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?)

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    “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.”

 See all articles by: GEORGIANA COHEN