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, or doing listening to lately.
And second, everything on this list has an affiliate link to Amazon, and 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 start shopping 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’re very glad so many overthinkers go out of their way to support us. (And if Amazon isn’t your thing, there’s still a PayPal donation link on the homepage. Just saying.) 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 the website and podcast.
Limited Edition: Generic Indie Band TFT-Shirt
To celebrate our first year of Theory for Turntables, we’re launching a series of limited-run t-shirts based on concepts, jokes, and ideas from the podcast. Our first edition allows you proclaim your allegiance to your favorite Indie Band, whether that means to you (we have used the term to apply to artists ranging from Arcade Fire to Marvin Gaye). The shirt is generic enough to never go out of style if your favorite band “sells out”, while the fine print lets the world know that you were into the TFT Podcast before we were cool (and we will be cool).
We’re doing this edition of the TFT-Shirt through Teespring, which is basically Threadless meets Kickstarter. Here’s how it works. Place an order for a shirt (or five). If 50 shirts are ordered by Thursday, December 11, the order will be printed (and will be shipped to arrive in time for Christmas). If we don’t hit the target of 50 shirts, you won’t be charged, but you don’t get the shirt either. So order now, and spread the word, so that you and your friends are part of the small group of people who get to have this shirt.
Bet you didn’t know that the subtitle of the third Fast & The Furious movie was a reference to a totally sweet, surreal, amazing, legendary 1966 Japanese crime thriller. Despite the severe constraints of the mid–20th century Japanese film studio system, director Seijun Suzuki achieved imagination and vision in his films that stay with us today. (I mean, the color balance alone… well, you can see the box art. It is pretty much like that the whole time.) —JS
Justice League & Justice League Unlimited
With each successive glimpse into 2016’s Batman vs. Superman: Sunlight of your Justice, we resign ourselves further to another humorless three-hour kampf. “Oh, well,” we tell ourselves. “It has to be this way. I mean, there’s no way to depict the battles of legendary superheroes and villains on an epic scope without unrelenting grimness and callous violence, is there? Especially in under three hours?”
Reader, would it shock you to learn that not only has it been done, but that it’s been done well? And in a cartoon, no less? Well, you probably would, as they didn’t exactly make a secret of it, BUT.
I first tuned into Justice League after a few hours of playing Injustice: Gods Among Us and getting depressed by its dark tone. The 2001–04 Justice League cartoons—and the 2005–06 Justice League Unlimited follow-up—were a welcome tonic to all that sourness.
But not only are the cartoons more fun, they’re also exciting, moving, and an exercise in brisk storytelling. Too many good episdoes to list, but all of them match the scale of Hollywood’s nine-figure blockbusters, but with a fraction of the budget and runtime. —JP
- Justice League: Season 1 (DC Comics Classic Collection)
- Justice League: Season 2 (DC Comics Classic Collection)
- Justice League Unlimited: Season 1 (DC Comics Classic Collection)
- Justice League: Unlimited: Season 2
With the announcement of its triumphantly bizarre return to television with new episodes coming in 2016, this is the perfect time to acquaint or reacquaint yourself with the mystery of “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” Twin Peaks was David Lynch’s attempt to bring his brand of weirdness to mainstream television audiences, and while it didn’t last very long and its second season was generally disliked—which may have had something to do with creators being forced to give in to network pressure—Twin Peaks went on to influence some of the most important and themselves-influential series that came after it, like The X-Files and Lost, both of which reconfigured the network drama landscape in their own spooky, serialized images. Here’s every episode of the original series, plus the feature film prequel/epilogue Fire Walk With Me. Get caught up before all your friends are talking about Twin Peaks again. —RR
You may be a fan of the BBC’s Sherlock, and CBS’s Elementary, but did you know that Sherlock Holmes was originally set in the Victorian era? It’s true! That’s why to me, the ultimate Sherlock will always be the late great Jeremy Brett, who starred in 41 faithful adaptations from 1984 to 1994. Americans might remember these as part of PBS’s Mystery! (Yes, the exclamation point is strangely part of the title.)
Brett is absolutely great: intense, brooding, cold, but also totally hilarious.
