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Build with Chrome is a virtual Lego time-suck, but worth it

Blow off your work with Build with Chrome, an online Lego-building platform that lets you stack virtual bricks into elaborate creations.

Build with Chrome Lego structure
My Lego house defies all engineering sense.
Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

You really, really want to build something out of little plastic bricks, but you're stuck in your office, far away from your Lego stash. Lucky for you, Google has just unveiled Build with Chrome, a virtual Lego playground that gives you access to all sorts of pieces for building online.

You can jump right in, or take some lessons first. The Build Academy sets you against a series of challenges to train you to be a master builder. You're guided along by a virtual hippy-wizard Lego minifig, a character that ties in marketing-wise with the upcoming Lego movie. It starts off basic with learning how to rotate your baseplate and gets increasingly more complex as you hone your skills.

I'll admit I started cursing at the hippy-wizard partway through the second challenge when I was having trouble figuring out exactly which bricks he wanted where. It sounded almost the same as when I step on a loose Lego on the floor. It really can be a bit challenging to place the digital bricks in just the right place.

Virtual bricks aren't as satisfying as real ones, but they have certain advantages. You don't have to dig through disorganized piles to find the right one. You have as many pieces as you need. You can change the color at will. You can't step on them. Thankfully, Google has gone to the trouble of having the digital blocks make a clicking sound when you attach them, so you at least get some audio satisfaction.

If the mouse just isn't doing it for you, then you may be able to go touch screen and use your fingertips by enabling support for WebGL with the Chrome mobile browser on your Android phone or tablet. Google says this will work for devices with "high-end graphics capabilities."

Build with Chrome is also a worldwide Lego community. You can explore other people's builds via a Google Map interface, though I ran into some technical difficulties with zooming in on the various creations.

Build with Chrome started off as an experiment a couple years ago, but it's now open for everyone to play, which probably has a lot to do with "The Lego Movie" release date coming up in early February. Regardless of the timing, Lego fans and casual builders who want to revisit their childhoods will get a kick out of stacking bricks, even if they're not real.