I’m always on the lookout for Easter eggs. Not the round, pastel kind that have been hard boiled and hidden in the backyard around the spring equinox. No, I’m talking about the Easter eggs that are hidden surprises within software or on DVDs. Give a character in Roller Coaster Tycoon a certain name and your park gets a higher rating. Hold down a certain key in Adobe Acrobat while clicking on a button and you can hear a dog woof. Find a hidden icon on the screen of The Matrix and watch some behind the scenes material.
Working on the Internet, I use a lot of software that has Easter eggs. Most are merely credits, listing the developers who wrote the application. Some are funny sounds or pictures. Others are extra features for the application. A few are full-fledged mini-applications or games.
Strangely, despite the seeming abundance of Easter eggs within the software used to build Web sites, I haven’t encountered or heard of many Easter eggs on Web sites. You would think that, buried somewhere on amazon.com, there would be some amusing page hidden by the site’s developers. If there is, I have yet to find any reference to it anywhere on the Internet.
In 1998, however, when I was working for Prentice Hall’s Business Publishing division, my biggest project was a site for Prentice Hall’s Federal Taxation 1998 edition. I did most of the design of the site, formatted the content, and even wrote some programs to process forms that were designed to look like actual tax forms. Taxation is an interesting and challenging body of content, but it didn’t really tickle my funny bone and I doubt very many other people would find it entertaining. So, for fun — and possibly to entertain some instructor or student out there — I decided to hide an Easter egg on the site.
On April 15, 1998, on my drive to work, I was listening to 1010 WINS news as they reported about some of the events occurring in New York City to make tax day less stressful. I made note of some of the items. One post office was offering massages, while another was hosting a pet adoption to provide some soothing comfort (and perhaps a shady “dependent” tax deduction for next year?) When I flipped over to an FM music station, they were playing The Beatles “Tax Man” every half-hour throughout the day. When I got to work, I wrote up a page about what I’d heard. I looked up some tax trivia online and listed out links to what I’d found. I also created hyperlinks out to offbeat tax news pages at various news sites.
The only effective way that I could think of to hide my Easter egg, but still give at least some reasonable chance that a visitor could stumble upon it was to create a decent sized transparent image and park it in the lower right corner of one page. I then hyperlinked the transparent image to the Easter egg page. I figured that, if someone happened to roll their mouse around, they might spot the arrow cursor turning into a hand over that area. In case someone did find the page, I added my e-mail address and a note encouraging him or her to e-mail me.
Sadly, it seems no one ever found it. If they did, they never e-mailed me. Sadder still, I haven’t had many chances since then to create another Easter egg on a Web site. Time just hasn’t allowed me to get that creative and we no longer build the kind of freely designed sites that we used to. Committees design everything these days, making it harder to slip in a hidden feature.