Easter egg (media)

An Easter egg is an intentional inside joke, hidden message, or feature in an interactive work such as a computer program, video game or DVD menu screen. The name is used to evoke the idea of a traditional Easter egg hunt.[1]

Atari's 1979 release Adventure contains the first hidden message in a video game to have been discovered by its players; the message is "Created by Warren Robinett", and was inserted by Robinett, the game's programmer.[2] According to Robinett, the term Easter egg was applied by Atari personnel on being alerted to the secret addition, and making the comparison of players' discovery of these secrets akin to the traditional Easter egg hunt.[3]

In 2004, an earlier Easter egg was found in Video Whizball, a 1978 game for the Fairchild Channel F system, displaying programmer Bradley Reid-Selth's surname.[1]

In computing


Asking Google Maps for walking directions between fictional locations from Lord of the Rings produced this "easter egg" response, quoting a character's warning from the story.

In computer software, Easter eggs are secret responses that occur as a result of an undocumented set of commands. The results can vary from a simple printed message or image, to a page of programmer credits or a small video game hidden inside an otherwise serious piece of software. Video game cheat codes are a specific type of Easter egg, in which entering a secret command will unlock special powers or new levels for the player.[1][4] The first Easter egg to be found in a video game is the 1979 Adventure, which includes a secret room only accessible through a complicated series of gameplay steps. The secret room displays the message "Created by Warren Robinett". Because Atari did not publicly credit game designers, Robinett inserted the message after the game's completion partially in an attempt to gain some recognition for his work.[2] The egg was discovered by a 15-year-old player in 1980, who wrote to Atari to tell them that he had found "something strange" in the game.[2][5]

In the TOPS-10 operating system (for the DEC PDP-10 computer), the make command is used to invoke the TECO editor to create a file; if given the file name argument love, so that the command is make love, it will pause and respond not war? before creating the file.[6] This same behavior occurred on the RSTS/E operating system, where TECO will provide this response. Other Unix operating systems respond to "why" with "why not" (a reference to The Prisoner in Berkeley Unix 1977).

Some versions of the DEC OpenVMS operating system have concealed exit status codes including a reference to the Monty Python Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook skit "exit %xb70" returns the message "%SYSTEM-W-FISH, my hovercraft is full of eels" while "exit %x34b4" returns a reference to an early Internet meme "%SYSTEM-F-GAMEOVER, All your base are belong to us".[7]

Many personal computers have much more elaborate eggs hidden in ROM, including lists of the developers' names, political exhortations, snatches of music, or images of the entire development team. Easter eggs in the 1997 version of Microsoft Office include a hidden flight simulator in Microsoft Excel and a pinball game in Microsoft Word.[8][9]

The Debian operating system's package tool apt-get has an Easter egg involving an ASCII cow when variants on apt-get moo are typed into the shell.[10][11]

An Easter egg is found on all Microsoft Windows operating systems before XP. In the 3D Text screen saver, entering the text "volcano" will display the names of all the volcanoes in the United States. Microsoft removed this Easter egg in XP but added others.[12] Microsoft Excel 95 contained a hidden Doom-like action game called The Hall of Tortured Souls.[13]

Some computer and video game secret levels are triggered by an Easter egg. In 1993's acclaimed LucasArts video game Day of the Tentacle, the original game Maniac Mansion from 1987 can be played in its full version by using a home computer in one character's room.[4][14]

For a time, Google Maps contained several Easter eggs whereby a user asking for directions from Japan to China, from New York City to Tokyo, or from Taiwan to China would be directed to either jetski, kayak, or swim across the Pacific Ocean.[15] Asking Google Maps for walking directions from the Shire to Mordor produced "One does not simply walk into Mordor", a warning that replicates a line from The Lord of the Rings.[16] Google search responds to "Do A Barrel Roll" in the search box by tilting the page 360°, as if a pilot were maneuvering an aircraft.[17][18] This is a reference to the popular video game series Star Fox, where the phrase became famous.[19] In December 2011, Google introduced an Easter egg that was triggered by typing "let it snow" into the search box, which caused snow to fall and the screen to frost over.[17] Another Google Maps Easter egg, on Earls Court Road in London, shows a police box that allows the user to enter the TARDIS.[20]

In 2012, an update to the Mac App Store for OS X Mountain Lion introduced an Easter egg in which apps, during the download process, were timestamped "January 24, 1984", the date of the sales launch of the original Macintosh. Upon completion of the download, the app was given the correct date. This is the first Easter egg to have appeared in Apple software since Steve Jobs banned them upon his return to Apple.[21]


The Macintosh SE has an easter egg hidden in the ROMs: four images of the engineering team.

