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Halliday's Easter Egg Hunt is the central plot of the Ready Player One universe.

It was the last game created by James Halliday before he died in an attempt to find an heir for his vast fortune and pass ownership of the OASIS simulation to someone worthy. The Hunt was also a way for Halliday to encourage the entire world to share his passion for the culture of the 1980's era.

In order to find the Easter Egg, people would need to find three keys and open three gates scattered throughout the OASIS. After opening the three gates, one would be tested for their worthiness through unspecified rites and trials. Should someone pass all challenges presented to them, they would be granted administrative powers over the entire OASIS simulation and the contents of James Halliday's multi-billion dollar fortune.

Individuals that spent every free moment of their lives searching for the egg were known as "egg hunters", but this was quickly truncated to the nickname gunters.

Clues to Continue the Quest

Throughout the Easter Egg Hunt, Halliday left several clues to gunters to aid in their journey to finding the Easter Egg. Although two clues, the Original Poem and The Limerick, were publicly accessible, other clues and poems could not be found (nor would they be relevant) unless an OASIS user satisfies a relevant precondition to unlock the next clue. For example, The Quatrain was hidden to the world until Parzival opened the First Gate. Although the Quatrain became widely known to the world, it would not be relevant to anyone who had not acquired the Copper Key and opened the First Gate.

Book

Original Poem

In order to motivate people to embark upon his Hunt, Halliday defined, albeit vaguely, the ultimatum and goals of his hunt. In Anorak's Invitation, James Halliday says the following:

Three hidden keys open three secret gates

Wherein the errant will be tested for worthy traits

And those with the skill to survive these straits

Will reach The End where the prize awaits

Three hidden keys open three secret gates reference the Copper, Jade and Crystal Keys required to enter Castle Anorak, the home of Halliday's avatar, Anorak.

Wherein the errant will be tested for worthy traits, And those with the skill to survive these straits refers to the two initial tests required before reaching The End: beating James Halliday's high score in Tempest and completing the Flicksync of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Will reach The End where the prize awaits After completing all the tests put before them, an avatar will reach The End, where The Egg awaits.


The Limerick

The Limerick is a second poem meant to aid gunters in their quest. In Anorak's Almanac, many letters throughout Halliday's journal entries had nearly invisible notches made near them. Although seemingly random, it was found that isolating all the letters with notches in them and placing them in chronological order would reveal a hidden message.

The Copper Key awaits explorers

In a tomb filled with horrors

But you have much to learn

If you hope to earn

A place among the high scorers

In a tomb filled with horrors refers to the Dungeons and Dragons module named Tomb of Horrors; it explicitly states the Copper Key as being located within a digital recreation of the module.

But you have much to learn if you hope to earn a place among the high scorers states that in order to enter the module, you must have "much to learn". It is implied that this refers to students located on Ludus, where the Tomb of Horrors was located, indicating that James Halliday wanted a young adult to be the first to attain the Copper Key; users who did not study on Ludus funneled into the Tomb of Horrors after Parzival, Art3mis and Aech, all of whom were students at various OASIS Public Schools, locate the Tomb of Horrors and gain the Copper Key.

Daggorath Quote

When an OASIS user acquires the Copper Key, they are presented with a single line of text.

What you seek lies hidden in the trash on the deepest level of Daggorath.

This line references the TRS-80, which was commonly known as the 'Trash-80'. the first computer owned by James Halliday. A replica of the computer could be found on Middletown, a reconstruction of Halliday's home town. Daggorath is a reference to Dungeons of Daggorath, a video game found in the shoebox next to the TRS-80. By plugging the game into the console and completing its story mode, the First Gate would open.

The Quatrain

Following the completion of the First Gate, an OASIS user would be presented with another poem in order to guide them to the Jade Key. It is referred to as "The Quatrain" by Parzival, due to it having four lines of text and an alternate-line rhyme scheme.

