2010 GeekDad Holiday Gift Guide #3

Gift Guide Hacking the Holidays

Another Friday, another heap of super cool present ideas selected by the writers of GeekDad. Want additional suggestions? There’s more here.

Lost: The Complete Collection
Magnificently opulent boxed set devoted to a byzantine television series that has obsessed countless fans. It comes with the disks, of course, all six seasons’ episodes plus a kazillion hours of DVD extras. It also packs some fun stuff like a plastic ankh with a secret compartment inside, a mini blacklight flashlight, a copy of the predynastic Egyptian board game Senet (featured in Season 6) and so on.

The box itself is a heavy-duty flat-topped pyramid printed with hieroglyphs and containing a map of the island on the inside of the cover. Did I mention it’s heavy duty? I mean it. You’ve seen boxed sets where the box gets scragged early on and the multitudinous disks tumble off the shelves in their sleeves, to be scratched, mixed up and lost? Forget it. The Lost box ain’t going anywhere. Not guaranteeing it’ll fit on a shelf, mind you, but if you’re gonna drop this kind of scratch you’ll probably have a whole shrine devoted to the show. Buy it from Amazon.

This holiday season’s most intriguing gadget just got more… er, intriguinger. The Kinect is an accessory for the XBox that scans your movements and translates that into game controller talk. Total gestural control, think Wii accelerometers without the Wii accelerometers! If that wasn’t cool enough, the ninjas at DIY electronics hotspot Adafruit offered a bounty for whomever could hack the thing. Well, it was, and now all sorts of mind-boggling possibilities have opened up. Buy it from Amazon.

Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4
Explore Lego representations of Privet Drive, Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and Hogsmeade as one of 170 playable characters. Make potions, fly on a broom, and cast spells! Those familiar with Lego’s previous licensed games like Lego Batman or Lego Star Wars might expect the same format, but Harry Potter is different, less violent and more explorative. A great family game. Rated E10+. Available for the Wii, PS3, Xbox 360, DS, PSP & PC. Buy it from Amazon.

Cthulhu Dice and Zombie Dice
Two easy sells in most GeekDad households are dice games and schlock horror. Both these elements are well represented by a pair of amazingly fun and uniquely affordable titles from our friends at Steve Jackson Games. Cthulhu Dice challenges players with the quaintly Lovecraftian task of destroying the sanity of their adversaries with each roll of a custom D12. Likewise, Zombie Dice casts participants as shambling revenants intent on devouring the 13 victims represented by color-coded D6s. Both games offer a genuine pick-up-and-play experience that asks for very little (in the way of prior knowledge or prep time) yet offers so very much. If the gamer in your life could go for a little good-natured gore or zany existential horror in his stocking this season, either would make an ideal choice.

Ion Audio Twin Video Recorder
Hand-held video cam that records to a SD card, runs forever on a charge, and weighs less than your smartphone. While the Twin Video’s 640×480 probably won’t blow your skirt up, it packs one unique feature — it has two lenses and two mics, one set pointing forward and one pointing back. You can swap back and forth between then the cams while still recording, making the device great for interviews and vlogging. Buy it from Amazon.

Making Things Move
Dustyn Roberts, an Eyebeam alumna with a focus on robotics, has published a book on adding motion to a project using off-the-shelf components. With over a dozen small and large projects, dads are sure to find tons of cool projects to keep them busy. Buy it from Amazon.

Canned Unicorn Meat
While the National Pork Board hated on the ThinkGeek for describing their canned unicorn meat as “the new white meat“, the rest of us have been happily chowing down on the sparkle-packed meatlike product. A can a day lowers cholesterol! That is the GeekDad promise. Editorial intervention in 3… 2… 1… Buy it on ThinkGeek.

The 50 Most Extreme Places in Our Solar System
Brainy astronomy book that lures readers in with the promise, as the title suggests, of the most radical volcanoes, storms, craters and so on in the solar system. But that ruse disguises a wealth of planetary info sure to fascinate Dad. Buy it from Amazon.