While computer-related Easter eggs are often found in software, occasionally they exist in hardware or firmware of certain devices. On some home computers, the BIOS ROM contains Easter eggs. Notable examples include some errant 1993 AMI BIOS that on November 13, 1993, proceeded to play "Happy Birthday" via the PC speaker over and over again instead of booting,[22] and several early Apple Macintosh models which had pictures of the development team in the ROM (accessible by pressing the programmer's switch and jumping to a specific memory address, or other equally obscure means). These Mac easter eggs were well-publicized in the Macintosh press at the time,[23] along with the means to access them, and later serendipitously recovered by NYC Resistor team, a hacker collective, through elaborate reverse engineering,.[24][25] Similarly, the Radio Shack Color Computer 3's ROM contains code which displays the likenesses of three Microware developers on a Ctrl+Alt+Reset keypress sequence—a hard reset which discards any information currently in RAM.[26]

Several oscilloscopes contain Easter eggs. One example is the HP 54600B, known to have a Tetris clone (and even to save high scores),[27] whereas the HP 54622D contains an implementation of the Asteroids game named Rocks.[28] Another is the Tektronix 1755A Vector and Waveform Monitor which displays swimming fish when Remote>Software version is selected on the CONFIG menu.[29]

In the second and third hardware revision of the Minolta Dynax/Maxxum/Alpha 9 SLR camera, including all SSM/ADI upgraded cameras, an undocumented button sequence which is impossible to press by accident, can be utilized to reconfigure the camera to behave like the Dynax/Maxxum/Alpha 9Ti and subsequently invoke support for the limited model's extra functions also in the black model.[30]

The Commodore Amiga 1000 computer includes the signatures of the design and development team embossed on the inside of the case, including Jay Miner and the paw print of his dog Mitchy.[31]

The Commodore Amiga models 500, 600, and 1200 each feature Easter eggs, in the form of titles of songs by The B-52's as white printing on the motherboards. The 500 says "B52/Rock Lobster", the 600 says "June Bug", and the 1200 says "Channel Z".[32] The Amiga OS software contains hidden messages.[33][34][35]

Many integrated circuit (chip) designers have included hidden graphic elements termed chip art, including images, phrases, developer initials, logos, and so on. This artwork, like the rest of the chip, is reproduced in each copy by lithography and etching. These are visible only when the chip package is opened and examined under magnification, so they are, in a sense, more of an inside joke than most of the Easter eggs included in software.[36] The 1984 CVAX microchip implementation of the MicroVAX CPU contained in its etchings the Russian phrase in the Cyrillic alphabet "VAX: When you care enough to steal the very best", placed there because, "knowing that some CVAX's would end up in the USSR, the team wanted the Russians to know that we were thinking of them".[37]


Home media

Easter eggs are found on film DVDs and Blu-rays, often as deleted scenes or bonus special features.[38][39][40] Klinger states that their presence is "another signifier of artistry in the world of DVD supplements."[39] According to Berardinelli and Ebert, most DVDs do not contain them, and most examples are "inconsequential", but a very few, such as one found on the Memento DVD release, are "worth the effort to seek out".[40]

The TV series Doctor Who has an episode using Easter eggs as a major part of the plot; the episode in question even has an Easter egg on the chapter selection for that episode on the disc release, showing the full in-episode Easter egg.

Broadcast media

Unlike DVDs and computer games, broadcast radio and television programmes contain no executable code. Easter eggs may still appear in the content itself, such as a hidden Mickey Mouse in a Disney film or a real telephone number instead of a 555 fictitious telephone number. One 2014 Super Bowl advertisement was leaked on-line in which a lady gives a man a real telephone number which the advertiser had hidden as a marketing ploy; the first caller to the number received a pair of tickets to the game.[41] The 1980s animated series She-Ra: Princess of Power featured a character, Loo-Kee, who typically was hidden in a single screenshot within an episode, marking his only appearance in that episode. After the end of the episode, the screenshot would be shown again and the character would challenge viewers to locate him, before revealing his hiding place.[42]

