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16 Google Easter Eggs You Might Have Missed

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Getty Images/AFP/Stringer

There are various hidden Easter Eggs, jokes, and little timewasters in almost every Google web service, product, or new device. Here are some hidden gems users have documented over the years.

1. 1998

Search for “Google In 1998” and the search results will appear in the style of a website from 1998 when the company was first founded.

2. Android's Sweet Digital Treats

Since 2008, Google’s mobile operating system has taken the name of a tasty dessert for every major release (the first was Cupcake for Android 1.5). Since the release of Gingerbread (Android 2.3), users have been able to make the sweet treats pop up on screen by going to the “About Device” section of “Settings" and tapping “Android Version."

In Gingerbread, the Android robot appeared with a zombie gingerbread man. Later Easter Eggs were more interactive: Flying ice cream sandwich bars appear when users held down the Android robot in Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Floating jellybeans emerge when users tapped the large jellybean icon for Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean).

The Android 4.4 (Kit-Kat) Easter egg features a spinning “K,” but if you hold it down, an Android logo in the style of the Kit-Kat logo appears. If you hold that logo down, then all of the past versions of Android desserts emerge.

Android 5.0 (Lollipop) is not without its own Easter eggs, either.

3., 4., and 5. Google Play Games, Voice Search, and Chromebook Pixel's Konami Code

Android Police

In the late 80s, video game developer Konami utilized a special cheat code that could be used on the company's video games. The “Konami Code” was made popular with Contra for the Nintendo Entertainment System. When players input “up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start” during the game’s title sequence, they could unlock 30 extra lives to get through the game instead of the standard three.

Google has used the Konami Code on a few of its products, including Google Play Games, Google Docs, and Google’s Chromebook Pixel. Swiping the Konami Code in the Google Play Games mobile app will unlock a clever achievement that reads, “All Your Games Belong To Us.” In Google voice search, saying the Konami Code will grant you "free searches," and in Google’s Chromebook Pixel, typing in the code will make the LCD stripe on the outside of the computer blink in a frenzy of various colors.   

6. YouTube's Search Results

Searching for “Beam Me Up Scotty,” will load the video results as if they were beamed from the U.S.S. Enterprise.

The fun isn't limited to just sci-fi. When the “Harlem Shake” was a huge pop culture phenomenon, searching “Do The Harlem Shake” made the YouTube video search results do the very popular Internet meme.

7. Police Telephone Box

In Google Maps, search for “Police Telephone Box.” It will bring you Earl’s Court Station. Go to the location’s streetview and you’ll see the Doctor Who TARDIS on the sidewalk. Click the double-white arrows in front of the police box and you’ll be sent to the inside of the time machine. Once inside, you’ll be able to have a 360-degree view of its interior.

8. Google Hangouts' Gifs (and Ponies)

In May 2013, Google merged all their chat and messaging services into one convenient app called Google Hangouts. Not only did this allow Google users to chat with anyone on a mobile device or computer, it also allowed users to send people various animated GIFs and pixel streams.

Typing in “/Pitchforks” in a Google Hangouts dialogue box will launch a stream of angry townspeople racing across the screen with pitchforks. “/ShyDino” will feature a green dinosaur hiding behind a small house in your chat window, while typing “/BikeShed” will also change the background color. And they didn't forget My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in Google Hangouts, either: Typing in “/Ponies” or “/Ponystream” will make animated ponies dash across your chat window.

9. Google Maps' Google View

Searching for the Google Street View of the Googleplex Headquarters in Mountain View, California will result in an image of Google employees with a huge banner that reads, “I Love StreetView.”

10. Google Search's Searches

Google’s primary web service and product has always been search, so it stands to reason that the largest amount of Easter Eggs can be found when you’re searching for something online.

Searching for “Do A Barrel Roll” (or “Z or R Twice”) will make your search results do a complete 360-degree spin. This is a direct reference to the video game Star Fox 64 for the Nintendo 64 video game console. Doing a Google Image search for “Atari Breakout” will launch a playable version of the addictive video game using the image results. Typing in “Tilt” or “Askew” in a Google search bar will bring up the results on a slightly tilted search page.

Searching for “Anagram” will result in Google asking if you meant, “Nag A Ram.” Also searching for “Define Anagram” will result in Google asking if you mean “Nerd Fame Again.” 

11. Kevin Bacon

Google even plays “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" when you search for “Bacon Number (name of an actor).” If you search for “Bacon Number Kevin Bacon,” the answer is zero.

12. Google Play's Unicorns

Google’s online digital store is the one-stop shop for Android and Google users to buy music, movies, TV shows, mobile apps, and books. If you do a search without typing or entering text in the search bar, “Unicorns” will automatically be searched.

13. Google Glass Team Photo

Even the much-maligned Google Glass includes an Easter Egg. If you tap on the device’s touchpad nine times while viewing the license agreement in “Device Info” within “Settings,” then tap “Meet Team” and it will bring up a photo of the entire Google Glass development team, which was taken using Google Glass.

14. Happy Festivus!

When you search for “Festivus” in Google, a very long Festivus pole, as described on the TV comedy Seinfeld, appears on the left side of the screen. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and you can see the base of the Festivus pole.

15. ChromeCast's Nod to Hitchhiker's Guide

iFixit

Google’s Chromecast makes it easier to stream online videos to your home TV. Its engineers and designers included a small Easter Egg in the form of its very clever serial number. “Model H2G2-42” is a reference to Douglas Adams’ science fiction novel Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. H2G2 is the fans’ abbreviation of the long title and 42 is “the ultimate answer to life the universe and everything,” referenced in the book. 

16. One

In Google Now, use voice search to ask, “OK Google. What is the loneliest number?” Google Now will respond with the number one. It’s a reference to the Harry Nilsson song “One.”

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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May 23, 2017
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