He died young, and the New York Times eulogized him as an “unnerving” Holmes. I think he would have taken that as high praise. It doesn’t surprise me at all that Bennybatch is a fan too.
I love the modern versions of the character, but for old school deerstalker-and-pipe Holmes, you can’t do better than Brett. (Sorry, Robert Downey Jr. and Basil Rathbone.) —MB
Dragon Age Inquisition
Among the most overthinkable videogames of all time, the Dragon Age series combines playability, beautiful graphics, and interesting combat mechanics with a classic fantasy storyline that also (and this is the overthinkable bit) has real narrative depth and the kind of complex moral decision-making that you hardly ever saw in games before it. Rarely a simple choice between clearly good and obviously evil, the sort of subtlety that Dragon Age allowed for made it feels as if your choices really mattered to your character and to the world in a more meaningful way than how many Dark Side Points you’ll accumulate for executing this guy against your alignment. You’ll think hard while playing, and you’ll continue to consider your actions long after you’re done. The latest instalment in the series has been on its way for a long, long time and I’ll bet it will be among the best games of the year. —RR
Words are still the beating heart of Overthinking It, and OTI writers are, first and foremost, avid readers.
Novels by Overthinkers
[I love that this is a section. —Wrather]
Too Close to Miss, Too Hard to Handle, and Too Late to Run by John Perich; Hammer of Witches by Shana Malawski
There’s a refrain among hacks that the word of a critic doesn’t count as much as the word of a creator. Criticism is somehow a cowardly or feeble act, while creation is courageous. These people often cite Teddy Roosevelt’s “It is not the critic who counts …” line from his 1910 speech to the Sorbonne. Even worse, they’ll sometimes quote Jean Sibelius’s declaration “A statue has never been set up in honor of a critic,” which was false even at the time Sibelius said it and has grown falser since.
Anyhow, this idea that criticism is inherently inferior to the art it criticizes is bad and wrong, like a septic tank rupturing. But we still keep a plumber’s business card in a drawer, just in case. And the critics at Overthinking It have turned their hand to creation as well—not just to inoculate themselves from that trite response to the critic’s role, but also to advance the state of the art and to tell a good story.
John Perich’s three crime novels—Too Close To Miss, Too Hard to Handle, and Too Late To Run, released in November 2014—follow Mara Cunningham, an impulsive Boston photographer whose hatred of corruption gets her into and out of a series of violent scraps. They’re gritty, clever, and action-packed.
Shana Mlawski’s Hammer of Witches follows a half-Moorish, half-Jewish boy named Baltasar in Inquisition-era Spain. When he discovers he has the power to bring mythological characters to life, he flees the Inquisition aboard the ships of a merchant named Christopher Columbus. But trouble follows him across the Atlantic, as it is wont to do.
Even if you’ve already read all four of these books—bless you, kind patrons—we’re sure you have a mystery-loving aunt or a bookish niece or nephew who’d love these. —JP
- Too Close to Miss (Mara Cunningham Series Book 1)
- Too Hard to Handle (Mara Cunningham Series Book 2)
- Too Late to Run (Mara Cunningham Series Book 3)
- Hammer of Witches
Criticism by Overthinkers
I am especially proud of this book, which is a pretty ballsy thing to say given that I had next to nothing to do with its composition or publication. But I said next to nothing and not nothing altogether: Overthinking It writer Richard Rosenbaum’s treatise on Ninja Turtles (he has explained that it’s good practice among Turtlerati to leave out the “Teenage” and “Mutant” descriptiors), began its life as a guest article on this very site. Since we quickly locked him down as a regular contributor to OTI, you’ll know by now the breadth of pop culture erudition, depth of analysis, and unique sense of humor he brings to the page. This is like that, but moreso. Cowabunga. —MW
(And Richard has a new book coming out soon!)
Basically, the Overthinking It mentality applied to photography. If you’re not content with the images that your camera produces on its own and want to get more out of those pixels, then get Lightroom. If the idea of artis-anally “developing” digital photographs with painstaking precision and control appeals to you, then get Lightroom. If you want to become a master of the visual realm and express the beauty of the human spirit through photography, then get Lightroom. If you have a black dog and actually want to make out the details of its body and face in photographs, get Lightroom.
