Small Print Shouldn’t Be Subtle


On Monday, I shared a story about someone who read the small print in a contract and found that the company she was doing business with had put a bounty in there — all you needed to do was be the first to claim the prize and it was yours. The protagonist in the story ended up with a few thousand dollars for the work.

I’m always — well, as you’ll see, almost always — amused by these things because I’m quick to assume that something amiss could be an easter egg. For example, if you’ve seen the movie Knives Out (the first one, not Glass Onion), there’s a moment where a character sends an email to an anonymous person — and the email address she sends the note to (and hers, for that matter) is displayed on screen, as seen below. 


Years ago, to promote the Steven Spielberg movie A.I., the marketing team added a bunch of easter eggs to movie trailers and then created a whole rabbit hole world to explore once you took the first step. I wrote about that in 2011, here, if you’re interested (although it looks like the video no longer works, which kind of ruins the story). Suffice it to say, though, the A.I easter egg hunt popped into my head. Was this another one? I had to know — so I emailed the ProtonMail address. 

And I got a reply. It wasn’t great, but it was real. You can see it below.

A missed opportunity by Rian Johnson, sure, but still acceptable.

In any event, I’m not the only one who is amused by things like this. In response to Monday’s email, Reader Jina L. wrote in to share a story of a college professor who did something similar with his students. And I was going to share that, too, but I’m pretty disappointed with the quest.

As CNN reported, the professor put $50 in a locker somewhere on campus with a note reading “Congrats! Please leave your name and date so I know who found it.” He then handed out a syllabus to all of his students with what was, reportedly, a simple instruction: if you want $50 free, all you need to do is go to the locker, enter the combination to the lock, and take the cash. Again, simple! 

At the end of the semester, the professor checked the locker.

No one claimed the prize. The story, therefore, is “no one reads things thoroughly” or something like that. But that’s not what actually happened — or, I don’t think that’s what happened. 

Here’s the actual wording of the hint that was buried in the syllabus: “Thus (free to the first who claims; locker one hundred forty-seven; combination fifteen, twenty-five, thirty-five), students may be ineligible to make up classes and [the syllabus continues as it normally would].”

That’s basically jibberish, right? It’s not a complete sentence, to start, and it’s buried in a parenthetical after the word “thus,” making it even less clear. And there’s no mention of the very important $50 prize. Would you go look for that locker? I don’t know anyone who would, and I suspect you don’t either.

So if you come up with a great idea for an easter egg with a prize attached, hide the quest, but don’t make it subtle. Those of us who are overly curious will appreciate it!

The Now I Know Week in Review

MondayTen Thousand Reasons to Read Before Hitting “I Accept”: See above.

TuesdayThe $35 Mailbox That Cost $33,000: I can’t find a story that tells who did the bad deed at the end. If you can find one, let me know!

WednesdayWhy Is Gas Priced at Nine-Tenths of a Cent?: Fractional cents are weird, even if you’re Superman III.

Thursday: How Long is Groundhog Day?: A lot of you wrote in with your estimates; I have to admit, I don’t really have a strong one. 

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend:

1) “Trying to Live a Day Without Plastic” (New York Times, 13 minutes, January 2023). A reporter for the New York Times tries to not use plastic for a day, and it’s basically impossible. 

2) “How to Throw Bombs, Save Lives, and Raise a Family in Paradise on $22 an Hour” (Outside Magazine, 6 minutes, November 2022). The subhead: “Last winter a ski-patrollers union in Park City, Utah, made headlines for its standoff against Vail Resorts over wages. The dust has since settled on negotiations, but the conversations they sparked about what ski-industry workers deserve may just be getting started.” This quote surprised me:

A ski patroller’s day completely changes when it storms. That’s when there’s avalanche mitigation to do, and with Park City Mountain comprising 7,300 skiable acres, that’s a big job. (In 2015, Vail combined Park City with Canyons Resort, creating the largest ski area in the U.S.) On the Canyons side alone, where Tommy works, there are about 150 avalanche paths that could slide and kill skiers if uncontrolled. Preventing these deaths can be deadly in itself: a 2014 report by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and the University of Calgary suggests that avalanche work could be among the ten most dangerous occupations in the country, after jobs like logging and construction.

3) “What happens when a huge ship sinks? A step-by-step guide to averting disaster” (The Guardian, 8 minutes, January 2023). 

Have a great weekend!