One of the best things about geek culture is that you’re never too old to play with toys big and small. Read on as we highlight great picks from the toy aisle for geeks of all ages on your holiday gift list.
Whether you’re shopping for yourself, for a kid-at-heart sibling, or for the lucky tykes on your list, we’ve assembled a list of toys sure delight. Read on as we survey a broad range of toy categories.
This is the second of the How-To Geek 2013 Holiday Gift Guides; to keep up with the rest of the guides throughout December, be sure to keep an eye on the article tag GiftGuide2013.
Stuffed But Not Stale
Once considered the province of small children, stuffed toys have made a comeback. One way to fuse the whimsy of stuffed toys with an interest in science is to pick up a stuffed microbe or two. Giantmicrobes offers a wide variety of options in their stuffed microbe line including everything from a white blood cell ($10) to the virus behind the common cold ($9). You can even pick up an ornament pack of mini microbes ($25) to decorate the tree in microscopic style. We would caution, however, to double check which microbe you’re purchasing against the age of the recipient; the Chlamydia microbe ($10) looks like an adorable green mutant chicken of sorts, but you’ll have a hard time explaining to your sister why you bought your nephew a stuffed venereal disease.
If microbes aren’t your thing, don’t fret: there’s a geeky plush toy for every interest! Doctor Who fans will enjoy pushing the chest plate on the Talking Push Dalek ($25) to hear it yell about exterminating humanity. Minecraft fans can pile their bed with plush versions of the Overworld creatures with this set ($50). Have a Portal fan on your list missing their companion cube? You can pick up a stuffed one ($26) to keep them company. Don’t limit yourself to our suggestions though! If you know somebody on your list is a fan of a given video game, TV series, or other geeky pursuit, search for it on Amazon and you’re bound to find something. Plush Walking Dead figures ($8), anyone?
Building Blocks, Bricks, and Sticks for Any Size
There’s something inherently satisfying about building something physical out of a pile of material in front of you. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of high-quality construction toys around. Even the most fundamental of build toys, the wooden block, has received a makeover in recent years. Gone are the days of poorly milled blocks that result in uneven structures. Rather than buy a box of mismatched blocks (and never have all the arches you want for your castle!), there are now ultra-precise blocks on the market. Kapla Blocks started the trend: each Kapla block is milled to the exact same size with very tight tolerances which makes it easy to build without any wobbles or evenness. The blocks are so well constructed they are used in science and engineering classes across the country. The $60 price tag of a 200-piece starter kit might seem high, but the quality is top notch and kids find a thousand uses for them.
Simple blocks are hardly the end of the great building toys out there, though. If you’re looking for something a little bit more dynamic the cleverly designed, ZOOB construction kit ($15) offers colorful interlocking sticks that lend themselves well to creating flexible creations.
We would be remiss not to give a nod to the classic construction kits (both of which are still going strong). K’nex sets can be found in all sorts of flavors and in sets big and small; you can still pick up a huge tub of 500+ pieces for a mere $24. Like K’nex, you can buy the venerable LEGO brand in big bins (405 pieces for $30), or you can go all out and buy a set tailored to your little geek’s interests like a LEGO Star Wars Landspeeder ($40) or an awesome desktop Minecraft model ($35).
Gifts for Mad Scientists of All Stripes
There’s nothing we love more in a gift than the encouragement to explore and learn. While some gifts encourage this in a more abstract way (LEGO blocks encourage spatial development and planning, for example), the gifts in this section are more directly focused on learning.
Speaking of LEGO blocks, though, if you’re looking for a really novel mash up of the snap-together-building genre and scientific exploration, look no further than Snap Circuits. Electronics is a difficult hobby for children to get into because the parts are small, you need very fine motor coordination, and you generally use semi-dangerous tools like soldering irons. Snap Circuits embeds the individual electronic parts (like tiny resistors) in larger plastic blocks that you snap together. You can start small with the beginner kits like the SC-100 ($21) or go wild and buy the full size student kit ($128) that includes 80 parts, an awesome case, and detailed lessons; whether you go big or small, all the kits work together. We purchased the student kit for a lucky 7 year-old geek on our holiday list last year and she’s built everything from radios to motion-sensor alarms with it. There’s definitely a reason that Snap Circuit kits hold 9 out of the 10 top slots in Amazon’s Early Development Science Toys category.
A little less involved (and a lot less expensive), the POOF kits from Scientific Explorer offer compact sets of 9-12 experiments focused on various themes like My First Science Kit ($15), Magic Science for Wizards Only ($15), and Disgusting Science ($15).
For older kids that might be put off by the cartoony box and packaging of the POOF kits, there’s the 4M line of science kits that cover and even wider range of topics including Magnetism ($12), Weather ($11), Solar Power ($11), and more.
You’ll Put Your Eye Out!
While we always enjoyed a cool science toy, there’s something to be said for encouraging kids to go outside and potentially injure themselves. If you live in a snowy climate, there are a plethora of fun snow-focused gifts to pick from ranging from the simple snowball maker ($12) to a full out snow ball arsenal stocked with snow crossbows ($27) and launchers ($14).
Looking for something projectile-based but lack the snow? Pick up a Foam Strike Bow ($25) or Nerf N-Strike Bow ($20) for the budding archers on your list. If archery is too archaic, there’s always the classic Nerf guns to turn an afternoon in the backyard into a cardio workout; pick up a pair of Nerf Mavericks ($15) and a dart refill pack ($15) and you’re set.
If you have a wannabe viking or knight on your list, you’d be hard pressed to not win them over with the line of N-Force foam weapons. We have a pile of them at our office and they’ve withstood a remarkable amount of abuse. You can pick up swords ($28), battle axes ($23), and maces ($30). Be forewarned though, come Christmas morning when the foam weapons are swinging, you might find out that your nephew has a much higher pain tolerance than you do.
Pad and Protect Their Delicate Loot
Speaking of Nerf and their pad-everything-approach, many geeks big and small will be getting gifts this year that deserve extra protection, like tablet computers and portable game systems. If you know someone on your list is getting a shiny new tablet from Santa, especially if that someone is young and might drop it here or there, a nice sturdy case is a great gift.
Nerf makes a wide range of ultra-cushy cases for Nintendo DS units including, the 3DS and 3DS XL as well as older units (starting at $15). Likewise, they make sturdy cases for the Sony PSVita ($15) and even the new portable-like Wii U gamepad ($20).
You’ll find no shortage of beefy silicone and foam cases for popular tablets, either. Spec Products’ iGuy cases ($30) will protect a kid’s iPad from everything short of head on strike with a brick. i-Blason’s ArmorBox Kido Series ($26) for iPad is ultra padded, and even has a kid-friendly handle that folds down to become a stand.
A padded tablet case might not seem like the most glamorous gift, but trust us, when they drop their tablet for the first time and realize they don’t have to go tell mom and dad because your case spared the device a horrible ceramic-tile execution, it will be a gift most appreciated.
We spend a whole lot of time geeking out with our own kids, nieces, and nephews, but we’re sure we missed cool geeky toy or two. Join in the conversation below and share the geeky toys you’ve been eyeing this season!