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Free Covid-time entertainment galore

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Hang in there, everyone. While the coronavirus situation seems to be getting worse, the free-entertainment situation is getting better. Nearly every day I learn of some new offering to help keep you occupied while you wait it out at home. Games, movies, comics, virtual tours, live theater, guitar lessons — all that and more, and all you need for most of it is a computer, phone, tablet or TV. 

I’m updating this post regularly, so bookmark it and check back often for new additions. In the meantime: Stay safe, stay healthy and stay home.

Free MasterClass classes

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MasterClass

MasterClass offers online classes in a wide range of subjects, taught by leaders in their fields. We’re talking Gordon Ramsey on cooking, Martin Scorsese on filmmaking, Penn & Teller on magic and so on. Starting Wednesday, April 15, MasterClass Live will offer one free streaming class per week. First up: Bestselling author Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code) will talk about writing thrillers and how to build suspenseful stories.

Tune in Wednesdays at 5 p.m. PT, 8 p.m. ET.

Free PC games

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Five games, all free this month for Amazon Prime subscribers (and Twitch users).Twitch

Tired of bite-size phone games? This is the perfect time to reconnect with (or discover) computer games, which can deliver richer, deeper experiences. If nothing else, you’ll love playing on a bigger screen. Here’s what you can get absolutely free right now:

  • Point-and-click indie adventure game The Search is currently free on Steam.
  • Drawful 2 is a super-fun Pictionary-like group game from the folks behind the beloved You Don’t Know Jack series. The object is to sketch a picture on your phone or tablet based on a text prompt, and then everyone gets to vote on what the picture represents. And because we’re all social-distancing right now, you can play this not only at home with family, but also remotely with far-flung friends and relatives. The free version is available via the Mac App Store and Steam; Nintendo Switch owners can buy it for just 9 cents.
  • GOG is giving away a whopping 27 PC games, including classics dating back to 1979 (!) and a playable prologue of the brand new city-building sim Builders of Egypt. All titles are DRM-free and compatible with Windows; some are also available for Mac or Linux.  
  • If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, don’t miss these five free PC games worth over $100. You have to jump through a hoop or two (creating and then connecting a Twitch account), but it’s all pretty easy.
  • Epic just rolled out its latest free games, including the first-person horror adventure Close to the Sun (normally $30) and mystery-adventure (natch) Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments.

Free print-and-play board games

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All six of these print-and-play games are free right now.Asmodee

Got ink in the printer? And some paper? Then you’ve got everything you need to enjoy some pretty darn cool games.

  • Cards Against Humanity: Family Edition is a more PG-rated version of the hugely popular card game, and it’s currently free to download. You’ll need a decent amount of paper and ink — the two versions span 21 and 47 pages, depending on the card size you choose. Consider raising your game, so to speak, by printing on card stock. (Take note that to get the game, you’ll have to click through a couple pages of “agreements,” including one that some may find politically offensive.) 
  • Game seller Asmodee is now offering print-and-play versions of six popular games, including the escape-room adventure Unlock! and visual-storytelling game Dixit. Just download the rules and gameplay PDFs and then get printing. 

Free streaming TV and movies

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Watch all of Battlestar Galactica free on SyFy.NBCUniversal

Just want to veg out in front of the TV? Don’t blame you one bit. While I think Hulu for $6 a month is arguably the single best streaming deal you can get, here are some other options that won’t cost you a dime:

