Finding a Different Kind of Easter Egg

Many movies and TV shows feature hidden surprises and inside jokes

In reading online recently about a television show I like — Black Mirror, a modern-day Twilight Zone — I stumbled onto a discussion about “Easter eggs” that have been hidden in each Black Mirror episode over the course of its four seasons.

At first I thought this was literal, that each director had secreted away an actual Easter egg in some shot or another and it was like a hunt to find the dyed egg in the picture. I quickly figured out from the context that real eggs are not involved. “Easter eggs” are hidden references, inside jokes or clues inserted into popular media: movies, TV shows, video games and computer software. Looking for these is like an Easter egg hunt.

To know about Easter eggs opens up a whole new realm of understanding media. For those of us over 50, the Easter egg phenomenon is reminiscent of finding the small pictures hidden within the large pictures in a popular kids’ magazine when we were children. Then, when we were older, we learned to look for Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo appearances in most of his movies. Looking for something hidden is a skill that we can now resurrect.

The Beginning of the Easter Egg Hunt

These kinds of Easter eggs began when an Atari game designer objected to Atari’s policy of not including the designer’s name in its credits (because the company feared other firms would see the names and then steal their employees). So he secretly inserted a message that said “created by” and then his name. Atari discovered this, but it would have been too expensive to remove the message. So Atari began to intentionally include secret messages in its games — naming them Easter eggs — for their customers to locate.

In computer software, Easter eggs are secret results when an unusual command is given. For example, if you ask Google Maps for walking directions between fictional locations from Lord of the Rings, the response quotes a character’s warning from the story. When you ask your iPhone’s Siri certain questions, there are all sorts of references — related to the Bible, Star Trek, Mary Poppins and pop culture—in her programmed responses.

There are hundreds of Easter eggs in Microsoft, Google and in some Apple products. Google’s April Fool’s Day jokes and hoaxes are fun. Now these Easter eggs are in our television shows and movies; similar to an homage, they are often cultural references.

Look Closely for Hidden Surprises

In Raiders of the Lost Ark, R2D2 from Star Wars is depicted on an ancient hieroglyphic.

The credit roll of the third Harry Potter movie shows a map of everyone’s location on the Hogwarts grounds represented by footsteps. At one point, in the bottom left-hand corner, there are four feet in the unmistakable missionary position of coitus.

The Simpsons is full of mathematical jokes and references. Three random numbers in a tiny, inconsequential part of one episode each turn out to be mathematically special numbers — a mersenne prime, a perfect number and a narcissistic number. There’s even a book called The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets by science writer Simon Singh. On a simpler note, each character on The Simpsons has only four fingers except God and Jesus, who have four fingers plus a thumb.

OnThe West Wing, the fishbowl belonging to White House chief of staff C.J. Cregg (played by Allison Janney) held something different in each episode that was related to the theme of that episode. In the first Christmas episode, there was a small Christmas tree in the fishbowl. An episode about war had toy soldiers and a jeep in the fishbowl. There were even tiny Easter eggs in the episode about the White House Easter Egg Roll — a double entendre. It became an integral part of the show for the cast and fans alike.

If you watch Black Mirror (which features social commentary and unbounded creativity in its writing, directing and acting), you will see many brilliant Easter eggs that connect the otherwise disparate episodes as well as some high-profile cameos (including Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul).

Easter eggs are a way of bonding and relating on a different level to that show or movie you’re watching, the game you’re playing or the software you’re using. It’s a surprisingly personal connection to technology and its producers. They’re playing with us just like Hitchcock played with us. Have fun playing back!

Lisa J. Daniels
By Lisa J. Daniels
Lisa J. Daniels has written for True/Proximity, The Forward, Dame Magazine and Divorce Magazine. Find her work at lisajdaniels.com @lisadanielslive

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