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A virtual Easter egg is an intentional hidden message, in-joke or feature in an object such as a movie, book, CD, DVD, computer program, web page or video game. The term was coined – according to Warren Robinett – by Atari after they were pointed to the secret message left by Robinett in the game Adventure. It draws a parallel with the custom of the Easter egg hunt observed in many Western nations as well as the last Russian imperial family's tradition of giving elaborately jeweled egg-shaped creations by Carl Fabergé which contained hidden surprises.

This practice is similar in some respects to hidden signature motifs such as Diego Rivera including himself in his murals, Alfred Hitchcock's legendary cameo appearance, and various "Hidden Mickeys" that can be found throughout Disneylandmarker. An early example of these kind of "Easter eggs" is Al Hirschfeld's "Nina".

Atari's Adventure, released in 1979, contained what was thought to be the first video game "Easter egg", the name of the programmer (Warren Robinett). However, evidence of earlier Easter eggs has since surfaced. Several cartridges for the Fairchild Channel F include previously unknown Easter eggs, programmed by Michael Glass and Brad Reid-Selth, that are believed to predate Robinett's work.

Computer-related Easter eggs


Easter eggs are messages, videos, graphics, sound effects, or an unusual change in program behavior that sometimes occur in a software program in response to some undocumented set of commands, mouse clicks, keystrokes or other stimuli intended as a joke or to display program credits.

Easter eggs found in some Unix operating systems caused them to respond to the command "make love" with "not war?" and "why" with "why not" (a reference to The Prisoner in Berkeley Unix 1977). The TOPS-10 operating system (for the DEC PDP-10 computer) had the "make love" hack before 1971; it included a short, thoughtful pause before the response. This same behavior occurred on the RSTS/E operating system where the command "make" was used to invoke the TECO editor, and TECO would also provide this response.

Many personal computers have much more elaborate eggs hidden in ROM, including lists of the developers' names, political exhortations, snatches of music, and (in one case) 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 Word (see Easter eggs in Microsoft products).

The Debian GNU/Linux package tool apt-get has an Easter egg involving an ASCII cow when variants on "apt-get moo" are typed into the shell.

An Easter Egg is found on all Microsoft Windows Operating Systems prior to 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. One which continues still in Windows XP is to simultaneously hold the Alt, shift, and the number 2 keys in the Solitaire game to produce a forced win.

Microsoft Excel 95 contained a hidden Doom-like action game called "The Hall of Tortured Souls".


While computer-related Easter eggs are often found in software, occasionally they exist in hardware or firmware of certain devices. On some PC, the BIOS ROM contains Easter eggs. Notable examples include 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), and some errant 1993 AMI BIOS that on 13 November proceeded to play "Happy Birthday" via the PC speaker over and over again instead of booting. Similarly, the Radio Shack Color Computer 3's ROM contained code which would display the likenesses of three Microware developers on a keypress sequence – a hard reset which would discard any information currently in the dynamic memory.

Several oscilloscopes have contained Easter eggs. One example is the HP 54622D, known to have an Asteroids clone (and even to save high scores in NV-RAM).

Chip and PCB-based Easter eggs

Many integrated circuit (chip) designers have included hidden artwork, including assorted 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.

Originally, the Easter eggs served a useful purpose as well. Not unlike cartographers who may insert trap streets or nonexistent landscape features as a copyright infringement detection aid, IC designers may also build non-functional circuits on their chips to help them catch infringers. Easter eggs, however benign, if directly copied by the defendant, could be used in mask work infringement litigation. Changes to the copyright laws (in the USA, the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984, and similar laws in other countries) now grant automatic exclusive rights to mask works, and the Easter egg no longer serves any practical use.

Western Digital's MyBook Pro has several words on the metal band that wraps around 3 sides in Morse Code. The code reads:

The Commodore Amiga models 500, 600 and 1200 each featured Easter eggs, in the form of titles of songs by The B-52's etched on the motherboards. The 500 says "Rock Lobster", the 600 says "June Bug", and the 1200 says "Channel Z". The Amiga OS software includes a variety of hidden messages as well.

Easter eggs on DVDs

Easter eggs are also found on movie DVDs. In some cases, an extra click to the right or left, or going up in the menu instead of going down to select a choice will bring up a hidden feature, including concept art, humorous outtakes, or deleted scenes.

Security concerns

Because of the increase in malware, many companies and government offices forbid the use of software containing Easter eggs for security reasons. With the rise of cybercrime and the prevalence of the Easter egg's "cousin", the logic bomb, there is now concern that if the programmer could slip in undocumented code, then the software cannot be trusted. This is of particular concern in offices where personal or confidential information is stored, making it sensitive to theft and ransom. For this reason, many developers have stopped the practice of adding Easter eggs to their software. Microsoft, who has in the past created some of the largest and most elaborate Easter eggs such as the ones in Microsoft Office, no longer allows Easter eggs in their software as part of their Trustworthy Computing initiative.

Douglas W. Jones says that"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.

In fiction

A DVD easter egg is a plot point in "Blink", a 2007 episode of the science fiction series Doctor Who. Appropriately enough, the actual video footage used for the easter egg is included as an easter egg with the episode on its DVD box set release.

See also


  1. Robinett, Warren: Adventure as a Video Game. Adventure for the Atari 2600. In: Katie Salen a. Eric Zimmerman (eds.): The Game Design Reader. A Rules of the Play Anthology. MIT Press 2006, p. 690–713 (here p. 713) ISBN 0262195364
  2. Hidden DVD Easter Eggs
  3. The Very First Easter Egg (Was Not Adventure)
  4. Channel F
  5. David Hoye (March 13, 2003), 'Easter egg' hunts can turn up surprises" (subscription required). The Sacramento Bee.
  6. TRS-80 CoCo Wiki on the "3 Mugateers" ROM bitmap.
  7. Morse Code explanation on official Western Digital My Book Webpage.
  8. AmigaOS Easter Eggs from the Amiga History Guide
  9. "A Conversation with Douglas W. Jones and Peter G. Neumann" 2006

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