An artifact from the 4th century was discovered in Vinkovci, Croatia, in 2012. At first thought to be just another dish used by the occupying Romans, its inner workings have been determined to be a joke cup. Archaeologist Dr. Richard Hobbs of the British Museum calls it the earliest known example of a practical joke. The cup has an image of the Greek mythological figure Tantalus, who was doomed to stay in sight of fruit he couldn't eat and water he couldn't drink. Similarly, anyone who drank from this cup would see wine spill onto their clothing instead of reaching their lips.
The Tantalus cup sounds like a dribble glass, but that prank simply has holes hidden in a design on the side so that the liquid leaks when the cup is tipped. The Tantalus cup has a much more elegant design based on the physics of a siphon and can be traced to the Greek mathematician Pythagoras, who is more famous for his theorem: “In a right-angled triangle the square of the hypotenuse is equal [to the sum of] the squares of the two other sides” or a2 + b2 = c2. Pythagoras wasn’t exactly a prankster and his invention was better known as the Greedy cup after its true purpose – to keep drinkers from imbibing too much.