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Easter Eggs

September 18, 2000 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Easter Eggs aren't unique to computer programs. They also occur in movies, music, art, books and other creations - but it's in computer software that they have achieved their greatest notoriety. An Easter Egg may be as simple as a message hidden in the object code of a program as a joke, meant to be discovered by people disassembling or browsing the code. More often, it's a graphic or sound effect produced by a program that's intended either as a joke or to display program credits.

It would appear that many programmers' desire for professional recognition - or even cultlike immortality of a sort - isn't being adequately satisfied by their employers, because most of the Easter Eggs that have been documented are in some way tied to a hidden list of credits. These usually present the names and occasionally pictures of the program's developers, often with animation.

Not Just Computers

The desire for credit isn't confined to computer software developers. Independent stop-motion animator and filmmaker Mike Jittlov, who is perhaps best known for his 1988 feature film, The Wizard of Speed and Time, was once commissioned by The Walt Disney Studios to create an animated segment for one of its television programs. The contract apparently specified that no credit would be given to the animator. Knowing this, Jittlov spelled out his name and credits in the parade of marching toys that he created, much as a college marching band spells out a word during a halftime show. Those credits couldn't be removed without destroying the entire segment!

My personal favorite among the Easter Eggs I've seen is a routine buried in Microsoft Corp.'s Excel 97 spreadsheet program. Not only did its creators put their names into the software, but they also chose to do it by creating a flight simulator inside the Excel program, in which you could fly around over a virtual landscape until you found a black monolith - with credits - like the one in the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The instructions for getting there aren't something you're likely to invoke by accident. Here's the trick: Open a new Worksheet and press F5. Type "X97:L97" into the Reference box and hit Enter. Press Tab, then hold Control-Shift and click on the Chart Wizard toolbar button. Now you can use the mouse to fly around, with the right button forward and the left button reverse.

Not to be outdone, the Microsoft Word 97 developers included their own game: pinball. Open a new document, type in "Blue" and select the word. Go to Format/Font and choose Font Style Bold, Color Blue. Back in the main screen, type a space after "Blue" and then click on Help/About. On the Word icon, do a Control-Shift-left click, and the game appears. Use Z for the left flipper, M for the right flipper, and Escape to exit.

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