Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Oct. 8, 2010

Ballerinas and buckyballs

Using the Internet without a search engine would be a bit like doing research in a library without a card catalog. Yahoo - the first really popular search engine - used the same approach that the Yellow Pages did for locating a business, sorting sites into categories. But when Google arrived, its approach was even simpler - a logo and a search box where the user typed in words related to the topic of interest.

That approach doesn't provide much room for creativity. But back in1998, Google's co-creators made a rough sketch of the wooden effigy at the Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert and added it to the Google logo as a sort of "out-of-office" notice before taking off to attend the festival.

The logo "doodle" was a hit in certain circles, and so the company began doing it on a more frequent basis, eventually forming a team whose sole purpose is to create the doodles.

Despite being easily distracted, I hadn't really paid much attention to them until the past year or so. Now I actually look forward to "getting lost" in discovering their significance.

For instance, on St. Patrick's Day, I was intrigued by the intricate Celtic designs - green, of course - that made up Google's letters. When I clicked on the logo, I was taken to a list of sites that contained information about the holiday and about St. Patrick himself. I learned that he was actually born a Roman citizen on the west coast of Scotland around 400 A.D., but was held as a slave in Ireland for six years. After escaping to England, he began a clerical career and quickly rose to the rank of bishop. He felt "called" to return to Ireland to preach to his former captors.

On April 1 - April Fool's Day - the logo didn't contain the word Google at all. Instead, it read "Topeka" - a nod to the March 1 declaration by the mayor of Topeka that the capital city of Kansas should be called "Google, Kansas" for the remainder of the month. It was part of the city's attempt to win a Google contest for the installation of new high-speed Internet service throughout the city.

Google's first Halloween doodle appeared in 1999 as did its first "Christmas card" doodle - a snowman with snowflakes drifting onto the name. Mother's Day, Father's Day, Valentine's Day, Veterans Day and many other holidays also have been commemorated with doodles.

Google doodles have honored the birthdays of people such as Andy Warhol, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and Antonio Vivaldi.

On April 2, Google's logo contained a five-panel depiction of Thumbelina's adventures, honoring the 205th birthday of Thumbelina's creator, Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's May 7 birthday was commemorated with help from the San Francisco Ballet. Ballerinas danced across the logo to honor the Russian composer of "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty."

Earth Day was celebrated with Google's letters intertwined with vines and tree branches.

In August, another doodle with a Kansas connection appeared. Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow walked down the Yellow Brick Road toward a landscape with "Google" on it to celebrate the 71st anniversary of the release of the movie, "The Wizard of Oz."

The doodle design team has recently begun creating interactive logos that engage users even more. The first, on May 21 of this year, celebrated the 30th birthday of the video game Pac-Man. A Google user on that day could play Pac-Man on the logo, which featured the letters of Google on the Pac-Man maze, complete with sounds from the original arcade game.

An interactive Buckminsterfullerene or "buckyball" was included on the logo on Sept. 4 - the 25th anniversary of its discovery. The Buckeyball is named for Buckminister Fuller, an innovative - some said eccentric - thinker who predicted its existence. The logo's second "o" was replaced by an orange Buckeyball, a structure containing 60 carbon atoms. By scrolling across the logo, users could twist and turn the ball.

Another doodle that still has people talking appeared on Sept. 7, 2010. It consisted of a bunch of colored balls or balloons that flew away when the cursor passed over them. I tried to find out their significance and so did many others. Some speculated it was to celebrate Google's 12th birthday, but the company would neither deny nor confirm the speculations.

But having an answer for the significance of the fly-away balloons isn't really important. Additions such as these to a site I use regularly entice me to learn more about everything from ballerinas and buckyballs to Patrick, the saint, and Pac-Man, the game - and that's just plain fun.

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