in the world to make bitcoin legal tender. Soon after, President Nayib Bukele instructed a state-owned power company to provide bitcoin mining facilities with cheap, clean energy — harnessed from the country's volcanoes.

The challenge: Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a digital form of money and a payment system. Crypto has several advantages over physical dollars and cents — it's incredibly difficult to counterfeit, and transactions are more secure — but it also has a major downside.

Crypto transactions are recorded and new coins are added into circulation through a process called mining.

Crypto mining involves computers solving incredibly difficult mathematical puzzles. It is also incredibly energy-intensive — Cambridge University researchers estimate that bitcoin mining alone consumes more electricity every year than Argentina.

Most of that electricity is generated by carbon-emitting fossil fuels. As it stands, bitcoin mining produces an estimated 36.95 megatons of CO2 annually.

A world first: On June 9, El Salvador became the first nation to make bitcoin legal tender, meaning businesses have to accept it as payment and citizens can use it to pay taxes.

Less than a day later, Bukele tweeted that he'd instructed a state-owned geothermal electric company to put together a plan to provide bitcoin mining facilities with "very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable, 0 emissions energy."

Geothermal electricity is produced by capturing heat from the Earth itself. In El Salvador, that heat comes from volcanoes, and an estimated two-thirds of their energy potential is currently untapped.

Why it matters: El Salvador's decision to make bitcoin legal tender could be a win for both the crypto and the nation itself.

"(W)hat it does for bitcoin is further legitimizes its status as a potential reserve asset for sovereign and super sovereign entities," Greg King, CEO of crypto asset management firm Osprey Funds, told CBS News of the legislation.

Meanwhile, El Salvador is one of the poorest nations in North America, and bitcoin miners — the people who own and operate the computers doing the mining — receive bitcoins as a reward for their efforts.

"This is going to evolve fast!"
NAYIB BUKELE

If El Salvador begins operating bitcoin mining facilities powered by clean, cheap geothermal energy, it could become a global hub for mining — and receive a much-needed economic boost in the process.

The next steps: It remains to be seen whether Salvadorans will fully embrace bitcoin — which is notoriously volatile — or continue business-as-usual with the nation's other legal tender, the U.S. dollar.

Only time will tell if Bukele's plan for volcano-powered bitcoin mining facilities comes to fruition, too — but based on the speed of things so far, we won't have to wait long to find out.

Less than three hours after tweeting about the idea, Bukele followed up with another tweet claiming that the nation's geothermal energy company had already dug a new well and was designing a "mining hub" around it.

"This is going to evolve fast!" the president promised.

How Pfizer and BioNTech made history with their vaccine

How were mRNA vaccines developed? Pfizer's Dr Bill Gruber explains the science behind this record-breaking achievement and how it was developed without compromising safety.

How Pfizer and BioNTech made history with their vaccine
Sponsored by Pfizer
  • Wondering how Pfizer and partner BioNTech developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time without compromising safety? Dr Bill Gruber, SVP of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development, explains the process from start to finish.
  • "I told my team, at first we were inspired by hope and now we're inspired by reality," Dr Gruber said. "If you bring critical science together, talented team members together, government, academia, industry, public health officials—you can achieve what was previously the unachievable."
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to prevent COVID-19 for use in individuals 12 years of age and older. The emergency use of this product is only authorized for the duration of the emergency declaration unless ended sooner. See Fact Sheet: cvdvaccine-us.com/recipients.

Keep reading Show less
Quantcast