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Is this the most elaborate Easter egg ever?

Ben Johnson and Aparna Alluri Apr 3, 2015
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The Easter egg—as in the the hidden message in computer programs or video games—got pretty interesting as the sixth season of the animated series Archer unraveled. The show’s creators plotted an elaborate Easter egg, thanks to lead motion designer Mark Paterson, who hid around 40 clues for an internet journey that superfans slowly but faithfully decrypted.  

If you’re wondering how complicated can it really get: the list of clues included a so-called HEX code, which led to a URL, which led to a weird YouTube video and then a craigslist advertisement and it goes on.

This isn’t the first time Archer’s creators tried something like this. They have planted jokes and hidden messages in previous episodes, but they were usually isolated; independent of each other.

“This time I wanted to do something that connected them all together so there was some kind of trail,” said Mark Paterson. “So it would constantly keep it going. They had to go from one to the next and maybe come back to the episode to get the next clue.”

Although he planned most of it ahead of time, he also kept adding to it, deepening the trail and making it more complicated.

“I spent a weekend adding in about 30 to 40 additional steps,” said Paterson.  

One of the most complex clues involved a spectrogram, which, Paterson explained, is “a way of encoding or hiding the message within the audio data.”

Basically, it’s something visual that’s in the audio data but you cannot see it in waveform.

“Most audio programs would show you the waveform by default,” said Paterson. “You have to go the extra step to find the spectrogram.”

But who could possibly succeed at this without some help?

“The nice thing about Archer is the fans are … always looking out for this kind of thing,” said Paterson. “I was banking on them knowing to be looking for stuff. They have previously shown that they have found stuff.”

Bonus: Click below to hear Casey Willis, the show’s co-Executive Producer, in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

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