The Great A.V. Club Swindle: The 2010 Holiday Gift Guide
A few weeks ago, we received an e-mail from the fine folks at William Grant & Sons with the following subject line “Are you doing a Holiday Gift Guide?” The upshot: If the answer was yes, they would like to send us samples of their top-shelf liquors, which include such brands as Sailor Jerry Rum and Milagro Tequila. The answer, of course, was “yes,” so within two weeks, we received a bottle of Glenfiddich single-malt scotch whisky (“Distilled and matured in the Valley Of The Deer where the distillery has stood since 1887”) and Hendrick’s Gin. (“Small Batch. Handcrafted.”) And you know what? That stuff is delicious. And intoxicating. So let’s open The A.V. Club’s 2010 gift guide by saying if you have people in your life who love fine gin and scotch, you cannot go wrong with Hendrick’s or Glenfiddich. Stuff that in their stockings, and you’ll be set.
When we woke the day after testing these products, we had more than a hangover: We had inspiration. If a fine liquor company will send us delicious booze just so we can include it in our gift guide, what else could we get? Christmas comes but once a year, and with it, the chance to load up on big-ticket items using the excuse of a Holiday Gift Guide. And so The Great A.V. Club Swindle was on. E-mails were sent. Requests were honored, or sometimes refused. In the end, we got a lot of cool stuff that you, our readers, will have to scrimp and save to buy for those you love. Happy holidays!
Simpsons World: The Ultimate Episode Guide, Seasons 1-20 ($150)
The makers of the venerable TV institution first started publishing episode guides more than a dozen years ago, releasing addenda every few years for subsequent seasons. It’s been five years since the last one, so 128 new episodes (through season 20) have been bundled with all the previous episode guides into one enormous 1,200-page behemoth of a hardcover book, with handsome matching slipcover. Two full-color pages are devoted to each episode, and the book has fun appendices, including every couch gag, every d’oh/mmm, lyrics to every jingle/song, a collection of Krusty merchandise, a recap of every Itchy & Scratchy episode, and a lot more.
Did we score one? Yup! They even overnighted it. That’s the kind of power The A.V. Club wields: Publishers will overnight us an 8.8-pound brick of a book and think nothing of the cost.
What did we do with it? Cleared off some shelf space at home. Hey, does anyone want our copies of the individual episode guidebooks now? Only slightly used!
Who would love it: The true Simpsons devotee, who continues to follow the show even into its more-miss-than-hit twilight.
The Six Million Dollar Man: The Complete Collection ($239.95)
DVD has been a boon to classic television, preserving whole runs in their original unedited form. But as The Twilight Zone, All In The Family, and others saw release, one glaring blank spot remained: The Six Million Dollar Man. Surely the adventures of Steve Austin (Lee Majors), a former astronaut and test pilot whose badly damaged body was restored, and improved, through bionics, couldn’t linger in the vault forever. Yet linger it did, until now. Where before, no episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man were available on DVD in America, now every episode is available in a box set housing all five seasons. (And bonus features? Oh yes.) Now a new generation—okay, probably just one nostalgic old generation—can experience all the slow-motion running and heavy-object-lifting action the series had to offer, via such delightfully titled episodes as “The Thunderbird Connection” and “Death Probe—Part II.” And don’t forget, owning the complete series means owning every guest appearance from Bigfoot, from the early episodes in which he and Austin were mortal enemies to later installments, when they’d forged a fragile friendship.
Did we score one? Yes. And not only does it have every episode, its packaging features Majors running in slow motion via one of those motion-simulating, optical-illusion-creating plastic thingies.
What did we do with it? Treasured it. Loved it. Then came to see it as a concrete manifestation of hours of misspent youth, and cried a little.
Who would love it: Anyone who can finish this: “Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. ____. ____. ___.”
Usagi Yojimbo: The Special Edition ($100)
Since 1983, writer-artist Stan Sakai has been bringing the blended sensibility of a cultural scholar, a pop-culture magpie, and a consummately skilled draftsman to his epic comics saga Usagi Yojimbo, which at this point runs to 24 excellent volumes. Many of Sakai’s stories are only a single issue long; other arcs cross several books, and yet there’s a continuity throughout that makes it wisest to start from the beginning. But chunks of the series have been in and out of print over the years—Sakai has outlasted several publishers—and getting those early volumes has often been difficult. Fantagraphics is dealing with the problem by way of the massive slipcovered two-hardback-volume Usagi Yojimbo: The Special Edition, which encompasses seven of the old Fantagraphics collections, plus a color covers gallery, an illustrated guide to how Sakai creates the comics, and an extensive interview with him by The Comics Journal’s Kim Thompson. It’s the perfect collection for neophytes to the series—it starts from the top, and introduces many of Sakai’s running cast, including the titular wandering samurai rabbit and a selection of his friends, enemies, and allies-of-convenience. The high-glossy, bright-white pages make Sakai’s finely detailed, heavily Japanese-inspired black-and-white art pop off the page, and the collection covers enough of his work to show how he’s evolved as an artist, from the early days when he was finding his feet to art that looks much like what he’s producing today. And of course it gives a thorough sampling of what makes the series such a reliable draw, from a jokey Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover cameo to Usagi-world versions of Kazuo Koike’s Lone Wolf And Cub characters and Zatoichi the blind swordsman to wholly original stories full of adventure and smart twists.
