'Working nine-to-five,' as a wise woman once sang, 'what a way to make a living.' If you've got a job that seems to consist of eight hours a day of mind-numbing boredom, then you've probably found yourself looking for diversions, distractions - anything to liven up your working day (and in that case are no doubt reading this from your desk while the boss's back is turned).
Playing games at the office can be a hazardous route to go down though. It all starts with a little bit of paper folding, making a paper aeroplane just for old-time's sake. Before you know it, you're indulging in full-scale experiments to make the perfect aerodynamic device. Then it's one short step down that slippery slope to wheelie-chair races round the office (with the lifts as the finishing point - and watch out for that potted plant on the next corner... too late!).
You don't have to go mad though; there are plenty of games you can play without getting caught. There are the simple virtual games like Solitaire, Minesweeper or Golf, but they tend to be fairly lonely, exclusive affairs. You can always tempt one of your fellow workers into playing a game of email tennis or testing your friends with a round of 'Spot the Film Quote' though. The more inventive, the better.
This, then, is a guide to some of the ways the h2g2 Community pass their office hours. Let's hope none of their bosses are reading this (and if they are, that they don't read that list of credits on the right-hand side of this page... yes... that one there... oops!).
Nice and Easy
Let's start with an old favourite - shooting hoop (or the office equivalent). Your basic game involves placing a rubbish bin in a chosen position in the office. Next, get some scrap paper and screw it up in your hand until it's vaguely ball-shaped. Now try to throw the paper ball across the office until you get it into the bin. For added challenge, move the bin around, put it on top of desks or filing cabinets, or right at the end of the corridor (first one to get it in the bin doesn't have to make the morning coffee for a week).
A miniature variant involves an empty coffee mug, which is placed somewhere within the room (one Researcher mentioned an office game that placed the mug hanging from a hook in the ceiling). Rip approximately half of an A4 sheet, screw it to a little ball, and throw it towards the mug, aiming to make it fall in. See how many balls you can get into the mug in one go.
The game is very simple, doesn't take many players if you don't want it to, doesn't demand a lot of equipment, and you can do it in a matter of seconds as the boss turns his back. Just don't hit your boss on the back of the head with a paper ball - things could take a disciplinary turn sharpish!
If (waste paper) basket-ball isn't your thing, how about office football? Get some of that bubble-covered plastic packing material, plastic bags, paper, whatever is handy, and wrap it all up tightly with parcel tape (that really thick, brown sticky tape) to form your ball. Next, arrange your playing field. Open plan offices are best for this, and corridors aren't bad either. Just make sure your boss or the new clients don't walk out of any side doors! If you're lucky enough to have doorways at either end of the corridor, you can use these as goals, or simply mark a gap between two computer monitors (as the ball is largely just compacted paper, it shouldn't pose too much of a risk to the hardware).
Most fun when the ball flies in unpredictable directions, knocking over cups of coffee...
... or perhaps not.
Maybe you could swap the paper ball for a CD and, using office rulers or cardboard poster cylinders, have a game of hockey. If you have an open-plan office, you could even turn this into a 'round' of golf, seeing how many strokes it takes to get from the mail room, through the claims department, past the executive offices, and coming to a rest touching the small cabinet in Karen's cubicle.
To some, this next game might be more familiar as Shove Ha'penny. But to at least one researcher, it's known as...
Similar to curling (or bowls if you like) but involving coins, the recommended instructions are as follows:
Put a coin, paper cup, piece of blu-tac (or whatever) at the very end of a desk to act as a target.
Each player gets a coin (best to decide before the game starts whether or not everyone has to use the same denomination, eg, a pound coin, to stop arguments later on) and slides it down the length of the desk, attempting to get as close to the target as possible.
Whoever gets the closest to it wins and goes first on the next go.
Coins falling off the end of the table are disqualified.
Alternate / additional rules might include:
If the desk has a lip, lift one end so that it overlaps another table, making a jump.
Players get three coins, therefore increasing the potential for shunting the coins of others off the table.
Instead of aiming for a specific target, instead try to push your coin so that it rests right on the edge of the table without tottering over the edge or stopping short of it.
This game is more fun with more than two players and, despite the apparent mindlessness of it, we're told it can lead to tournaments lasting many hours.
Aye, we used to play it where the object is to get the coin to hang over the edge of the table in three pushes, then you have to flick it up and catch it in one hand, then spin it on the table, catch it between your thumbs and finally shoot at a goal made by your opponent's fingers. Complicated? No way. Just good, wholesome fun!
