May 15, 2010

Settlers of Catan at Google: Geek-vana!

Yesterday, I had a truly geektastic evening. A couple friends generously invited me to join them for an evening of gaming—specifically, the German medieval-development sensation, The Settlers of Catan. I'd never played before, and while I'm definitely a board-game guy, I was never a D&D nerd, so wide-ranging strategy games like this usually aren't my cuppa cuppa. But I rather enjoyed myself once I got a feel for the rules.

In a nutshell, you're living in a Middle Ages agrarian civilization, acquiring and trading various resources (lumber, brick, wheat, ore and sheep) in order to build roads, settlements and towns, and gain economic advantage. It makes for a good time, especially by the point in the evening when everyone gets punchy and starts making stupid trades; my team acquired some much-needed ore when I stumped another duo with a prime music trivia question ("What new-wave band’s breakthrough 1982 album was titled Spring Session M, an anagram for the band’s name?
"). And there's always a good infantile laugh when, in the heat of trading, someone asks someone else, "Do you have wood for sheep?"

But the extra-geeky, and extra-exciting, thing was the location of our game: the New York City headquarters of a company you may have heard of, Google. (Yeah, that link was really necessary.) A friend and BQT regular (member of the team Natalie Portmanteaux) works for the Big G, and hosted the game in an office conference room.

Yes, the office is large. Yes, the office is beautiful. Yes, the office is high-tech. It was like I'd time-warped back to the go-go '90s, when every media company lavished its employees with the kind of perks that actually made going to work every day a non-soul-crushing experience. But what floored me the most was the outrageously large amount of food available.
Our conference room (labeled "Williamsburg"—all the rooms there have NYC-derived names, mostly neighborhoods, though I also spotted "Cloisters" and "Cotton Club") was mere steps from one of several areas termed a "Micro Kitchen." Kind of ironic, considering that it's larger than the average NYC apartment kitchen, but puny by Google's outsize standards. The Micro Kitchen was heartily stocked with beverages, chips, fruit, bulk nuts and candy, cereal, various other comfort snacks. All your favorites.
We went on a field trip to the main cafeteria, a cavernous room—easily the nicest cafeteria I've ever set foot in, although that's not a tough competition—with multiple stations: salad, hot dishes, a stupid wide variety of drinks, even a kosher and vegan station. I tucked an Olde Brooklyn cream soda into my pocket for later.

By the way, on the way back to "Williamsburg," I spotted some of the other office amenities—small rooms for private phone calls, game stations equipped with classic Ataris, and this:
A Razor scooter rack. This is a little silly, sure, and while it gave me opportunity to ride one of these things for the first time since the Clinton administration, it was even less fun than I remember. But I appreciate the spirit of whimsy.
Finally, we made a trip to still another floor, to another Micro Kitchen, this one specializing in ice cream. There was a freezer full of delights, a cavalcade of luscious toppings, and the kicker:
Good God. A whole freezer of It's-It ice cream sandwiches, the real San Francisco treat, specially imported from the Left Coast for Google. I'm a bit of an ice cream sandwich connoisseur, and I've enjoyed several of these during visits to my favorite California city—ice cream between oatmeal cookies, dipped in chocolate. Pretty clever, and I was steamed that I was too full on peanut M&M's to partake last night. But the thought of these being steps from one's desk day to day is too insane to put into words.

Needless to say, all of this was free. Google employees, and their guests, are given professionally catered breakfast, lunch, dinner and copious snacks every day, in addition to, you know, salary and health benefits. I don't get this at either of my jobs, although since I run the Big Quiz Thing and buy food for myself and cook for myself, maybe that sort of counts (scratch that—I don't cook). In my career in the publishing industry, the best I've had is an overpriced and understocked cafeteria down the hall, and another job that gave us free cans of Tab (the big boss was an addict). My current day job offers bitter coffee, hot chocolate packets, and a vending machine with 65¢ bags of obscenely flavored Doritos. I am officially in a state of covetousness.

But I'm going to get it—I'm going to work for Google. During my tour, I saw a room (damn, didn't take a picture) set up as a professional, high-tech theater, with a stage, podium, multiple video screens and seating. The perfect venue for a Big Quiz Thing event. And surprise surprise, the company is in the habit of staging entertainment for its employees. And hey, tech nerds love trivia! The employees I hung with last night vowed to give the hard sell to the higher-ups on bringing me in for a private company event. Ah, I can taste the granola bars already!


Ju Ev said...

Settlers of Google with tasty treats too. Please invite me the next time you play!

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