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The illustrations that appear on Google’s home page to celebrate special occasions, such as its 20th birthday today, began as a sly out-of-office message.

When the company’s founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, left for Burning Man in 1998, they added a drawing of the annual festival’s logo to their home page as a wink that they’d gone. The first Google Doodle was a hit.

Google now employs a team of more than a dozen “Doodlers” to keep up with global demand for designs.

A few of the thousands of Doodles have caused controversy, including one honoring the Japanese-American activist Yuri Kochiyama, who expressed support for terrorists including Osama bin Laden.

But other Doodles have stirred creativity.

Ryan Germick, whose title is principal designer, Doodleland, said users created 40 million songs with an interactive guitar Doodle celebrating Les Paul’s 96th birthday. And the Birth of Hip-Hop Doodle allowed visitors to mix samples from classic breakbeats, which he called the Doodles’ high-water mark.

Living in Doodleland, however, comes with a cost for Mr. Germick.

“Like at the supermarket,” he said in 2016, “the cucumbers and tomatoes are arranged a certain way and I’m like, ‘You know what, if I had a watermelon, that could work as a G.’ ”

Robb Todd wrote today’s Back Story.


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