Asked by Anonymous
On the topic of board games, has he ever tried to play Go? It’s Japanese, and pretty much The Game when it comes to the impossible-to-master aspect****. But the problem is that you need someone to play with. This is solvable three ways:
But I mean, you gotta buy something, right? If you want to go with go, check out a book or two. If you want something more Japanese with less garish covers, this and this are both awesome books, but a little less… intro-y, and a little more theory-heavy (which I personally enjoy, but might not be for everyone). As for the hard materials, check out Yutopian and Kiseido - you’ll need a set with a folding board and some playing pieces (stones!), and that’s about it.
*** Okay, now it’s time to pontificate! How complicated is Go? Computers are idiots at playing it compared to something like chess, which is hard enough that we all saw the end of the world when Kasparov lost to Deep Blue in ‘97. Why’s Go so complicated? Math is why.
Go is played on a 19x19 grid. It starts empty, and each player takes turns putting down a stone, anywhere they want. Black, white, black, white, black, white. Goes on until (blah blah blah) the game ends. Simple enough, yeah? Mathwise, it’s a little like this:
First turn you have 361 different spots to play a stone on. Next turn there are 360 spots left to play on Then 259, then 258, then 257, blah blah blah. Lots of options, yeah. Combinatorics is the word I’d be throwing around if I wanted to impress you.
What about compared to chess? Since you’re just moving pieces around on a board, there’s a lot less you can do. On the first turn white only has twenty options, and it doesn’t get that much worse later on.
SO You just take a computer and say to it, make every move in your computer brain, and remember which ones win! Not impossibly tough with chess. But there are so many options every turn with Go, it takes fooorrreeevvverrrr to do. A ‘way-too-long’ sort of forever. This is so hard to do with Go that computers lose to talented children.
TALENTED CHILDREN CAN BEAT A COMPUTER AT GO. COMPUTERS BEAT OLD MAN CHESS DUDES AT CHESS. .’. GO IS CRAZIER. [Wikipedia cite]
If you’re interested in Go (and you should be!), maybe you should check out this recommended-by-the-internet post on Kuro5hin.org, or —INTERJECTION— I just discovered the New York Go Center closed! That’s what I get for waiting 3 years of living in NYC to go there. Supposedly the Brooklyn Go Club meets now and again, go here and scroll down to find out where they’re meeting.
I’d tell you more, but I really need to go watch Scott Pilgrim for the eleventh time.
For people who love food, you don’t go out and buy them expensive food. You buy them hard to find food, which shouldn’t be the same thing at all! First we’ll take a look at regional foods and then run over to Россия.
Regional foods are always trouble to track down, even in New York. Outside of fancy-pants grocery stores with fancy-pants prices, the North Carolina Country Store in Brooklyn is the only regional grocer I can think of offhand.
Strolling around Carroll Gardens the other day, though, we came across the super-awesome Court Street Grocers (485 Court Street). They have a wicked selection of interesting regional specialties from all around the US - Duke’s mayonnaise (for your pimento cheese), Cheerwine (for your very-cherry imbibing), and a load of New England stuff I’d never heard of before. It was like being a kid in a savory candy store. The guys who stockit are the same ones who work there, so feel free to pester them with questions about what might be best to pick up for your dad.
If you’re willing to trek out to the Cyrillic-tinged of Brighton Beach, I recommend Taste of Russia or Net Cost Market. They’re both Russian grocery stores with oodles of esoteric-to-you goods your dad would find intriguing. No specific recommendations, just wander - something’ll pop out between the kefir and smoked mackerel! I promise dads love anything featuring the Cyrillic alphabet.
Asked by Anonymous
You might have to hunt to match the price point, but I 100% assure you he would love a Gadsen Flag Coffee Mug (that’s the Don’t Tread On Me flag that the Tea Party loves so much). I have one just for the wicked all-yellow color scheme! Might make a good gift for the anti-TP crowd as well.
