Crap. It's the holiday shopping season again, and you don't want to go the gift certificate route one more time. Also, you've got a friend whose house smells like urine, and another who's constantly complaining about her inability to find adhesive bandages that look like foodstuffs. Hey, we know how it goes. And, as usual, we have you covered as you search for the extremely particular gift for that extremely particular someone.
For Air-Guitar Aficionados Who Want to Take Their Fake-Playing to the Next Level
Rock Band ($170)
When Guitar Hero successfully recreated the thrills of rock 'n' roll guitar-slinging for regular joes, it was only a matter of time before game designers tapped into the whole band experience. Enter Rock Band, which gives players the options of guitar, bass, drums, and singing. (One guitar controller, USB mic, and electronic drum kit are included.) Each instrument can be played solo or with the others, locally or online. Rock Band caters to all skill levels, though drumming is undoubtedly the most difficult, as it requires some coordination between the kick-drum pedal and drum pads. Like Guitar Hero, it's incredibly addictive and fun, especially when four people play at the same time. Unlike Guitar Hero, it mostly uses actual master tracks for the music, not sound-alike studio musicians. The library that comes with the game includes more than 45 songs (a grab-bag of classic rock and newer stuff, from "Highway Star" by Deep Purple to "Maps" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs). There's also a large online store offering more, including full-album downloads of stuff like The Who's Who's Next. Rock Band makes Guitar Hero feel anticlimactic, but be forewarned: It will take over your life.
For That Metalhead Who Gets Off On Packaging
Various artists, Rhino's Heavy Metal box set ($65)
Rhino continues its assault on the packaging-nerd demographic with its new four-disc heavy-metal collection. As might be expected, the tracks vary from essential ("Ace Of Spades" by Motörhead) to highly questionable ("Still Of The Night" by Whitesnake), but everyone can agree that the packaging is pretty kick-ass: The box is shaped like a Marshall amplifier head, complete with a volume knob that goes to 11. (Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom" appears on disc three.) The box also includes a big photo booklet—and with all the pics of '80s metal bands, hilarity is bound to ensue.
For the Magazine Hoarder Who Should Really Clear Out The Basement Right Now
Rolling Stone Cover To Cover: The First 40 Years ($125) and Playboy Cover To Cover: The '50s ($100)
Of course your friend the Back-Issue King and/or Queen is never going to read them all. That's not really the point. It's access—you never know when you'll want to re-read that profile of the now-dead cartoonist, or revisit that very special centerfold. But now you can do it all while risking contact with a fraction of the dust mites. Presenting good-quality scans of each page of every issue of these iconic magazines, along with solid indexing, just like the recently reissued complete runs of The New Yorker and Mad, these are as perfect for amateur historians as they are for geeky pack-rats. The Playboy set is a bit stingy—only one decade's worth, from back when the magazine usually ran to less than 50 pages an issue—but it's a fun nostalgia trip nonetheless. The Rolling Stone set is far heftier, particularly for music lovers; even the mag's increasing overreliance on Boomer icons as it goes on has some documentary value, and the '70s issues still contain some punch, thanks to rock-crit icons like Greil Marcus and Dave Marsh.
For The Wu-Tang Clan
The Ghostface Killah Doll ($500)
With beefs rising over unpaid tour dividends and scheduling conflicts between the Clan's upcoming 8 Diagrams and Ghostface's Big Doe Rehab, internal tensions in The Wu are at an all-time high, meaning it's becoming less and less likely that Ghostface will rejoin his bandmates for a tour if and when it finally gets off the ground. Luckily, the group can make up for the lack of arguably its finest MC by substituting this limited-edition doll, which can spew Ghostface-isms such as "Remember when I long-dicked you and broke your ovary?" and "Yo bitch, I fucked your friend / Yeah, ya stank ho" at the touch of a button, and all without airing dirty laundry to the press. Besides, at $500—a hefty price tag that includes diamond and 14-karat gold accessories, an exclusive mix CD by DJ Rhettmatic, and packaging that has "remnants of fine Louis XIII cognac"—who else is going to buy this thing?