Hunger Games Trilogy
Set in the dystopian future of a ruthless Capitol state which forces the children of its outlying districts to compete in annual battles to the death, The Hunger Games and its reluctant teenage hero, Katniss Everdeen, grabbed our entire family with stunning ferocity. These are seriously hard-to-put-down stories. The sequel, Catching Fire, landed the number four spot on Time Magazine’s list of 2009’s best fiction books and stands as a middle act of The Empire Strikes Back proportions. Collins’ 2010 finale, Mockingjay, closes the series in epic fashion. Exploring humanity’s jagged edges and not shying away from the consequences in war and love and politics and survival, Collins has crafted a science fiction trilogy that’s incredibly readable and entertaining and thought-provoking for both Young Adult readers and their parents.

Dear Hacker: Letters to the Editor of 2600
2600 is the longest-lasting periodical covering the hacking phenomenon, dating back before the days when the “Information Superhighway” was new-fangled technology. A couple of years ago they published The Best of 2600: A Hacker Odyssey which compiled hundreds of pages of articles from over the years. It was encyclopedic. It was the size of a phone book. It was missing something. But what? It was missing what many people say is the best thing about the magazine, the letters to the editor. To a degree these letters are mini articles. Questions, complaints, sly revelations, sophomoric rants. You get the sense that most of the letters were written by teenagers and younger people. Editor Emmanuel Goldstein’s wry — and at times sarcastic — responses turn many of the letters into a dialogue. Buy it from Amazon.

Scrabble Flash
Scrabble Flash is like a cross between Scrabble and Boggle, but with little electronic tiles with a built-in Scrabble dictionary and timer. As you shuffle the tiles and line them up, they automatically recognize valid words and score them for you. When time’s up, compare your score to the maximum possible. With two types of single-player games and a multi-player mode, Scrabble Flash fits in your pocket and only takes a minute and a half to play—though it’s hard to stop after just one game. It would make a perfect stocking-stuffer (or substitute your non-Christmas small-gift repository) for your favorite wordsmith. Read the full review or buy it from Amazon.*

Lego Technic Container Truck
Superbad truck consists of 686 pieces, including a Power Functions battery pack and motor! It’s a cool and detailed model with the cool feature of working in two ways. Pull the lever forward and the truck will unload the container behind it. Pull the lever back and it tips the bed back like a dump truck. Buy it from Amazon.

Contigo Autoseal Vacuum Insulated Tumbler
This cup does two things really well. First of all, the Autoseal makes the thing absolutely leakproof. Second, the double-walled, vacuum insulated construction makes the Contigo retain your beverage’s heat amazingly well for hours. Buy it on Amazon.

Falling: The Goblin Edition
Hilarious card game with a simple premise: you and your opponents are all goblins plummeting to the earth, jockeying for the choice position of being the last one to hit. 4-8 players ages 8 and up. Buy it on Paizo.com.

D&D Dungeon Tiles Master Sets
I have a shoebox full of dungeon tiles, so it took some convincing that D&D’s new Master Sets were worth adding to this gift guide. By “some convincing” I mean the amount of time it took me to take off the shrink wrap — then I was sold. Dungeon tiles are inch-marked cardboard shapes depicting caves, rooftops, tunnels, stairways and so on. When conducting a battle or merely roleplaying, the game master lays down the tiles to show the players what’s going on, with standard figures representing the PCs and monsters. The Master Sets rock first of all because they’re generic. Some of the sets have stuff like gigantic glowing blue pentacles and so on that may not necessarily apply in a given setting. By contrast, the Master Sets ditch details like that, letting you use the tiles more universally without distraction. The second reason I really liked these sets is that they come in an logoless, oversized, laminated storage box printed with the same graphics as the tiles themselves. Dude, you can use the boxes as giant dungeon tiles! Currently available are The Dungeon and The City sets, with Wilderness on pre-sale.

Mouse Guard
In the animal kingdom, there are predators and prey, and many animals are a bit of both. Mice spend most of their time being hunted by a long list of hunters. That’s part of what makes Mouse Guard such a great tale—unlikely heroes, insurmountable odds, epic quests. David Petersen has crafted a beautiful world with the humble mouse at its core. The Mouse Guard is responsible for protecting and policing the vast (to a mouse) territories between the well-hidden mouse colonies, and are often faced with hungry predators, unforgiving terrain, and harsh conditions.

