Do you play, or at least know Plants vs. Zombies, the tower defense game? Of course you do! As you therefore know, the video game killin’ is expiated by making the attackers (already dead) zombies and the defenders, or rather the defensive weapons plants that shoot cheery peas or what not at them. Plants vs. Zombies came out some time in the aughts, and Plants vs. Zombies 2 (hereinafter PvZ2) came out in the teens.

Anywho, maybe 5 years after PvZ2 came out they introduced a frill called the piñata party. You play one round of the game each day for a prize, and every five or seven times you are offered as a reward a whack at Señor Piñata for a more substantial prize. You’re just tapping a screen with an image of a hanging piñata and on the third tap the piñata explodes and you get a prize. Figure 1, a movie, shows a typical event.

Figure 1. Movie of typical Señor Piñata whacks. Movie: author.

Did you notice it? Right at the third whack, the screen seemed to frizz out at the top? I’ve been noticing this for years and pulling my hair out (what I have of it) trying to read what appear to be words that appear for a fraction of a second where the “Claim your reward” banner sits. Really frustrating.

I looked online and found nothing about this phenomenon, and in preparation for writing this post I looked again, and with a Google search for terms like ‘Piñata party secret message’ I found nothing. I’m sure I’m not the only one to notice this, but maybe I’m the first to obsess about it and write it up.

In any event, I finally had the bright idea to use my phone to film the event (hence figure 1), and from that I could abstract the frame showing the secret message. Here are the six examples I’ve collected since early July 2020 (figures 2-7).

Figure 2. PvZ2 Señor Piñata gets whacked 03 July 2020. Photo: author.
Figure 3. PvZ2 Señor Piñata gets whacked 16 July 2020. Photo: author.
Figure 4. PvZ2 Señor Piñata gets whacked 26 July 2020. Photo: author.
Figure 5. PvZ2 Señor Piñata gets whacked 31 July 2020. Photo: author.
Figure 6. PvZ2 Señor Piñata gets whacked 05 August 2020. Photo: author.
Figure 7. PvZ2 Señor Piñata gets whacked 10 August 2020. Photo: author.
Figure 8. 16 August Piñata Party. Photo: author.
Figure 9. PvZ2 Señor Piñata gets whacked 08 March 2022. Photo: author.

The dates are offered for my bookkeeping more than anything else. Although many people will have whacked Señor Piñata on the same days I have, no one needs to have: everyone is on a different schedule depending upon when and how much they play the game.

I see snippets of what appear to be real words occasionally in the “secret code,” but to be honest, it is gibberish to me. Does the programmer have the screen flash up some random text at the top of the screen at the third and final whack to add some explosive visual energy to the event?

In any event now you know what I know. They Live!

Covering my ass Keeping the legalities nice and neat: though this is a critical essay, I should credit Pop Cap entertainment for the games Plants vs. Zombies and Plants vs. Zombies 2. Images from the game are probably copyrighted, but I rely on a fair use justification for their use here.

Addendum 1

See that figure 8 bears some similarities to figure 4.

Addendum 2

What if the message is Zombie gibberish (worse than their notes that appear at intervals through the game)?

Looking more at the full series printed here, there seems to be a repeated text that (maybe) continuously scrolls invisibly. On the third tap on the piñata, it becomes visible and the text appears to expand horizontally. The numbers, or at least some of them, appear to change from one instance to the next, but some parts of the letter strings repeat at unknown intervals.

The texts (| = illegible crud, could be a letter or number; ? = uncertain reading):
Figure 2. m|My!PARTY123

Figure 3. U[?]|GE|W|V|OF:ZMB [line break] ela!lxj3UOM 750|C

Figure 4. V|OFZ M|B|I.SPR| [line break] S|1.0Con.scTmYou

Figure 5. |ISPRC|N-!-5681 [line break]ng!x3-10Cos|CmY [line break] PD2COMPLE [line break] orchadPWMCONT

Figure 6. B.I|SP-R|CN-!6598 [line break] insCmYTOuR|wd|W[?]

Figure 7. C[?]|PRCN|!038291 [line break] |T-ut|10osCmY|o[?]

Figure 8. V|o|FZ|MB|IsP|R|C [line break] 5976230A|PMo

Figure 9. ISPR-C|N|!2357 [line break] Boc510Tns|Cmyo[?]

There are certainly some repeating patterns there, but I can’t be sure. Perhaps more samples will help clarify things.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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