Tomorrow is April Fool's Day, which means that one can play the devil without having to suffer the consequences. A cry of "April Fool!" and your prank is forgiven.

This is a day that separates the kind hearts from the hard hearts, those who trick people into giggling and those who trick them into looking very silly indeed, like the woman who gathered up all the business cards she'd been given over the years by other women, solicited a few more from unsuspecting friends, and then trotted off to an April Fool's Day gathering with her stack of pasteboards in hand. The wicked thing flirted outrageously, managed to imply that a night in her company would be an unequaled delight and handed each man who asked to see her again some other woman's card.

There are kinder party tricks and some hostesses play them all year long -- like putting a soft white or gentle pink bulb in the bathroom light fixture so that when guests tidy up, the mirror will reflect a most flattering light. Or putting a container of fresh crabmeat into a can of Campbell's cream of asparagus soup, adding a dash of sherry, and coyly refusing to give out the recipe, as does one embassy hostess.

Then, of course, there are the tricks provided by magic shops: pillows that make a rude noise when sat upon, matches that turn into sparklers, and, for those who want to put on a party face there are warts and false noses, glasses and beards and putty.

Sometimes the trick backfires. An oenophile, proud as punch of his knowledge of wines, visited a corner liquor store to pluck a bottle of plonk from the bin. Armed with what he considered the nectar of the clods, he turned up on his hostess' doorstep on April Fool's Day and presented her with his bottle of wine. But she was much too polite to show that she didn't think much of his choice, and while he stood there, waiting for her face to show disgust so that he could shriek April Fool! she thanked him kindly for what she claimed was her very favorite wine, put the bottle in the refrigerator to chill and served it with dinner.

More than one prankster has used a tape recorded argument to trap guests into acting like April Fools. The host and hostess leave the room, presumably for the kitchen, from whence come the sounds of a heated quarrel. Ah, but actually the host and hostess, who have tape recorded this dramatic battle earlier, have snuck back into the living room, so that they can stand in the rear of the room to watch their guests' reaction.

One man gives an annual April Fool's Day lunch for people with odd things in common. One year he invited three men who worked in different fields, shared no interest in anything at all, but who each had a beard. It was dessert before they realized why they had each been invited. Another year it was three redheaded women. The meanest trick he ever played, and the one that took longest to dawn on the guests, was a luncheon he gave for short people. All his guests were under 5 feet 3, and they didn't realize what they had in common until lunch was over and they each stood up.

Although he was not the kind of man who felt it necessary to wait for April Fool's Day, Grimod de La Reyniere, a late 18th-century prankster who is now best known for his Almanachs des gourmands, gave a dinner party staged to imitate a funeral; unlike those party givers who are terrified that the evening will die on them, Grimod de La Reyniere made sure that his did.

A catafalque served as table centerpiece in a black draped room and as the endless meal wore on, observers paced back and forth on the balcony surrounding the dining room, mourners invited to watch the guests. Like many another host, Grimod de La Reyniere was afraid that some of those invited might leave early, spoiling his party -- and given the tone of the evening, he probably had cause to worry; unlike most hosts, he did something about it -- he locked the doors, refusing to let anyone out until he declared that the party was over.

One woman has already issued invitations to a contemporary version of this macabre banquet. Deciding that her friends were less obsessed with death than they were with food, she has planned a full-scale April Fool's Day banquet, black tie, of course. She has polished her silver, ironed the damask tablecloths and dipped into magazines from the 1950s to prepare a meal that will open with a marshmallow-gelatin mold and slide downhill from there.

She decided that death might shock an 18th-century guest, but to really horrify 20th-century man, you must feed him bad food.