Did we score one? Yes. We didn’t even have to beg for it; the whole thrilling 1,200-page brick showed up unsolicited, courtesy of the same herniated, life-hating mailman who brought us the gigantic Absolute Promethea Volume 2 and Simpsons World slipcovered collections earlier this year.
What did we do with it? Dickered over who gets to keep it (and clear shelf space for it)—the biggest Usagi fan in the office, or someone who doesn’t already have tattered copies of those original seven volumes at home.
Who would love it? Someone who doesn’t already have tattered copies of the original seven volumes at home—or would like to feel free to loan those out to spread the Usagi gospel.
4 Day Bahamas Rock And Roll Fantasy Camp Featuring Tommy Lee ($6,000)
Nestled amid the closet air purifiers and “sleep therapy pillow speakers” on the Sharper Image website is this Neiman Marcus Christmas Book-worthy gem: A three-and-a-half-day getaway to the Bahamas, where participants will supposedly spend up to 10 hours a day jamming, performing, songwriting, rehearsing, and (woo hoo!) eating alongside “rock legends like Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee, Ace Frehley of Kiss, Alice In Chain’s [sic] Jerry Cantrell, Lita Ford and many other well-known, legendary rock stars.” (As opposed to all those unknown legendary rock stars.) The trip includes such bonuses as getting to “perform as the opening act for an all-star rock band at a major rock venue,” a copy of your own performance on DVD, and a souvenir guitar. Sounds awesome, though there’s no word on how many campers they’re accepting, and if it’s anything like that space-camp trip we bought a few years ago solely in order to rub elbows with Buzz Aldrin, the managers are presumably crowding an awful lot of campers into this close, personal starfucking experience in order to make it profitable. So don’t count on a lot of face time with the contractually obliged talent. Still, if this sounds awesome but not nearly pricey enough—or if you’re allergic to tropical air—Sharper Image is also touting a $7,500, five-and-a-half-day New York-based version, this one featuring “Roger Daltrey of The Who, Shondells’ songwriter Tommy James, Producer Phil Ramone and [again] many other well-known, legendary rock stars.”
Did we score one? Alas, The A.V. Club’s usually oh-so-reliable time machine appears to be on the fritz this week, so we weren’t able to bounce over to February 2011 in order to experience the Tommy Lee love.
Who would love it? Armchair rock stars who feel that since they’ve mastered “Saints Of Los Angeles” on Expert level in Rock Band, they’re pretty much ready to hang out with and trade licks with the Crüe, and maybe even get adopted into the band, Tim “Ripper” Owens-style. Also, groupies with very deep pockets, no innuendo intended.
Lacoste Legends/Chevel Lacoste X Stones Throw Men’s Sneakers ($160)
Seventy-Three Funshine (Book & Madlib Vinyl) ($68)
As the famed independent label that gave the world J. Dilla’s Donuts, Gary Wilson, and Madlib’s 8 million alter egos, Stones Throw specializes in filling the world with joy and cool shit. That’s true of its merchandise as well. Nothing in Stones Throw’s catalog of awesomeness is quite as sweet as these limited-edition brown Lacoste sneakers bearing the label’s logo. Well, maybe Seventy-Three Funshine, a coffee-table book compiling the artwork of Jason Jägel, a pop-art prodigy best known for creating the cover for MF DOOM’s Mmm.. Food? It also contains a 10-inch vinyl record containing three exclusive Madlib tracks.
Did we score one? Yes on the Jägel front (though we had to settle for a returned, slightly damaged copy), no on the Lacoste front. Apparently they’re available only in very limited qualities, and most sizes are already sold out.
What did we do with it? We are building a coffee table now solely for Jägel’s book to sit upon and look all purty.
Who would love it: Crate-diggers, pop-art aficionados, Madlib and DOOM super-fans.