The captain conceals the Jade Key

in a dwelling long neglected

But you can only blow the whistle

once the trophies are all collected

The captain conceals the Jade Key indicates that the Jade Key is hidden in a box of Captain Crunch cereal; this location of the box is revealed in the next line.

in a dwelling long neglected references Zork, which is described as taking place in a long neglected house.

But you can only blow the whistle once the trophies are all collected Inside the setting of Zork, the white house, there is a box of Cap'n Crunch cereal. The box mentions a free whistle included. However, they can only blow the infamous phone phreaking Cap'n Crunch whistle, which turns into the Jade Key, once the trophies of the Zork Quest are all collected.

Origami Unicorn and Test Quote

After attaining the Jade Key, an OASIS user is only given a silver foil wrapper to guide them to the Second Gate, in addition to a single line of text.

Continue your quest by taking the test.

Both the wrapper and line of text are references to the Blade Runner franchise; the quote likens to the test administered by a Voight-Kampff machine, and the wrapper mimics a scene similar to the final scene of the original Blade Runner movie, where the wrapper is folded into an origami unicorn. By saying "unicorn", the wrapper will fold into this very shape on its own.

Red Star

After completing the Second Gate, the user is presented with a single five-pointed red star. The star is present on the cover art of Rush's 2112 album; by travelling to Syrinx, a user could attain the Crystal Key necessary to open the last and final gate. The Crystal Key is found by locating the guitar used to inspire the protagonist of the eponymous song, and returning it to the priest's altar.

Hidden 2112: Discovery Message

Upon discovering the guitar in the waterfall cave, an avatar can play the entirety of 2112: Discovery to unlock a hidden message that becomes necessary to unlocking the Third Gate. A user can acquire the Crystal Key without revealing this message, but will be unable to open the Third Gate without the knowledge revealed by the message.

The first was ringed in red metal

The second, in green stone

The third is clearest crystal

And cannot be unlocked alone

The first through third lines refer to the Copper, Jade, and Crystal Key respectively by their appearance when viewed in the overworld. The final line reveals that the Third Gate cannot be unlocked alone, inferring that multiple copies of the Crystal Key are necessary to unlock the Third Gate.

Anorak Insignia

"The location of the Third Gate is indicated by a single letter "A" on the Crystal Key; the letter A is identical to Anorak's logo and is most often associated with Anorak. The logo means that the Third Gate is located at Castle Anorak on Chthonia. Only avatars who have the Crystal Key in their inventories will be allowed to enter Castle Anorak, but they will not be able to open the Third Gate without two other unique versions of the Crystal Key."

Film

Halliday's Announcement

In order to start the Easter egg hunt, Halliday prepares an announcement that is played following his death. It starts with Halliday laying in a coffin with quarters on his eyes than sitting up to address the audience. As the announcement continues, Halliday transforms into his avatar Anorak the All-Knowing who continues the announcement. When Anorak talks about the center of the maze "that's located somewhere up here," he points at his own head.

"Hello. I am James Halliday. If you're watching this, I'm dead. Before I died, I created what we in the biz call an Easter egg. A hidden object in a game that gives special powers to whoever discovers it. The first person to find the egg I've hidden somewhere inside the OASIS will inherit my stock in Gregarious Games, currently valued in excess of half a million dollars... Uh, half a trillion dollars worth and total control of the OASIS itself. In the form of my avatar, Anorak the All-Knowing, I created three keys. Three hidden challenges test for worthy traits revealing three hidden keys to three hidden gates. And those with the skill to survive these straits will reach the end, where the prize awaits. Off you go, keys. The keys aren't just laying around under a rock somewhere. I suppose you could say they're invisible, hidden in a dark room that's at the center of a maze that's located somewhere up here. Let the hunt for Halliday's Easter egg begin."

