Every year since we started Overthinking It, we have posted a gift guide at the start of the holiday shopping season. The purpose of this is two-fold. First, we get to highlight some unique finds and some old favorites, plus expound a little on what we’ve been watching/reading/listening to lately on our own time.
And second, everything on this list has an affiliate link to Amazon, where we get a small kickback when you click on one of them and (this second step is crucial) buy something—actually, buy anything—from them. So whatever you buy for your friends and loved ones this year, we’d be grateful if you started with one of these links (or the links on the homepage, where you’ll also find affiliate links for Amazon.ca and Amazon.co.uk.)
We’ve tried to tone down the “asking for money” thing in recent years—there’s still a PayPal donation link on the homepage, but it’s not like we ever mention it. Still, it’s worth remembering that Overthinking It costs money to run, and this annual promotion brings in about half our income for the year, so we can cover the costs of hosting a moderately popular website and podcast.
Anyway, enough of the hard sell. Here’s the list, yours for the giving…or taking.
Fenzel: Fast & Furious, The Complete Collection
There are dozens of different releases, re-releases, formats and bundles to buy the Fast & the Furious movies on Amazon. In a world where sequels are penciled in before the ink is dry on the original storyboards, that explosion of creativity comes from never quite knowing whether the film you just finished will be your last. This summer, the Fastiverse matured past this transitional phase, establishing itself firmly as a mainstay franchise – meaning perhaps the magical generative period in the tales of abandoned youths, surrogate families and fast, fast cars gives way to a firmer, less mercurial period. So leaf subsides to leaf, so Eden sank to grief, etc. In the meantime, look bad and marvel at the glory Vin and Lin hath wrought.
But however you buy it, we want you to buy it through us, and we want you to buy it at a deep frickin’ discount.
Look, let’s get real for a second. A lot of people talk about how they wish Hollywood movies were more diverse. How they wish the faces in the movies matched more closely with the faces of America and the world. How they want to see not just apologetic concession but positive, proactive, excited, joyful movie-making magic that progresses. Without too many people noticing, Fast and the Furious has become the movie franchise of this bold new tomorrow, broadening our scope on the human experience and condition, whilst admittedly narrowing it around cars.
Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift might be the least racist, most positive American movie about the Asian experience ever made. The rebirth of Vin Diesel as a pop culture dreadnought in Fast & Furious is one of the most confounding and compelling conquests over the Hollywood prediction machine in the last decade. And if you’re thinking “Someday, The Rock will truly be the greatest action star of his generation,” well, the day is today, the time is now, for Fast Five and Furious Six are Dwayne at the height (and the Rock Bottom ’natch) of his powers.
Where are the real action movies? Here they are. And, unlike so many of their comic-book-wrapped contemporaries, they didn’t forget the jaw-dropping pop singles.
Now that’s how you make a movie. Share it with someone you love who loves high speed and righteous anger.
Perich: Saint’s Row IV
With its madcap violence and knowing winks at other titles in the genre, Saints Row the Third earned my commendation as one of the most “meta” video games of the modern era. While I haven’t played Saints Row IV yet – I’m hoping to get it as a Giftmas Present myself; every review, gameplay video, and comment I’ve seen on it indicates that it’s more of the same. As Overthinkers, we benefit from consuming media that’s not just entertaining, but that nudges us to re-evaluate the other forms of media we consume. I have yet to find a major label video game better at that than the ironic, psychotic Saints Row series.
Lee: Logitech Extreme 3D Pro Joystick
I know that the name and look of this joystick…and the fact that it’s, well, a joystick…scream “I am 15 years old and am staying at home on a Friday night to play Wing Commander III.”
That’s precisely the point.