For The Twin Peaks Fan Who Refuses To Shell Out For Another DVD Set, Pilot Episode And Cool Extras Be Damned
Twin Peaks—The Definitive Gold Box Edition ($99)
One of the strangest, most engrossing, and ultimately most frustrating TV shows ever, Twin Peaks has been trying for fans on DVD. The legendary, David Lynch-directed pilot episode—released as a stand-alone feature film in Europe and considered one of Lynch's finest achievements—wasn't even included in the original first-season DVD set (now out of print), automatically rendering it less-than-essential. Then it took until earlier this year for the much-maligned (but actually pretty good) second season to come out on DVD. Fans who shelled out for those sets might feel ripped off by The Definitive Gold Box Edition, but they should love it as a gift: It includes both seasons, the prodigal pilot, and some illuminating extras, including a feature-length documentary that candidly dissects the show's quick rise, listless fall, and almost-resurrection.
For Miley Cyrus Fans And Others Already Accustomed To Crushing Disappointment
Disney's Hannah Montana Beginner-Level Handheld Electronic Game ($12)
Shut out in your attempts to get tickets to the sold-out-in-seconds Hannah Montana tour? Consider the pale compensation of this state-of-the-art (circa 1986) LCD videogame, which allows children 5 and up to manipulate a tiny limited-animation cartoon Hannah as she practices her dance moves, tries on outfits, or ducks behind a bush to escape hordes of screaming fans. Or, for the boys, the HMHHG lets players drive a limousine through traffic, or take on the role of Hannah's brother and pass out flyers on a bicycle. Sadly, there's no game where little LCD parents frantically place futile calls to Ticketmaster before begrudgingly logging on to StubHub and laying out a few hundred dollars to appease their sobbing tweens.
For People Who Yearn To Banish The Smell Of Urine From Their Homes
Urine Gone! Stain & Odor Eliminator With Enzyme Action! ($20)
There's something to be said for bluntness in product-naming, and it's hard to get much more direct than the name of this deodorizing spray, designed to erase the pungent stench of what the box calls "pet or people accidents." The box also features photos of an incongruously arrogant-looking dog and cat, but surprisingly, no picture of a knock-kneed 3-year-old standing over a puddle on the carpet, saying, "I wet my pants a little bit, but not too bad." (By the way, Urine Gone! is also sold in a kit with a black light, for getting a closer look at where those stains actually are. But be warned: There may not be enough spray bottles in the world to eliminate the horrors that the light will reveal.)
For Cult-TV Fans Dying To Revisit A Classic Series Who Are Also Engineers Studying Ways To Improve DVD Packaging
The X-Files: The Ultimate Collection ($330)
Hey, remember The X-Files? The terrific first season? The even better second through fifth seasons? The neat movie? Then the subsequent seasons where everyone's egos went to their heads and it all fell apart? (David Duchovny scripts! Chris Carter does an episode in single takes! Hey, what's the Terminator dude doing here?) Well, it's back in a big brick of a DVD set containing the whole magilla. It's all well put-together, at least as far as the DVD content goes. But all the rumored physical extras remain a mystery, as our copy arrived damaged in a way that made its drawer full of goodies impossible to open without destroying the packaging entirely. Hey, what do you expect for $330? The truth is in there. We think.
For Amateur Cooks Who Like To Feel Guilty
The Elements Of Cooking: Translating The Chef's Craft For Every Kitchen ($15)
On the very first page of this back-to-basics guide, cult cookbook author Michael Ruhlman chastises any home cook who uses canned broth, then lays out the arduous, time-consuming steps required to make your own stock. Clearly, Ruhlman has a different conception of the average American's baseline culinary competency. But that's what makes The Elements Of Cooking as much fun to read as it is (theoretically) to use. The bulk of the text consists of a glossary of cooking and food terms, from "celery" to "remouillage," with each definition taking into account history, modern context, and proper usage. Ruhlman assumes that he's speaking to an audience of cooking voyeurs, steeped in the culture of Food Network and Top Chef, so he uses this book to inspire us to stop watching and start doing—to put away the Miracle Whip and start making our own emulsified sauces. Vive la gastronomie!