If you live in New York, I have absolutely no idea where you’d buy one locally. I got mine down in Virginia, at a store in which the owner regaled me with tales of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi plotting a takeover of the federal government, at which point the Environmental Protection Agency will enslave the owner’s children. Enlightening to say the least.
You did mention you weren’t trying to go broke this Christmas, and I think that a mini-tripod might be a pretty good choice. Tripods are big and bulky and you never want to carry them around, but a tiny one is plenty portable and dare I say sometimes useful. Joby’s Gorillapod seems pretty reasonable and gets all right reviews on Amazon.
You’ll want to get either the SLR or SLR-Zoom version - they’re build to put up with the weight of your sister’s super-expensive camera. The SLR-Zoom is built a bit stronger than the regular SLR, because when you pop a zoom lens on a camera it ends up being quite a bit heavier (there are weight limits listed on the page I linked above).
Asked by Anonymous
Okay, so we’ve got an ex. It’s probably safe to assume she dumped you in a tearful heap in a crowded Starbucks, and now is sitting pretty with the captain of the football team. I’ve watched enough movies to know how these things work out.
Knitting needles. You want her to start knitting, which will be a slow crescendo of disaster in her life.
In the short term you get to sabotage her self-esteem. Getting the damn yarn onto the damn needles and getting your damn fingers to do the right damn thing is nigh impossible, especially if she doesn’t have any knitting buddies (and let’s face it, those are hard to find - it isn’t 2003 anymore). Her tension will be loose! Her cast-ons will be sloppy! Being upstaged by one’s grandmother is never good on the nerves, and let’s be honest, a girl like that really probably deserves it.
But let’s say she overcomes that. She becomes a knitting maven, she buys a belt holster so her needles are always at the ready, everyone gets socks for Christmas. Don’t despair, gentle writer! You’ve planted a time bomb, and it’s about to go off.
The boyfriend. Oh, she loves him! How she cares for him! How can she show it? She must knit him something big, something impressive, something that can trumpet her affection to the heavens. Like, say… a sweater?
And at that moment, you will have won. Behold the SWEATER CURSE:
Knitters use the term Sweater Curse or the Curse of the Love Sweater to describe a situation in which a knitter gives a hand-knit sweater to a significant other, who quickly breaks up with the knitter. In an alternative formulation, the relationship will end before the sweater is even completed.
A curse so real it has a Wikipedia page! She won’t have a chance. Give the gift of a broken heart this Christmas season!
(Oh, and get the bamboo needles, they’re so much nicer than the plastic or metal ones. You don’t want her giving up before she gets sweatery!)
Asked by Anonymous
Absolutely! The cookbook is Charleston Receipts, and I daresay it’s the only cookbook in Amazon’s top-20 Southern food best seller list that isn’t some super-slick modern invention. That’d clinch it for me.
Charleston Receipts is a community cookbook originally put out for $150 in 1950 by the Junior League of Charleston, South Carolina. By 1995 it had hit its thirtieth edition and is obviously pretty awesome. Happy 60th birthday, cookbook!
Also, I swear there’s a book that’s nothing but recipes out of literature, but I can’t find it right now. All of the hits on Amazon are much much older than what I’m looking for. I’ll give the Greenlight down the street a call later on today later to see if they can give me a hand.
While we’re waiting, since literature, women and cooking is on the table, let’s talk about Emily Dickinson and baking. Although perhaps best known for her nonchalant capitalization and a possibility-steamy editorial relationship with Samuel Bowles, neighborhood kids knew her better as A Source Of Gingerbead From The Sky. Dickinson would, rumor has it, lower down baskets of gingerbread from her second-story bedroom to children waiting below.
I don’t know why the gingerbread wouldn’t live in the kitchen, but allow me to distract you with a recipe:
Emily Dickinson’s Gingerbread
- 1 quart flour
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup cream
- 1 tablespoon ginger
- 1 teaspoon soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Make up with molasses
Cream the butter and mix with lightly whipped cream. Sift dry ingredients together and combine with other ingredients. The dough is stiff and needs to be pressed into whatever pan you choose. A round or small square pan is suitable. The recipe also fits perfectly into a cast iron muffin pan, if you happen to have one which makes oval cakes. Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes.