I don’t know what you were doing with your free time in high school, but if you were anything like me, odds are that you were devoting untold hours acting out your Star Wars and Top Gun fantasies in simulator games like X-Wing, Wing Commander, and Jane’s Advanced Tactical Fighters. And because you were so devoted to acting out this fantasy, you played these games not with a keyboard, mouse, or joypad, but with the real deal: a joystick. Clicking on a mouse to shoot demons in Doom was all fine and good, but nowhere nearly as satisfying as wrapping your hands around an honest to god joystick and pulling its trigger, just like a real pilot would. The sense of verisimilitude and immersion was just sublime.
But then something happened. Maybe you went to college, and with limited desk space and girls to impress, the joystick didn’t make the dorm packing list. Meanwhile, as the video game world exploded, niche genres like flight simulators that required specialized controllers fell to the wayside. Origin stopped making Wing Commander games in 1997. Lucasarts made its last Star Wars flight sim in 1999.
Life went on. Computers traded their DA-15 game ports for USB ports. You graduated from college, maybe got an XBox or a Playstation, whose games were tailor made to work well with competent but uninspiring game pads. You became a responsible adult with a job and a wife.
But somewhere inside of you, there’s a 15 year old that wants nothing more than to stay home on a Friday night, sweaty palm clasped firmly around a joystick, blowing aliens to smithereens. Let that 15 year old get this joystick–it’s USB and works on PCs and Macs–and download one of the original Wing Commander games from GOG.com for a measly 6 bucks. Relive those fantasies. Rack up some kills. Fly like the ace you once were…and always shall be, as long as you have a joystick on your desk.
Bitcoin? NSA spying? Neal Stephenson was writing about this stuff in 1999, in a book chock full of incredible WWII action and some of the best prose around. If you listened to the OTI Book Club, you’ll remember I mentioned author Neal Stephenson several times, and this is by far my favorite of his (excellent) catalog of novels.
Weaving together a WWII novel and a novel of the near-future of cryptology, this book explores concepts like information theory, digital currency, cryptology and government spying. It’s both a brilliant meditation on issues that have never been more pressing and an immensely entertaining read.
Sheely: Toddy T2N Cold Brew Coffee System
We have an illustrious history of recommending coffee makers in the OTI Holiday gift guide. What is different is that this year’s recommendation—the Toddy Cold Brew System—doesn’t even require hot water. In fact, the system doesn’t even having moving parts. It just consists of a plastic bucket with a hole in the bottom, a glass decanter, a rubber stopper, and a reusable felt filter.
The system is deceptively simple- all you do is put the filter and stopper in the bottom of the bucket, fill the tub with 12 ounces of coarsely ground coffee and 7 cups of cold water, let it sit for 12 hours, and let it drain into the decanter. The result is concentrated coffee extract, which can then be diluted with water to make a cup of coffee. One batch produces enough concentrate for about a week of coffee drinking for two people. Although the diluted cold brew coffee extract can be heated up to make a cop of hot coffee, the method excels at making iced coffee. Many hip coffee shops use a variant of this method to produce their seasonal iced coffee, and the Toddy provides a simple, easy-to-use way to replicate this process at home.
The Toddy has fundamentally transformed my coffee drinking habits in several ways. First, I have started drinking much more iced coffee than hot coffee. Although this was not surprising when my Toddy first arrived in May, I have continued to drink iced coffee throughout the fall, and I’m showing no signs of changing back to hot coffee, even as the Boston winter approaches. Second, the Toddy has actually changed the way that I drink coffee. Cold Brewing produces a sweeter, smoother brew than most conventional hot brewing methods, and I find that I’ve actually become much better at tasting flavors in any kind of coffee. Do yourself a favor, get yourself a Toddy and you’ll find that you’ll be making iced coffee even when it is below freezing outside.
Wrather adds: And if you need some beans to drop into the Toddy, you could do worse than Tonx, a service that sends 12 oz. of carefully sourced, freshly roasted (within days, which you will never, ever get at the supermarket or St*rb*cks). Last year I told Mark about it and he’s a convert. This year I’m angling for Sheely.
