Easter eggs aren’t just for scoffing. They’re the buried treasure equivalent of the technology world, created by smart developers to boggle the mind, and hidden deep in your tech just for the fun of it.
This taste for covert surprises began long before the computer age, but today easter eggs can be found everywhere, from websites to CDs to humble washing machines.
They might exist for a programmer’s own amusement, or just as a way to keep an in-joke alive.
Welcome to the secret world of eggs: enjoy!
Ever since video games were first cooked up, developers have been baking in hidden treats for hardcore gamers to uncover…
Gears Of War 3
(2011, Xbox 360) When a Lancer rifle doesn’t quite cut the mustard you need the Cluckshot, the hidden chicken-firing boom-shot. You’ll need to be playing on ‘insane difficulty’ and take down a pirate chicken flying in a pimped ammo crate to get it.
(1979, Atari VCS 2600) This blocky hit popularised the idea of easter eggs in games. In a two-fingered salute to Atari’s no-credits policy, a secret room revealed the programmer’s name. By the time Warren Robinett’s bosses saw it, it was too late.
(1977, Fairchild Channel F) This demo was supposed to help sell the world’s first cartridge-based console, but programmer Michael Glass created a secret mode that displayed his name so he could activate it on shop display models.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
(2011, X360/PS3/PC) Skyrim‘s full of secrets, but few top the headless horseman who gallops around at night. Follow him to get your mitts on magic armour and weapons; just don’t expect chit-chat from the headless chap.
Own the They Shall Not Pass DLC for DICE’s WWI first-person shooter? When you spawn in the Verdun Heights level, you can spawn the balloon house from Pixar’s UP by performing an (admittedly convoluted) series of actions. Watch the video above for details.
Borderlands 2 (2012)
There’s a hidden cavern in Borderlands 2 which lets you get some sweet overdue payback on those home-wrecking creepers from Minecraft. Kill enough of them, and a larger one will appear, eventually rewarding you when you finally take it down. Take that, freaky green walking CactusMan.
The Division (2016)
Ubisoft’s online Manhattan-based shooter is absolutely rammed with easter eggs. Some of our favourites include pizza boxes complete with Ninja Turtle weapons, a mannequin from I Am Legend, an Echo of Jessie Pinkman and Walter White, and another one featuring the shortcut screen from Sean of the Dead. How people have the time to find all of these, we’ll never know – we’re too busy shooting bad guys to notice.
Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain (2015)
What’s this? Ocelot calls you back to base with a serious emergency? This can’t be good. Wait, is that… a cake? And a new variant of the Happy Birthday song, conveniently different enough from the original one to waive a royalty fee? It’s all enough to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Assuming you’re not off celebrating your actually birthday, that is.
Grand Theft Auto IV
(2008, Xbox 360/PS3/PC) Liberty City’s streets might be heartless, but there’s a big heart beating in the Statue of Happiness. Grab a chopper, jump on to the statue terrace with the four doors, and enter the door claiming ‘No hidden content through here’. But don’t bother pumping it full of lead – this heart can’t be broken.
Plants vs Zombies
(2010, iOS) Tap on the menu screen’s zombie gnome to access the achievements page; scroll down to reveal nods to buried PopCap hits – and, at last, a glimpse of another zombie nation.
(1991 to now) Gaming’s most enduring egg is the buck-toothed fish from the fourth Commander Keen game, out in 1991. Since then, the dopefish has appeared in dozens of games – most recently Rage and Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
The Virtual Boy lives!
Nintendo’s Virtual Boy was a huge, huge flop in the mid-90s… but the terrible, black-and-red system got a pretty cool recent throwback.
If you pick up the Nintendo Labo VR Kit for Switch and build the VR viewer, Nintendo has snuck in a little video that lets you relive the sensation of putting the chunky old headset up to your face and playing Mario Tennis. It’s not actually playable, sadly, but this is a nice little homage to Nintendo’s ill-fated earlier VR attempt (video via NintendoLife).
