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We all strive for focus at work, but sometimes a bit of distraction is a good way to become unstuck or gain a new perspective on some problem. Here are a few great games that you can play for free, from the comfort of your browser, without installing anything (except Flash, which you probably already have). Though they may not contribute directly to getting those TPS reports done to spec, they don't carry an "NSFW" label, either. After a few minutes of decompression, you'll be refreshed and ready to work again.
Ambient games are all about the journey, not the destination. Cipher Prime Studios' Auditorium is a prime example of the genre. In this gorgeous game, a source point emits particles, and you must deflect them toward one or more destinations. At the beginning of every level, you receive several different deflectors, each of which makes the particles that strike it move in some direction. Your job is to place the deflectors on the board and control their strength so that the beam ultimately hits all the right spots. There is more than one way to solve each level, and the soundtrack is very soothing. Auditorium is available for the iPhone, too. If you love the game, you can buy the full version; but the free demo makes for a great time, too.
Pulsus, by Anthony Mattox, is now marketed for iOS, but its original version is still available for free in-browser play. Much like Auditorium, Pulsus challenges you to direct particles to desired destinations, in this case by carefully placing deflecting circles all over the field. The two games are quite similar, though each has its own distinctive style (Auditorium is darker). I recommend that you try both, and see which one strikes your fancy more.
If deflecting streams of particles sounds a bit too abstract, you may enjoy Tasty Planet from Dingo Games. This game is similar in spirit to Katamari Damacy, a popular title released for PlayStation 2 in 2004. You start off as a small germ, and your goal is to eat everything that is smaller than you are while avoiding everything that is larger. As the game progresses, you expand to greater and greater size, and go through several levels of devouring progressively bigger things--from tiny tiny bacteria at the beginning to whole planets (and more) later on. The game is available as a paid download for Windows, Mac, and iPhone, but you can also play it in your browser for free on Kongregate.
If you're looking for something that's more peaceful, and you have a yen for gardening, you may enjoy Bobblebrooks' Rare Breeds: Petunia. In this simple game, you selectively breed flowers, two at a time, for surprisingly beautiful results. A pleasant piano and birdsong soundtrack adds to the relaxing mood.
Physics games are an important genre in the world of Flash-based games. They are legion, but I've picked out just four classic ones for your gaming pleasure.
In Icebreaker, developed by Nitrome Limited, you help release frozen Vikings who have become stuck in a glacier. You accomplish this task by cutting away parts of the glacier that contain the Vikings and making sure that they find their way to the boat waiting in every level. A fellow Viking armed with a war hammer stands ready in the boat to break off the ice surrounding the Viking whom you have freed. Altogether this is a very cute game with an old-school aesthetic.
Filler 2 from SimianLogic is a more abstract game, in which your goal is to inflate ball-like circles so that they fill the field while avoiding other, much smaller circles that try to hit them and either prevent them from getting any larger or pop them.
Then there's Totem Destroyer 2, a physics game that gives you the task of clicking blocks in a stacked-up tower in order to eliminate them, while at the same time making sure that the totem that stands on top of the pile of blocks doesn't topple over. This challenging game is also available in versions for Android and iOS.
Last but not least comes Armor Games' Sushi Cat 2. Using the power of gravity and intense cuteness, you must help this fat cat eat as much sushi as he possibly can. (The back story is that Sushi Cat must grow big enough to recapture his wife from Bacon Dog.) It's a single-button game: All you need to do is click the left mouse button to drop Sushi Cat in the right spot, and watch him tumble and gobble up copious amounts of sushi. If you mute the extremely chipper soundtrack, it's great for conference calls.
There are a ton of platform-based games online, but I found four that really stand out from the crowd. The first is Hello Worlds from the University of Washington's Computer Science and Engineering department. In this platformer, your character exists in several parallel worlds at the same time. Encountering a wall in one world will prevent you from going forward in all of them; likewise, a platform you ascend in one world will hold you aloft in the others. You must cleverly navigate each level dealing with the features and impediments of all of the worlds. It's a brilliant game, and comes with an innovative "rewind" feature that lets you undo mistakes.
Another interesting melding of platformer and puzzle game is Ragtime Games' Continuity. In this minimalistic-looking game, each level is divided into several parts. You must shuffle those parts around to help your character traverse from one sliding segment to another, until the character eventually makes it to the end of the level.
Games With Elephants
I said that there were four platformers, right? Well, in my quest for awesome games, two platformers that happen to feature elephants and a great sense of humor stood out. Both come from the same developer, John Cooney, and both were written for Armor Studios. The first is called Elephant Quest, in which you are an elephant armed with a laser, who is out to find his bowler hat. A complex upgrade system and large game world combine to make this platformer one addictive game. You can always save your progress and come back to it when you have time.
The second game is called Achievement Unlocked 2. You're a smaller elephant here, but everything you do is an achievement. Did you manage to stay alive for 20 seconds? Congratulations! Did you die? That's great, too! This exploration game plays as a parody on achievements in gaming, but it's really fun and addictive in itself.
Last but not least come puzzle games. These come in many forms, and the two I've picked out could not be any more different from each other.
The first, We Create Stuff's Interlocked, is an intricate 3D Flash-based game in which you must rotate geometrical shapes composed of interlocked pieces of matter, and slide and shift their parts until you eventually manage to take remove each piece from the larger shape. If you enjoyed playing with Lego blocks when you were little, you'll love Interlocked.
The second puzzle game--this one produced by Gopherwood Studios--is Entanglement. Based on HTML 5, Entanglement is played on a hexagonal board. Your goal is to place new tiles on the board in such a way that you string together the longest continuous path possible. Very addictive, surprisingly difficult, and yet soothing, too.
So go ahead, click through and play for a few minutes. You'll be glad you did.
For a complete list of the games mentioned in this story, with brief descriptions of each, see our browser-based games collection page.