You Had to Be There
One Researcher describes how there was a stationary supplier in Hull many years ago that went by the name of Tutty's (indeed it might very-well still be there, in which case we apologise for what follows), and they used to produce an occasional but incredibly boring newsletter. The objective of the game was to secrete the Tutty's newsletter on your workmates person, or in a file on their desk, or any other spot where they weren't likely to immediately spot it. Often a cry of anguish would go up from the office when some hapless soul found themselves unexpectedly in possession of the dreaded newsletter. Then a new round would begin.
The now bedraggled newsletter is nearly 20 years old and the game is still going strong - I'm the last of the original contestants still working (and I'm old enough to know better) but a new generation has emerged to keep the game alive.
Off-ground Tick / Tag
The object of the game is not to be caught touching the floor, anyone who can see you touching the floor must shout 'See you!' loudly or lose a life, if they do this they gain a life and you lose a life. Winner is the player with most lives at a pre-agreed time.
This is a highly tactical game, for example movement round the office can be achieved by dragging yourself around in your chair, or if seeing a work-mate talking to the boss, deliberately allow him to see you touch the floor, and when he doesn't shout out lick your finger and draw a large '1' in the air.
On one occasion I needed to go to the far side of the office while a client was in the office. I knew that someone would shout 'See you!' and pass it off as a sneeze if I walked across, and as it was nearly end-game time, and I was winning, I wished to avoid that. So... I stood on my chair and climbed onto the desk, took the tube out of the fluorescent light, stepped desk-to-desk across the office until I could reach the cupboard. Removed the tube above that desk and replaced it with the one I carried. Opened the cupboard and removed the equipment I needed (BACS PIN Generator) and crossed desk-by-desk back to my own and replaced the tube with the one I'd removed from the other fitting. I smiled as if pleased with myself and then dropped into the seat. The client looks dumfounded as a spontaneous round of applause breaks out - and then I blew it all by standing up to take a bow!
This next Researcher deserves credit for creating a number of highly inventive ways to get in trouble with the boss. The most complicated of which being 'Beverage Armageddon'.
Essentially a variation on one of the games discussed earlier, the skill here comes in the various ways a player can gain a point. The basic aim is to get a table tennis ball into the opponent's mug. Various points are awarded for direct hits, indirect hits, rim shots and so forth. The first player to reach twenty-one points (or twenty-one plus two points clear of the opponent) wins.
To play, you will need a waist-high table about ten feet long, two mugs and a standard table tennis ball. The mugs can be any of design, but both players must use the same design and the diameter of the beverage containment area must not be less that the width of a standard table tennis ball-plus-one-inch.
At the commencement of play, the two players take their places at opposite ends of the table, each placing their mugs near the edge of the table closest to them. The ball is then handed to the player who won the toss. Serving players must ensure that the ball bounces once on their side of the table before entering the opponent's side. Two attempts at serve are available, with two faulty serves in a row engendering a two-point penalty against the server. Service changes ends after five successful serves.
As there is no referee in Beverage Armageddon, the interpretation of what constitutes a faulty service is left to players' discretion. Additionally, there are no restrictions regarding the style of service delivery, and work colleagues can award an extra point for exceptionally hilarious serves.
Points are awarded for successful interaction between a correctly served ball and an opponent's mug. The scoring table is as follows:
0 = No contact whatsoever between mug and ball, even sub-atomically.
1 = Glancing contact with any part of the mug.
2 = Rim shot causing significant change of trajectory.
3 = Rim shot resulting in ball entering but not remaining inside the mug.
4 = Rim shot resulting in ball entering and remaining inside the mug.
5 = Ball enters and remains inside the mug without touching the rim – aka 'the shot dreams are made of', 'the Jammy', 'the Terminator', etc.
Note: Where any rim shot causes the ball to shoot up into the air and hit the rim again on descent, an extra point is awarded for each successive contact with the rim.
At any point during the game, a player can choose to bring their Megaball into play. The Megaball can only be used once per game so should be used strategically (or when the loser is getting desperate). A player wishing to take their Megaball must say 'Playing Megaball!' loudly in an amusing voice to all present. The player must also hold up a piece of cardboard with the same phrase written on it so that hearing impaired opponents are not left unaware of their impending defeat and/or humiliation.
To deliver a winning Megaball, a player must get the ball to stay in the opponent's mug without it first touching the table or any other part of the mug apart from the bottom of the beverage containment area (service rules do not apply when playing a Megaball). A player delivering a successful Megaball shot instantly wins the game, while a player delivering an unsuccessful Megaball shot has two points removed from their score and is required to buy the other player the confectionery of their choice.
