The electronic spread-sheet is nearly ubiquitous in today's workplace. But the next time you find your chief financial officer hunched over his personal computer, take a closer look. He may be playing Gato.

Gato is a computer game that simulates World War II submarine warfare, but it has a feature that's made it incredibly popular with the office set. No matter where the user is in the game, all he or she has to do is hit the "delete" key, and bingo -- away go the submarines and up pops a screen full of numbers. It looks like a real spreadsheet, and it has pulled the wool over the eyes of many a boss.

Phillip Adam, executive vice-president of Spectrum HoloByte Inc., the Boulder, Colo., software publisher that markets the program, says the idea for the escape hatch came, partly in jest, from an executive who went on to order more than 30 copies. That was almost two years ago, and for much of the past year, Gato (which retails for less than $50) has been among Billboard magazine's 20 best-selling recreational programs in America.

While most of the buyers have been game enthusiasts, Adam owes a small debt of gratitude as well to corporate purchasing managers who have naively mistaken Gato for something serious. "They'll call and say, 'We don't know what [Gato] is, but that's what people say we need."