The Genius Of Miles Davis: Limited-Edition Trumpet Case Box Set ($749)
Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition ($124.98)
Miles Davis has not wanted for deluxe box sets over the past few decades, including lavishly packaged, scrupulously annotated reissues that focus on his periods with John Coltrane and Gil Evans, the sessions for landmark albums like In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew, and more. Let’s say you have a jazz fan in your life who didn’t have any of them, someone who might appreciate getting all of them. At once. In a trumpet case that also contains a replica of one of Davis’ favored mouthpieces, a lithograph of some Davis art, and a T-shirt. Well, The Genius Of Miles Davis has got you covered to the tune of 43 CDs worth of prime Davis music, plus the above frills.
Want just to immerse in the fusion-birth 1970 album Bitches Brew? Then turn to Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collectors’ Edition, which includes the original album (on CD and 180-gram vinyl), a host of alternate takes and edits, a CD of a live performance at Tanglewood, a DVD of a Copenhagen concert, and goodies like a poster and reproductions of concert tickets.
Did we score one? The Genius set: no. The Bitches set: yes.
What did we do with it? Listened to it. No, scratch that: We experienced it.
Who would love it: We’re going to go out on a limb and suggest that Miles Davis fans might enjoy these.
Alien Fleshlight ($74.95)
When Avatar bulldozed through theaters last year, its depiction of lithe blue aliens made a porn adaptation inevitable. That arrived earlier this year with This Ain’t Avatar XXX, which was also filmed in (super-crappy) 3-D. Leave it to Fleshlight to take it up a notch with its pearlescent blue “Alien” model, which takes dudes one step closer to that hot ponytail fuckin’. The Alien has a double clitoris (such an advanced race!) along with Fleshlight’s “famous Vortex canal,” “Lotus node,” and the company’s “most intense texture, the STU.” Fans opting for the full experience can pay another $10 to get the Fleshlight Alien/This Ain’t Avatar XXX combo.
Did we score one? Yup. Its arrival led to rampant violation of Onion Inc.’s anti-sexual-harassment rules, as the entire A.V. Club gathered around in queasy fascination to trade one-liners and poke the thing. (With our hands, dammit. Just our hands.)
What did we do with it? We know what you’re thinking, and no, we haven’t. We anticipate it mysteriously disappearing from the office shortly, though.
Who would love it: Kevin Smith, noted Fleshlight fan. Also, dudes who want to give their kinda-sad solo sex a nerdy science-fiction edge.
Tim Heidecker of Tim And Eric, Awesome Show fame happened to stop by for a visit to The A.V. Club office just in time to help us demonstrate the Alien Fleshlight.
Get the Flash Player to see this player.
Brandon Bird’s Paint-By-Number Kit ($12)
Everyone needs a project after Christmas. Whether it’s putting together that model airplane or returning all the weird things Grandma bought on clearance at Sears, it feels good to be productive. This holiday season, budding artists and Nic Cage enthusiasts alike can feel good about investing some time in to learn how to paint like Brandon Bird. The pop culture artist, probably best known for his mad passion for all things Law And Order, just put out a charming little paint-by-number set. Best of all, after “painting,” for example, the picture of a giant squid, sperm whale, and T-Rex fighting each other at sea, brand new artists can frame and re-gift that shit. Isn’t that what the holidays are all about?
Did we score one? Yes. More than one, in fact.
What did we do with it? “Merry Christmas, mom.”
Who would love it: Everyone who misses both Law And Order and Bob Ross.
The Danny Elfman & Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box ($499.99)
At last count, Tim Burton has directed roughly 30 million movies, and Danny Elfman provided the music for most of them. Which makes for 13 film scores ranging from the whimsically macabre (Beetlejuice) to the macabrely whimsical (The Nightmare Before Christmas), and all the shades between. 2010 marks the quarter-century anniversary of one of the most appropriate creative partnerships in cinema, and what better way to celebrate it than a gorgeous collection of music in packaging designed to delight the troubled goth child in all of us? The Danny Elfman & Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box has 16 CDs, a 250-page book with plenty of pictures, a “skeleton key” USB drive with all the music on it, a bunch of unreleased tracks, and a DVD with an “extended conversation” between the composer and the director. It all comes in an actual working music box, zoetrope included. It’s perfect for all the Edward Gorey characters on your Christmas list.
Did we score one? Sort of. Only a thousand of the boxes are being made, and The A.V. Club didn’t have the pull to get one, but we were allowed access to a web-stream of the music.
What did we do with it? Plugged the headphones into the laptop, closed our eyes, and dreamed of wonderful toys. Then cursed loudly when we realized we couldn’t download any of it.
Who will love it: Bicycle obsessives, the delightfully dead, fans of Spandex and mistletoe, and talking apes.
