This year, I predict many stockings will be stuffed with pepper spray, the hot item popularized by campus cops, "competitive" shoppers and teenagers who really want to have the last word at school.
You could go that route, but you've always thought of yourself as a special snowflake, someone who bestows gifts that are a little different, a little "gadgety" and maybe a little higher-tech. You've got a distinctive, tapped-in image, strategically crafted through Twitter tweets and posts on F'book.
You deserve to give something better.
For the stereotypical video-game nerd: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda Softworks/Bethesda Game Studios, Rated: M) is the latest incarnation in the long-running and acclaimed RPG series. Pretty much everyone is raving about its open-ended and detailed world, fabulous sound design, thrilling battles with dragons, yadda yadda yadda. Video gamers who get off on this sort of thing are sure to spend hundreds of hours exploring the make-believe, while losing contact with the world beyond their Xbox 360s, PlayStation 3s or PCs (it's available on all three!); $59.99.
For the 1 percent: Getting toothpaste out of the tube is so plebeian. Imagine Blake Carrington, patriarch of TV's Dynasty, trying to squeeze the last of his Colgate Total Plus Whitening onto a diamond-encrusted toothbrush. It smacks of manual labor! The chrome-plated Cedes Toothpaste Squeezer, extravagantly priced at $295, frees your giftee from the ruthless dominance of the toothpaste tube while at the same time demonstrating blithe indifference to the economic circumstances of the nation.
For those who argue that games can be art: The New Yorker recently ran a piece on ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, two iconic, cerebral games directed by Fumito Ueda and originally released for the Sony PlayStation 2 in 2001 and 2005, respectively. The original titles have been spruced up in a high-definition release called, fittingly enough, The ICO and Shadow of the Colossus Collection (SCEA/Bluepoint Games, Rated: T) for the PlayStation 3. These are not button-mashing games: There are no goombas to stomp on or bodies spurting plumes of blood. What they provide is simpler, quieter and gentler—but nonetheless completely engrossing; $39.99.
For hypochondriacs: The Nano-UV Disinfection Scanner ($59.99) looks like an outdated clamshell cell phone, but in reality, this little baby has the power to change someone's world—which, from TV, I learned is covered in fecal matter. To disinfect, hold it over an offending surface or item, such as a hotel bedspread, for 10 seconds. Give the gift of sterilization, of peace of mind, in the face of flesh-eating bacteria. This is the kind of "fun and useful" thing my grandmother would have put in my stocking. It would give me great pleasure if you did the same for someone you love this holiday season, in her memory.
For condescending audiophiles: Crystal clear. Crisp. Not at all muddy. Reviewers have consistently described the sound quality of the Audioengine A2 speakers ($199) in these terms, as if they were a mythical, virgin spring you'll want to tap when global warming turns life into Soylent Green. The performance of these unusually powerful desktop speakers has been favorably compared to offerings at twice the price.
For birdwatchers: This is a shout-out to the birders meeting for walks at Agua Caliente Park on Thursdays, as well as the participants in this year's Arizona Christmas Bird Counts. (Tucson's count, by the way, is on Dec. 18, but they continue throughout the state into January.) Now you can film all the high-definition bird-watching porn you want, from your binoculars—and even in 3-D! The Sony DEV-3 ($1,399) and DEV-5 ($1,995) are so cutting-edge, they're liable to give paper cuts when held.
For Scrabble junkies: Panda Poet (Spry Fox, not rated) is sort of a combination of the aforementioned word game and Othello. The point is to spell high-scoring words while flipping squares to your color of panda. Eventually, the individual pandas congeal into sleeping panda fatties that earn bonus points at the end of the game. There's a free version accessible via most Web browsers, but the $2.99 premium edition features larger maps and more fun.
For Americans who insist on spelling color with a "U": When the giftee is an Anglophile, what more can be given after your loved one has unwrapped a pair of the Pippa Middleton-style padded panties, meant to mimic the alluring dewdrop shape of her pert, young booty? The Kikkerland Solar Queen ($11.76 on Amazon) is a sun-powered, waving figurine of Queen Elizabeth II—who will be celebrating her diamond jubilee in 2012, God save her.
For aspiring Daleks: I wish the Doctor Who Ride-In Dalek ($299.99) came in an adult size. I would love to take it to a drab office building (someplace without a lot of steps, as Daleks for the longest time were incapable of mounting them), then ride around threatening to "Exterminate!" employees until security arrived and/or I was arrested for trespassing. I imagine many people have similar dreams. Regardless, it's still possible to live vicariously through your children or grandchildren.
For Google addicts: Chromebooks, stripped-down laptops originally developed by the pushers at Google, are here, starting at $299. If you know someone who's a fan of Chrome, who needs a computer for Web browsing only, or has given up on Microsoft productivity software in favor of online Google alternatives, this may be the laptop to buy. But beware: Offline, it's basically an expensive paperweight.
For swashbucklers: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Nintendo, Rated: E10+), the latest installment in the series that will probably never die, lets Wii users wield their controllers like swords. It features a lot of the familiar dungeon-crawling and item-collection elements familiar to Zelda fans, along with attractive graphics and battles sure to produce giddy, tingly feelings. It's more of the same, really, which isn't always such a bad thing; $49.99.
For tech-loving gardeners: The homes of tech lovers can sometimes become cluttered with the power cables necessary for sucking up juice. On the other hand, the yards of gardeners are often cluttered with green things called plants that grow like Tamagotchiand sometimes smell pretty. Apparently, someone got the bright idea to bring the outdoors inside with the Grassy Lawn Charging Station, available from ThinkGeek.com. It's actually more of a Cha-Cha-Cha-Chia charging station that powers your gadgets while they're lovingly nestled in a cord-obscuring patch of fake grass; $24.99.