Humour me, please. I’m going to pretend I’m not the only person who’s barely started Christmas shopping, and that there are other people out there who have no idea where to begin. I know, I know, you’re all terribly organised and you’ve had everything wrapped and ready since June, but just in case – I won’t tell anyone, promise – just in case you’re still looking for the odd knick-knack or seven, here’s the not-really-last-minute-at-all-honest Think Physics Christmas 2015 Gift Guide:
We’re inordinately fond of things with (a.) flashing lights and (b.) bleepy sounds. So we’re rather taken with this DIY Synth Kit from London-based code/design collective Technology Will Save Us. Check out the rest of their shop, too – their DIY Gamer Kit is a neat project for those who enjoy soldering, and they’ve a bunch of simpler stuff too.
The grand-daddy of these sorts of bleepy hackable DIY kits is the Thingamagoop, from Bleep Labs in America. Not cheap, but oh-so-cute. Bleep also do an amazing-looking analog synth experimentation kit called The Rad-Fi System, which is the sort of thing which makes me forget I’m a hopeless musician and just want to play.
People who are actually musicians might be even more impressed with the Teenage Engineering Pocket Synths, which look bare-bones but apparently sound amazing. And they have animated submarines and factories, so there’s that.
Building things is always fun. Fancy building things with straws? Go traditional with Strawtastic…
…or go advanced with Strawbees, which are ridiculously clever.
…or go large, with the Ogo Bild Pod construction set.
…or go cardboard with Makedo (they’re based in the US, but you’ll find stock in several UK web retailers).
There are more ways of getting into programming computers than there are programming languages, and it can be rather daunting. At Think Physics we’re particularly keen on tools which make it easy to interact with the real world. Our usual starting point is Oomlout’s ARDX Arduino kit.
SAMkits from SAM Labs are an interesting alternative. Very clever technology, but batteries and Bluetooth setup means they can get relatively costly. Lovely idea, though.
Christmas isn’t Christmas without an infuriating puzzle your sibling takes apart, then nobody can get back together again. Hanayama Puzzles sell a vast range, and they deliberately don’t include solutions. For the authentic experience, obviously.
Another Christmas science standby: magnets. As a child of the 70s ‘magnet’ means ‘piece of bent steel which can barely hold a paperclip,’ but modern magnets are a world apart. Ferromagnetic putty is fabulous stuff, and makes a great stocking filler. Note the age recommendation: this isn’t a gift for young children.
In the absence of a dog, a kite is all the excuse you need for taking a long walk on a blustery day, and this pocket kite is just as easy to carry as the inevitable plastic bag your dog needs. You’ll never be caught kiteless again.
We’ve found these octopus kites to be particularly good, particularly for young fliers. They also look terrific hanging on a bedroom wall.
If it’s not windy enough for a kite, try a boomerang. UK-based Carbon Boomerangs sell a range of models for experts and beginners alike, including (as you’d expect) boomerangs made from carbon fibre. Maybe start with the cheaper wooden ones?
Too cold outside for boomerangs? How about soap bubbles, indoors? None of your manual bubble-blowing, however: this is advanced automatic bubbleology. We haven’t built one of these kits, but we suspect you could fairly easily hack one via a Raspberry Pi to make a neat little ‘Internet of Bubbles’ project.
Sometimes, kites and boomerangs and bubbles are all too much, and you just want to curl up with a good book. We posted the Royal Society’s Young People’s Books Prize shortlist the other week, but here’s another tip: Hide & Eeek! You’ll need a torch.
Lists of Stuff
One advantage of going last with a Christmas List is that you get to crib off everyone else. So here’s a rundown of some of our favourite geeky web shops and Christmas gifts guides, in case you need further inspiration:
- New Scientist’s Christmas Gifts guide.
- The Verge’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guide.
- A Mighty Girl’s Girl Empowerment Holiday Gift Guide. US-based, but sorted by age and interest. Quite commercial/off-the-shelf, though, so maybe not very quirky or unusual, but there’s a vast range of ideas here.
- Modern Parents Messy Kids’ 400+ Stimulating and Engaging Toys. You could get lost in here for weeks. Also US-based, but so much stuff.
- Grand Illusions Toy Shop. Mad and rare oddities sold by former TV producers and toy collectors with an eye for the obscure and plain ridiculous. Their Christmas selection bags are an old favourite, though be prepared for little slips of paper with quirky hand-written notes rather than more familiar packaging – this is whimsy as a cottage industry.
- Maths Gear, from our chums Matt Parker and Steve Mould. They sell gear that’s maths-y, and quite often requires explaining. Twice. Slowly. We love ’em.
- The Science Museum Shop can be patchy, but the good stuff is really good.
- Design and technology can be hard to distinguish at times, so places like The Design Museum Shop and The Baltic Shop are always worth a look.
- Hoxton Street Monster Supplies. Not necessarily science, as such, but: they sell jars containing ‘A vague sense of unease.’ I’m pretty sure Fenwicks have some of this stuff outside their Food Hall, too.
- New to us: Present Indicative. A fabulous (and broad!) range of geeky gifts. Great stuff.
- US-based but awesome if you have a handy time machine and hence can put Christmas back a bit: Cognitive Surplus.
- Also US-based and pretty much the mother lode of geek gifts, if by ‘geeky’ you mean ‘mainstream Hollywood and comics culture’: Think Geek.
- The Royal Observatory, Greenwich web shop sells an inflatable Space Shuttle. They just won Christmas.
Well, that’s it. Thanks to Brian Mackenwells and Helen Arney for additional suggestions. Heading picture from Maths Gear: Symmetry groups wrapping paper.
Merry Christmas, all! Don’t get so distracted by debugging your code or solving your Hanayama puzzle that you forget to take the turkey out of the oven.