Say what you will about Google, but the old search-engine devil has some fine taste and sense of humor in its design department. Over the years Google’s amassed a veritable trove of hidden games, many of which first appeared in connection with anniversaries but continue to be available to play today.
So if you want to sabotage some productivity at work or play Pac-Man instead of studying for class (not that we’d ever encourage such a thing), read on for the best secret Google games you can play right now.
1. Garden Gnomes
On 10th June 2018 Google celebrated Garden Day in Germany (nope, we’ve never heard of it either) by releasing a Google Doodle themed around garden gnomes (did you know they originate from 13th-century Anatolia?).
Anyway, clicking this Doodle would start a deviously addictive game where you’d catapult gnomes as far as you could using a sort of trebuchet. Sounds a bit cruel, but it’s a bit like Angry Birds really, and you never heard them complaining.
The Doodle is now gone, but you can find it in the Google Doodle archive and play it whenever you like.
2. Android Neko (Android N)
Shamelessly ripping from Japanese cat-collection game Neko Atsume is this charming Easter egg that may not be exactly worth the hours but is a nice background time-waster.
The idea is that you put down bits of food on your screen, keep using your phone as normal, and after a while a cat may come and eat the food. (It will appear as a card in the notification area.) Then it becomes your cat! You can keep doing this to add more cats to your collection, share it on social media, whatever. It’s silly but kind of sweet.
To unlock it, go to “Settings -> About Phone -> Android version.” (This will vary slightly between phones.) When you reach the screen with your Android Software, keeping tapping it until the Android “N” logo appears on you screen.
Next, swipe down the notification menu from the top of the screen, tap the “Edit” icon, then scroll down until you find the Quick Setting called “????” with a cat face next to it. Drag this up from “Hidden items” into your Quick Settings menu and hit “Done.”
In your Notification menu, you’ll now have an option that says “Empty Dish.” Tap it, add some food, and let the strange pseudo-Pokemon begin!
3. Solitaire (Google Search)
The first game many of you will ever have played on a computer, the classic card-matcher, is available to play directly through Google Search.
Just type “solitaire” into the Google Search, and hit Enter. It’s the same old game you’ve always remembered – about stacking cards in descending order and in alternating colors. It looks nice, too, with a dash of Google’s design swagger.
4. Smarty Pins (Google Maps)
Once upon a time Google’s in-house geography trivia quiz was accessible directly through Google Maps by typing “smarty pins” into the search box. For whatever reason, this wonderfully designed little quiz game is no longer there, but you can find it at smartypins.withgoogle.com.
The game uses Google Maps to ask you all manner of questions (ranging from moderately easy to super tough), which you answer by placing the Maps pin on the location where you believe the answer is located. Points are collected in the form of “miles,” and if you’re struggling, then it gives you witty little hints. Compelling, yet kind of educational, so you don’t feel too bad about wasting your time with it.
5. Flight Simulator (Google Earth)
It’s been around for years, but Google Earth is still kind of mind-blowing, letting you whiz around the planet and zoom in on just about anything, anywhere in the world (well, apart from military bases, North Korea, and the usual sketchy stuff).
Better still, Google Earth has a built-in flight simulator that lets you travel around the world using an actual plane. You can even choose whether to fly an SR22 or F-16 jet and play using a joystick, if you have one. Our advice is to turn on 3D buildings as well, which means you’ll get to experience cities like San Francisco (pictured) in their murky-textured but nonetheless 3D glory.
To access it, you need to download and install Google Earth on your Windows, Mac or Linux computer, and then from the menu click “Tools -> Enter Flight Simulator” at the top.
6. T-Rex Run (Google Chrome Browser)
Google knows that the absence of the Internet can make people lose their minds. Luckily, Google hopes to stave off violent reactions with this cute and addictive game. One of the more well-known “hidden” games, this one requires Google’s Chrome browser.
Starring a lone T-Rex in 8-bit glory, you jump over cacti and evade flying pterodactyls in this endless runner.
To play, shut off your device’s WiFi or fire up Chrome when you have no access to the Internet. When presented with the “Unable to connect to the Internet” screen (featuring the aforementioned T-Rex), hit the Space bar (or tap on your screen if you’re on a tablet or phone). Get ready because the deceptively-easy game is about to begin. Just keep hitting that space bar to jump.
7. Zerg Rush (Google Search)
Referencing the seminal real-time strategy game Starcraft, Zerg Rush is a little simple than Blizzard’s seminal game. For those who have never played Starcraft, the Zerg are a race of insect-like aliens. Performing a “Zerg Rush” requires a player to quickly amass a large army of weak units and use them to overwhelm an enemy.
Search “Zerg Rush” in Google and prepare yourself as Google Os swarm in from all corners of your screen. Eventually the Os will destroy the search results, but you can eliminate them by clicking on them with your mouse. How long can you last?
8. Pac-Man (Google Search)
This custom Pac-Man game appeared as a Google “doodle” on May 21, 2010. This playable version of Pac-Man was made to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the incredibly popular arcade game. To start munching on pac-dots, simply Google “pacman,” and you can get down to the timeless business of avoiding Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Clyde.
9. Snake (Google Search)
Prepare to feel like Marty McFly and go back in time. The Google Doodle commemorating the 2013 Chinese New Year features a classic game from Nokia-era mobile phone dominance. That’s right, a version of Snake is playable within Google’s search engine. To play, punch in “Google Snake Game,” and click on the top result.
10. Breakout (Google Search)
Breakout is a 1972 arcade game developed by Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. Players control a paddle that bounces a ball into bricks arranged at the top of the screen. The goal is to volley the ball back and forth between the paddle and the bricks until all the bricks are knocked out. To access this classic, type “Atari Breakout” into Google’s Image Search. All of the search results will morph into bricks. Control the paddle with the arrow keys or your mouse.
Honorable Mention: Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon
In a 1994 interview with Premiere Magazine, actor Kevin Bacon made an offhand comment about how he had worked with everyone in Hollywood or someone who’s worked with them. This spiraled into a game based on the six degrees of separation between him and other actors. This concept suggests that any two people on Earth are six, or fewer, links apart. In Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, a player names any actor and attempts to connect him or her to Bacon in six or fewer people. Google technicians must have a lot of free time on their hands since they integrated the game into the Google search engine. Simply type in any actor’s name followed by “Bacon number” to see how far removed that actor is from Kevin Bacon.
Bonus challenge: can you find an actor with a Bacon number of four or above? If so, post the actor’s name in the comments and revel in your mastery of Kevin Bacon-related movie trivia.
This post was first published in October 2016 and was updated in May 2018.