  • Starting Friday, April 17, at 6 p.m. PT, the Lionsgate YouTube page will livestream four popular movies, hosted by Jamie Lee Curtis. The first movie will be The Hunger Games, followed by Dirty Dancing on April 24, La La Land on May 1 and John Wick on May 8. Find out more in Lionsgate’s press release.
  • SyFy is now streaming the entire Battlestar Galactica reboot series free on its web site. This is one of my all-time favorite shows, a work of television that should be uttered in the same breath as The Wire and The Sopranos. I liked it so much, in fact, that I recorded a Battlestar Galactica recap podcast, which I invite you to listen to while you watch. From there, check out the top 15 moments from Battlestar Galactica — but only after you’ve finished the series.
  • Sling TV is now totally free during prime time, no credit card required. Watch live news and over 50 channels every evening. Note that this is available for new accounts only.
  • Focus Features is livestreaming movies for free via its Facebook page, with a new one every Monday. Selections include Gosford Park, Moonrise Kingdom, Mallrats and My Summer of Love. Each movie starts at 5 p.m. PT, 8 p.m. ET.
  • Free HBO. You can now stream hundreds of hours’ worth of programming, including every season of Barry (yes!), Silicon Valley and Veep. There are also some family-friendly movies, like The Lego Movie 2 and Pokemon Detective Pikachu.  
  • Next, check out this list of 10 totally free movie streaming services. Over at Pluto, for example, you can find an entire channel of James Bond movies, while Kanopy is home to notable films like Captain Fantastic, Midsommar and The Great Buster: A Celebration. 
  • Just for good measure, here are the best free TV streaming services.
  • IMDb TV has added the first five seasons of Schitt’s Creek to its lineup. Previously you had to subscribe to Netflix if you wanted to watch that increasingly beloved show. While you’re there, check out Friday Night Lights and The Middle in their entirety.
  • Good news for parents: Amazon is now offering a bunch of free streaming kids shows, including Arthur, Caillou and The Dangerous Book for Boys. You don’t need an Amazon Prime subscription to view these, just an Amazon account.
  •  I wouldn’t call this the feel-good show we need right now, but if you don’t have an HBO subscription and want to check out a notable series, the Roku Channel is currently offering Westworld season 1 for free. It’s also available via the Apple TV app, even if you don’t have an Apple TV Plus subscription.
  • What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: I don’t hold this “middle child” Trek series in such high regard as most Trekkies (I always preferred Voyager; don’t @ me), but I was definitely interested in seeing the new documentary, What We Left Behind, when it debuted last year. You can rent it for $2 to $3 from nearly anywhere, but it’s now streaming free on IMDb TV and Tubi. It’s one of the weirder documentaries I’ve seen, but worth a watch if you’re a fan.
  • It’s still unknown whether we’ll get a delayed 2020 baseball season or none at all. But if you need your baseball fix (and watching some sports — any sports — sounds pretty great right now), here’s good news: MLB.tv is offering free streaming of 2018 and 2019 games when you log into or create an account.  
  • It’s not Rick and Morty, but Adult Swim is offering the entire Samurai Jack series free to stream via its website and apps.
  • Coming soon to a VR headset near you: The Tribeca Film Fest will show VR movies free to owners of the Oculus Go and Quest.

Free exercise classes

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The Peloton app gives you full access to all Peloton fitness content, but for a much lower price ($13 a month) than bike owners pay. And right now it’s free for 90 days.Rick Broida/CNET

OK, maybe it’s not entertainment, but it’s definitely good for you. With many gyms now closed indefinitely, many services have stepped up with free home-workout options.

  • Echelon is offering a free 90-day trial of the FitPass app, which, like Peloton’s (below), offers a wide variety of live and on-demand classes. You’ll find cardio and core workouts, pilates, Zumba and so on. The app is available for Android and iOS. If you choose to continue after the trial, FitPass costs $20 per month.
  • Peloton is offering a free 90-day trial of the Peloton app. Available for Android, iOS and Amazon Fire TV, it provides unlimited access to a wealth of live and on-demand classes: treadmill and outdoor running, strength training, high-intensity interval training, yoga, meditation and so on. If you choose to continue after the trial, the subscription costs $13 a month.
  •  This might be the perfect time to take up yoga, one of the greatest stress-relievers ever. You can find countless free beginner classes — and plenty for more experienced yogis as well — on YouTube. I recommend starting with Yoga With Adriene, which has literally hundreds of videos for all skill levels (and all categories, like Yoga for Bedtime and Yoga for Wrist Pain). While you’re at it, you can search YouTube for meditation classes — also not exactly entertaining, but a useful way to pass the time and keep stress at bay.

Free magazines

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RBDigital is home to lots of magazines you can download and read for free on your PC, tablet or phone.RBDigital

Call me old-fashioned, but I still enjoy reading magazines: Cook’s Illustrated, Family Handyman, Men’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Wired and so on. I’m not a paid subscriber to any of them; instead, I use RBDigital, a service offered by my public library, to read all those titles on my phone and tablet. The selection varies, so you may not have access to all the same titles I do, but you should definitely investigate using RBDigital to get free magazines from your library.

Meanwhile, DiscountMags just started offering free digital single issues of dozens of magazines. These aren’t subscriptions; you can pick and choose as many individual titles as you want. Once you redeem them, you’ll use the Zinio app to read.

Free ebooks and audiobooks

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Here’s an example of one of the great ebooks you may be able to check out from your library. (Seriously, read this one, it’s awesome.)Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Speaking of libraries, yours can probably hook you up with a selection of free ebooks and audiobooks as well. Right now, for example, I’m using an app called Libby (formerly OverDrive) to read a novel by Richard Russo, and before that I used it to listen to Martin Short’s thoroughly entertaining autobiography I Must Say (read by the author). You may have to wait a bit before the title you want becomes available, so add a bunch to your queue so you always have something ready to go.

Meanwhile, good news for parents: Amazon is now offering a bunch of Sesame Street e-books for free. As you might expect, they’re all Kindle editions, so you’ll need a Fire tablet or any any device capable of running the Kindle app.