We're reliably informed that professional Beverage Armageddon players follow the 'Queensbury' rules1, the primary difference between the regular game being that both players' mugs are filled with hot tea at the start of the game. Scoring is as per the regular game, but successful dunk shots (whereby the ball enters and remains in tea) require the player with the ball in their mug to swallow a standard mouthful before playing their shot.
Queensbury rules games are normally a lot messier than regular games, but also more exciting as Megaball shots can only be played when receiving mugs have been drained of all tea.
Other 'Office Olympiad' Events
Zero Balloonerance - table tennis played with a balloon and hands instead of a ball and bats. It is best to remove the net as service balloons rarely make it over.
Beach Volley-Jiffy-Bag-Ball - stick a balloon inside a padded bag and use an open shelving unit as the net (top-loading the shelves with files or other objects adds that extra element of danger).
Marathon Juggle-O-Rama - try to juggle any three objects as long as possible. Spectacular danger points awarded for continuing to juggle even when the departmental management team inspect the office.
Innuendo-Thon - Make as many unbroken smutty remarks about visitors to the office as possible. Extra points for physical gags.
Thankfully, there's no innuendo in this entry; if there had have been, we'd have whipped it out straight away.
If you spend your days at work on some sort of reception desk, here's how to make sport of the various callers who drop in on you throughout the day.
Two of you play in teams, one side 'batting' the other fielding. The batting side chooses a brightish colour (eg, red) and scores as follows:
Caller with red shirt - one run
Caller with red jacket - four runs
Caller with red trousers - six runs
(Note how they get increasingly unlikely)
The fielding side must choose one specific type of clothing, like yellow ties, and gets a wicket every time somebody calls at the desk wearing that article. Normal cricket rules apply: Ten wickets, and the other team gets to bat. However, the first batting side must declare at lunchtime if they're not yet all out. Then the other side bats with the same colour rules for both players.
At the end of the day, the player with the most runs is the winner, wickets being used as a tie-breaker. The main drawback to his game being that it ends prematurely if the second batting side gets all out, but then that's cricket for you.
It's a well-known fact of life that all meetings last, on average, much longer than our attention span ever does. A number of people have devised clever ways of preventing themselves from falling asleep in the middle of presentations, the most popular of which is...
Work out how many of you are going to play, then make a list of all the management buzzwords you can think of, such as 'imagineering', 'blue sky thinking', 'done and dusted' or whichever phrases seem to exist solely within the collective psyche of your company. Divide the words between the people who are playing so each has their own list. As the words are mentioned, the contestants cross them off their list. The game can either be played with contestants trying to work their own words into what they are saying or they must wait for others to mention them. When a contestant has crossed all their words off they must jump in the air and shout 'Bingo!' to the surprise and puzzlement of your board of directors, with any luck2.
A slightly more complex variation involves the use of staff photos. Quite simply, as people speak in the daily briefings, you cross them off the cards. It has be known that some players will resort to underhanded tactics to get people to speak. None of those people whose faces appear on the cards are allowed to play (in fact, it works best when those people on the cards don't even know the game exists! Once you've exhausted the fun potential of this one, create duplicates of the cards and you can challenge a friend to a game of 'Guess Who?'.
And then there's the trick where you casually slip an obscure word (usually selected by your workmates) into your presentation. For maximum effect, see how long it takes for your boss to have looked up the word in a dictionary and start using it himself in meetings.
In our library staff general meeting this year, a group of minions like myself arranged between us to have our glasses at the ready and to take them off or put them on every time someone said the word 'library' in a presentation. Amazingly, only one of the managers noticed - they thought it was amusing, but somehow managed a ten-minute presentation without using the word once. Other minions realised we'd been busted, and there was much suppressed giggling going on for the remainder of the presentation.
Many of the suggestions for this entry fell into the 'prank' category, as this Researcher's offering shows:
If any member of management gets caught in an embarrassing predicament on camera, we copy the photo, stick it on the wall near the coffee machine and have an anonymous caption competition. I sit fairly close to the coffee machine, just close enough to hear the various exclamations of the victims...
At this juncture, it's probably best to point out that messing around with phones, making prank calls and being a telephonic nuisance is neither big, nor clever.
For some reason, most of our office games seem to revolve around gambling. 'Tooche, No Tooche' is the simplest and easiest game/wagering opportunity we have.
A client we have, with the last name of Tooche, works in a different building and often leaves his desk. We get a group of people together who then guess or gamble on whether Tooche will answer his phone or not. So at some random point in the day, we'll call Tooche and see if he answers or not. Your bet is then either 'Tooche'... or 'No Tooche'.
