The secret history of ‘Easter eggs’

Every car can accelerate, brake and turn. But only the Tesla Model X can put on a three-minute dance performance.

The windows open, the speakers blast a holiday carol, the exterior lights flash in sequence, the front doors open and close, and the gull-wing doors rise, arch and flap to the music.

That roboshow is an Easter egg: an undocumented feature in a tech product, set in motion by a sequence of commands that nobody would hit accidentally.

Over the years, Easter eggs in tech products have largely disappeared (except in video games). Like any other software, Easter eggs, so named for the hunt to find them, cost time and money to design, build and debug. Why would a tech company develop features it can’t advertise or even reveal?

In the beginning, the answer was revenge.

In 1976, Warner Communications bought Atari, the video game maker. Game designer Warren Robinett, then 25, chafed under his new employer.

“There was a culture clash between the New York people and the California people,” Robinett said. “We wore T-shirts, and had long hair and beards, and came to work whenever we pleased.”

Worst of all, the new bosses had no intention of giving credit to the authors of their games. And so, as an act of civil disobedience, Robinett built what is generally credited as the first Easter egg into his game “Adventure” — a flashing, colored credits screen that read “Created by Warren Robinett.”

To avoid detection by Atari’s testers, he hid it in a secret “room” of the video game, accessed by a convoluted sequence of steps involving a maze, a bridge and a one-pixel “key” that he called the Dot.

His bid for recognition eventually paid off spectacularly — in Steven Spielberg’s 2018 movie “Ready Player One.” To save his world at the…