First Challenge

The first challenge is a race through New York City to Central Park. The first player to reach Central Park wins. However, the race carries many dangers including traps that knock cars off the roads, a T-Rex and King Kong. The race is so challenging that no one in five years ever managed to win it. King Kong, the final obstacle, always proved to be impossible to beat and in the words of Parzival, seemed to be impossible to beat as a rule. If a player is low on coins, they can fill up their gas tank by taking coins from vehicles that are destroyed during the race though this necessitates them starting at the rear of the race.

The initial clue that led to the discovery of the first challenge is never revealed. All that is stated is that some long-forgotten gunter figured it out and once he did, a portal to the race opened.

Going Backwards For Once

The major clue to beating the race is in the Halliday's Journals archive recording of Gregarious Games 2029 office party. The recording shows James Halliday and Ogden Morrow arguing in the aftermath of the dissolution of their partnership. As the OASIS has evolved, Ogden wishes for Halliday to institute some more rules into its usage while Halliday hates making rules, an important clue leading to the recording due to King Kong's nature as an apparently unbeatable obstacle by rules. At the end of the argument Halliday asks Ogden "why can't we go backwards for once? Backwards, really fast. Fast as we can. Really put the pedal to the metal, you know! Bill and Ted did it." This is the main clue to winning the challenge.

Once the player has decoded the clue, they must drive backwards at full speed at the start of the race. Near the wall at the back of the race, an entrance to an underground tunnel will open and the player can drive safely through it backwards beneath all of the obstacles of the race to emerge beyond King Kong near the finish line.

Once the player reaches Central Park, they will be greeted by an orchestra and Anorak who forms from the leaves in the park and who will hand over the first key. Once the key is handed over, the first player to receive it will receive $100,000 in their account and the clue to the second challenge rises out of a nearby fire hydrant.

Second Challenge

Clue to the Challenge

A creator who hates his own creation.

A hidden key, a leap not taken.

Retrace your steps, escape your past.

And the key of jade will be yours at last.

The poem refers to James Halliday's love for Karen Underwood and how his fear of kissing a girl kept him from taking "the leap" of kissing her, causing Halliday to never get more than one date with her. Karen is the hidden key while the leap is his inability to kiss her. "A creator who hates his own creation" refers to The Shining, the movie Halliday watched with Karen on their first date, a movie based on a Stephen King novel and a movie that Stephen King himself hated and Halliday's eleventh favorite horror movie.

A Single Memory

The clue in Halliday's Journals to solve the second challenge lies within the one memory Halliday kept of his love for Karen: a discussion with Ogden Morrow on December 2, 2025, six days before the OASIS went live. In it, Halliday talks about how he met Karen for real, but while she wanted to go dancing, he watched a movie with her instead. When pressed for details by Ogden, Halliday admits that there aren't any as he didn't even kiss her.

This memory is significant as it shows the one moment Halliday was willing to save about his love for Karen, a love that was too painful for him to see Karen's face or even hear her name despite Karen dying in 2034. It highlights Halliday's regret for never telling Karen how he felt and thus missing his chance as Karen ultimately married Odgen who Halliday could never tell about his true feelings. The memory points towards the movie date with Karen, the location of the second challenge.

A Remake of The Shining

In order to enter the second challenge, the player must enter Halliday's Journals and request the movies from the week of November 23-27, 2025, the week in which the failed date occurred. As Halliday saved every movie he ever watched along with the week, year and how many times he watched it within the archive, the player is given multiple choices. Among the choices are the remake of The Fly, Say Anything and The Shining. As The Shining is Halliday's eleventh favorite horror movie and a movie based off of a Stephen King novel but one that was hated by Stephen King, it is "a creator who hates his own creation."

