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Geeky gifts 101

An introduction to buying things you don’t completely understand
By GEORGIANA COHEN  |  December 11, 2008

LEGO Batwing

“Smelly Yankee Candle for Grandma? Check. Tie for Dad? Got it. Toy dump truck for Tommy? Yup. Man, this holiday shopping stuff is easy. Now, who’s next? . . . Um. . . Hmmm.”

Perhaps you’ve reached that point on your holiday shopping list. The “hmmmm” moment when you say to yourself, “Now, I love them to death, but when they mention ‘Firefly,’ I don’t think they’re talking about lightning bugs in jars.” Ah, yes. Your friend, the geek. The nerd. Whatever. Setting aside the great intellectual debate over which means what and does PC really apply here at all, you’re at an impasse.

A geek’s cultural navigations may vary from yours, going down corridors where you’re not equipped to follow. Because, let’s face it, your grasp of the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek is fragile, at best. You haven’t the faintest idea what types of books are found in the 700s of the Dewey Decimal System. The last time you played with action figures, you still ate paste.

While it’s impossible to provide a comprehensive overview of the types of gifts that might fit the bill for the pocket-protector guy or gal in your life, there are several universally appropriate niches in which you can safely shop. May the force . . . er, the holiday spirit . . . be with you.

We’re not in Candy Land Anymore
Many geeks are gamers. What that actually means will vary from geek to geek — video games, role-playing games, poker, you name it. But board games are a standard of the geek world. One of most classically nerdy board games is SCRABBLE, what with its reliance on vocabulary and strategy. But there’s a whole other class of games you’re not likely to find on the shelf at Target.

Looney Labs is a small, independent game-development and retail company offering a host of card games appealing to many brands of geekdom. FLUXX, one of the company’s flagship games, starts with one rule — draw one, play one — but the rules evolve as the game progresses. One minute the goal is to collect Milk and Cookies, but that can soon change to Death and Taxes. (Look, you knew it was gonna be like this.) Special editions include ZOMBIE, MONTY PYTHON, and ECOFLUXX.

CHRONONAUTS is for the history buffs. Players have the chance to alter the timeline of history to achieve their goal — which could mean sparing Abraham Lincoln from assassination and having Adolf Hitler meet such a fate. (Don’t forget the Early American expansion set, which allows your timeline to stretch back to Colonial times.)

More mathematically minded? Try SET, the confounding game by Set Enterprises in which players must identify a set of three cards among 12 on the table — easier said than done. QUIDDLER, created by the same mental sadists, is a spiritual cousin of Scrabble, in which players convert hands of cards bearing letters into words. Gaming on a budget? Check out CHEAPASS GAMES, cardboard and paper board games that are low on frills but high on devils, bunnies, and ham. (Just learn to accept statements like that, okay?)

A Series of Tubes
Geeks cluster online, for sure, but their worldwide destinations run the gamut. If one recent online meme can be said to have transcended genres of geekdom, it could be the LOLCAT. But why let the Internet have all the fun when your very own home or office can become a testament to sentient cats with poor grammar? On, the LOLCat Mecca, you can buy magnetic poetry sets that include words such as “kitteh,” “caturday,” “intarwebs” and “purrito” so you can create your own LOLCats verses on your refrigerator. That’s right, your tabby, too, can utter the timeless phrase “i can has bukkit?” For further showing off, you can buy I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER? A LOLCAT COLLECKSHUN, the coffee-table book (priced right at just around 10 bucks) that includes the 200 favorite captioned feline portraits generated in the site’s storied, nearly two-year (believe it) history.

Elsewhere online, services have cropped up to indulge the quintessentially geeky need to catalogue, tag, archive, and share media and information of all types. The photo site FLICKR, the online book catalog LIBRARYTHING, and the Web diary LIVEJOURNAL all offer paid memberships that provide significant perks to users.

Along the same line, some of the more popular podcasts — or, in the analog world, radio programs — for nerdy types come from National Public Radio. In the NPR ONLINE GIFT SHOP, you can indulge in tote bags, T-shirts, and other merchandise touting support for nerdtastic public- radio programming — after all, who wouldn’t want to sip green tea from his Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! mug?

Toy story
The things about geeks and toys is that ACTION FIGURES and the like aren’t just playthings; they are enablers for overactive imaginations. They are also probably the best workplace/bookshelf/desktop emblem of a favorite fandom. Marvel Comics or DC? Transformers or GI Joe? Brand new, retro-style, or genuine vintage? So many options, so many possibilities. Remember the scene in Spaceballs where Dark Helmet is caught playing with his “dolls”? Every geek does it. (But please, don’t call them dolls.)

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Related: Fallout 3: Operation Anchorage, Rare treats, Jews just want to have fun, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Culture and Lifestyle, Media, National Public Radio Inc.,  More more >
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 See all articles by: GEORGIANA COHEN

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