Rosenbaum: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes
Let’s cut to the chase: Calvin & Hobbes is the greatest comic strip of all time. It’s the perfect comic for Overthinkers. Deceptively simple art, wonderfully silly but with staggering philosophical depth at the same time, not only is C&H a model for how to do serialized comics right, its creator, Bill Watterson, is a model of artistic integrity. Despite the millions he could have made from licensing his characters for all sorts of merchandise, he stuck to his guns and made sure that his vision wasn’t diluted. Of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with licensed merchandise or with making money [Click our affiliate links! —Ed.], but the point is that Watterson didn’t want to do it, and never caved in to what must have been a lot of pressure to emulate the marketing success of other, dumber comics like Peanuts and Garfield.
Calvin & Hobbes is not just brilliant, but pure. And because there are no Calvin bobble-heads or stuffed plush Hobbes dolls, the only way to experience its genius and delight is the way it was intended: by reading it. If you know someone who hasn’t read Calvin & Hobbes, do them a favor and introduce them. If you know someone who has read Calvin & Hobbes, they will be very happy to read it all again.
The Complete Calvin & Hobbes is almost 1,500 pages of Spaceman Spiff, Stupendous Man, Calvinball, disturbing snowmen, Get Rid of Slimy GirlS (G.R.O.S.S.), lots and lots of dinosaurs, and the genuinely touching friendship between an unusually smart little boy and his imaginary stuffed tiger.
Perich: Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting
With the recent passing of Syd Field, now might be a good time to review (or discover for the first time) his contribution to the field of screenwriting. While some romantics assert that knowing the formula behind your favorite stories cheapens them, we believe that it can actually enhance your viewing. It gives your movie-watching a third dimension, creating intellectual angles that you can share with others in the sort of conversation that Overthinking It was meant to enshrine.
Outrun by Kavinsky
To a handful of dedicated techno enthusiasts, Kavinsky is known as an up and coming member of the same French electronica scene that produced Daft Punk. To Ryan Gosling fans, he’s more famous as the guy behind “Nightcall,” the title song from Drive – no, not that one, the other one. And to everyone else, he’s a total nonentity. An obscure European artist, working in a fringe genre, with only a single full-length and a couple of EPs to his name. Not even a blip on the pop-cultural radar.
But you, because you are reading this, are no longer like most people. So let me let you in on a little secret:
Kavinsky is your god now.
Outrun is the orphaned soundtrack to the best 1980s video game never created. It is dance music for Michael Mann fetishists. It is the 1986 Charlie Sheen vehicle The Wraith in electro-house form—and yet, somehow, despite this, awesome. It is possibly the most perfect workout and/or typing music ever devised. And it would certainly seem like great music to blast late at night on long road trips, although the OTI staff cannot in good conscience recommend this, as Kavinsky does not model responsible driving behavior.
For sheer theatrical value, Kavinsky’s persona is hard to beat – he performs as a high school student who died in a Ferrari crash in 1986, and came back as a zombie in 2006 to make perfect house records – but it’s the music itself is what makes this worth buying: the hollow neon tang of the vintage synths, the percolating rhythm of the 8-bit arpeggiated harmonies, the polished ebb and flow of the arrangements, the bracing austerity of the harmonic palette. Of course, this is 2013, so you can listen to the whole album on youtube without spending a cent. But this is exactly why Outrun is so perfect as a gift. Kavinsky needs more fans. You need to bring a smile to the face of that music-loving weirdo in your life. And really, if you’re reading Overthinkingit… don’t you think that this is the kind of art you should be supporting?
Belinkie: Vigo the Carpathian &c.
During my senior year of college, I decorated my walls with what I considered to be an exquisitely curated selection of movie posters. There was an imported God of Cookery one sheet. A vintage (slightly creased) poster for 1965’s The Great Race (which features the greatest pie fight ever put to celluloid). A poster for the cartoon Transformers: The Movie with the greatest tagline ever: “Beyond good. Beyond evil. Beyond your wildest imagination.” Not accurate, but damn Gina.