Security concerns

Security author Michel E. Kabay discussed security concerns in 2000, saying that software quality assurance requires that all code be tested, but it is not known if Easter eggs are tested. He said that because they tend to be held as programming secrets from the rest of the product testing process, a "logic bomb" could also bypass testing. Kabay asserts that this undermined the Trusted Computing Base, a paradigm of trustworthy hardware and software, in place since the 1980s, and is of concern wherever personal or confidential information is stored, which may then be vulnerable to damage or manipulation.[43] Microsoft created some of the largest and most elaborate Easter eggs, such as those in Microsoft Office.[44] In 2005, Larry Osterman of Microsoft acknowledged Microsoft Easter eggs, and his involvement in development of one, but described them as "irresponsible", and wrote that the company's Operating System division "has a 'no Easter Eggs' policy" as part of its Trustworthy Computing initiative.[45]

Douglas W. Jones said in 2006, "some Easter eggs may be intentional tools used to detect illegal copying, others are clearly examples of unauthorized functionality that has slipped through the quality-control tests at the vendor". While hidden Easter eggs themselves are harmless, it may be possible for malware to be hidden in similar ways in voting machines or other computers.[46]

Netscape Navigator contributor Jamie Zawinski stated in an interview in 1998 that harmless Easter eggs impose a negligible burden on shipped software, and serve the important purpose of helping productivity, by keeping programmers happy.[47][48]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Wolf, Mark J. P. (2012). Encyclopedia of Video Games: The Culture, Technology, and Art of Gaming. ABC-CLIO. p. 177. ISBN 9780313379369.
  2. 1 2 3 Baker, Chris (13 March 2015). "How One Man Invented the Console Adventure Game". Wired. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
  3. Salen, Katie; Zimmerman, Eric (2006). "Adventure as a Video Game. Adventure for the Atari 2600". The Game Design Reader: A Rules of the Play Anthology. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. pp. 690–713 (here p. 713). ISBN 0-262-19536-4. OCLC 58919795.
  4. 1 2 Björk, Staffan; Holopainen, Jussi (2005). Patterns In Game Design. Charles River Media. p. 235. ISBN 978-1584503545. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
  5. "Letter to Atari" (PDF). 2600 Connection. 4 August 1980. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
  6. Montfort, Nick; Bogost, Ian (2009). Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System. MIT Press. p. 59. ISBN 9780262012577. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
  7. "OpenVMS Undocumented Features". Parsec Group. Retrieved 2016-04-06.
  8. "Excel 97 Flight to Credits". Retrieved January 4, 2011.
  9. "Pinball in Word 97". Retrieved January 4, 2011.
  10. Grant, Rickford; Bull, Phil (2010). Ubuntu for Non-Geeks: A Pain-Free, Get-Things-Done Guide. No Starch Press, p. 168. ISBN 9781593272579. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
  11. "apt-". Archived from the original on February 27, 2009.
  12. Hoye, David (March 13, 2003), 'Easter egg' hunts can turn up surprises'. The Sacramento Bee (subscription required).
  13. Gaskell, John (July 19, 1999). "Excel Easter Egg – Excel 95 Hall of Tortured Souls". Retrieved April 30, 2009.
  14. "Optical Information Systems Update/library & Information Center Applications". CD-ROM World. Volume 9, Issues 1-5. Meckler Pub., February 1994. "The best Easter egg of all is the entire Maniac Mansion game, which appears on a computer in Doctor Fred's mansion. Users can play the original game in its entirety."
  15. Firth, Niall (October 29, 2010). "How do I get to China? Jet ski! Google Maps joke gives users unorthodox instructions for crossing the Pacific". The Daily Mail. Retrieved October 29, 2010.
  16. Wagstaff, Keith (December 12, 2011). "Google Maps Easter Egg: 'One Does Not Simply Walk Into Mordor'". Time, techland.time.com.
  17. 1 2 Snider, Mike (December 19, 2011). "Google's 'Let It Snow' feature makes Web winter wonderland". USA Today. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