Remember when you could visit a particular cave, spray the entrance with bullets to kill respawning enemies, and take the resulting flood of engrams to Master Rahool for encryption? Yeah, us too. Sadly, Bungie put an end to the legendary Loot Cave, but not without leaving a little memory of our loot-grinding shenanigans in its entrance. Dying Light also has a fun little tribute to Destiny‘s Loot Cave in it, if you’re interested.
Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
(2013, Xbox One/PS4/PC) In GTA V you come across a mansion with a more than coincidental resemblance to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion, complete with topless female partygoers and a large swimming area. That’s just one of the many, many easter eggs in GTA V though. There are too many to list here, so here’s a link to 28 others.
(2015, Xbox One/PS4/PC) Dying Light contains loads of references to other zombie games, for example there’s a bakery you encounter called Left4Bread, a clear nod to other zombie thriller Left4Dead.
Saints Row 2
(2008, X360/PS3/PC) How anyone found it is beyond us, but after some extensive island hopping, players are rewarded by a giant purple bunny rising from the deep. It also lurks in Saints Row: The Third.
Hitman: Blood Money (2006)
What’s this? A strange coin on the ground? Hmm, you’d better shoot it. Oh look, it appears to have summoned a gang of applauding semi-clothed men.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Nintendo Switch’s first big title is riddled with treats and secrets galore. The name of the first shrine you visit, for example – the ‘Oman Au Shrine’ – is an anagram of Aonuma, Breath of the Wild‘s producer.
Meanwhile, fans of runes and cryptology can find many hidden messages in the vertically scrolling script which appears throughout the game, such as where you place pins – including ‘master using it and you can have this’ and ‘it’s dangerous to go alone’, referring to the first game in the series.
Near the beginning of the game, after Link’s awakening, he’s shown the ruins of a church-like building which bears a striking resemblance to the Temple of Time from Ocarina of Time. Speed up the background music that plays while in this area and you’ll hear piano segments of the Song of Time. Neat.
Elsewhere, acquire a raft and you can head to an island that’s home to Toronbo beach – the very same beach upon which Link lands in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.
Beyond that, you’ll find plenty of nuggets to unearth – including a host of place names borrowed from other games, as well as outfits and icons.
And it’s not just the games themselves…
Sega Master System
The original model had a hidden game: Snail Maze. Boot up the Sega without a cartridge and hold down Up, 1 and 2.
In the Photo Channel, pick an image and enter Fun mode. Grab the cat with the A and B buttons for some wise feline advice.
Highlight a menu item so its icon rotates in the top screen. Then blow into the mic to spin it around like a stereoscopic pinwheel.
Press Select and Start when loading a Virtual Console Game Boy title to get a more authentic taste of ’90s-style portable gaming.
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Software and websites might be common hidey-holes for secret treats, but hardware has its fair share of surprises, too…
This chip handled transmission and reception in some of the earliest Samsung Galaxy tablets and it also carried a two-micron high message: “If you can read this you are much too close”. The width of an average human hair is 99 microns.
Tetris gets everywhere. To play it on this oscilloscope press Print Utility, then the second and third buttons from the left, below the display, together. No, you probably don’t own this oscilloscope.
AMD Athlon chip
Chips are home to many an easter egg. These minuscule images of Texas and a firing gun were found lurking on AMD’s Athlon K7650 CURBBA chip by Chipworks, which has an online gallery of silicon artworks.
Kindle Keyboard owners can play Minesweeper or GoMoKu instead of reading that boring old ebook. Press Home, then hold down Alt, Shift, M.
Apple’s Mighty Mouse
The red LED emitter beneath Apple’s wired Mac mouse harbours a sly secret. Hold the mouse above your desk and the glow it casts will reveal its mystery: an image of a mouse’s head.
Got a working ZX spectrum lying around? Head to the 128 Basic editor, type ‘copy randomize’, press enter and rapidly hold the C, J and L keys before you hear the error tone and – hooray! – you’ll be rewarded with a technicolour hello screen.