Tom Waits on LP: Closing Time, The Heart Of Saturday Night, Nighthawks At The Diner, and Small Change ($24.98-$34.98)
What’s better than a bunch of Tom Waits albums? A bunch of Tom Waits albums on 180-gram vinyl. The world has gone digital, but Waits remains a quintessentially analog artist, and these reissues of his first four albums for Asylum—the early, bleary-eyed troubadour-days stuff—should spotlight that material at its best. This is “Tom Traubert’s Blues” as it was meant to be heard, though you’ll have to supply the scratches and bourbon stains. (Superfans who want red vinyl should visit tomwaitsstore.com.)
Did we score one? Probably. The LPs won’t be in stores until December 21st, but they’re allegedly on their way.
Who will love it: Martha, Rosie, The Ice Cream Man, customers at Napoleone’s Pizza House, Big Joe, cold women drinking warm beer, Tom Traubert, the Jitterbug Boy, and the one that got away.
Smashbox Burlesque Kit ($35)
Every kid dreams of being a stripper one day, but then time passes, life moves on, and the dreams die. That’s why there are burlesque acts, a new-old fad sweeping the country that allows all the joy of getting mostly naked in front of strangers, without any of the shame of nipples. In her big-screen acting debut, Christina Aguilera hits the big time through a combination of sexy singing, taking off the occasional article of clothing, and Cher. While audiences may not have access to all these things, it’s understandable that fans will want to follow in their idol’s footsteps. Besides, what better way to spend Christmas than by resolving lingering body-issue images in a haze of powder makeup and eye shadow? Enter Smashbox and its “Burlesque kit,” which provides aspiring bump-and-grinders hardly any of the tools they would need to strut their stuff. It’s basically just a standard lip-and-eyeliner set, with just the right flavor of slightly desperate marketing copy to pull in the easily enamored. (“Limited edition. By Smashbox. Exclusively ours.”) Perfect for giving those lonely Saturday nights pouting in front of the bathroom mirror an extra sparkle of imploding sexuality.
Did we score one? No. And if we did, we aren’t telling.
Who will love it: Anyone who wants to be a burlesque dancer, without any of those troubling “dancing” or “burlesque” elements.
Kate Moss By Mario Testino ($1,000)
Kate Moss has managed to make millions of dollars by standing around and letting people take her picture. (Oddly enough, she has also become famous for trying to avoid standing around and letting people take her picture.) And no one has taken more of those pictures than Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino. Obviously, Moss and Testino are two great tastes that taste great together, so German art-book publisher Taschen is willing to bet that there are people who will shell out no less than a thousand bucks for a 230-page volume of nothing but photos of the former by the latter. Released in a limited edition of 1,500 copies, signed by the photographer, and enclosed in a big plastic box that probably serves as a metaphor for something, Kate Moss By Mario Testino definitely delivers what its title promises. Unless you have a giant pile of Vogue magazines, or an Internet connection, this is the most photos of Kate Moss you’ll ever see in one place at one time. “In life there are perfumes and colognes,” Testino says in the foreword; he tells Moss “you are a perfume, you will go on and on.” If that’s not worth a grand, what is?
Did we score one? Yes and no. Taschen was understandably reluctant to give us a free copy of a limited-edition book that retails for the equivalent of a mortgage payment, but surprisingly, they offered a PDF of much of the material for us to review.
What did we do with it? Contemplated the fact that a paper version of something can cost as much as a used car, while an electronic version of the same thing can be given away free to total strangers.
Who would love it? ’90s nostalgia hounds, cocaine enthusiasts, people who still use the word “waifish,” and folks who can drop a thousand bucks without even thinking about it.
Stickers Deluxe: From Punk Rock To Contemporary Art ($250)
Everybody loves stickers. From adolescent kids with empty space on their skateboards to grown adults who spend a lot of time in the bathrooms of music clubs, everyone enjoys the thrill of defacing something with a glue-backed logo. Now, thanks to authors DB Burkeman and Monica LoCascio, they’re a new expression of fine art, with all the highfalutin language (“illustrates not only the visual and social history of sticker art, but also the personal relationship that street artists and pedestrians alike have with stickers”) and inflated price tag that goes along with it. The deluxe edition comes with 23 original stickers, so you don’t have to spend hours combing through the bins at the one record store left in town, but you pay for the time savings: While most stickers run you a buck or two, these, and the book they come in, will set you back $250. To reinforce the fact that so-called street culture is being co-opted by name-brand artists who charge a shitload of money for it, Stickers Deluxe also contains an essay by the ubiquitous Banksy.
Did we score one? Nope. Publisher Rizzoli/Universe politely declined our request for one. To be fair, the book does feature photos of more than 4,000 stickers, which prorates the cost of looking at them down to about a half-penny per glance.
