Editor’s note: And by the way, check out last year’s list. Most of the ideas there are still terrible!
Chester Cheetah was an icon of marketing, but there were some who saw the cheetah and the cheese curls he sold and believed that there was much more potential there than a mere branded icon. “I still believe he’s one of the best characters since Bugs Bunny, and the fact he is associated with a product was irrelevant to us,” a Fox Kids executive said in 1992, as they were shelving an attempt to turn him into a Saturday morning cartoon. They didn’t turn him into a cartoon, but they did turn him into a video game series, which you can play for either the Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Choose your cheesy poison.
As we pointed out earlier this year, the only thing that could make a good cheese curl go bad is the addition of Bitrex, an awful-tasting chemical that’s gained the rep of being the world’s worst flavor. It’s a flavor that lingers on your tongue for quite a long time. Now, the company that sells Bitrex understandably wants to keep its brand name protected, but there are plenty of firms that create products based on the denatonium benzoate chemical that gives Bitrex its taste. One of those firms is Mavala, which includes the chemical as a ingredient in its Mavala Stop fluid, which is effectively a clear nail polish designed to get you to stop sucking your thumb. Just imagine the mixed messages you’ll be sending with that gift.
Another tough taste: In the Bitrex piece, I also brought up the fact that celebrity chefs are particularly bothered by hákarl, a form of Icelandic fermented shark meat. I was curious if you could get some delivered, and the answer is yes, from this Icelandic store. But if you’re willing to buy it, you should also get some Brennivín to wash it down. They go together.
Square screwdrivers, with their many strengths, nearly owned the American market. Unfortunately, due to a little competition from a guy named Philips, the Robertson screw never caught on outside of Canada. But maybe next year it can catch on in your household. Buy a set of Robertson screwdrivers, as well as a set of Robertson screws, and encourage your loved one to spend the next eight months replacing every screw in your house. It’s hip to be square.
No matter how you feel about this year’s politics or who won what, you have to admit that it’s a tad bit weirder than what we’re used to as either a country or a world. But it’s far from the only weird political moment of the last 30 years. For example, there’s Jack Abramoff, who made a name for himself as a lobbyist who would take on all sorts of weird clients. But before that, he was a film producer— and the movie he came up with, Red Scorpion, was a Dolph Lundgren-starring piece of propaganda that could have only entered our lives in the late ‘80s. Which makes it a great gift for someone who is mentally still living in 1989.
Also worth a watch: The movie Gabriel Over the White House, which I wrote about back in July, is one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen—and considering that my Twitter avatar used to be Tommy Wiseau from The Room, that’s saying a lot.
(via Brandeis University)
In a 1970 review of a 1929 Johnson Smith catalogue reproduced in book form—which is still available here—essayist William Zinger suggested the book, with its extreme political incorrectness, was “a political handbook for the 1970s.” “Its amiable weapons of shock and protest are just what we need to de-escalate violence,” he wrote in a Life Magazine commentary. I compared Johnson Smith to the ad network Taboola earlier this year, but I wonder if there might be a modern-day comparison as well that sticks. Maybe this catalog will feel like home for your political-leaning friend.
You know the phrase “… needs no introduction”? That definitely did not apply to WebTV, the attempted “killer app” that predicted the wave of set-top devices that would take over the living room, but ultimately failed to predict that we wouldn’t be using those devices to surf the web. There were multiple books released explaining how to use WebTV, which would be great stocking stuffers for people who like obsolete books with zero relevance to the modern day.
On the musical front, one of the more interesting tales we came across this year was the story of Sumé, the Greenlandic rock band that became revolutionary in the 1970s. That band is the subject of a documentary, one that probably deserves a little more notice than it’s getting. (If you order through Amazon, by the way, you’re not getting it until February. Buy it for someone who likes getting late Christmas presents, obviously, or consider Greenland’s most well-known film, Heart of Light, instead.)
Have a family member who likes eating really healthy? Someone made the perfect foodstuff for you to respond to their healthy behavior in a patronizing way: The company behind the Chia Pet sells chia seeds separately. (If you want to rub it in their faces, pair it with a Chia politician.) It’s just one way of many that the industrial seed trade is going to win over everyone, GMOs or not.
Did you stumble upon our post about weird phone numbers and wonder to yourself where you could find more? If so, I recommend you take a look at eBay, where sellers are putting vintage phone books up for sale for the tens and even hundreds of dollars. For example, one guy’s selling a collector’s item phone book that’s notable because the 1991 tome includes the apparent listing for Kurt Cobain’s family. Great gift for the kind of person who loves lists of numbers.
Finally, let’s get to the most controversial story of our 2016—our tale about “hipster mattresses,” which snarked wise about the Casper trend. There were quite a few people that read that story and thought to themselves, “man, these guys are haters.” But we argue that we were simply analyzing a trend that got a bit out of hand in 2015. We were simply talking ourselves out of that sweet Casper sponsorship money! Plus, they’ve kinda moved on a little. These days, companies like GhostBed and Casper have created new niches for themselves in the hipster pillow business. As long as they don’t ruin the My Pillow guy’s racket, I won’t write another takedown piece. Promise. (Side note: I also wrote about air mattresses this year but only recently learned about air chairs.)
”The biggest mistake that people make is that they end up thinking about gift giving as a gift giver, instead of from the point of view of a recipient.”
Earlier this month, Eleanor Williams, a business professor at Indiana University, joined with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University to release a report on how people respond to gifts they receive from others. The researchers recommend getting people something practical over something fun, leaning away from gifts to charity in the name of others ( too late in Google’s house), and maybe getting gift cards if you don’t know.
Sure, that’s great and all. But we don’t focus enough on gifts designed to alienate people. That make people scratch their heads, or that laugh in the face of cultural norms. That’s why I wrote this. Because sometimes, you need a gift designed not to bring hope, but to inspire disillusionment or at the very least, confusion. It’s more fun that way, plus it helps ease the inevitable disappointment when you open the box—see, they didn’t understand me at all!
Sometimes the best gifts are wrapped in subversion.