If you're particularly cruel, you might consider tying the base of the two ends of a phone cord, so that when the phone rings, the person answering the phone jerks it right off the desk in a swift move that guarantees maximum embarrassment. Or perhaps you're the type of person who thinks that taping down the receiver button on your colleague's phone (so that it continues to ring after the phone is answered) is funny. And if that tickles your funny bone, you might already have discovered how, if there are two identical phones side by side, you can place the receiver of one phone on the cradle of the other, and vice versa, to double the confusion. And if that's the case, you'll know about the trick where you ring up someone you don't like, and then when he or she comes on, conference call them through to another person you don't like.
We, however, couldn't possibly recommend such reprehensible behaviour... (giggle)
We used to play a game called 'Pass the Pete'. Pete was an engineer who usually worked late in a lower floor to us on the opposite side of the building so that we could see straight into the section where he worked.
When everyone left at night, we peered from behind our blinds and rang an extension on the opposite side of the office where he worked and watch as he would haul himself out of his chair and lumber across to answer the phone. As he was about to answer it, we hung up and immediately dialled another phone close by and Peter would then lumber over to that one, then we hung up and dialled another phone close by and Pete would ... you get the picture.
The objective of the game was to see how many times you could get Pete to cross the office before he got fed up and sat back down at his own desk. We got him on a roll once and I think we got him up to 11 before he quit.
Some of these games might not appeal to those of us for whom computers are an unfathomable quagmire of geek-speak. Additionally, they might not appeal to people who lean towards Apple in the great Mac v PC debate. But for the rest of us, let the devilment begin...
Wait until your co-worker has left their desk. Close all the windows and hit the 'PrtSc' (or 'Print Screen') button. This takes a snapshot of their desktop. Open a graphics package and paste the snapshot into the work-area and then save the resulting piccie as a bitmap (*.bmp). Close the graphics program and set your newly-created picture as their desktop wallpaper. Finally, hide all the icons under the taskbar and then sit back and watch the fun as they frantically click on the now non-functioning icons.
Last time I did this, it took the system-admin three hours to twig what was wrong. And I learnt a whole bundle of new words, too.
You're just evil, aren't you...
Though not, perhaps, as evil as the Researcher who suggested a variation on the old phone-cradle-swap (as detailed above) - finding two computers back to back and swapping their keyboard and mouse cables over, so that computer one's keyboard inputs text on computer two's screen, and vice versa.
Be warned, the after-effects of this little prank could be catastrophic. Under no circumstances should you tell anyone where you got this from, okay?
[Non-Specific Ethnicity] Whispers
One idea we had plays on that essential element for any successful office - gossip. If you haven't heard a good rumour by Wednesday, start one!
We started rumours that went round and round our Purchasing Department, and occasionally escaped out the office door. Things like, the company's been bought by (a certain entertainment giant). They're moving the whole thing to the US (that one escaped, and circulated the entire company). Promotions, non-promotions, firings, escorting-out-the-doors, policy shifts - everything was fair game.
Why stop there?
You could photocopy a colleague's family photos and replace their relatives' faces with celebrity faces taken from a magazine. Then wait to see how long it takes for them to notice.
Annoyed by someone in your office using speakerphone all the time? Why not reprogramme their speed-dialer settings to something more embarrassing - a local STD clinic, for example?
Break into someone's word processing package and fiddle with their auto-correct options to replace certain common words with silly or rude alternatives. Perhaps you could make it so that every time they type their name it's replaced by the phrase 'Boss's Butt-monkey'. This works even better if their email program relies on the same auto-correct options...
Allow mould to grow in your coffee mug (you might have to hide your mug in your drawer for a few weeks), and then once it's really unpleasant, leave the mug on your boss's desk with a post-it slip attached that asks 'Have I done something to upset you?'
Cover the rim of one of the office toilets with cling film. Apparently it's like weeing on a drum.
Rename the version of solitaire on your PC so it looks like a official window on the task bar that you're allowed to have open on your work PC. This allows you to play solitaire when the boss isn't looking and not have to lose any potential winning positions.
This section might require a little preparation, but will also reward anyone with creative leanings. Our first game is for those amateur sculptors out there...
The Movie Blu-tak game
For this, you'll need a blob of that blue tacky stuff you put posters up with, and at least three people who sit close-ish to each other (the more the merrier), preferably ones with a good knowledge of movies. One person (the 'Maker') goes first and fashions a prop from any film using the blu-tak, for instance, that little blob that Luke Skywalker first practices his light saber on, the face-hugger eggs from Alien, the weird cube thingy-bob from Hellraiser. The aim of the game is, of course, to guess the film from which the prop comes. The player who correctly guesses the film title gets to create the prop for the next round.