Who would love it? You know that one girl you like? The one who has a toy record player, Suicide Girls hair, and a 1988 Subaru Justy you can’t see out the back of because the window is covered with decals that say “MEAT IS MURDER” and “BELA LUGOSI’S DEAD”? Her.
Items from the Duluth Trading Company Catalog (Various prices)
If you’re a fat guy, there are two ways you can go, fashion-wise. You can spend a lot of money seeking out styles that look good and flatter your shape—some of the better hip-hop clothing designers, for example, or custom-made suits. Or you can just give up. The Duluth Trading Company (inexplicably based in Wisconsin) is designed for those who have chosen the latter path. Its biggest seller is the “longtail T,” which comes in a plastic tub marked “CRACK SPACKLE”; its selling point is that it covers up plumber’s crack. The catalog, which offers sizes up to XXXXXL, also features cargo pants with a dozen pockets and a “gusset seat”; stink-proof underpants sold in a “MAN CAN”; and, for your inner Homer Simpson, sweat pants with a reinforced crotch. There’s even a pair of “Lazy Pants” (essentially a slightly more modest pajama bottom) suggested for those days when you want to just hang out at the hardware store all day. It’s the ultimate fashion catalog for men who have simply dropped all pretense of trying to look even slightly presentable.
Did we score one? No. The customer-service representative for the Duluth Trading Company—who we cannot confirm, but strongly suspected, was speaking to us from overseas—seemed baffled at the very idea that we wanted her to send us something without paying for it. She responded to our claim that we would review the products and give the company free publicity by simply restating the cost of each item.
Who would love it? Depending on your age, your father, grandfather, or great-grandfather, or anyone else you know who becomes exhausted and irritable at the mere contemplation of zippers, buttons, or belts.
Maestro Mouse ($119.99)
Maestro Mouse combines the fun of watching a player piano with the joy of pretending to be your grandmother. Now, you can replace your holiday CDs and the irritating sense of togetherness you get when gathering around an actual piano with friends and family to sing carols; in its place, you can put the tinny sounds of a miniature piano and the creepy, Chuck-E.-Cheese-like grin of its plastic mouse keyboardist. Maestro Mouse is available in many catalogs, but appropriately, he’s available in SkyMall, because nothing says “wasting all my money in midair” as well as a mouse pianist who only plays 12 songs, all of which are only acceptable around six weeks out of the year. (Though if you dragged Maestro Mouse out at a pool party in midsummer and made everyone listen to all 12 of his numbers, we’d give you a medal or something.) For 2010, Maestro Mouse now comes with a tiny candelabra to set atop his piano and a sexy female mouse to sit beside it, just in case the idea of owning one fancy plastic mouse wasn’t weird enough.
Did we score one? No. Are you kidding? Maestro Mouse is not one to be sent out to the riff-raff and mere commoners. He has standards to uphold!
Who would love it? Is your grandmother dead? Do you miss her? Do you have a Maestro Mouse? Do you have a time machine? Okay, travel back to when she was alive and you were 4. During your teary reunion, give her Maestro Mouse, the better to entertain 4-year-old you, because that’s the last time you would have fallen for this bullshit.
Cats are great and all, but almost all cat owners have wished at one time or another that their cats looked more like EVE from WALL-E. Fortunately, the good folks of the weirdly expensive pet pages of SkyMall are here to help you out. Ostensibly, the litter robot is a litter box, one that automatically sifts the litter contents minutes after your cat leaves the box, depositing the waste into a small, easily removable drawer. And while that sounds useful and all, just look at this thing. The real best use for this is to leave it in a public place, invite friends over, then clap gleefully every time your cat enters the box (as he or she is forced to stare shamefacedly out at you and your friends), and say “Look, he’s cosplaying as WALL-E’s girlfriend!” Your friends won’t get the joke, your cat will hate you, and everything else will be as meaningless as ever, but at least when the night is over, you’ll have entertained yourself and won’t have to do any messy litter-sifting, either. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
Did we score one? Ostensibly, we’re being sent one, but as it’s been a week and not a one has shown up, we’ll just assume we were forgotten, or that Litter-Robot is an actual robot and is lumbering its way across North America toward us right now.
Who would love it? People who go to conventions dressed as WALL-E, and are also secretly in love with their cats.