For Those Who Love Potatoes So Much That They Want To Hurt Them A Little
Tater Mitts: Quick Potato-Peeling Gloves ($20)
These thick rubber gloves feature bumpy, prickly palms designed to remove the thinnest possible outer layer of damp potatoes, leaving "more for everyone to enjoy." But c'mon. Once you put a pair of these babies on, you're going to want to see what they can do. Just how much can that stupid, delicious potato take? Pick that potato up. Run it under the tap. Now squeeze it! Rub it! Harder! Destroy! Destroy! Ahhh… That's better. Now, who wants hash browns?
For Those Who Can't Smile Without Him
Barry Manilow: The First Television Specials ($28)
Only in America could a former jingle writer and gay bathhouse pianist become the biggest star in popular music. Anyone eager to revisit those heady late-'70s easy-listening days should pick up this budget-priced four-disc box set, which shows off Manilow the feather-haired phenom in a quartet of relatively restrained, tasteful hourlong programs. The wacky sketches common to '70s variety shows are kept to a minimum, replaced by paeans to Manilow's pop-music favorites, sentimental stories of his long slog to the top, romantic evocations of urban life, and openly kitschy medleys of TV and radio ads Manilow has worked on (sung with the aid of a bosomy, spangled backup chorus). But does he sing "Copacabana?" Fuck yes, he sings "Copacabana."
For The Radiohead Completist Who Can't Stand The Thought Of Ripping All Those CDs And Likes Useless Bits Of Plastic
Radiohead limited-edition seven-album USB Stick ($160)
Supposedly inspired by Radiohead's decision to leave the label after many years, EMI in England is repurposing the band's entire catalog in confounding ways. The most confounding: this specially designed USB stick that contains all of the band's EMI albums. Since most people who'd actually buy this thing probably own all of that music anyway, they're essentially being asked to pay $160 for a little piece of plastic shaped like the Radiohead bear.
For The Radiohead Completist Who Couldn't Afford It When It Was Offered On Pre-sale, But Would Really, Really Like It
Radiohead In Rainbows Discbox ($80)
Sure, Radiohead offered a no-frills download of the terrific new In Rainbows, but it's also going all-out with the Discbox, which contains the full album on CD, a CD of extra tracks, and heavy-duty vinyl LPs featuring all of the songs—all delivered in a "hardback book and slipcase." If a CD booklet isn't enough to get the kids to purchase new music in non-ethereal form, this should be. It ain't cheap, but it sounds like it'll be worth it.
For That Special Someone With Impeccable Taste And An Opinion On "Firsties"
Assorted A.V. Club Merchandise ($7.50-$16.99)
Nothing says "I enjoy reading about pop culture and discussing it online" better than T-shirts, caps, and tote bags branded with the fashionably round A.V. Club logo. Friends will "ooh" and "ahh" at your allegiance; haters will call you a hipster douchebag, but you'll be protected by that glowing circle of self-satisfaction. Tell the world—via tote or T, available via store.theonion.com—that you know what the B-sides to "Trigger Cut" are, that you know who directed Blow-Up, that you always prefer the widescreen director's cut—the important things in life.
For White Stripes Fans Who Can't Express Their Love Thoroughly Enough Through A T-Shirt (And Who Also Like Photography)
White Stripes Limited-Edition Cameras ($180 each)
Lomo cameras have been hip among the hip for years: They're toy-like and they take arty pictures, even when the photographer isn't trying to. Jack and Meg White each have their own limited-edition model available this year: Meg's is a custom-colored "Diana," which is apparently "famous for its dreamy lo-fi images." Jack gets the all-plastic "Holga," which is fitted with special gels (red and clear, of course) plus a "peppermint lens filter." If taking White-Stripey pictures isn't enough, the band is also offering expensive kilts for the holidays.
