A prank like Tim's in the first episode of The Office brings us pleasure because it requires a very involved setup that cashes out in only a few moments of amusement. It also amuses us because we can imagine all the work Gareth has to do to retrieve his stapler -- unearthing it from the jelly mound, soaking it in hot water to remove the excess.
Other pranks on this scale include covering someone's entire office in aluminum foil, or drywalling over the boss's door, or filling a coworker's cubicle with packing peanuts.
The office is a popular venue for pranks. We're stuck there most of the day, every day, by necessity more than by choice. Moreover, we have little, if any, control over our fates during the workday; the worker's time is supposed to be spent at labor, efficiently producing widgets or moving information.
We prank at work to exert agency in an otherwise uncontrollable environment. As with Robinett's easter egg, office pranks help their perpetrators exert their humanity in an age of industry. But moreso, pranks offer an opportunity to undermine the very values of the office.
Consider again the world of The Office. The workers depicted in the show push paper in two ways: first in the usual sense of mindless tasks, and second in the literal peddling of office paper, the business of the show's fictional company.
The jelly-bound stapler draws our attention to the blind pushing of papers, and sets the stage for the social critique that follows in subsequent episodes. The prank is what the show is about.
Historically, there are many examples of pranks as confrontational responses to social and cultural situations.
The movement's proponents argued in their manifestos that if contemporary art partook of the same rationalist ideals that had plunged Europe into World War I, then those artistic values must be rejected.
In the 1950s, the beat concept of the Happening popularized made public performance art, a concept the Situationists made political in the 1960s. The "situation" used public performance to critique the foundations of everyday life upon which it relied.
Situations helped lay the cultural groundwork for more recent public pranks like flash mobs, which often draw attention to the ways public space has become privatized or monitored.