40: A Doonesbury Retrospective ($100)
In recognition of the fortieth anniversary of Doonesbury’s first appearance in newspapers, creator Garry Trudeau and his publisher have assembled a nearly 700-page hardcover book that skims through the entire run of the strip, focusing on the enormous cast of characters that Trudeau has put together over the decades. Though dismissed by some as a liberal political cartoon—and often consigned to the op-ed page—Doonesbury actually features one of the most diverse casts in newspaper comics history, and is one of the few remaining humor strips to value long-form storytelling over quick gags. And though some characters aren’t as funny as they once were, Doonesbury as a whole has remained consistently entertaining for its 40 years, as well as offering a useful survey of its times.
Did we score one?: Not for free, no. But we bought it anyway.
What did we do with it?: Browsed through it, looking for our favorite strips, avoiding anything with Uncle Duke from about 1990 onward.
Who would love it: Godless leftists, the few remaining fans of newspaper comics, and anyone inclined to ward off intruders with a heavy blow to the head.
Pick Punch ($24.95)
Why spend five bucks on a 12-pack of guitar picks when you can spend five times that on a machine that will punch them out for you one at a time? You’d have to make around 60 picks to break even on the Pick Punch, but what’s lost in cost-effectiveness is gained in customizability. Prefer a sturdier pick? Punch an old gift card. (There should be plenty of those lying around after the holidays.) Like something with a little more give? Use your old guitar-pick-dealer’s business card as you picture him sobbing over his lost revenue. Or if you’re the crafty type, you can get to punching comics, album art, drawings, or whatever other visuals you want adorning your personalized pick. (The Pick Punch Blog has lots of DIY pick-project ideas.)
Did we score one? Yes, in a true feat of promotional swindling, since the Pick Punch is currently backordered. (The makers say they’re on schedule to produce more in time for the holidays.)
What did we do with it? Spent 30 minutes trying to find acceptable materials to punch, and 30 seconds punching them.
Who would love it: Picky (heh) DIY-types who would rather lug around a 2-pound stapler-like device than use generic guitar picks created by The Man.
The Pyramid Collection’s Love Bites Choker ($69.95)/Queen Of The Owls collection ($24.95-$59.99)
The Pyramid Collection catalog is one-stop-shopping for the magick-with-a-“K” crowd, hawking gifts and apparel that promise “Myth, magick, fantasy, and romance” and come in “goddess sizes.” Sometimes the line between “gift” and “apparel” is incredibly slim (would that be sprite-sized?), as in the case of the “Queen Of The Owls” collection, which repurposes a fantasy painting of a winter goddess into a bedspread, wall tapestry, and poncho—which is really just a bedspread with a hole cut in it—so that special someone in your life can adorn her bed, walls, and body with the same chintzy print. (The Pyramid Collection’s hilariously breathless copy calls it “among the most haunting tapestries ever rendered.”) For those whose tastes run more to the corporeal than the ethereal, there’s the Love Bites choker, a hideously overpriced piece of jewelry that drinks from the never-ending well of the ongoing vampire craze. Some red Swarovski crystals “dripping” from a strip of velvet, the Love Bites choker is perfect for budding goths who have outgrown their “Team Edward” T-shirts and are looking for a more elegant way to convey their desperation.
Did we score them? No, but we did get a free copy of The Pyramid Collection catalog, so we can start circling what to ask for next year.
Who would love it: The goddess in your life. The tacky, tacky goddess.
Big Top Cupcake: Silicone Bakeware ($19.95)
Everyone loves cupcakes, but haven’t we all had moments where we wished they could be comically oversized? The “Big Top Cupcake” bakeware kit makes cupcakes that are 25 times larger than the standard pastry, plus it comes with an attachment that allows the baker to fill the mega-cupcake with whatever he or she desires. Like pudding. Or ice cream. Or a profound sense of shame.
Did we score one?: We ponied up the $20 at our local Wal-Mart, which has a whole section dedicated to “As Seen On TV” items.
What did we do with it?: Baked a big-ass cupcake. And it wasn’t easy. Between trying to figure out the proper cake-mix proportions for each half of the mold and trying to decide how best to eat the damn thing, we came away with a greater appreciation for why cupcakes are the size they are and layer cakes are the shape they are.
Who would love it: Giant children.
Star Wars Millennium Falcon: A 3-D Owner’s Guide ($21.99)
The Sounds Of Star Wars ($60)
Even after the zombie apocalypse, when money is being burned for heat instead of bartered for goods and services, and the economy no longer exists, someone will still figure out how to manufacture and market new Star Wars products. This Christmas, a pair of ridiculously detailed books are making the rounds. Millennium Falcon: A 3-D Owner’s Guide is for serious nerds only: It’s a cardboard likeness of Han Solo’s ship, cut into segments and meticulously explained, with notes from Captain Solo himself, like “I got the hologame table because Chewie likes to play Dejarik.” The bulky Sounds Of Star Wars offers more fun for the average Luke: It’s filled with detailed explanations of 256 sounds, along with a little box that plays each one. So if you’re looking for something broad, there’s “Jabba Laugh,” or something very specific, there’s stuff like “Bossk.” (That’d be a growling alien who tries to find Han Solo.)