For Latchkey Kids Who Always Want To Watch Their TV, Even If They're A Thousand Miles Away From It
Slingbox ($130 for non-HD, $180 for HD, $230 for up to four video sources, including HD)
So it's Super Bowl Sunday and you're stuck in London, where football is played with a round ball and nobody cares about the Green Bay Packers. (Or if you're a Londoner, replace "Super Bowl" with "European Cup," "round" with "oblong" and "Green Bay Packers" with "Manchester United.") No one's broadcasting the game, but if you have your laptop, a high-speed Internet connection, and your trusty Slingbox hooked up, you can watch it live from your hotel room thousands of miles from home. Or maybe catch up on that Women's Murder Club episode that's waiting in your DVR. Or terrorize/annoy your family by controlling the television like some remote-hogging ghost. The Slingbox picks up the signal from cable, satellite, or DVR systems and pumps it through the Internet via steaming video. Though the image quality can vary widely, depending on signal strength, it's a neat trick for the traveling armchair commando.
For People With Squishy Or Slimy Coffee Tables
Nicktoons! coffee-table book ($40)
In theory, coffee-table books are meant to provide stimulating entertainment for perusers, provoke stimulating conversations over aperitifs, or maybe just make the owners look like smart people who really like oversized black-and-white photography collections. In practice, this particular coffee-table book will mostly prompt people to poke it. An oversized reference guide to Nickelodeon cartoons, packed with hugely blown-up quotes about the shows but mostly concentrating on big, bright art, Nicktoons! comes encased in a dual-layer plastic slipcover with squooshy green gel between the layers, like the oil stickers of the '80s. Poke the cover, and the gel gooshes around. Hours of fun for the whole family. They should package the next couple of John Grisham books like this, too.
For People Who've Become Bored With Everyday, Routine Pooping
Toilet aquarium ($300)
Toilet monster ($18)
Everybody has to use the bathroom sometime, right? In fact, most people have to use it daily. So why not liven up the process with some fairly random crap (no pun intended) designed to make toilets more interesting? The Fish 'N Flush kit turns a toilet flush tank into an actual aquarium. (The fish aren't included, but the two fake plants are.) Now your pet fish can watch you pee, just as they've no doubt always secretly wanted to. Those with less ambitious budgets but just as much secret love for eliminatory voyeurism can instead buy a plastic collapsible Toilet Monster, which is designed to pop open when the toilet seat is lifted, thereby scaring the shit out of people. (Pun actually intended this time.)
For Those Who Always Wanted To Put A Raw Beefsteak On Their Black Eye Like People Do In Cartoons But Didn't Want To Waste The Meat
Bacon strips adhesive bandages ($5)
Patterned Band-Aids, off-brand and otherwise, are nothing new. But how about patterned Band-Aids that look like meat? These kind of greasy-looking adhesive bandages, available via a variety of novelty online retailers, make getting hurt fun! Just watch out for people trying to lick your wounds for you. Or push your damaged limbs into a hot frying pan. Or chop you up with some tasty eggs and scallions. Wait, maybe these are a bad idea after all.
For Mega-Geeks, Super-Geeks, And Just Plain Old Normal Geeks
Wi-fi Detector Shirt ($30)
T-qualizer T-shirt ($40)
Ambient Forecasting Umbrella ($100)
Ah, nerditry, and the amazing wonders it brings us. First it was electricity, then cell phones, and now battery-operated apparel that gathers useful information for us. Thinkgeek.com's wi-fi detector T-shirt is particularly amazing: It checks for area wi-fi signals and lights up a little expanding animated signal icon to indicate area signal strength. The site's "T-qualizer" shirt isn't really an equalizer—it doesn't actually moderate and balance the ambient sound around you, it just detects and displays it in a similar light-up animated signal. The Ambient Forecasting Umbrella, meanwhile, acquires daily weather forecasts via wireless, lights up to indicate rain or snow on the way, and flashes its light faster when the chance of rain is particularly high. In essence, it sits around quietly until you need it, then tries to attract your attention to let you know it's necessary. Your kids aren't that smart. And can a Thinkgeek shirt that displays your GPS position at all times be far behind? We hope not.
