Just as the swirling of autumnal leaves turns to the blustering gusts of snow, similarly, the equanimity of November starts to take on the tinge of panic as December arrives. That’s right, it’s time to take this holiday shopping seriously. Fortunately, the GeekDad contributors have taken up the challenge and have accumulated a couple dozen tantalizing gift suggestions. And if this isn’t enough, be sure to check out our previous guides.
Spy Gear Trakr
Fun robot toy that lets you remotely control a robot and see through its camera and hear noises picked up by its mic. It packs a robust set of features including programmable routes, USB plug, SD card slot, IR night vision, and video capture. When you see the circuit board through its clear canopy, with labeled empty pinouts, you begin to get a sense of how hackable this bad boy is — they should call it the Hakr. Even if that’s not your bag you’ll enjoy the heck out of this great toy.* Buy it from Amazon.
I’m intrigued by the new D&D Essentials books and sets. It’s a different way to package up Dungeons & Dragons. The paradigm thus far has been the classic hardcover rulebook. With Essentials, Wizards of the Coast tries a different tack — a stripped down product that provides you everything you need to run an elementary campaign. The books are trade paperback in size with soft covers, providing a much more economical price. The Rules Compendium collects all the basic rules, and is intended for all players. For DMs they have the Dungeon Master’s Kit which provides everything one needs to run a game, including an Essentials DM’s book, a tabletop encounter map, and monster tokens. The Monster Vault includes a lot more classic critters. While the tokens lack the zing of actual figures, they provide a critical resource for gamers who might not have a lot of figures. Finally, for beginners who may not know what dice to buy, the D&D Roleplaying Game Dice gives you what you need and includes a rather sweet suede-ette dice bag with the D&D logo embroidered on it.*
The Half-Made World
Steampunk-meets-oldwesty-fantasy, Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made World describes the conflict between two factions, the übercapitalist Line and the militaristic Gun. The hero is a psychologist whose specialty holds the promise to make the world a better place.* Buy it on Amazon.
Star Trek Enterprise Pizza Cutter
Fandom is a strange and wondrous thing, mostly because of the undeniable spark it adds to everyday life. Take, for example, the Star Trek Enterprise Pizza Cutter. Sure, you could slice your pie with any old run of the mill pizza wheel, but you’re a Trekker. (Trekkie is a derogatory term!) You know that this officially licensed collectible is cast in the likeness of the famed NCC-1701. Further, you know the only nerdier way to slice up a pizza is with a bat’leth. Which would be silly. Available from our friends at Think Geek, this handiest and dandiest kitchen tool will set you back a mere $24.99.
BuckyBalls Magnetic Building Spheres
Cubicle toy or science experiment? It’s a fine line when it comes to rare earth magnets. This set comes with 216 5mm N35 magnets so strong (and swallowable) that they’re recommended for adults only. Buy them from ThinkGeek.
Hasbro R/C Hailfire Droid
While first-generation Star Wars fans had to make do with a remote-controlled “sonic” Landspeeder or a Jawa Sandcrawler, Hasbro’s Radio Control Hailfire Droid puts a much more action-oriented new-era vehicle into kids’ hands. Seen in Attack of the Clones and The Clone Wars cartoons, the Hailfire adapts one of the most eye-catching designs from the prequel trilogy into an action-figure-battleground juggernaut. Tank-style controls are easy to learn – if a bit tricky to master – and a touch of a button unleashes spring-loaded missile volleys from 18 launch tubes. Comes with 21 missiles and a sacrificial lamb Clone Trooper figure; requires six AA batteries and three AAAs. Decimate clone armies faster than you can say, “Around the survivors a perimeter create!” Buy it from Amazon.
While johnny-come-latelys in the realm of accelerometer game control, the Move for PS3 has a lot of promise. The basic bundle, intended for existing PS3 players, comes with the controller and its sensor as ell as a disk of sports games. The latter seems reminiscent of Wii Sports, the basic game that comes with every Wii. It features frisbee golf, volleyball, swordfighting, archery, ping pong and bocce. What the PS3 has, and Wii probably never will have, is that it is a system intended for hard-core gamers. Expect to see a lot more first-tier games come out in ’11 for the Move. Buy it on Amazon.
Utili-Key 6-in-1 Tool
Great stocking stuffer, a multi-tool the size and shape of a key. It includes standard and Phillips screwdrivers, a knife blade that is serrated for half its length, a bottle opener and a mini eyeglass screwdriver. ThinkGeek or Amazon.
Parrot AR Drone
Slightly more than a toy, the Parrot AR Drone is an easy to fly
quadricopter for about $300. The the AR drops the typical radio remote
in favor of WiFi control using an iOS app. The app lets you control
the copter with the touch screen and by tilting your phone. The drone
includes two cameras, one forward looking and one facing straight
down. The latter is used by the copter to help maintain position. Both
video sources are available to the iOS app and it is possible, though
difficult to fly the drone using nothing but the video feeds. The iOS
device is not included, so you will need an iPod/iPhone/iPad. Buy it from Amazon.
Lego Hero Factory
Lego’s Hero Factory features a lot of unique parts as well as Technic-compatible Lego elements. If you have a lot of Bionicle bricks lying around, you can be sure that these new sets will be compatible. Also like Bionicle, the age range for the sets seem to skew a bit lower. For instance, the kids and I played around with Meltdown, a robot featuring two toxic waste buckets mounted on its back and a ball launcher, and it sported a mere 50 elements including Technic pins. However, some of the models are much more complicated. The Von Nebula model (pictured above) was wonderfully complicated and Lego rates it 9+ with 156 pieces.