I once stumped my fellow players for about two hours by recreating a meatball from the film The Lady And The Tramp.
You can use tools to help you make the prop as accurate as possible, such as pens for lines (Blu-tak takes ink quite well, though eventually it can turn it into a ball of very inky blue tacky stuff), the edges of coins to roll grooves into your creation, paper clips to punch holes, and so on.
It helps if the prop is specific to a film (it's no good crafting a gun, for example, as that could come from any number of films). The sci-fi genre is good for this. It also helps if the film is popular, but the prop itself is fairly obscure to keep everyone guessing (and laughing as the guesses get more and more ridiculous).
Upon completion of the prop, the maker then states the year in which the film was made, or estimates it as best as possible. The other players can then examine the prop and ask questions of the Maker. These questions must be answerable only with yes or no. It's possible to play with people who aren't sat in your immediate vicinity by making a prop, dropping off at their desk(s) and asking/answering questions via email. It's more fun if you're all sat together though, like in a team.
The good thing about this game is that it distracts the mind, but not so much so that work can't be done. (The Maker has the distraction of thinking of a prop, and then creating it, the other players have the distraction of thinking what the film could be).
This game's a corker for people who find spontaneous brainstorming a bit of a challenge. Just take your work-head off and replace it with your play-head.
I work at an advertising agency and a game of choice is 'Photoshop tennis'. All players use Adobe Photoshop to create an image by taking turns and adding onto it when their turn arises.
The results are great. Artistic, emotional and fun.
Ghost in the Machine?
'Ghost in the Machine' gets its name from the fact that it is the game 'Ghost' played on an email system. Where Ghost gets its name from is anyone's guess. It is a simple but highly addictive game ideal for whiling away long journeys, and is particularly recommended to anyone wishing to increase their word power. It doesn't require any props, just three or more players who can spell properly.
'Ghost In the Machine' does require some props, namely an email system and several handy computer workstations. The aim of the game is to be the 'last man standing'; each player has three lives, and as the game progresses, lives are lost and players are eliminated as they lose all of their lives.
Play would normally proceed in a clockwise direction, but over an email system the players go in alphabetical order of their surnames. The first person to move chooses a letter and composes an email message with it in, say 'E', and sends it to everyone. As play moves on to the second player, this player also chooses a letter, and adds it in front of or behind the previous letter to make a sequence which, although not a word in itself, must potentially be part of a word. So the second player might send a message with the sequence 'ET' or 'GE', neither of which form a meaningful word on their own, but could, they realise, be part of the word 'GET', for example. Recognising which word the sequence might be a part of, the player keeps this word secret, but sends the sequence so far to everyone in the game.
Play proceeds in this fashion with the sequence of letters growing until:
The current player has no choice but to add a letter which forms a complete word, or
The current player challenges the last player to reveal which word their proffered sequence is part of.
If the last player can't think of a word (that is, they bluffed), they lose a life. If they can, the challenger loses a life. When a player loses a life, whichever player brought them to grief restarts with a new starting letter.
If you want to make the game more difficult, don't send the whole sequence out, just the next letter and 'in front' or 'in back' as an additional instruction. Ghost can be played by any number of people: one Researcher has heard of it being played by post across continents, or even by squads of soldiers to alleviate the boredom of route marches.
Our final game is a work of ingenuity, as one Researcher explains how it's possible to play the game of Battleships over the office tannoy.
This works best in large companies where tannoy announcements are common and people do not know everyone else. The gameplay is based on a standard grid, and the moves are encoded in a series of tannoy announcements. In a company that uses four-digit phone extensions, for example, the following exchange might take place during a game:
Player A: 'Will Mr Null please call extension 2714'
Player B: 'Will Mr Null please call extension 2767'
Player A: 'Will Mr Pling please call extension 2713'
This translates as player A reporting a miss from the previous attack and requesting an attack on square (1,4). Player B reports a miss and attacks square (6,7), and then player A reports a hit and attacks square (1,3). Other names can be used to indicate the destruction of a ship, or this can be encoded as additional information:
'Will Mr Pling please call extension 2713, urgently'
More plausible names should of course be used in any real implementation, preferably with more than one for each meaning. They should not be the names of people who might actually hear the messages.
If you hold a position of some importance in your office, never be afraid to order the office junior to clean up after all the hilarity, picking up the paper clips and elastic bands scattered around the office before the area manager returns for that important meeting later in the day. It'll teach him who's boss, but more importantly, it'll remind him that there are some perks worth looking forward to in any career, and being the office gamesmaster is just one of them.