But there was one poster I dearly wanted to have but couldn’t find, no matter how hard I AltaVistaed for it (I came late to Google). That was the picture of Vigo the Carpathian that is featured in Ghostbusters 2. It’s the only painting I can think of that’s the subject of a Hollywood blockbuster, unless you count the Monet from The Thomas Crown Affair (which is actual art, and therefore not suitable for ironic display). The Vigo painting just wasn’t available for purchase then, but if you have an idea for an ironic product and wait long enough, the internet will make it happen. Just look at that guy. He is Vigo! You are like the buzzing of flies to him!
And as a companion piece, might I suggest a book of paintings, photographs, and poems by Hollywood’s other Viggo. Yes, it turns out that in between fighting Sauron and having naked sauna fights and being Demi Moore’s drill sergeant (that was him!), Viggo Mortensen is kind of a serious artist. This is a must have coffee table book for geeks everywhere (although it is not as good as Leonard Nimoy’s book of erotic religious photography).
Don’t feel bad for me not getting my Vigo poster back then. Instead, I got a Convoy poster signed by Kris Kristofferson and Ernest Borgnine and songwriter C. W. McCall which I
was am so very proud of.
Wrather: SideKIC Immersion Circulator and Modernist Cuisine
Unrealistically pricey holiday gift recommendations have kind of been my thing ever since we started publishing these lists. Early on, I recommended that Overthinkers pick up a copy of the OED (I mean, I have one, but it was one hell of a nice graduation present, and not an every year sort of thing), and I followed that up with a suggestion that you shell out for the complete Kurosawa. Look, I’m not crazy. I figure that if you’re not going to buy this stuff, you might as well get a little entertainment out of the online window shopping before you pick up whatever XBox game you were going to buy anyway.
Nathan Mythrvold is kind of a dick, what with the patent trolling and all, and I can’t in good conscience suggest you add any of your hard-earned ducats to the swimming pool of gold coins he backstrokes through, Scrooge McDuck style, before heading out every morning to stifle innovation.
But damn if his cookbook don’t have some pretty pictures.
Modernist Cuisine was, at the time of it’s publication, at the bleeding edge of the application of scientific knowledge to cooking, and got lumped in with the “molecular gastronomy” (terrible name) crowd. There is an abridged, practically-focused version of this five volume (plus workbook!) magnum opus, but if you like to cook, really what you should do is click through to Amazon and look at some of the cutaway photos. And start aligning the grain of your hamburgers. He says that makes a difference.
But seriously, folks. Here’s the real pick. I was looking for an entry into the world of cooking sous vide without buying one of the $1,000+ immersion circulators I found whenever I googled.
Sous vide (literally “under vacuum”) is one of them fancified French culinary terms, but the principle will be familiar to anyone who has ever boiled a bag of Uncle Ben’s rice. Food is vacuum sealed in a plastic pouch and dropped into a container of water which has been heated to a precise temperature. Because it will never get hotter than the setting on the circulator, it literally cannot overcook, and because you can leave it there for hours or days, you can enjoy a thick steak (or an extra-thick roast) all at a perfect medium rare (not just a band of medium rare in the middle, approaching well done as you get closer to the outer sear).
The SideKIC Immersion Circulator is exactly what I was looking for. For the moderate needs of a home cook, it has the power and precision to cook sous vide at a price that won’t break the bank. Careful before you go down this rabbit hole, cause it’s pretty deep: right away you’ll want a vacuum sealer; pretty soon you’ll want a blow-torch (for putting the sear on the outside of stuff once you cut open the plastic bag). But when you sink your fork into a perfectly—perfectly—runny poached egg, you’ll be glad you… wait for it… wait for it… shelled (get it?) out.
- For some definitions of the world literally. ↩