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App Smart

A collection of wonderful and weird amusements

Mobile apps can seem
a bit like the tools on a Swiss army knife. Many of them are useful, but some are just fun. And so it is in the app stores, where many wonderfully weird and surprising apps reside alongside their utilitarian brethren.

PolyFauna

Free on iOS and Android

Take one of the oddest apps you’ll ever use, PolyFauna. It is a piece of musical performance art from Radiohead, the popular rock band. As you look at your phone, you see a night sky with writhing shapes. Turn the phone, and you see more of the dimly lit landscape. Hisses and echoes fill your ears. You find you can draw strange resonating curves in the air, which then fly away. Suddenly, a crackling red dot zooms near you and you turn to see it. It hisses closer and . . . bang. The scene is replaced by an even more bizarre one with different sounds pouring into your mind. The app is fascinating. It’s full of stark 3-D graphics that evolve and move as you rotate your phone, almost as if you have a virtual reality window into the surreal genius of Radiohead’s musical minds. You need headphones for the full effect. I actually can’t describe PolyFauna better than this, and as there are no real instructions in the app all I can suggest is that you try it.

Continue reading below

Suspend your skepticism, download it free for iOS and Android, and give it a whirl. Your creative soul may get a lift.

Nightjar

$5 on iOS

Less odd but equally unexpected is Nightjar, a wonderful adventure game.

This is another app that requires you
to don headphones, as the interesting part is the audio. There are a few graphical controls
to tap and swipe, but to play the game you have to follow the sounds.

Voices, music, and other sounds tell you that you’re on a damaged spaceship, the Nightjar, slipping toward a collapsed star.

All is blackness and confusion, and the only help comes from the voice of a man communicating by radio. At least he seems to be trying to help. It’s all a bit weird, and because your imagination substitutes for graphics, it feels scary.

As you swipe the controls to move yourself through the game, the sound effects rotate around you in a convincing 3-D way. You navigate through spaceship doors that seem to be hissing open and shut in front of and behind you.

For all its eeriness, the game is actually extremely playable.

Best of all, the helpful radio character is played by the English actor Benedict Cumberbatch, which is probably enough to get his fans playing the game instantly.

This spooky game is worth its $5 price, even though the story lasts only a couple of hours. It’s available for iOS.

Strange Rain

$2 on iOS

Strange Rain, a $2 iOS app, is another unusual interactive story.

The app simulates rain falling from threatening clouds onto the screen of your phone, and the drops interact with your finger taps and swipes.

In its simplest mode, the interactive rain decorates the display, offering relaxing sound effects. In story mode, the raindrops intermingle with words that form a story — sort of an interactive stream of consciousness. It’s very surprising.

Last but not least is Riddling, $1 on iOS. In this game, with beautiful if simple graphics, you type in words to answer a riddle connected with a number on the screen. The numbers count up, and your mind twists through dozens of loops and knots as you try to work out the clues.

Definitely odd, and definitely fun.

Kit Eaton writes on technology
for The New York Times.
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