Did we score one? Yes indeed. One, we requested, the other just showed up.
What did we do with it? The sound-effects one made the rounds a bit, annoying some and vaguely delighting others. They’ll both probably end up in the box of stuff that we donate to a local children’s hospital.
Who would love it: Nerds who know their Grand Moff Tarkins from their Garindins. Or in the case of the sound-effects book, people interested in a detailed history of sound effects themselves.
Vosges Haut Chocolat Luxe Marchesa Casati Collection ($275)
How much would you pay for 12 chocolate truffles? What if the salesman told you these delicious dark-chocolate-caramel candies were “dusted with real, edible pearl dust and suspended in a Lucite box swimming with freshwater pearls”? If you answered $275, you’re in luck: Chicago chocolatier Vosges (purveyor of such essential treats as the Rooster Truffle and the Bacon-Chocolate bar) is selling that very thing this holiday season. If you answered “My God, what has society come to that we are eating precious pearls, only to shit them out later?” then you probably shouldn’t celebrate Christmas, you communist.
Did we score one? Hell no. But we didn’t really try all that hard.
Who would love it: Aristocrats and budding aristocrats. Sweet-toothed jewelry enthusiasts.
Slayer, The Vinyl Conflict ($150)
Nothing screams death, chaos, and destruction louder than a lovingly remastered, meticulously packaged box set. Slayer's The Vinyl Conflict reissues the seminal metal band's previous 10 full-lengths on 180-gram vinyl, including the ’80s classics Reign In Blood and South Of Heaven. The set is restricted to the band's American Records output, so sadly, 1985's Hell Awaits is missing—which would have made a far better addition to the set than the cruddy, nü-metal-tinged Diabolus In Musica. Still, most of these albums have been out of print on vinyl forever, and the chance to snag them all in one fell swoop, for around $150, is worth it. "Everything about The Vinyl Conflict—the look of it, the feel of it—is very strong, very powerful, very Slayer," says American's Dino Paredes, "from the music to the dripping, bloody pentagram on the front of the box." Merry Christmas.
Did we score one?: No. But shoplifting is still an option.
Who would love it: Since many of the audiophiles who swear that analog sounds better than digital are the same people who will argue endlessly that Slayer is the last true, great metal band, The Vinyl Conflict is the ideal gift for the terminal record-store employee or frustrated, would-be music critic in your life. But they probably already have it. In that case, there's always your fundamentalist grandmother; "Mandatory Suicide" would sound great on her old Victrola.
Rock Band 3 ($60), Rock Band 3 keyboard ($80), Rock Band 3 Mustang PRO-Guitar controller ($150), DJ Hero 2 Turntable Bundle ($100)
The rockin’ rhythm-game series continues its dominance over all holidays, Christian and otherwise, with Rock Band 3. The new tracks are plentiful on the disc, but they’re less important than the latest technology leap: “pro” guitar and the introduction of a keyboard. The Mustang copy features six “real” strings and more than 100 buttons. That’s right—from five buttons to 100-plus, and from one clunky strum bar to six strings. The Guitar Hero and Rock Band geeks who thrilled to expert mode on songs by The Darkness might love this, but for regular Joes (and especially little kids), it’s going to be a long road. But maybe that’s what kids need—more time in front of the TV. The keyboard is much more accessible to stupid people of all ages. We found it easier to play when it’s sitting on a table rather than rocking with a strap in Keytar mode. Then there’s the updated DJ Hero 2, which makes a pretty fun thing even better, with added freestyle modes and an option to sing and/or rap along. It isn’t hugely different from the original game, but the exclusive mixes are cool (Kanye West meets DJ Shadow!), and the gameplay is addictive.
Did we score one? Sort of. At first, Harmonix said they were going to set us up with everything, but it turned out they only wanted to loan us the keyboard and guitar. But they did send us free copies of the software for PlayStation 3 and Xbox, so that’s pretty kick-ass. We got a full DJ Hero 2 setup to keep.
What did we do with it? Played it a bunch, and wondered whether Harmonix would ask for it back. They probably will. The software stays, though!
Who would love it: Maybe those jerks who always tell Rock Band players to learn to play a real guitar. But people who just like fun will also probably dig it.