I’m not saying that Lightroom will make you a better photographer, but I am saying that it helps a lot. —ML
Looks, words are wind, so I’ll be direct. This book is THE present for Game of Thrones fans this holiday season. It’s an incredibly rich and detailed supplement – an oversize tome of more than 300 pages of lore and backstory of Westeros, Essos, the Targaryans, the Andals, all the great houses, and everything else in the universe of the Song of Ice and Fire books – the world behind the HBO show Game of Thrones – researched and written by a team of devotees with all-new material from George R. R. Martin himself.
You can get the Kindle or the audiobook, but you probably want to get the hardbound edition for the many beautiful color illustrations. Plant it on your coffee table in front of your Iron Couch, and watch the Game of Thrones fan in your life totally geek out.
It’s probably a bit more geared toward the harcore book fans than the fans of the show, but the latter tends to lead to the former. And it’s book-reading season, after all. Winter is Coming. —PF
- The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire)
I remember talking to a literary agent once who told me that if you want to be a published author, and you don’t particularly care what kind of book you write, you should try to write a breezy and wide-ranging social history of a basic foodstuff or household product. “Publishers love that stuff,” she told me. “They slap on a one word title – ‘Salt,’ ‘Cod,’ ‘Pencil,’ or whatever – and release it right before father’s day. Sure, it’s not going to be the next Harry Potter, but it will reliably move 10,000 to 15,000 copies. They count on these books to keep the lights on.” I tell this story, because I think it does more than anything else I could tell you to explain exactly what kind of book this is. You know these books. And all of you have someone in your lives who reads these books voraciously. (Maybe it’s you. Probably it’s your dad.) Anyway, And a Bottle of Rum is maybe the best example of the genre that I have ever read. The author gets to dig into piracy, the slave trade, prohibition, tiki bars – no, seriously, the tiki bar chapter is one of the best ones – the American Revolution, the Cuban Revolution… this is basically like catnip for dads. Or like rum, for alcoholic dads. It has a cute gimmick, which is that every chapter is prefaced with a cocktail recipe dating from the place and time that the chapter focuses on. I’ll quote the one from the prohibition chapter here in full: “Prune Water: In three cups of water, cook slowly for one half-hour one-quarter pound of prunes and a thin strip of lemon peel. Add juice of one-half lemon. Strain and sweeten to taste. DO NOT ADD RUM.” —JS
Back in 2008, I recommended The Power Broker, Robert Caro’s massive and famous biography of infamous New York City urban planner Robert Moses. Because four years should have been plenty of time to polish off that book’s 1,300 pages, I present to your your next challenge: the first four volumes of Caro’s Lyndon Johnson biography series.
Don’t get me wrong: these books can be a bit of a slog at times. There’s an entire chapter devoted to the topographical history of the Texas Hill Country, and another that presents the entire history of the United States Senate. But once you get past those, you’ll be treated to an epic story of power and ambition whose scope and sweep tops the best from Shakespeare, Coppola, or Gilligan. And this is all without the story of Johnson waging war in Vietnam, which will be the topic of the series’ fifth, and supposedly last, volume.
The story is equal parts inspiring (Johnson’s spearheading of landmark Civil Rights legislation) as it is despicable (Johnson’s theft of the 1948 Senate election, Johnson’s character assassination of a civil servant on the behest of oil industry interests, Johnson’s…you get the idea). If American history in the second half of the 20th century is sausage, these books are the story of how that sausage got made. —ML
- Hardcover Set: Robert A. Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson Set: The Path to Power; Means of Ascent; Master of the Senate; The Passage of Power
- Kindle Editions
Machine of Death
If this was ONLY a collection of short stories inspired by a Dinosaur Comic, dayenu.
T-Rex has a fantastic premise for a short story: there’s a machine that can tell you, with 100% immutable accuracy, how you will die. But the machine doesn’t give you a date. It just spits out a piece of paper that says “Boating Accident.” You can vow never to go on a boat ever again, but it doesn’t matter; one day you’ll be driving on the highway, and an improperly secured boat will break loose from the car towing it and smash through your windshield.