If you’re lucky enough to own a Tesla, you’ll find more than one easter egg hidden in its software. Once such treat pops up when you double-tap the ‘T’ on the centre touchscreen. The screen will turn white and a full Paint-style app will be yours to play with.
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Operating systems and smartphone apps
OS X Tetris
As we said, Tetris gets everywhere. If you’re still running an OS X Mac open Finder, go to Applications and then Utilities. Open Terminal, type ‘emacs’ and press Return. Press ‘Esc’ and ‘X’ together, then type ‘tetris’. This is just one of Terminal’s many hidden treats – replacing ‘tetris’ with ‘pong’ or ‘snake’ will give you the retro games, while typing ‘doctor’ takes you to a virtual pyschotherapist.
Google’s easter egg trail continues on Android. Go to Settings/About. Tap repeatedly on the version number for a picture surprise particular to your version of Android. The latest Easter egg, for Android 8.0 Oreo, is a particularly fishy little number…
And, once that secret picture has popped up, try long-pressing on it: doing so in Android Lollipop, for example, saw users met with a Flappy Bird-like mini-game. And, yes, it was just as infuriatingly impossible as the original.
Open Dashboard in OS X and ensure the weather widget is active. Click the weather symbol while holding Alt and Command; the location is now ‘Nowhere’. Keep pressing to cycle through the weather symbols.
Iconic OS X eggs
Open your Applications folder in tile view, whack up the icon size (Command+J) and many Apple apps, such as Textedit, reveal a hidden message – we found ‘Hello from Cupertino’ on the Mail icon.
Own a OnePlus 3 or 3T? Head to the calculator app, type in ‘1+’ and hit the equals button. You’ll get a nice marketing message. Simple, but classy.
Macintosh SE (1987)
Hit the debug button, type ‘G 41D89A’, and boom – you’ve got yourself a pixel, monochrome photograph of the Macintosh SE’s development team. Why? Because, the whole world deserves to see that hat and shirt combo, that’s why.
Microsoft used to be fun too…
Enough Apple and Google – what about Windows? Well, the bad news is that Microsoft doesn’t seem to do eggs any more, due to security fears. But it used to hand out more than the Easter Bunny.
Microsoft Office 97 hid a pinball table in Word and a flight sim in Excel, while Internet Explorer 4 hit back at the Book of Mozilla (see below) by showing a blue screen of death every time you typed ‘about:mozilla’ into its address bar. The good news is Microsoft swears that there are secrets for egg hunters to uncover in the video homepages of its search engine, Bing.
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Playtime on Facebook Messenger
iOS and Android users can play basketball in their Facebook Messenger app, by sending a basketball emoji to a chat window, and pressing on it. This brings up a basketball net, and the rest is pretty self explanatory.
Want more? Hit the little plus symbol down the bottom left when you’re in a conversation and then tap the ‘games’ icon. From here you’ll be able to fire up a whole host of time-wasters – from Snake and PAC-MAN to Solitaire and Tomb Runner – without leaving the app. It even works in group chats, too, if you want to get properly competitive.
TV and Movies
Back to the Future Part II
When Marty travels to the future the cinema is showing Jaws 19 as directed by Max Spielberg – the then four-year-old son of Steven. Alas, Max went into making games, not movies, adding to the film’s long list of off-the-mark predictions.
Tony Stark’s mobile ringtone is no random choice, but a squeaky remake of the theme song to the 1966 Iron Man cartoon show. Also, keep an eye out for Captain America’s shield when Stark is struggling to take his suit off in his lab.
Lost has more eggs than a Creme Egg factory, not least Hurley’s recurring numbers: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42. Fans could have brought peace to the Middle East in the time they spent figuring it out.
The Walking Dead
This zombie apocalypse series paid homage to the drug dealing drama Breaking Bad in the second episode of its second season, when Daryl rummages through his brother’s drug bag. Inside is some of Walter White’s distinctive blue crystal meth.
The Ring (2002)
If you weren’t already traumatised enough by watching the ring then you’ll definitely want to try out this extra on the DVD release. Press ‘up’ at the DVD menu, then hit enter, and you’ll be treated to a familiar looking video, complete with a ringing phone at the end. Who needs sleep anyway?
