The Other Easter Eggs: Coded Messages and Hidden Treats

When was the last time you discovered an Easter egg hiding in plain sight? If your answer was “at the last Easter egg hunt I went to,” it’s time to expand your playing field.

The term Easter egg started popping up in the 16th and 17th centuries. As most would guess, its original meaning refers to a hollowed-out or hard-boiled egg, dyed or painted for decoration. It can also refer to an egg-shaped item, like a container or a chocolate, given as an Easter-time gift. But in the 1980s, the term Easter egg took on an additional meaning that keeps the hunt going on all year. This additional definition is from digital technology and means “an extra feature, as a message or video, hidden in a software program, computer game, DVD, etc., and revealed as by an obscure sequence of keystrokes, clicks, or actions.”

The first discovered Easter egg appeared in the 1979 Atari VCS 2600 game Adventure, created by Warren Robinett. In those days, video-game makers received no individual credit for their work from Atari, so Robinett hid the message “Created by Warren Robinett” within a one-pixel gray dot on a gray background. Robinett didn’t tell anyone about the hidden credit, but a dedicated teenaged gamer found it within a year of the game’s release and wrote to Atari about his discovery. It would have cost over $10,000 to “fix” it, so Atari executives decided to leave it in. In a 2003 interview, Robinett recounts that Steve Wright, an Atari manager at the time, loved the idea of hidden surprises in games because they reminded him of “waking up on Easter morning and hunting for Easter eggs.” So, the hidden features became known as Easter eggs.

Another famous type of gaming Easter egg is a special sequence of arrow keys and letters called the Konami Code, which acts as a cheat code. It first appeared in 1986 in the Nintendo game Gradius. Kazuhisa Hashimoto, a game programmer for Konami, found it too difficult to play through Gradius during testing, so he created the Konami Code to give the player extra power-ups. This cheat code and Easter egg has the honor of being permanently seared into the minds of video-game players around the world.

Easter eggs soon found their way into other technological sources—from DVD extras to heavily trafficked websites. Google is especially fond of these fun little surprises; if you search for “askew” in Google, the results appear tilted, and if you ask it for the “number of horns on a unicorn” it will helpfully bring up the calculator and do the math for you. Android devices are also known for their unique Easter eggs, hidden in the About section of each version of the operating system—they’ve included everything from strange illustrations to frustratingly difficult games!

Have you stumbled across an amazing hidden gem? Share your favorite Easter egg with us on Facebook or Twitter!