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Surprise for a programmer on Birthday

Was the title of a stack-overflow post from 2010 that no longer exists. If you try to visit you’ll see:

Page not found. This question was removed from Stack Overflow for reasons of moderation. Please refer to the help center for possible

It was posted by my then-cool-girlfriend, now-incredible-wife as a genuine and innocent question about code. Little did she know the contentious pretension and division she was about to unleash upon the stack-overflow community.

The Story

Unbeknownst to me, a few months before my 25th birthday, she cleverly posted the question under a pseudonym:

Surprise for a programmer on Birthday

Help! My boyfriend’s birthday is next month. Since he is a programmer, I’d love to make him a cake with the code for “happy birthday” (and perhaps something awesome) written in icing on top. Not being a programmer myself, I have no idea where to begin. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Within hours the post went viral. Lots of upvotes, answers and comments poured in. For the most part it was a fun time!

A programmer with a girlfriend? - Bob Kaufman

The cake is a lie! - OMG Ponies

One-twelth of the programmers on this site (approx 12,000 people) have a birthday next month. Now all of them who have girlfriends are going to expect an awesome cake with code. Two of those three programmers are going to be very disappointed. - Jeffrey L Whitledge

I think Jeffrey’s count is wrong. I remember a programmer I used to work with, and she had a girlfriend. - Windows programmer

Very amusingly, many questioned the authenticity of the post and OP entirely:

I call B.S. on this whole question. This so-called “programmer’s girlfriend”, leading us on with this “penelope” handle, must know more than she’s letting on, if she’s posting on StackOverflow. - Jeff Meatball Yang

Why are you all assuming that “Penelope” is not a guy? - Vicky

There is statistical and conclusive proof she is NOT a programmer and is NOT a guy - she responded to every post (as far as I could find) - Mark Schultheiss

But as quickly as the party started, so too the sticklers arrived:

This question has been closed.

The question was voted for closure. You see, this wasn’t the first cake question to cause a tizzy. A similar question had previously been asked proposed a wedding cake, causing strict community guidelines to be put in place about the content and intention of the questions posted on stack-overflow. Fun? Girlfriends and boyfriends? Cake? “No thanks!” said stack-overflow.

But in the democratic spirit that the platform provided, the crowd fought back!

Voting to reopen just cause this question is awesome. - Earlz

People closing this lovely question, you do realize that if you get the required votes, this question will be immediately re-opened by hordes of fans? - JSBangs

My only gripe for this question is it definitely should’ve been CW, but thats not enough for it to be closed. Surely we can have some fun on here every once in a while :) - Earlz

@haters - this question stays! - pokstad

The question was voted to be reopened!

And closed again!

Back up!

The war raged on for days. Users chimed in, some now incredulous that this one question had earned her account more reputation points and gold badges than many of them had accumulated in years of platform use.

LIGHTEN UP PEOPLE! This is starting to tick me off. If it bothers you that much that penelope has a few gold stickers more than you…you have some major issues. - Epaga

After the main hubbub subsided, I was let in early on the fun. It ended up being the best gift of all to see such an amusing event in internet history caused on my behalf by my better half.

Cake baked and party concluded, a final update was made, with pictures as proof:


hey everyone! sorry it has taken me so long to post pics. the cake was a HUGE success and he enjoyed every bite. but most of all, he loved the “actionscript birthday message” that graced the top of it! i wanted to thank you all for your suggestions. i have printed them and will make many more “coded” cakes as the holidays go by. i really want to do the heart “equation” for valentines day! i took peter toroks idea and tailored it for andrew’s birthday cake (i asked a programmer to help me make it fit on the cake!). needless to say, andrew and all of his programmer buddies got a kick out of it and gobbled up the dark chocolate, peanut butter cake that was underneath all that nerdy icing-y goodness! here is proof:

so thank you ALL again! i had a lot of fun making the cake and thanks to all of you, he’ll never forget it, or this birthday! -tania


With the question’s utility brought to an end, it was closed and locked for good. Sometime later it was removed altogether. I used the wayback machine and stack printer’s archive to piece the story back together and create this more official retelling. Check those links if you want to read through all of the other comments and answers given.

About a year later, the story was referenced in a blog post about code-decorated cakes and a few years ago I attempted to archive an abbreviated version of this story as a twitter thread.

Finally, I’ll go ahead and leave you with this codepen recreation of the cake itself, running the code on top of it:

See the Pen Surprise for a programmer on Birthday by Andrew (@walpolea) on CodePen.