For, Um, Someone Out There, Probably, We Think
So what exactly is the purpose of the Chumby, the weird little padded Internet access device that manufacturers are trying to make into this year's must-have tech-wizard gadget? It's basically a keyless, handheld touchscreen device that's customizable with various programs, so it can become an alarm clock, play games, or watch your eBay auctions. Why not just use a laptop to perform the same functions, since it's being marketed at the tech-geeks who actually have the brains to take advantage of its hackability and write their own programs for it, and who therefore presumably already have computers? According to the Chumby website, "Sure, you can get the same information on your computer, but why be stuck behind a keyboard to enjoy your internet addictions?" As near as we can tell, the basic appeal for consumers is that it's kind of cute and soft, while the appeal for retailers is that unlike a TV or computer, it's always on, and it's connected to the advertiser-programmed "Chumby Network." Great, the chance to take ads with you wherever you go and pay for the privilege? Sign us up.
Find it at: store.chumby.com
For Anyone Who Loves Movies, America, And Heavy Square Boxes
Ford At Fox ($299)
This lavishly packaged, back-straining collection compiles the 24 films that director John Ford made for Fox between 1920 and 1952, from Just Pals through What Price Glory? Overkill? Well, it is John Ford, and anyone wanting to watch the evolution of the director who practically defined American filmmaking for half a century will appreciate having such an important chunk of his career in one place, all of it fitted out with considerable extras. (Not to mention all that nice packaging.) Those wanting their good things in smaller packages can buy boxes that split the collection into Ford's comedies, silent films, and a set called The Essential John Ford Collection. The latter is the best choice for fans on a budget, since it contains The Grapes Of Wrath, My Darling Clementine, How Green Was My Valley, Drums Along The Mohawk, and the feature-length documentary Becoming John Ford.
For Indie-Rock Fans Freezing In Their Thrift-Store Rags
K Records Mittens ($22)
Things associated with Olympia, Washington's K label (Saturday Looks Good To Me, The Microphones, etc.) tend to look and sound loveably tattered, furthering the stereotype that its music is by and for people in worn-in, faded clothes (preferably secondhand, of course). One exception: K's site promises its mittens, embroidered with the label's logo, have "a look that lasts." This might not gel with the blanched-out print of an old T-shirt, and you'd look cuter just muffling your hands in the sleeves of a high-school track-team hoodie from 1983, but how many new-attire splurge purchases can simultaneously keep you warm and amplify your cred-trumpeting?
For The Decadent Exotic Lurking Inside Every Holiday Celebrant
Masala Chocolates Festival Collection ($18)
If the giant Hershey's Kiss just isn't satiating your chocolate demons anymore, there are plenty of mom-and-pop choco-makers ready to put more time and care into creating the perfect treat. Masala Chocolates, out of Westminster, California, adds Eastern flavors to insanely rich chocolate: Their Festival collection—$18 for 15 pieces, available at masalachocolates.com—includes dark chocolate hearts with basil-honey filling, milk chocolate rectangles with curry-raisin filling, and white chocolates with pomegranate-orange blossom. It's a far cry from Russell-Stover. Other pieces available online include masala, sesame, cardamom, and chai.
For The Dog Lover Whose Wealth Far Exceeds "Asshole-ish" Heights
Innobitz's JooZoo ($1,500-$2,000)
Perhaps in an attempt to force the iPhone's obsolescence, Korean company Innobitz has introduced the JooZoo, a portable MP3 player for dogs. Sound extravagant? It is: It's only available in an 18k gold or diamond-strewn heart-shaped necklace with a built-in speaker. Without a headphone jack, the JooZoo can't even plausibly be used by humans: They'll just have to tolerate whatever tunes Rufus likes best. Another small caveat: JooZoo is only available in Korea, but that won't deter interested parties from hopping on a private plane and picking it up, along with the de rigueur Versace dog booties and sweaters.