The ARGNet Staff Gift Buying Guide
In a world where c|net, GeeksOn and the Parents’ Choice Foundation have their own holiday gift guide, why not ARGNet as well? Our staff has been hard at work doing their own holiday shopping, but that hasn’t stopped them from contributing some gift ideas for the special ARGonaut in your life. Here are their picks for 2006:
Larry Eisner: The Code Book, by Simon Singh, on CD-ROM – So it’s not a “gift” per-se. It doesn’t even cost you anything. However, feel free to consider it a gift to your fellow players. “How is this?” you may ask? It’s simple: By knowing how basic codes (and some highly technical ones) work, you become a more skilled ARG player, as often these types of codes work their way into nearly every ARG, in some form or another. Get it for yourself, or burn a copy for a friend! Isn’t technology wonderful? Of course, if you want to get your analog on, you can always purchase the paperback version as well.
While it is a common joke that ARG players can be a bit neurotic, and sometimes paranoid, sometimes they really ARE out to get you. Because of this age-old fact, I submit to you the gift that truly keeps on giving, not only to the recipient, but to the countless others who will watch in delight after the application of: The Aluminum Foil Deflective Beanie! Yes, for ages man and woman-kind (okay, mostly man-kind) have feared having their very thoughts ripped from their brains by aliens or covert government operatives. Now, the advantage is yours: stylishly, economically, and practically, with the AFDB. Get one for your whole family, your relatives, and even your pets. (You never can be too sure!) In fact, one heavy-duty roll of Aluminum Foil can dole out enough AFDBs to give to many many people. Play at Santa this year, by dropping into people’s homes and placing a couple of these bad boys under the tree! Think of the joy on children’s hearts when they realize that while they didn’t get that Playstation 3, their brainwaves will safe this Christmahannuwanzaadan.
Jackie Kerr: Ahhh Christmas. A time of good cheer, spiked eggnog, and exceptionally annoying cousins screaming in your ear to “MAKE THE ROBOT DANCE! AHAHAHAH!” and “NO YOU CAN’T TOUCH BARBIE’S HAIR EEEEE!” (Seriously, I ask you, what is the point of having a Barbie if you’re never going to a) dress her in new outfits and/or b) redo her hair in fantabulous new styles and potentially melt her fake, plastic hair with a curling iron or cut it off with your safety scissors? Don’t repress my Hollywood stylist dreams, little girl! I’m older than you and have bigger scissors!) Ahem.
Sometimes, all this happy good-times-a-go-go holiday stuff grates your nerves and you need to get away and be by yourself for just a short while to recuperate and juice up your Ho Ho Ho-ing. (Yes, I know that sounds bad. That’s the POINT.) For me, a little unwinding usually involves some couch-sitting and some crafty-action – but I don’t embroider and cross-stitch your average fluffy teddy bear or religious panorama, oh no. I prefer a little Subversive Cross Stitch – guaranteed to help you stitch your way to good humor with therapeutic phrases, such as “WTF?” and “Bite Me,” delightfully mixed with pink bunnies and bluebirds of glorious happiness. Even better? You can give them as gifts to your bestest friends when you’re done! Hoorah!
Then, when you’ve finished your quiet crafty time, you can rejoin your family with love in your heart, and a rolled-up magazine in your hand to fend off the flocking diaper-adorned lap-sitters. Oh, look! What a great magazine you’ve chosen to roll up! Mental Floss! Heavens! A trivia-fan and ARGers delight! 6 times a year, you can feed your brain with oodles of completely random facts and wow your family and friends. The cover is durable and shiny, and makes a lovely “thwack!” when it comes in contact with a hard object. Guaranteed to please, regardless of what you use it for.
Now, will someone pass me the fifth of eggnog? I’m feeling a mite parched.
Marie Lamb: Blokus, which won more awards than I can list here, is a wonderful puzzle board game that takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master, as they say. Players take turns setting colored pentomino tiles on a 400 square grid, where the only rules are you must start your first piece in the corner and all subsequent pieces must touch one corner of a previously played piece. The strategy gets interesting as the game progresses and precious real estate is consumed and players start to block each others’ moves. Games tend to run 20 minutes or so, and set-up is easy as well. Highly recommended for the puzzlers, and the strategists who enjoy some friendly competition.