Guides at the Emily Dickinson House, who in 1975 individually experimented with the quantity of molasses, have generally agreed that a “cup or so” is just about right. Each made a radically differing product from the same recipe, but they all could echo Emily’s pleasure on learning of Mrs. Holland’s success with it. She was glad that it “triumped.”
Courtesy over here
I don’t know how much molasses I used when making it, but it was the #1 most molassasey gingerbread on the planet, and I was really into that.
Asked by morganwinn
I’ll be honest, golfing and wine are not my hot spots. They are probably my coldest spots, pre-civilization ice age knowledge levels.
But oh, I taught a class about bourbon once! I’m no expert, but we can work from there. WARNING: This post starts off as reasonable bourbon-dad things, but eventually descends into “fun things to do with people who like bourbon,” and never ever touches any other topics (except a plea about what to get people who like golf). I don’t apologize because hey, maybe someone needs that!
A new Maker’s Mark came out this year - #46 - and has been making a big splash (okay, one drink review is not “a big splash” but it was lighting up the bourbon forums). That might be a nice easy hit. If we know exactly what bourbon he likes to drink we might be able to narrow our other options down. To explain why and how you narrow things down, we’re going to need a little 411 on how bourbon works.
Quick lesson on bourbon: whiskey is a broad category, that includes things like bourbon and Scotch. You start with a mixture of grains (corn, barley, rye, wheat, etc), ferment them to make alcohol, then distill off the alcohol. This alcohol is [usually] aged, and voila! You have whiskey.
What makes bourbon bourbon isn’t that it’s from Kentucky (you’ve been lied to!), but that the grains you start with are at least 51% corn. This mixture of grains is called the “mash bill,” and determines part of the character of the final bourbon. Two broad categories:
High Rye Bourbon: You know how rye bread is spicy? Works the same way for bourbon! If you have a mash bill with a lot of rye in it, you end up with a spicy bourbon. Bulleit bourbon is an example of this. The same distillery (Four Roses Distillery) puts out Four Roses Single Barrel, which is also is really rocking the rye.
Low Rye Bourbons: These ones are the opposite, and aren’t very spicy at all. Eagle Rare 10 Year Single Barrel is a solid example, and a bourbon I really enjoy.
Then of course there are your standard bourbons that fight with each other over other flavor qualities. You can also get fancy and remove the rye entirely, replacing it with wheat. This is a wheated bourbon, and it includes Maker’s Mark, W.L. Weller and most (?) Old Rip Van Winkle bourbons. I also just read about Bernheim Wheat Whiskey, which doesn’t have enough corn to qualify as a bourbon but definitely has no rye.
Oh man, just had a realization - does he like mixed drinks, or just straight bourbon? I just remember that A.B. Smeby Bittering Co. is in our backyard, and what dad wouldn’t be totally into fancypants bitters for cocktails?
Moving on: Whiskey by Michael Jackson (no, not that Michael Jackson) is a fantastic book that he might enjoy if he’s into learning more about things he likes. I certainly love my copy.
And if you want to go out on a limb, and he’s really into learning more about things he likes, and has a few friends, and you’re going to be stopping by a place like Virginia where it’s easy to find unaged whiskey (aka white dog)?
Buy a bevy of different unaged whiskies - corn whiskey, a high rye bourbon, a rye whiskey, a general bourbon - and do a tasting with him. It will be the most terrible, anti-smooth, spirit-mouthed liquor tasting either of you will have ever been through, but it’ll be (a) nicely informative for the both of you about the affects of different mash bills and aging on whiskey, (b) a fun bonding experience. If anyone wants more details on this, just let me know and I’ll fill you in!