Machine of Death is a collection of 34 stories based on this idea. They range from the suspenseful, to the heartbreaking, to the hilarious. One of my favorite ones involves upper class Manhattan parents trying to get their toddler into an elite pre-school, despite his death prediction of “Prison Knife Fight.” T-Rex’s premise actually proved so interesting that they had to release a second volume, This Is How You Die.
It sounds morbid, and yeah, I guess it is. But it’s also wonderfully life-affirming. These characters fight against the inevitable, or face it bravely, or just laugh at the absurdity of it all. You will learn a lot about the human condition. You will also learn if you can win a presidential election if your death prediction is “Exhaustion From Having Sex With a Minor.” —MB
- Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die
- This Is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death
Miracleman Vols. 1–3
As Overthinkers, we look to enhance our understanding of the pop culture we enjoy. So it’s a good practice to seek out seminal works of a style when they become available. Alan Moore’s run on Marvelman (retconned as Miracleman, and without Moore’s name on the cover, for reasons that are too complicated to get into here) has finally been re-released in a series of new hardback collections. Volumes 1 and 2 are already available; Volume 3, to be released in spring 2015, is available for pre-order.
You can see Moore exploring the themes that he would later revisit memorably in Swamp Thing and Watchmen: what the existence of a superman means to human society and ethics. But just as we find value in studying Citizen Kane seventy years after its premiere, we also find value in studying Moore’s first steps onto the world stage. —JP
- Miracleman Book 1: A Dream of Flying
- Miracleman Book 2: The Red King Syndrome
- Miracleman Book 3: Olympus (pre-order)
Zita the Spacegirl & Giants Beware!
If you have a young geek on your hands that isn’t ready to dive headlong into Marvel or DC, you can’t do better than Zita the Spacegirl or Giants Beware!. My 9-year-old son has re-read these graphic novels way too many times and shows no signs of getting tired of them.
Giants Beware! (once again, the exclamation point is part of the title) is a fantasy story about a young girl who sneaks away from her village to find and kill a legendary giant. Zita the Spacegirl is a sci-fi epic (it’s part of a series now) in which a young girl travels through a portal to another world and winds up in an action-packed cosmic adventure (it’s like Guardians of the Galaxy Jr.). They both feature strong young women in genres where that can be hard to find, and the action isn’t too violent for little kids. Get them started on this, then move them up to Batman later. —MB
Jack Bauer does what needs to be done. Jack Bauer doesn’t have time to waste. And Jack Bauer has returned to save the world once again. You know what Jack Bauer doesn’t do? Lose important documents. And you know what Jack Bauer really doesn’t have time for? Anyone who makes fun of him for carrying a man-bag everywhere he goes.
The only thing Jack Bauer loves more than grabbing suspects by the lapels is his messenger bag. In 24: Live Another Day, he carries this Rothco vintage army-style heavyweight shoulder number. You can buy it from FOX for a markup, or you can trust that we here at Overthinking It did our research and found the bag for the man who has no time to spare.
I like this kind of geek gift, because it shows you care about what your loved ones like, and it gives them a conversation piece, but it’s also something they can put to use.
Get the 24 fan in your life the Jack Bauer Man-Bag. It’s your only play. —PF
This is a really cool pepper grinder. Ha! I can’t believe I just wrote that. Still, it’s awesome – partially because of the elegance of the design, but mainly because it’s one-handed. You may be thinking to yourself that two-handed pepper grinders have always served you just fine, but trust me on this, once you try a one-handed pepper grinder you will resent two-handed grinders with the blinding fury of a thousand suns. (The other day I was cooking at my parents’ house, and I was all like “Great, now to add pepper I need to put down the sautee pan LIKE I WAS SOME KIND OF GODDAMNED PEASANT! AAAGH!” It was an emotional roller coaster.) Have you ever done the thing where you grind pepper onto one side of the chicken, then flip it over, then spend thirty seconds washing salmonella off your hands before you can pick up the grinder to take care of the other side? With the Vktech, you never have to do it again. —JS
Lord knows we could all use a little support sometimes in this crazy world. If your loved one plays the most popular competitive PC game in the world, League of Legends, they will get the inside joke I just made. They’ll also particularly appreciate your next hug, enhanced by this Blitzcrank, The Great Steam Golem plush pillow.