The Pizza Planet Truck
The Pizza Planet delivery truck played such an important role in the original Toy Story film… and believe it or not, it has appeared in almost every single Pixar film to date. The company has stuck the truck into a scene in every film from WALL-E to Cars and even The Good Dinosaur (believe it or not), and it has become something of a scavenger hunt for fans.
Curiously, the lone exception is the original The Incredibles, even if the sequel has the truck. Well, they’d better chop together a late director’s cut to right that obvious wrong…
Charlie Brooker’s tech-dystopia telly phenomenon is jammed with blink-and-you’ll-miss-them references – mostly to other Black Mirror episodes. This is particularly true of the latest (fourth) season, with the purpose apparently being to suggest that all these self-contained stories actually take place in the same fictional universe.
Take the season’s first episode, “USS Callister”, for example. Look carefully enough and you’ll see the receptionist using the same dating app that forms an important plot devices for two other episodes, Jesse Plemons’ main character drinking a brand of milk named after a character from season three’s “Men Against Fire” episode and using a device made by TCKR Systems, the same company that built the software that grants life after death in “San Junipero” (also season three).
The ninth rule of Fight Club is: make sure you read the hidden message at the start of the DVD. Insert the disc as normal but look out for the second copyright message: a lengthy rant from Brad Pitt’s character Tyler Durden. It politely requests that you quit your job and start a fight. Sure, Tyler; but we might watch the movie first…
Eagle-eyed viewers of Netflix’s cyberpunk drama might pick a couple of references to other geek favourites, namely Highlander (there’s a sword that’s the same as used by one of the immortals) and Game of Thrones (check out the church-like windows in episode three and you might spot the symbol of a certain Westerosi religion).
In S06E02 of Archer, a picture of Conway Stern is shown, which happens to be accompanied by a serial number which appears to be a random group of letters and numbers. But it’s actually far more than that, leading the inquisitive viewer on one of the lengthiest and nerdiest easter egg hunts ever. We won’t recount the whole thing here – but this Imgur gallery takes you through it step by painstaking step.
The inside track
The music industry likes eggs, too. While some acts hide songs at the end of CDs, the craftiest conceal them in the pregap – a space before the first track that usually houses computer data. To find them, start the first track, then rewind.
Public Enemy was one of the first major acts to do this, sticking a rant about hip-hop in the pregap of 1994’s Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age. Pregap surprises also lurk on Kylie’s Light Years, Soulwax’s Any Minute Now and Blur’s Think Tank albums.
Grimm Fairy Tales: The Dark Queen
In a one-off issue, we find out that the Dark Queen has been drawn to Earth because of how humanity has become self-obsessed and believes in nothing but itself. Showing that we worship stories that justify evil, there are clear references to Walter White from Breaking Bad, Don Draper from Mad Men and Dexter from the eponymous show.
Star Wars: Jedi Council
This comic book prequel to The Phantom Menace contained an accidental easter egg. Fed up with his editor’s insistence on sticking the word ‘master’ before any Jedi’s name, its writer added Jedi Master Bayts (or Baytes) to the Star Wars canon in his script for the second issue, thinking it would get cut. It didn’t.
Artist Al Milgrom used a Jan 2001 Spider-Man comic to take revenge on his former boss. He drew a shelf of books with titles that spelled a message to the “nasty S.O.B.”. Marvel pulped every issue.
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The internet is chock-a-block with crafty easter eggs that are just waiting to be unearthed by observant surfers…
On your Facebook home screen, head into the settings menu at the top-right of the page and click on the language option. Alongside the usual UK and US versions of English you can opt for pirate and upside-down dialects. Shiver me timbers!
Nosh.com 404 page
Being directed to an error page isn’t usually a cause for celebration, but Nosh.com’s ‘404′ used to be the exception. Until recently, a video depicted the battle between Nosh’s armed operatives and the ‘hostile’ web page that was looking to escape your clutches. It appears to have been taken down now – but you can still see it by heading here.