The Mouse Guard series follows a few of the guard as they travel throughout the territories, uncovering a plot to overthrow the Mouse Guard leader and meeting up with the legendary Black Axe. It’s a winning combination of fantasy and the natural world, and you’ll find yourself poring over Petersen’s illustrations as you read. There is some violence and treachery that makes it unsuitable for very young readers, but older kids and adults will enjoy the adventure. Read the full review or buy it from Amazon.

Caffeinated Nixie Tubes
Brightly colored, caffeinated sugar powder contained in test tubes. Um, yeah, what else were you expecting? Great stocking stuffers if you’d like to up the frequency and intensity of your Christmas morning freakouts. Alternatively, might make a better gift for grownups who desire a little variety in their stimuli. Buy them on ThinkGeek.

Keel’s Simple Diary
A diary for those who find a blank page too intimidating, can think of nothing to write about, or just want a different format. Rather than having you regale a theoretical reader with a description of your boring day, the Simple Diary is designed like a questionnaire. The questions, however, are unexpected and thought provoking. Every time you crack the book, not only will you end up with an (albeit very succinct) description of your day, you’ll have been forced to think. Buy it from Amazon.

Tron Zero G Light Cycles
Disney’s Tron: Legacy film takes place 20 years after the events in in Tron. Of course the iconic Light Cycles from the original will be part of the soon-to-be-released sequel. Disney sent me the “Tron Zero G Cycle” RC vehicles to review for our Holiday Gift Guide. This was one the kids kept asking “When do we get to try it !” Sure the 6 foot LED trail the cycle emitted as it ran across my floor was cool, but when I ran it up the wall the kids practically tackled me for the remote. Using Air Hog technology the Zero G Light Cycle can drive up walls and even on the ceiling. It’s not easy to beat that kind of fun … until you get two of them. With two cycles you can play the light cycle game from the movie. If your light cycle crosses the other LED trial your cycle shuts down and falls off the wall. The cycles are pretty sturdy and can handle the bumps.

The cycles come in either orange or blue and the remote is also used to charge the cycles. Retailing for around $39.99 they are available at most major retailers and of course at Amazon.

Portable wifi hotspot enclosed in a sleek disk about the size of a thick coaster. It provides WiMAX connectivity for yourself and up to seven friends’ wifi-enabled devices. Definitely liking the simple rate plans — $5 for a day, $20 a week, and $50 gets you a month’s coverage. I could see it being slick for travelers. Forget searching for a Starbucks or paying ruinous rates to the Man — just re-up for however many days you need. Buy it from Rover.com.

The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten
If you prefer Garrison Keillor to Jane Austen, or found that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was all prim and proper 19th century England, when you wanted a classic small town Americana setting for your satirical zombie apocalypse, then The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten by Harrison Geillor may be the book for you. As one of the tongue-in-rotten cheek blurbs on the back cover notes: “I honestly thought that if there was going to be a zombie outbreak in Minnesota, it would be at the Mall of America… Harrison Geillor has proven me wrong.”* Buy it from Amazon.

Wii game that uses the Motion Plus attachment to turn your controller into the hilt of a sword. That’s right, this game, true to the name, focuses exclusively on providing as realistic as possible simulation of wielding a sword. The game starts you off as an apprentice and you must prove yourself by learning the various maneuvers, gradually working your way up to deadlier opponents and earning new swords. Note that you should definitely have the Motion Plus if you want to get this game. Rated T for Teen. Buy it from Amazon.

Mass Effect N7 Armour Stripe Hoodie
Independent laboratory testing has recently confirmed that Mass Effect 2 is the bestest video game ever. (You may be able to disagree with my personal opinion, but you can’t argue with science!) So why not treat the Commander Shepard in your life to BioWare’s own N7 Armour Stripe Hoodie? Your heart will swell with pride as your loved one proudly displays her undying support for the Systems Alliance military’s Special Forces unit in this full-zip hoodie styled just like the armor from the acclaimed series. Except, y’know, it only offers minimal protection from a Geth Pulse Rifle blast. Available in black, royal blue and charcoal, these fine wares are constructed of cotton, polyester and liquid awesome. “I am Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite sweatshirt on the Citadel.”

K’Nex Loopin’ Lightning Coaster
K’nex does girderlike assemblies really, really well, making it great for building, well, gigantic awesome roller coasters! This coaster is a challenging build that ends up well over 3 feet in height, and its motor runs on two AA batteries, not included. Buy it from Amazon.

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