Easter Egg hunt: where are the web’s best hidden treats?

29 Mar 2013

Image via Imgur

You might think Easter eggs are just the chocolatey treats that all and sundry will be devouring this weekend, but they’re also a surprising find for video gamers, internet browsers and tech users everywhere.

‘Easter egg’, in terms of media, refers to a hidden message. It’s said to have been coined by Atari staffers who were told by game designer Warren Robinett that there was a secret message hidden in his game Adventure, released in 1979. The subsequent hunt for the hidden content (which turned out to be an object that brought players to a screen saying ‘Created by Warren Robinett’) was likened to a traditional Easter egg hunt.

Since then, Easter eggs have been turning up everywhere, from video games, to computer software (and hardware), to DVDs. Google, with its wide range of services each with its own delights to be discovered, has helped to popularise the concept in recent years, but back in the day Microsoft was perhaps the biggest tech Easter bunny, hiding treats in all sorts of software and programmes.

For example, did you know that the 1997 version of Microsoft Office had a hidden magic eight-ball in Access, flight simulator in Excel and pinball game in Word? However, a ‘no Easter eggs’ policy was adopted in 2002 as these secret elements are usually untested and therefore raise security concerns.

But plenty of Easter eggs are still out there, just waiting to be discovered – but it helps to have a guide on where to look.

Ralph Wiggum Easter egg hunt GIF

Google Search

Google Search is a fun-loving tool – sometimes cheeky and a bit of a smart alec, but always clever. Last year, we had fun typing ‘Bacon number’ followed by any actor’s name for a game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and, before that, ‘do a barrel roll’ made our heads spin – but what other search terms have unlikely results?

  • Try searching for ‘Z or R twice’, ‘tilt’ or ‘askew’
  • For a taste of Google’s wit, search for ‘recursion’, ‘anagram’ and ‘define anagram’
  • This one is for the design geeks: search for ‘kerning’, then go with ‘keming’
  • Check how many results you get when you search for ‘binary’, ‘hexadecimal’ or ‘octal’
  • Search for ‘zerg rush’ (and shoot three times to kill)
  • From the homepage (and with Google Instant switched off), search for ‘find Chuck Norris’ and ‘Google gravity’ and click ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’
  • Watch what happens when you search for ‘Conway’s game of life’ (works best in Firefox with Google Instant switched on)
  • Ask Google what ‘the answer to life, the universe and everything’ is and its calculator provides the answer
  • The Google calculator will also tell you what’s ‘the loneliest number’ and can give you the exact measurements of ‘a beard second’ and ‘once in a blue moon’, if you were wondering

Google Maps

Google Maps search Easter egg - The Shire to Mordor

Have you ever asked Google Maps how to get from The Shire to Mordor? Well, that’s not the only surprise these comprehensive online maps have in store.

  • Search for ‘Niniane’ and see what happened when former Google engineering manager Niniane Wang won a bet with a programmer who went on to build Google Local Search
  • Take a Street View stroll down Sampsonia Way, Pittsburgh
  • Use Street View to stand outside the Google office in Wrocław
  • See if you can spot an invisible tug-of-war on the Amphitheatre Parkway alongside Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California
  • Bring Pegman on a walk down Barrow Street, Dublin and count the employees of Google’s EMEA headquarters
  • Get even closer and go inside one of Google’s data centres in North Carolina and see what strange things might be lurking there
  • See what happens to Pegman when you drop him into Legoland in Carlsbad, California, Sun Valley in Idaho, Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, or this small island in Antarctica

Other Google Easter eggs

There are plenty more Easter eggs hidden inside other Google services. For example, you can check out Google Translate’s musical stylings if you set translation from English to German and type in a bunch of words formed using on the letters ‘p’, ‘k’ and ‘z’ (and thrown in a ‘bsch’ or two), then click the audio icon in the translation window and enjoy.

Google doodles are a treat in and of themselves, and my absolute favourite to date came on the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man. Not only does this doodle turn the Google logo into a playable Pac-Man, but an extra treat comes when you press ‘Insert Coin’ twice.

Google even hides Easter eggs in its Android operating systems. If you have an Android device, go to the settings menu, select ‘About Phone’ and then tap the version number a few times.

Google Easter eggs search

Check out some of these other Google surprises:

  • Type ‘do the harlem shake’ into the YouTube search bar, press enter, and just wait
  • Also, if you want to cut to the chase with YouTube videos, try typing ‘&wadsworth=1’ after the URL
  • For some strange results in Google Translate, convert ‘Optimus Prime’ and ‘quid pro quo’ from Latin to English
  • See what Gmail has in place of ads across the top of your ‘Trash’ (or ‘Bin’ for UK English users) folder
  • Go to the Google I/O homepage and click the ‘I’ and ‘O’ in different combinations until you get a green light and a surprise
  • Open up a spreadsheet in Google Drive and press shift and F12

The Konami code

Avid gamers will be well aware of the Konami code, but for the uninitiated, this sequence of key-presses (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A) was used as a cheat in a number of Konami-made video games. However, its popularity among gamers and geeks has seen it used elsewhere.

Try entering the Konami Code when viewing Google Reader (while you still can), BuzzFeed, the BBC Glow Java Script Library, the website of designer Patrick A Carrell, Geek and Hype, and, my personal favourite, FrankDeals.

More tech Easter eggs

While Google seems to have the monopoly on Easter eggs, we’ve found them all over the web and beyond.

TextEdit icon Easter egg

Image via Wikipedia

  • Go to Amazon’s site directory and click the white space below the copyright notice at the bottom of the page to find out who Jeff Bezos’ favourite employee is
  • Next time you’re chatting with a friend on Skype, try typing ‘(headbang)’, ‘(mooning)’, or ‘(bandit)’ for some interesting emoticons
  • Or in Facebook chat, try ‘:poop:’, ‘(y)’, ‘<(“)’, ‘:|]’, ‘(^^^)’, or ‘:putnam:’
  • Type ‘about:mozilla’ into the Firefox address bar
  • Got a Mac? Take a closer look at that TextEdit icon
  • On Facebook, next to the copyright notice at the bottom of the page, select your language and try something new like upside down English, pirate, or even Leet Speak
  • Ask Wolfram Alpha ‘to be or not to be’, ‘how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood’, ‘where have all the flowers gone’, or ‘what’s your favourite colour’
  • Get to an iPhone and ask Siri what’s her favourite colour

Happy Easter!

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.