Blitzcrank is a dorky but powerful champion, able to shoot his rocket arm at his enemies and pull them in for his team to finish them off. So if there’s a MOBA-lover in your life that you would like to pull in for a little CC and bursting, Blitz here has got your back.
You won’t get KSed, but you might get KISSed. And remember, AP Blitz scales with Adorable Power. —PF
The professional world is changing. We’re long past the dotcom days where it was notable and exciting to have a kooky off-beat office with bean bag chairs and foosball in order to seem hip, but we’re also even farther past the point where spaces in the office at most companies are neutral, sober, and all gray-flannel-suitey. Today’s professionals create affirming workspaces that give them what they need to do their jobs.
You know somebody who needs this Baby Groot bobblehead on his or her desk at work. We know you do. For maximum productivity. And 3 p.m. dance breaks.
[You knew it was coming, didn’t you? —Wrather]
Pourover Gift Set
While we have a long history of recommending coffee equipment in our Holiday Gift Guide, this year’s recommendation in that category is not just one item. Instead, I’m recommending the entire setup that you need to make your own pourover coffee at home.
For me, pourover coffee was the final frontier of home coffee brewing. “It is too time consuming and labor intensive,” I’d think as I browsed drippers, filters, kettles, and grinders online. “I should only have this once in a while,” I’d say to myself as I handed over $4.50 for a single-origin pourover at my local artisanal coffee shop. “My home coffee experience is good enough,” I’d say out loud as I enjoyed a cup of cold brew from my Toddy or a mug of hot coffee from my French Press.
I was wrong. In September, I purchased the Hario pourover set, the Bonavita Digital Kettle, and the Baratza Virtuoso Grinder, and I’ve made pourover coffee every day since then. Rather than being a burden, the process of weighing my beans, grinding them, and then slowly pouring water over them is a relaxing morning ritual. It requires just attention to engage my dexterity and my mind, but isn’t overly taxing.
It is also takes less time than you probably think it does, in part because the Bonavita electric kettle heats water to a precise preset temperature quicker than a stovetop kettle. Once the water is just below boiling (which takes 4–5 minutes), it takes another 3 minutes to actually brew the coffee. The result is a perfect cup of coffee that is a bit cleaner than a French Press and which brings out the flavor profiles of the beans a bit better than the Aeropress or Toddy. There are almost infinite variations of coffee/water ratio, coffee coarseness, water temperature, and pour speed, so you can experiment and find a ratio that you like the best.
Even if you’re not sure if you want to totally abandon your other brewing methods, many of the pieces of equipment in this package are great addition to your kitchen on their own, especially the scale, the kettle, and the grinder. The Baratza Grinder is an especially good gift option for the coffee fanatic in your life. This model strikes a sweet spot between durability, precision (it has 40 coarseness settings), and affordability (it clocks in at $200). It is the best way to ensure that you are brewing your beans at their freshest, and when that hipster barista at your coffee shop asks you if you need your beans ground, you can smugly let him know that you have your own grinder at home. That feeling alone is worth the sticker price.
- Hario VDC–02W V60 Ceramic Coffee Dripper, White
- Hario V60 Range Coffee Server, 800ml, Clear
- Hario Coffee Drip Scale/Timer
- Hario 02 100 Count Coffee Paper Filter, Natural
- Bonavita 1-Liter Variable Temperature Digital Electric Gooseneck Kettle
- Baratza Virtuoso – Conical Burr Coffee Grinder (with Bin)
Gift Pack! Mario Kart Nostalgia Collection
Fans of the original Super Mario Kart for Super Nintendo know that, if you’re going to buy a go-kart to ride on a floating rainbow in outer space, 150 cc is the fastest, most competitive and challenging go-kart you can buy.
We know literally nothing about this go kart other than that it is 150cc, it’s red and black, and that it can go in reverse if necessary. But if you buy it using our Amazon affiliate link, you will be a true champion. —PF
Goes will with three of these:
And one of these:
- New High End Go Kart 150cc Automatic with Reverse
- Pond Turtle Shell (More than 7 inches) (Natural Bone Quality A)
- Baby Banana – Avg 15 Lb Case
What’s on your wish-list for the holidays? Sound off in the comments!