It’s weird and hard and we’re feeling it too. Now more than ever, diving into new skills, old interests and even — perhaps especially — totally fluffy mindless entertainment can keep our minds refreshed and our days full. From at-home workouts and soothing virtual farming simulators to Catherine’s honestly uncannily good drawings of our staff pets, here’s what’s working for us.
Natasha Mascarenhas, Reporter
Bon Appétit YouTube videos
While this is not at all a revolutionary concept, Bon Appétit’s YouTube videos are the calming distraction I’ve been using after work. I give double points to Priya Krishna, their in-house Indian American chef, for inspiring me to go back to some old classics with confidence. If you like New Jersey, watch any of Brad’s videos. And If you like watching a gourmet cook try to recreate niche food items like Hot Pockets, watch Claire’s videos.
This is the perfect video game for people who don’t like video games but enjoy high-intensity conversations about flipping burgers with their housemates. You act like a chef with other users and try to complete recipes. And yes, things do catch on fire if you aren’t on top of your game.
Catherine Shu, Writer
Procreate app + Apple Pencil
I was skeptical about digital art because my favorite part of sketching is messing around with different mediums, but the combination of Procreate (I use it on an iPad Air) and my Apple Pencil have been a very welcome distraction. I do a combination of freehand sketching and tracing photos to make my own versions of coloring sheets. I’ve been keeping a sketch journal and drawing pet portraits for my friends: this one is of TechCrunch’s hardware editor Brian’s rabbit, Lucy.
Keeping a journal
….or you can try sketching with pen and paper, too! If you don’t own an iPad or drawing is not your thing, then journal. Seriously. This is a very strange time and things keep changing and escalating. I live in Taiwan, where COVID-19 has impacted daily life for months already, but I find it very hard to remember the details of what happened or how I felt from week to week. Keep a regular record, even if it’s just a couple sentences. It will keep you centered when the days start to blend together.
Brian Heater, Hardware Editor
High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies
A thick tome that deconstructs the roles Philip K Dick, Terence McKenna and Robert Anton Wilson played in developing the psychedelic subculture of the 70s. Heavy, man.
The lore runs deep with Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington’s On Cinemaverse. There’s the podcast, the series, a motion picture, another series (Dekker), a multi-hour mock trial and seven live-streamed Oscar specials — all of it is deeply hilarious.
I dusted my old kettlebell off. This and morning yoga (see: Natasha L’s) have been the extent of most of my exercising, but the number of things you can do with the dumb piece of cast iron is mind-boggling.
“The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place” by Explosions in the Sky
I can’t say why for certain, but I’ve only been able to listen to largely instrumental music since this whole thing went into overdrive here in the U.S. My playlist at the moment mostly consists of jazz piano like Monk and Bill Evans, guitarists like John Fahey, Jim O’Rourke and Khaki King and more noise-oriented work like Can and Boris. But post-rock has been my real rock, including Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mowai and this absolute classic.
Devin Coldeway, Writer
Ring Fit Adventure
This Switch fitness game with its ring controller has helped me exercise regularly even after I finished my review. It’s even more helpful now that the actual gym is not an option.
This peaceful farming game is a great one to play with friends who might not be interested in more “serious” gaming. Download Discord, start a farm and have fun. Make sure you’re all on the same platform!
People who haven’t worked from home much likely don’t have a big selection of ambient music that’s easy to work through. This site has dozens of pleasant but not distracting procedurally generated streams that go forever.
Korean and Chinese historical dramas
Tired of the same old U.S. prestige TV and sitcom reruns? Korea and China have been making AMAZING historical dramas like “Nirvana in Fire” and “Mr Sunshine” that are very different from what you’re used to.
Darrell Etherington, Science Editor
A great resource-gathering and crafting sim with a fun style and very light system requirements that’s available on both PC and Mac. A recent expansion provides even more fun.
You might have a lot of extra time on your hands, and Zooniverse turns that time into crowdsourced contributions to ongoing scientific research. Verify lab results! Identify raccoons! Do all kinds of fun stuff, easily and from the comfort of home.
Hello from the Magic Tavern
This is a long-running podcast with the simple premise that a normal guy from Chicago finds himself trapped in a high-fantasy, Tolkien-esque world. All improv on-the-spot storytelling, and plenty of archives to catch up on.
Josh Constine, Editor-at-Large
If you were ever curious about anime, or thought it was too childish or ridiculous, you need to try Cowboy Bebop, the 1997 animated series. It’s about a group of bounty hunters in the near future navigating the gig economy as they try to find where they fit in the universe after an accident nearly destroys earth. Cowboy Bebop offers gorgeous noir-ish illustration, stylish fashion, thrilling action and suspenseful romance, all set to hip jazz soundtrack. You can binge the two seasons, but most episodes are relatively self-contained for a satisfying quick hit of entertainment.
Most first-person shooter games are pure tests of reflexes and experience, making them daunting to those who end up getting pwned by long-time players. Overwatch is different. Instead of everyone having similar weapons or skills, in this 6-on-6 battle you pick one of 21 different characters with unique attack, shield and healing abilities. Be a ghostly dual-wielding assassin, a viking knight with a giant hammer or angelic doctor who can revive teammates. It’s more about the interplay of your squad’s characters than individual effort, which is perfect for those feeling lonely amidst quarantine.