Free comic books

Dark Horse is offering a ton of free first-issue comics, with titles including Hellboy and Stranger Things, as well as a selection for kids: Frozen, The Incredibles, Disney Treasure Island and more.

Next, head to Comixology to find a dozen free Marvel comics — Avengers vs. X-Men Collection and Civil War among them.  

Free virtual museum tours

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Anyone for a virtual tour of the American Museum of Magic?Google

How about a little culture in the mix? Google’s Arts & Culture collection can take you on virtual tours of hundreds of museums around the world, from Japan’s Nagoya City Art Museum to Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. Within each you may find one or more “stories” you can browse. You can sort the collection alphabetically or view them on a map. One particularly great example: Posters from History’s Greatest Illusionists at the American Museum of Magic. 

Free theater, opera and concerts

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The Shows Must Go On

Like so many industries, live theater is taking a beating right now. However, as the old saying (and a new YouTube channel, see below) goes, the show must go on. Hence, these streaming options:

  • The UK’s National Theatre streams a different play every Thursday. You can find the streams on the National Theatre at Home YouTube channel. First up: One Man, Two Guvnors, starring James Corden.
  • YouTube channel The Shows Must Go On is streaming a different Andrew Lloyd Webber musical each week. Each show will be available starting on Friday and will run for just 48 hours. There’s no sign-up required. Next up: Phantom of the Opera, April 17, 11 a.m. PT.
  • The New York Metropolitan Opera is streaming a different encore Live in HD performance every day. Each performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. ET (4:30 p.m. PT) and remain available for streaming for 20 hours. You can watch the streams in a browser, or use one of the Met Opera on Demand streaming apps available for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku devices.  

Free music

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Amazon Music HD aims to challenge the high-fidelity likes of Tidal and Qobuz. Here’s your chance to try it free for 90 days.Amazon

Tired of the same old Pandora playlists and the ads that frequently interrupt them? Several services are offering free premium subscriptions.

  •  90-day Amazon Music HD subscription: Wait, Amazon Music has an HD option? I honestly had no idea. And what does “HD” mean? In this case higher bit rates, otherwise known as better sound quality. Spotify maxes out at a bit rate of 320 kilobits per second, while Amazon HD delivers up to 850Kbps for its 50-million song library — and up to a whopping 3,730Kbps for millions of songs in “Ultra HD” format. This extended trial is available only for new Amazon Music subscribers. After that, you’ll get billed at the regular rate of $14.99 a month (or $12.99 if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber) unless you cancel.
  • 3-month Deezer HiFi subscription: Speaking of hi-fi music, Deezer promises CD-quality lossless streaming — and right now you can get a hi-fi subscription free for three months. That’s a $60 value. As with Amazon Music, you’ll continue getting billed after that unless you cancel.
  •  Sirius XM free streaming: Between now and May 15, SiriusXM is offering unlimited free streaming through its web portal and mobile apps. Normally $13 monthly, the plan includes not only all the regular channels, but also Howard Stern. 

Free audiobooks for kids and teens

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Audible is offering free streaming audiobooks for kids of all ages.Audible

To help keep out-of-school kids occupied, Audible is offering a big selection of streaming audiobooks at no charge. You’ll find the likes of Winnie-the-Pooh, Anne of Green Gables, White Fang, various Audible Originals and even some modern titles like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The service just made the first Harry Potter book available as well.

There are books available in different languages as well, including French, German and Spanish. For the moment it looks like a browser is required for this; the streams don’t seem to be available within Audible’s apps. There’s also no login or even registration required, and I was able to listen on my phone via my mobile browser.

Free audiobooks for adults

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Score some great Audible Originals for free.Audible

Audible is now offering a bunch of Audible Originals for free as well, most of them rated four stars or higher.

Needless to say, you’ll need an Audible account to access these. 

Free Crayola coloring pages

Need some new pictures for the kids to color? Crayola is offering a wealth of free-to-download (and print) coloring pages, all of them organized by season.

Free 3 months of guitar lessons from Fender

This has “Rick Broida” written all over it: I own a guitar and had every intention of learning to play, but for various reasons just never got going. Now, with ample extra time on my hands and Fender’s three-month subscription freebie, I can take lessons online. The site offers classes for acoustic and electric guitars and ukulele. Note that although a credit card is not required, this promotion is limited to the first 100,000 sign-ups.

Other ideas

What else can we do with all this stay-at-home down-time? Some suggestions: bake bread, organize the junk drawer, start a new hobby, revisit an old hobby, break out the board games. (Need a new one? Walmart currently has Ticket to Ride: London for just $9, nearly $11 off the regular price.) In other words, use this time to unwind, disconnect and hopefully find some calm.

Now tell me your ideas for staying busy and entertained — ideally without spending any (or much) money.

This article is frequently updated to reflect the latest free entertainment deals we can find. 

Courtesy – CNET

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