This model, incidentally, was deemed less fun by the kids because it lacked a ball launcher, but I loved it. It was the most cunningly designed humanoid Lego figure I think I’ve ever seen. The hips and knees are two ball joints each, and the shoulders are as well, making it incredibly sturdy and poseable — very high playability!* Buy them on Amazon.
Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter
One of the things I like most about video games (since I’m not very good against other, more experienced players) is the stories they tell. But often, despite having amazing graphics and superb gameplay, many video games still fall short in the storytelling department. Sure, it’s the same complaint we have with Hollywood—explosions and special effects don’t make for a good movie in themselves—but at least there are still a lot of really good stories out there. With video games, it’s more like a small handful. In Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, writer-gamer Tom Bissell really digs into a lot of the issues surrounding video games, both in creating them and in playing them. He dissects why the storytelling is often lame, and why gamers often don’t care.
Whether you’re a hardcore or casual gamer—or even not a gamer at all—Extra Lives is worth reading for the way it sheds some light on the video game phenomenon and why it matters. Read the full review or buy it from Amazon.
Space Food Sampler
Yay! Freeze-dried versions of foods that probably ought not be dried, like ice cream and peanut butter. A great gag gift or stocking stuffer. Or supplies for a real or imagined space flight! Buy it from ThinkGeek.
Skull Dragon T-Shirt
We all know that nerdiness is the glue that keeps the universe together. You can find it in every living thing and it surrounds and binds us… kind of like the Force but with more creative outfits. Which brings us to the this magnificent t-shirt. When someone sees you rockin’ it, they’ll know you’re a nerdjedi and hail your magnificence. Buy it from Amazon.
Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws
While are so many myths and blatant nonsense about ninjas, you won’t find them in this book. Written as a history of the shadowy ones, the authors researched several real-life ninjas and share their learnings with us, and illustrate their narrative with cool manga-esque drawings. Buy it on Amazon.
Nintendo/Microsoft/PSN Points Cards
Gift cards have a bad rap. It’s not because they represent some thoughtless brand of catch-all present, but instead because the more practical of recipients may be inclined to use them on less gift-y purchases. Let’s be frank here; you don’t likely want your loved ones squandering your holiday goodwill on things like shoes, washing machines or storm windows. This is precisely what makes console-specific points cards such an appealing option. Whether your friends and family are PlayStation people or Xbox people or count themselves among the ubiquitous Wii people, these cards send a clear message. And that message is “Here – go buy yourself something awesome!”
Big Bang Bazinga T-Shirt
Big Bang Theory is one of the few shows we all agree on in our family. Deck yourself or your children in remembrance of Sheldon. I can’t promise you’ll run into Penny when you go to the Cheesecake Factory but other geeks will certainly recognize you. Buy it from Amazon.
Roku XDS Streaming Player
Slick and convenient 1080p video streamer, pulling content from Amazon VOD as well as Netflix, wirelessly or via ethernet. Works with any TV, and can connect via either HDMI or RCA. It doesn’t store anything in the box; you can either rent or access your AVOD purchases.* Buy it from Amazon.
Conductive ‘Wire Glue’
A great stocking stuffer for DIY dads — it’s glue that conducts electricity, great for those crazy projects where wires just aren’t an option. Buy it from ThinkGeek.
The delightfully illustrated adventures of the title character, the matriarch of a bizarre clan of spooky, Halloweeny characters, as she shows a little girl named Hannah Marie how much fun Halloween can be. Less gothic than the Addams Family, and the four stories contained in this volume are bright and positive. Good for all ages.* Buy it from Amazon.
Prince of Wolves
Fantasy mystery set in a Transylvania-esque chain of mountains in the world of Paizo’s Pathfinder Roleplaying game. The main characters, crime-solving twosome Varian and Radovan investigate the disappearance of a fellow Pathfinder. Tons of action and intrigue! If you liked the Drizzt books by R. A. Salvatore or the Vlad Taltos books by Steven Brust, you’ll like this one.* Buy it from Paizo.
Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food
This is more than merely a collection of recipes. The primary purpose is to educate the reader about how things work in the kitchen, and how to experiment. What happens when you change the temperature a recipe is supposed to be cooked? How do you determine if your oven is cooking at the correct temperature? This book has the answers. Buy it from Amazon.
Melissa & Doug Deluxe Magic Set
Great kid’s magic set. The tricks are durable and easy to master, and the entire set is well made and a great deal for the price. You know what? I think even grownups would like to play around with it, especially if they have some young geeklings to impress. Buy it from Amazon.
Word on the Street
One of this year’s chosen Mensa Select games, Word on the Street is a team-based word game that will increase your vocabulary while you laugh and play. Pull letters to your side of the street as your opponents pull back. Think of words with rarely used letters, or words that use the same letter multiple times. This fast-paced game can easily be slowed down or made more cooperative to play with children, or you can play Word on the Street Junior which has more tiles and more cooperative rules.
IR Jammer Kit
The counterpoint to the infamous TV-B-Gone which turns off TVs by beaming our the “off” signals for every major brand of TV, the IR Jammer Kit prevents any IR remote from working by jamming all 6 main IR frequencies. Obnoxious? Maybe, but think of the mischief! Buy it from the Maker Shed.
* Indicates a review for which the author received a product sample.