Once The Shining is selected, a large platform descends in the archive to take the players outside of a movie theater called The Overlook showing The Shining. Upon entering the theater, the player arrives in the lobby of the hotel from The Shining with a stack of papers on the desk acting as a countdown clock of about five minutes to find the key. Within the hotel are remade moments from The Shining including the ghostly twins, the elevator full of blood and the woman in Room 237. However, the woman turns out to be a zombie that attacks the player who, if they fall through the bathtub, end up in the outside maze where the woman chases them alternately at normal size with a knife and at giant size with an axe. The way out of the maze is through a hedge which comes out in the freezer of the hotel kitchen.

The Leap Not Taken

The main clue in the hotel is a remake of the picture from the end of The Shining with the ball. Jack from The Shining is replaced with Halliday while standing with him is Karen. The picture points to the ballroom which hangs over an empty pit above which zombies dance along with Karen. The dance is the zombie-circle level from Mayhem Mansion, one of Halliday's first video games with The Shining trivia acting as a diversion.

In order to complete the challenge, the player must leap into the middle of the dancing zombies. At this point, if there are any other players with them, the other players will be bounced to outside of the theater. The player must move between the zombies, who do not attack but act as the only means of buoyancy, to reach Karen at which point they will land on solid ground. The player must simply then ask Karen to dance, which was what she had wanted from her date with Halliday that had taken them to the movies instead. Karen will tell the player that she has waited a long time to be asked and will transform into Anorak along with all of the zombies.

Anorak will congratulate the player and hand over the Jade Key. At that point, stepping stones form to a nearby gate. When the player enters the Jade Key into the lock, a hole will open from which will emerge the clue for the third challenge.

Third Challenge

Clue to the Challenge

If you know the answer ultimate,

divide it by the number magic

and what you, need, want and desire will be found in the fortress tragic.

The exact meaning of the words is unclear, but it points to Sector 14, more specifically Anorak's Castle on Planet Doom. Its suggested that "the fortress tragic" also refers to Halliday himself as he was completely alone by the end of his life and likely wanted whoever took over the OASIS to care about it and to be connected to people.

Adventure

Within Anorak's Castle is an old TV set up with a multitude of old video games for the Atari 2600 system. To get the Crystal Key, the player must reach the Easter egg in Adventure, the first game to have an Easter egg included. This is indicated by the line in Halliday's initial announcement about the Easter egg hunt when he tells the audience that the keys are invisible and they are hidden in a dark room in the center of a maze. Any attempt to play a game other than Adventure results in the ice under the player breaking and zeroing them out in under a minute. Anyone who plays Adventure is allowed to play the whole game, but if they play to win instead of to get the Easter egg, they are dropped through the ice as well.

A Final Test

Once the Easter egg in Adventure has been found, the castle crumbles around the winner and forms into Anorak who offers the winner the Crystal Key. Once they have the key, a gate will appear nearby with keyholes for each of the three keys received during the challenges. Once the keys have been inserted and turned, the gate door will shatter and lead the winner into a massive room with a golden egg near the top and a desk in front of them with a contract on it.

Once the winner enters this room, Anorak will offer them control of the OASIS if they sign the contract on the table. However, this is a final test as the contract and the pen are exactly the same as the one Halliday had Ogden Morrow sign to end their partnership. This was Halliday's biggest mistake and his biggest regret as it cost him his only friend. To pass the test, the winner must refuse to sign the contract.

Getting the Golden Egg

After the winner refuses to sign the contract, Anorak transforms into James Halliday himself while the room transforms into Halliday's childhood bedroom, complete with a young James Halliday playing video games. Halliday will show the winner a Big Red Button that can shut down the OASIS forever if they so wish and then retrieve a Golden Egg from beneath his desk. Once the winner has accepted the Golden Egg, they are granted full control of the OASIS and all of Halliday's shares in Gregarious Games, worth over half a trillion dollars.

The Official Handover

After the contest is completed within the OASIS, the winner will be found in the real world by lawyers from Gregarious Games. The lawyers will offer a contract for the winner to sign that officially turns over control of the OASIS to the winner. The winner can at that point choose to share their control with anyone they choose before the handover is made official.