  18. "Do A Barrel Roll is going viral". ContactSolicitors.co.uk blog. November 3, 2011.
  19. Popkin, Helen A.S. (October 29, 2011). "Do it! Make Google 'do a barrel roll'". NBCNews.com.
  20. George, Patrick (August 13, 2013). "Google Maps Has An Incredible Doctor Who Easter Egg". Jalopnik.
  21. "The Easter Eggs Are Back in OS XAnd This One Is Insanely Great". Gizmodo. July 26, 2012.
  22. "Threat Description: Happy Birthday". F-secure.com. Retrieved July 3, 2012.
  23. "The Macintosh/Newton Easter Egg List".
  24. Hudson (21 August 2012). "Ghosts in the ROM >> NYC Resistor". Downtown Brooklyn: NYC Resistor. Archived from the original on 17 February 2015. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  25. Tirosh, Udi (22 August 2012). "Photographs Of Apple Team Found In 25 Years Old Macintosh SE - DIY Photography". diyphotography.net. Archived from the original on 26 February 2013. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  26. World of 68 Micros, Vol. 5 Number 6, 1998-05, page 4. The CoCo3 Microware 80-column package also has CLS100 as an Easter egg, per .
  27. "HP 54600B Oscilloscope Easter Egg - Tetris Within Oscilloscope". eeggs.com
  28. "HP 54622D Easter Egg - HP Asteroids". Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  29. "Tektronix 1751 Digital Video Osciloscope / Vectorscope Easter Egg". eeggs.com.
  30. Paul, Matthias (December 24, 2010). "Beschreibung einer Freischaltprozedur für Dynax 9Ti-Sonderfunktionen bei der Dynax 9" [Description of a hidden procedure to enable the Dynax 9Ti extra functions on the Dynax 9] (in German). Retrieved May 1, 2014.
  31. Corrigan, Patricia (2007). Bringing Science to Life: A Guide from the Saint Louis Science Center. Reedy Press. p. 69. ISBN 978-1933370163.
  32. "Compute". Compute. Small System Service. 12 (6-9). 1990.
  33. Petersen, Julie K. (2002). The Telecommunications Illustrated Dictionary. CRC Press; 2nd ed. p. 293. ISBN 978-0849311734. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  34. Hyman, Michael I. (1995). PC roadkill. John Wiley & Sons Inc. ISBN 978-1568843483. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  35. Knight, Gareth (2006). "Amiga History Guide: AmigaOS Easter Eggs". amigahistory.co.uk. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  36. Goldstein, Harry (March 2002). "The Secret Art of Chip Graffiti". IEEE Spectrum. Vol 39, Issue 3, pp. 50-55. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  37. Supnik, Bob (February 24, 2008). "CVAX (1987)". SIMH, The Computer History Simulation Project. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  38. Saltzman, Marc (2002). DVD Confidential: Hundreds of Hidden Easter Eggs Revealed. McGraw-Hill Osborne Media. ISBN 978-0072226638.
  39. 1 2 Klinger, Barbara (2008). "The DVD Cinephile: Viewing Heritages and Home Film Cultures". In Bennett, James; Brown, Tom. Film and Television After DVD. Routledge. p. 38. ISBN 978-0415962414. Retrieved January 22, 2013.
  40. 1 2 Berardinelli, James; Ebert, Roger (2005). "Appendix: Easter Eggs, Extended Editions, and Director's Cuts". ReelViews 2: The Ultimate Guide to the Best Modern Movies on DVD and Video. Justin, Charles & Co. p. 577. ISBN 978-1932112405. Retrieved January 22, 2013.
  41. "Easter egg in Old Spice Super Bowl ad yields two tickets to curious fan". Voices. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  42. "Where's Loo-Kee?". Retrieved March 23, 2016.
  43. Kabay, Michel E. (March 27, 2000). "Easter eggs and the Trusted Computing Base". Network World Security Newsletters. NetworkWorld.com.
  44. Schultz, Greg (August 29, 2010). "Take a look back at Microsoft Word Easter Eggs". ZDNet.com. Retrieved October 5, 2012. Microsoft’s developers hid multiple Easter Eggs in Word 95/97/2000.
  45. Osterman, Larry (October 21, 2005). "Why no Easter Eggs?". Larry Osterman's WebLog. MSDN Blogs. Retrieved July 29, 2006.
  46. Neumann, Peter G. (November 1, 2006). "A Conversation with Douglas W. Jones and Peter G. Neumann". Queue. Association of Computing Machinery. 4 (9). Retrieved October 5, 2012.
  47. Spolsky, Joel (2004). Joel on Software. Apress. p. 280. ISBN 978-1590593899. Retrieved June 12, 2013.
  48. Zawinski, Jamie (1998). "Easter eggs". jwz.org. Retrieved June 12, 2013.

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