This will come as a shock coming from me, seeing as how I'm a technology booster from way back, but sometimes we need to take our eyes off the glowing screens for a minute. Yes, it's tempting to stay glued to phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops - I have to for work, anyway - but the eyes and brain could use a rest from 24/7 electronic stimulation.
And that's when it's time for non-digital amusements. I've already blogged about Magic: The Gathering here and Legos here, so now this is a round-up of simple, idle amusements for the office desktop.
The ideal office desk toy is a stress-relief activity that's not too involving. It's not meant to be a diversion for concentrated hours, just something to fiddle with while you make up your mind whether to fulfill the spreadsheet reformatting request or just tell Records to get stuffed. Or while you solve your app's library conflict in the back of your mind. Or ruminate on whether to continue productivity for the day with another cup of Joe or just call it grown-up nappy-bye time. They should also be non-controversial enough that no coworkers nor clients will take offense, and look a little classy to have lying around when you're not using them.
And of course, we're going to keep it GEEKY!
The best desktop toys are casual, interesting, and sneak in some educational value in your idle moments. This set may not look like much, but I have one and it's fascinating! This lets you build different molecule structures, which are surprisingly easy even if you know nothing about chemistry. In your idle moments, you'll start with learning the difference between water and hydrogen peroxide, graduate through the alcohols, and end up at the complex sugars, before graduating to that final challenge that every geek aspires to: building you very own caffeine molecule! In the meantime, you have a handy set of visuals to explain to your coworkers how CO2 is ruining the planet.
There's dozens of retailers selling Soma Cubes every now and then, so you might as well get one with flash cards for building models. The Soma Cube is a puzzle invented by a Dutch polymath name of Piet Hein in 1933, never patented. It's a seven piece puzzle that assembles into a 3x3 cube, but that's just the beginning. It can also build a near-infinite variety of shapes, from the geometrical to the expressionistic. This is the king of desktop wooden puzzles. I've been into Soma puzzling since reading about it in Martin Gardner's old Scientific American column, at which time I couldn't find where to buy one so I made one myself - all you need is 27 wooden blocks and some glue.
#GenXkidsRemember! Before electronic portable games came out, these things were everywhere. They even had them at restaurants to keep the kids amused while the waiter took your order. These are surprisingly challenging games of dexterity and timing, where you press the buttons to squirt water to move little plastic pieces onto goals and whatnot. But now they're a charmingly retro diversion that's a relaxing respite from the more complex problems of the world.
Years ago, office gentlemen had miniature golf setups in their office to practice putts while their secretary held their calls and told everyone "he's busy right now." Golf is so 1950s! Bowling is the new elite sport, ever since the Dude brought it back. A simple little game of setting up pins and knocking them down, it takes a while to get the hang of it, but mastery of the perfect strike is within your grasp. It's also great stress relief for when you just want to throw something to hit other things.
Sometimes you need a quiet, tranquil pastime to sooth away the urge to karate chop somebody. Put on some calming music, lock the door, and reshape your little corner of the universe to make it perfect. Bask in the ASMR sensations of softly sifting sand raked in satisfying wavy patterns around lone stones like islands in a sea. By the way, the cool thing about these desktop sand garden sets is that you're not limited to the set! Go for a walk and pick out some interesting pine cones to incorporate into your garden. Get some twigs and make little bonsai trees. Pose your Avengers action figures in it. Decorate it for Christmas. The possibilities are endless!
Ever since I discovered these things, I wonder why they haven't taken over Instagram and YouTube. Finger puppets which are also magnets, they seem to be aimed more for educating kids at home via fridge display. But what a great opportunity for the office intellectual smart-ass! These finger puppets cover the breadth of famous people in history. Use Sigmund Freud to analyze your coworkers. Debate your moral dilemma with Jesus. Or Batman. Wait, put up the moral dilemma between Jesus and Batman and take whomever's advice is the soundest! Look at it this way: You can critique your coworker's latest email rant, or you can have William Shakespeare on your finger do it for you. What, are you just going to wing it by yourself? And where is the finger puppet theater YouTube channel? WHERE???
As you might have guessed by now, this whole post has been sneaky about repurposing toys from other contexts for modern office desktop play. That's because we want to make this list worth your time, to think outside the box, and not have the same humdrum recommendations this kind of post always gets. And here's yet another example of that. If you're in a high-pressure business environment brokering deals and making critical decisions all day, are you really not going to plug a few pieces of track together and run marbles through it, should the opportunity arise? Who are you kidding?
I was there, crouching in the trenches of the Target retail aisles, having survived the last wave of Black Friday zombies, when the fidget spinners first arrived. Waves of them, they were everywhere at once. The zombies took them and were oddly pacified by this activity. Then fancier and fancier fidget spinners came out, ones that lit up and glowed in the dark and made noise, fidget spinners with holograms that wove a hypnotic spiral as they whirled. Then the fad died out and the world forgot fidget spinners, but like all ecological niches, they have gone on evolving in the dark stock closets in the back of the mall. This is their latest mutation. It's more fun if you keep it out of sight most of the time, then bring it out in front of coworkers acting like it has a serious purpose. Twiddle with it for a second, then put it away and act like it was an everyday remote for some device everyone should own by now.
We hope you've enjoyed our little tour of desktop diversions. You people have to do something besides stay plastered to Fortnight all day, you know!