Krazy Kat: A Celebration Of Sundays ($100)
For fans of classic comics, Sunday Press’ king-size reprints are the ultimate fetish objects. The latest volume reprints a selection of George Herriman’s mind-boggling Krazy Kat Sundays at their original broadsheet size, providing an unequalled look at his use of empty space, and in later years, broad blocks of color. (Unlike some more garish editions, the Sunday Press reprints use paper the color of newsprint, so the colors are softer and more balanced.) Herriman’s strips are as much about the geometric landscape of Coconino County as the doomed romance between kat and mouse, and the full-size reproductions offer the chance to explore his world in depth.
Did we score one? Yes, if by “score” you mean “pre-order the day pre-orders opened.”
What did we do with it? At 14x17 inches, the volume won’t fit on any shelf, so the book now rests on a gilded podium in a custom-built addition to the A.V. Club mansion.
Who would love it: Anyone who likes comics. Also: dogs, mice, and kats caught in strange, sadomasochistic love triangles.
Orange Juice, Coals To Newcastle ($69.99)
As the title of this comprehensive collection slyly acknowledges, six CDs and a DVD is more Orange Juice than anyone needs. Wants, however, is a different story. Can you live without half a dozen versions of “Poor Old Soul,” including an instrumental and one in French? Sure. But once you’ve immersed yourself in the space between the band’s wiry, agitated grooves and Edwyn Collins’ wobbly but seductive tenor, you’ll want to stay a while. Like any career-spanning collection, Coals drops off toward the end, but even at its last, the band was still capable of greatness. (See “I’m Guess I’m Just A Little Too Sensitive,” later covered by Ivy.) With Collins recovering from a paralyzing stroke, rumors of an Orange Juice reunion have begun to circulate, but until the group heads back to the studio, this is all you’ll ever need.
Did we score one? Does digital count? A gig’s worth of mp3s and a PDF booklet don’t have the swag appeal of a bona fide box, so we’ll say a qualified yes.
What did we do with it? Listened and listened and listened. Started culling to a more manageable, less hard-drive-monopolizing size.
Who would love it: The Glasgow-fixated post-punk obsessive in your life.
St. Etienne, A Glimpse Of Stocking (£150)
Dance-pop trio St. Etienne has never let the holidays pass unobserved, but its limited-edition Christmas singles have quickly gone out of print and up in price. A Glimpse Of Stocking collects the group’s Christmas gifts from 1995, 1998, and 2006 and adds seven new tracks for a total of 15, including ace covers of Randy Newman, Cliff Richard, and Claudine Longet. The new tracks are iffier, beginning with the Auto-Tuned (ack) “Gonna Have A Party,” but there’s still plenty of material for a sweaty, strobe-lit party after the presents have been unwrapped. For £150, you can score a 16th track, with your name written into the lyrics and sung by the dazzling Sarah Cracknell.
Did we score one? Nope. With the band mostly subsisting on reissues and archival releases, premium items don’t come cheap.
Who would love it: Anyone who’s ever need to hear Cracknell sing “Merry Christmas, [your name here].”
The Monkees, Head ($59.98)
Opinions are split as to whether the prefab four’s attempt to clamber onto the psychedelic bandwagon is a fascinating mess or simply a paisley train wreck, but there’s no questioning that Head contains some of the band’s best songs. But how many alternate mixes of “Porpoise Song” does one person need? If you answered “five,” you’ve come to the right place. With songwriting and session contributions by Carole King, Harry Nilsson, and Ry Cooder—as well as Jack Nicholson, Head’s co-screenwriter, who penned the spoken-word manifesto “Ditty Diego”—the album plays off the band’s image as pop impostors to smuggle some strange messages under the radar. “Porpoise Song,” a drifting, slurry number that sounds as if it was recorded at 20,000 fathoms, laments the fate of pre-made stars (“A face, a voice, an overdub has no choice”), while the lurching horns of “Daddy’s Song” introduce the story of a father abandoning his son. For the most part, the multiple mixes are for trainspotters only, but the 23-minute session of “Ditty Diego” is fascinating all the way through.
Did we score one? We did, right down to the mirrored box and bonus seven-inch single.
What did we do with it? Ripped it to iTunes, then used the box to roll a J.
Who would love it: The record-store clerk who keeps insisting that people who don’t like The Monkees just don’t get The Monkees, man.
Inventory: 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, 10 Great Songs Nearly Ruined By Saxophone, And 100 More Obsessively Specific Pop-Culture Lists (Autographed edition) ($27)
My Year of Flops: The A.V. Club Presents One Man’s Journey Deep into the Heart of Cinematic Failure (Autographed edition) ($12.60)
Of course you already have The A.V. Club’s fantastic joint book Inventory and Nathan Rabin’s essay collection My Year Of Flops. But have you given them as a gift? More importantly, have you given autographed editions as gifts? Because now you can. And you should. Many, many times.