Jessica Price: It’s not quite an ARG-in-a-book in the sense of Cathy’s Book, but Nick Bantock’s The Egyptian Jukebox still provides a lot of ARGish fun and might be a good way to slowly draw in your non-ARGing friends, or even just to entertain yourself next time your internet access goes down and you’re suffering ARG withdrawal. The eccentric inventor of the Jukebox has vanished, leaving clues to his whereabouts encoded in mysterious and strangely compelling art and equally atmospheric vignettes from his exotic travels. The book is unfortunately out of print, but if you can find a used copy in good shape, I’d highly recommend it.
Michelle Senderhauf: For those ARGers on your list who just can’t get enough puzzle challenge madness, The Secret by Byron Preiss is the perfect holiday gift. The book is an armchair treasure hunt book that was published 24 years ago. A dozen of the book’s treasure casques were hidden throughout the United States when the book was published and ten are still out there just waiting to be found! How do you find them? By reading the book of course! Strewn throughout the book are twelve pictures and twelve poems, that when paired together correctly reveal the twelve locations of these hidden treasures. Only two of the treasures have been found so far, but several groups are still working diligently on the puzzles in hopes of finding more treasure. While the book is unfortunately out of print, it is often offered on ebay for under ten dollars.
If you’re looking to sneak ARG-like elements into your little Santa-obsessed childrens’ lives, a book like Santa Claus might just do the trick. It is a great interactive book for kids that comes with several pieces of swag that extend the reality of the book, much like the popular books Dragonology and Pirateology.
Brooke Thompson: Do you have a closet filled with board games that you are tired of? Are you always thinking of new twists for your favorite games? Then New Rules for Classic Games by R. Wayne Schmittberger is for you. This book, first published over a dozen years ago, challenges you to shake things up with variations on dozens of games, but that’s just where it starts. As you read through the book, you begin to think about what works in a game and why and how you could take this new found knowledge to all sorts of games that he doesn’t even mention. This is, obviously, a great read for anyone interested in game design or tired of following someone else’s rules, but with all of the great variations and examples, it’s also good for those who’d rather someone just tell them how to play.
This is more of a holiday survival item than something for that every growing wish list. We all have that one day during the holiday season where we ponder poking out the eye of that carol-humming coworker with our ever so carefully sharpened candy cane. But! There is no need for violence! Instead, don this cryptically festive shirt and snicker to yourself as you spread the word. Bah Humbug!
Jonathan Waite: Two of the items on my wish list this year are as different as they are unique. First, I offer up Radica’s 20Q handheld technological wonder. This is the portable version of the wildly popular 20Q web site is guaranteed to be entertaining and bewildering. My students and I often attempt to stump the device, which often shoots back a correct guess as to what we were thinking about within the allotted twenty questions. As much as I love time wasters, this one is at the top of that list.
For the geeks in the crowd (I know there are at least two or three out there), might I suggest the Binary People T-Shirt from ThinkGeek? I choose not to go into any further discussion about the message on this shirt, only to say that I understood it right away, and that my wife did not. What’s that old adage about opposites attracting?
Carie Ward: In Journal: The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Amy Zoe Mason, two women ‘find’ an old journal in a desk that they bought in a second hand store. The Journal tells the story of Amy Zoe Mason and how she copes with her mother’s recent death and her husband’s new promotion out of state. It reminds me a lot of Nick Bantock’s books except for the small fact that you cant actually take stuff out of the book and hold it in your hands. There is a bit of a mystery going on in the book, and at least one website has been set up (although, it seems more for show rather than adding things for you to solve).
Other assorted Staff Picks:
- The Tattooed Map by Barbara Hodgson
- Paris Out Of Hand by Karen Elizabeth Gordon
- Secrets of Pistoulet by Jana Kolpen
- Cathy’s Book
- Secrets of the Alchemist Dar
- The Mammoth Book of Secret Codes and Cryptograms by Elonka Dunin
Toys & Games
Movies, Music and Media