Make YouTube crazy
Want to add something different (and totally pointless) to your YouTube viewing session? Simply hold your cursor over the player window and type "awesome" to transform the progress bar into a strobing technicolour rainbow nightmare.
Wikipedia being all meta
The Wikipedia entry for Easter egg (media) actually includes an example of an Easter egg in its main image…
IMDB.com: Spinal Tap
Head over to www.imdb.com and search for This Is Spinal Tap and you might notice something odd about the rating
The Book of Mozilla
Type ‘about:mozilla’ into the address bar of Firefox to access a quote from Mozilla’s Biblical parody, an ongoing easter egg that first appeared in Netscape 1.1 back in the days when social networking simply meant ‘going to the pub’.
Google’s best easter eggs
We could fill an entire article with Google easter eggs alone – there are dozens of them out there. We’ve no idea how they find the time – shouldn’t they be off ruling the world or something? Anyway, here are some highlights:
Google likes to hide surprises in its search engine that get triggered by the right phrase, the sneaky devil. Try searching for ‘do a barrel roll’ for one such egg.
Take a peek at map reference +45° 7’25.87″, -123° 6’48.97″ (above), or ask for directions from 37.646362, -115.751004 to 37.646566, -115.750982, then switch on satellite mode.
Search for ‘Askew’ and your results will be a little, well, askew.
If you’re using Chrome on a phone without an internet connection, you’ll get a little error dinosaur screen. Tap that dino and it’ll launch a pixellated, monochrome endless runner game to keep you enteratined until you find Wi-Fi again.
Google Atari Breakout
Head over to google images and search for ‘Atari Breakout’ for an instant bit of retro gaming fun.
Head to Google Maps around April Fool’s Day every year for a chance to navigate a hungry Pac-Man throughout your local area or wherever you choose: just click the Pac-Man button in the bottom left corner and you’re away!
The Scots beastie appears in iGoogle’s Beach theme. In a reference to pi, Nessie surfaces at 3:14am daily. Other themes include UFOs and the Northern Lights.
Google Zerg rush
Searching for ‘zerg rush’ in Google will result in a bunch of pesky ‘O’s invading the page and killing off all of the search results. You can kill them off by shooting them with the mouse cursor, but you’ll soon be overwhelmed – just like you would have been by an onslaught of Zerg enemies in StarCraft, where the term originated.
AI voice assistants
Got yourself an Echo or similarly Alexa-equipped piece of kit? A host of cheeky quips and secrets await. Here are just a few of our favourite questions to ask her:
- "Alexa, what is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?"
- "Alexa, are we in the Matrix?"
- "Alexa, speak like Yoda."
- "Alexa, do you know Hal?"
- "Alexa, winter is coming."
- "Alexa, set phasers to kill."
- "Alexa, are you Skynet?"
- "Alexa, beam me up."
- "Alexa, who you gonna call?"
- "Alexa, do you know Siri?"
- "Alexa, what do you think about Google Now?"
- "Alexa, can you pass the Turing test?"
- "Alexa, is the cake a lie?"
- "Alexa, do a barrel roll!"
- "Alexa, all your base are belong to us."
- "Alexa, what do you think of Mr. Robot?"
Similarly, Apple’s own voice assistant isn’t above a few inside jokes and cheeky hijinks. Just check out a few of the questions that’ll get a rise out of the iAssistant:
- "Siri, when will the world end?"
- "Siri, what’s the meaning of life?"
- "Siri, do you have a boyfriend?"
- "Siri, how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"
- "Siri, are you her?"
- "Siri, what came first, the chicken or the egg?"
Finally, we’ve Microsoft’s AI helper – and she, too, has a fair helping of one-liners and quirks to enjoy. Try these:
- "What does Cortana mean?"
- "Who’s your daddy?"
- "Do you know Clippy?"
- "What’s the best phone?"
- "What do you think of Google?"
- "What do you think of Microsoft Office?"
- "What do you think of Siri?"
- "Tell me about Halo"
- "Beam me up, Scotty!"