If he’s in NYC, take him out to Char No 4. Char No 4 is an amazing American whiskey experience - they have over 150 American whiskies, and give everything out as one-ounce tasters, so for a measly $20-30 you can sample a good half-dozen whiskies.
But really, does anyone know what to get someone who likes golf? That one’s going to be useful to me, too - I’m under the impression that all my dad ever does these days is golf, and I sure don’t know what that entails.
Asked by Anonymous
Everyone who likes beer and cooking is interested in brewing beer. If he doesn’t brew, get him a kit - you might want to go in for it with a couple of your friends. If he already does, maybe call our local brew shop and ask if they can recommend some interesting hops or yeast. But he also likes history, you say? Let’s make this a little more interesting:
Before hopped beer came along there was something called gruit. It was an herb mixture used to bitter up beer, and was popular in Europe before the Protestant Reformation. Some of the herbs they’d use were stimulants or supposed aphrodisiacs, and rumor has it that while it was fine by party-loving Catholic Church, the Protestants would rather push the sedative affects of hopped beer (which also helped one avoid paying taxes to the Church for gruit-related crops). There are plenty of fun paragraphs about this floating around Wikipedia and the internet.
I’ve always found gruitale.com a fascinating site that covers a lot of social and historical aspects of gruit, along with a solid collection of brewing recipes and an associated store at gruithouse.com. You’ll probably need to check out a health foods store or google around to find some of the ingredients (mugwort! it’s like we’re harry potter up in here), but it should be a fun adventure.
Another (possibly easier, still exotic) option would be the ingredients for making t’ej, Ethiopian mead. Instead of being hopped it uses a plant known as gesho, which you buy [hard-to-find] sticks of - for example. Harry Kloman has an extensive page that includes history, a recipe, and bunch of stuff I didn’t read over at http://www.pitt.edu/~kloman/tej.html. There’s an interesting full-of-links discussion about t’ej cached by Google over here, and googling around should find you some more information.
Okay, now someone ask me what to get someone who likes root beer and cooking things!
Asked by Anonymous
Trumping coffee mugs and chewing gum is nigh impossible, but I’ll try:
Tech is hard. Tech is full of irrational opinions and battling factions, and unless you’re pretty deep in that world you probably aren’t going to understand the minutiae that makes one product good and another one worthless. Never feel bad that you can’t figure out a tech thing to buy, because in the end it’s really just a great way to burn through money.
Videogames are the same way, and is why any kid with an NES ended up with grandparents bearing Jump Man 2: The Second Jumpy Chapter instead of Super Mario Bros. 3.
So, what to buy him? I’m not going to tell you, but I’m going to give you a good way to think about it:
No, wait, first I’m going to say I just stumbled onto Swiss Miss’s “great gift” tag and it is amazing. But now, again:
Since you live together, I’m guessing you’ve been dating for a good while. Think back to your pre-dating and early-dating days, and start making a list of things you did. Trips you took, rituals you had, anything even half memorable.
The point of a great gift isn’t appealing to some nebulous interest the person has, the point of a great gift is to say “I know something about you." The more specific and personal that something is, the better the gift will be. That’s why you can give cheap, meaningful gifts - you’re showing that person that sure, you aren’t rolling in dough at the moment, but you think about them enough to notice these things, and they’re important enough to notice something about. And that’s charming!
So now you’ve got this list, and you’re going to go through it, item by item, and do some free association. You’re going to ruminate on the possibility that your boyfriend thinks you’ve been replaced by an evil robot, and it’s your job to prove to him that you know relationship minutiae that a you-shaped robot wouldn’t. “We went to an apple orchard once, so I will buy him an apple!” is a perfectly acceptable starting point. Brainstorming from here will net you a much better gift than some 2010’s best XBox 360 games list.
(And, of course, if the only thing you can think of is “we went to an apple orchard once, so I’m going to buy him an apple!” just slide this new improved boyfriend-facts list my way again and we’ll see what we can do. No more toothbrushes.)
All You Want For Christmas is a Brooklyn Brainery project