inside SSP Innovations

Inside SSP Innovations: Ping Pong Culture at SSP

November 1, 2017 — Corey Tokunaga-Reichert

Ping pong. Table tennis. Whichever name you prefer, most people see it as a casual game they would play while at the bar with a drink in one hand. However, inside SSP Innovations, it is much more than that. Ping pong is an integral part of our culture here in the office. It has evolved from being simple, casual games to being very competitive. Something that, for most of us, was a game we played only a couple of times a year, is now an activity we look forward to everyday.

Inside SSP Innovations: Ping Pong Culture at SSP - Official Match

Getting Serious

Regular matches have become a big part of what we do here at SSP. Whether we are using them to break up coding for eight hours, or we are staying late to get a match in, almost everyone here plays. Sometimes, being able to take a step away from one’s desk and move around a bit can help when stuck on a problem. With this being the case, playing a match of ping pong can be a great stress reliever for many of us.

However, ping pong has become very competitive within the office, and we always make sure to adhere to official ping pong rules during our matches. These matches can be either one-on-one, or doubles matches and are played to twenty-one, alternating serves every five points. You must win by two, which means a close match can sometimes go on for a while. Another aspect, is that you cannot serve to victory, so once you hit game-point, the other person serves until they lose, or they catch up and take the lead. For doubles, this changes a little bit so that everyone gets to serve. Like singles, the serve changes from one team to the other every five points, but in addition to this, the team that just finished serving will change places with one another, so that the person who didn’t serve is in the serving position. These matches have become so competitive that one of our developers created a bot that is integrated with our internal messaging system, in his free time, to manage head to head and doubles ping pong matches. With this bot, we can make official singles and doubles challenges against anyone in the office that has registered with the bot and keep track of any challenges that are going on. The bot also has leaderboards for singles and doubles, and these are updated any time an official match takes place (the names of everyone have been hidden so that those at the bottom don’t feel bad about themselves and those at the top don’t get a bigger boost to their ego).

Inside SSP Innovations: Ping Pong Culture at SSP - Current Leaderboard

Thanks to the leaderboards, the bot can also suggest matches for you based on what it thinks will be the most competitive match, which keeps the challenges interesting. For some, getting to the top of the leaderboard is very important.  This competitiveness has also lead to the company having a ping pong tournament at the end of the year. In years past, this was held at our Christmas party, but as the company continues to grow, this has become less than ideal. We are now planning on having the tournament throughout the last couple of months of the year. Removing the tournament would have been very upsetting for many people, and it has become an important part of that time of year for everyone at SSP.

Getting Dizzy Inside SSP Innovations

While the official matches are great for a bit of competition in the office, there is also an option that is a bit more laid back. Every day, we play a game called “Spiral of Death.”

Inside SSP Innovations: Ping Pong Culture at SSP - Spiral of Death

Our internal messaging system has an alert at the same time every day to help us make sure we have enough people to play. While the name may sound rather foreboding, it is a lot of fun. In general, it is easiest to play with five or more people, though it is possible to play with three or four.

Inside SSP Innovations: Ping Pong Culture at SSP - Spiral of Death

To play, all players will need to have a paddle, which has resulted in many employees buying their own, so they don’t have to use the house paddles. When starting the game, each player has three “lives,” which are lost by not successfully returning the ball. To make things more interesting, we also place a red pad and a black pad on each side of the table. If the ball is returned onto a black pad, the player who hit the ball loses a life, while if the ball hits a red pad, then that person gets a life back. One important thing to note with this is that a player has a maximum of three lives, so if no lives have been lost and a player hits a red pad, they don’t go up to four lives. For the first game, these pads are placed randomly on the table. Once the pads have been placed, we must make sure that all the players are situated around the table correctly. There will be one player who is serving, and one person receiving the ball. Everyone else is around the sides of the table. If there is an even number of players, then there needs to be the same number of players on each side of the table, while an odd number of players requires that the side to the left of the player who is serving has one more person than the other side.

Inside SSP Innovations: Ping Pong Culture at SSP - Spiral of Death

This needs to be done because of how the game is played. After a player hits the ball, they rotate to their right, which results in everyone spiraling around the table. By having one more person behind the server, or at least the same number of people on each side, it keeps the pacing of the game to a manageable level. Players will continue to hit the ball back and forth, rotating around the table, until someone makes a mistake.

Even if a pad is hit, if the ball is returned, then play continues. This has led to an interesting circumstance where someone hits a black pad and loses their last life, but the other person is able to return the ball. The person who hit the pad gets to stay in and play, in hopes that they can hit a red pad. If they can hit a red pad, then they get a life back and are able to continue playing. However, if the rally ends and they have not hit a red pad, then they are out. Play continues like this until all but two people have been eliminated. At this point, the rules change as it would be hard to run around the table with only two people. In the finals, each player will stay on their respective side and play what is essentially regular ping pong, but with one difference. After a player hits the ball, they are required to spin in place before the next time they hit the ball. Failure to do so will result in the loss of a life. This continues until one of the players has won, at which point everyone gets around the table again, and we play another round. The winner gets the privilege of placing the pads wherever they would like, and they also start the next game by serving to the person who got second place. Normally, anywhere from three to five rounds get played every day, and it is a great way to break up the day’s work.

Ping pong has become a very important part of the office culture for us. Our end of the year tournament is coming up, and many of us are preparing, in hopes of winning (although that idea is only realistic for a few people). Spiral has its regulars, and everyone has their own style of playing. Whether it’s regular matches or a silly game of Spiral, ping pong is an integral part of what makes us SSP.

Have any ping pong games that you enjoy playing? Let us know is the comments! We are always willing to try new ping pong games or incorporate new things into our existing games.

Interested in learning more about ping pong? Check out the “Table Tennis Rules” from Pong World.

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Corey Tokunaga-Reichert

Corey Tokunaga-Reichert works as a Software Consultant at the Utility & Telecommunications GIS consulting company SSP Innovations in Centennial, Colorado. Corey has worked with All Edits State Zero, GIS integrations and optimization of GIS integrations, and database migration.

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