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How to confuse other Excel users by changing your cell styles
Want to make a worksheet inexplicably change colour, and display strange text in cells? This blog explains how you can do this using the Normal style.

Posted by Andy Brown on 14 August 2019

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Changing Excel styles to bamboozle your colleagues

So you've created a simple worksheet, and are about to email it to your colleague Chris for review:

Initial spreadsheet

Your humble spreadsheet.

But it's a bank holiday tomorrow, you're feeling a bit restless, and you know Chris is a bit nervous about using Excel, so you decide to add a few features.  First you arrange for all the cells to turn inexplicably orange:

Orange cells

Your worksheet has been tango'ed.

Next, you arrange to show:

  • Any text as Bazinga;
  • Any numbers with the wrong sign; and
  • Any zeroes as Zilch

So now you get:

Final worksheet

Your workbook is now ready to be emailed!

It goes without saying that Wise Owl do not recommend such irresponsible behaviour, and take no responsibility for any consequences should you pursue it ...

So how to achieve these effects?  Well, every cell in Excel has got a style attached to it.  You can see these styles by clicking here:

Cell Styles

Click to change the styles in a workbook.


Unless you've changed the formatting for a cell, it will use the default Normal style - which you can change:

Changing a style

Right-click on the Normal style and choose to modify it.


Now change the formatting used by this style:

Change the formatting

Click on the button shown to change the format used for the selected style.


To get the orange effect, I just changed the fill colour:

Orange effect

Choose the Fill tab and set a background colour.

For the number formats, I chose the Number tab and typed in a custom number format:

Custom number format

See below for what this format means.


The four parts of the number format entered are as follows:

Part Text What it means
1 -0 Positive numbers will appear with a preceding minus sign.
2 0 Negative numbers won't!
3 "Zilch" Zeros will appear as the word Zilch.
4 "Bazinga" Any other entries will appear as Bazinga, regardless of content.

A more practical use of this technique is to create styles controlling different types of formatting ...

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