Greg Kumparak, Editor
If you’re into the concept of battle royale games but aren’t into the building aspects of Fortnite, check out Apex. You pick one of 12 “Legends” (each with their own strengths and abilities) and team up with two other players to try to be the last squad standing. Like most battle royale games, it’s easy to keep saying “OK, OK, one more game,” until you look up and realize you’ve been playing for eight hours straight. It’s available for Windows, Xbox One and PS4… and it’s freeeeeee!
Ask the StoryBots
Working with a young kid at home and need to give them a bit of TV time for everyone’s sanity? Can’t stand to watch any more Daniel Tiger? Ask the StoryBots. Kids ask questions (Where do planets come from? How do ears hear?), and the StoryBots go and find the answer. Created by the brothers behind JibJab (a viral internet thing before viral internet things were a thing) and acquired by Netflix, it’s somehow perfectly tuned for us to watch when everyone just needs some down time… and, I admit, I’ve totally learned a thing or two from it. Bonus: A lot of the music in the show is by Parry Gripp, the unreasonably clever songwriter behind Nerf Herder. The songs will get stuck in your head forever… but hey, better than Baby Shark.
It’s the best kind of “distance learning.” No one is going to complain about getting schooled by Steph Curry and the many other greats who appear on the platform.
Lucas Matney, Reporter
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
My hype had already been building for Animal Crossing’s release Friday, but after being under government-enforced shelter-in-place in San Francisco, I’ve been yearning for the relaxation of repaying predatory home loans to Tom Nook. We have little idea how this will compare to past versions, but given its been eight years since a major release in the series, I have sky-high hopes.
Natasha Lomas, Senior Reporter
YouTube’s fitness community is going to be essential to stay sane and healthy during this lockdown — whether you need specialised training or just want to keep (or obtain!) a general level of fitness. If I had to pick one longtime favorite channel I’d probably go for Yoga with Kassandra. The channel offers a mix of vinyasa and yin yoga classes, including some hour-long classes. The content caters to various levels and interests. For the more advanced she offers some minimal cues classes, which can be especially great if you’re sharing a living space and don’t want to take over too much of the general ambiance with yogi chatter. Namaste.
Matt Burns, Managing Editor
I’ve never watched Gundam nor read the books. I don’t know anything about these robot guys. But they’re great fun to construct. The best part is there’s no glue involved. Everything snaps together in a satisfying way and the only tool required is a pair of snippers. A couple hours later, bam, robot dude with a giant gun. Things can get even more involved. Some builders take ultra-fine pens and line the panels, which gives the models more depth. Others add weathering marks and battle damage. I’ve taken to painting a few panels. There are no rules.
Anthony Ha, Senior Writer
Star Trek: Picard
The latest Star Trek spin-off on CBS All Access (and Amazon Prime Video outside the United States) is a bit of a slog in its early episodes, wallowing in a future that has gotten considerably bleaker since the days of “Next Generation.” But the pace is quickening, and the darkness increasingly feels like a reminder that an enlightened Star Trek future is something that has to be continually fought for and earned — and that we will always need compassion, curiosity and optimism.
While the rules around going outside differ from location to location, it’s worth emphasizing that for many of us, walking and exercising at a safe social distance are still encouraged. Here in New York, with bars and restaurants and theaters closed, it looks like plenty of city dwellers are rediscovering the joy of green space. (Just remember to stay six feet apart!)
Ingrid Lunden, Editor
Pandemic (and other table-top games)
Not wallowing in coronavirus pity here! Pandemic is a group game, away from the screen, where everyone has to work together to cover the globe with research centers. Wonderful lesson to be had here: There is no single “winner.” You have to collaborate to reach the objective, which is to find a cure. Other table-top games my family likes include Catan, Ticket to Ride, Istanbul and Perudo.
Kirsten Korosec, Senior reporter and editor
I rediscovered a jump rope hanging on the back of my door and thought, hmm this is something i can do. In moments of frustration or when I feel like I’ve been sitting too long I just jump rope for a few minutes.
In such a chaotic world, organizing and cleaning has been a go-to for me. That’s how I found that jump rope. ^^
I’ve been playing around with my Pixel 3 camera, digging into some of features and stuff I never bothered to learn. I have started taking macro and more artistic (in my mind) pictures of stuff in my immediate world. There are a number of cat photos too of course. But each day’s photo seems to perfectly capture my mood.
Taylor Hatmaker, Writer
The world may feel upside down, but the latest Pokémon game is as relaxing and formulaic as ever. And there’s something about catching virtual animals and relegating them to tiny spherical prisons that makes home quarantine feel not so bad.
I get bored when I don’t feel like I’m learning anything, so language apps are perfect. I got started with learning beginner Japanese in a classroom, so now I use apps to refresh my (very rusty) knowledge. And happily, the language has enough memorization to keep me busy from now until the end of time.
Against all odds I somehow got my non-gamer wife into Fortnite and we play it when we absolutely can’t otherwise turn our brains off. Fortnite is a 180 from relaxing games like Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, but it’s addictive and absorbing if you’d like to teleport forward in time a few hours. Also the new season has a really buff calico cat named Meowscles, so don’t sleep on that.
It’s the perfect time to hit the virtual library and check out e-books that embody the skills you’d like your very impressive aspirational self to have. In my case, I’m trying to learn the principles of Japanese and Thai cooking so I never need to eat out again, pretty much. Lately, I cook every day and it’s gone a long way toward keeping me sane. Cook something and waste a bunch of time taking artsy photos of what you made. You’ll feel accomplished, even if you won’t be winning any Michelin stars. If all else fails, make pancakes and don’t stop until you feel better.