ProfHacker 2016 Holiday Gift Guide

It’s that time of year again for many of us, and we at ProfHacker have gathered our annual guide with a few suggestions for those of you still looking for gifts for family and friends. 2016 has been a difficult year, and in the spirit of moving forward you’ll notice lots of suggestions centered around giving not only to those close to us but to larger causes and projects that need support. There are also several resources for self-care and wellness, which can be an important and too-often overlooked part of this time of year.

For more ideas, check out the previous guides: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009 — or share your favorite gifts with us in the comments!


  1. Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu is a beautiful Lovecraftian update of one of my favorite board games. I’ve often had trouble convincing new gamers to pick up the original Pandemic because of its highly realistic medical theme: this new version maintains the great cooperative mechanics (which pits players against the board, not against one another, and encourages dialogue and strategy) but with a few twists and a compelling  visual design. It’s also gorgeous, so fans of the original will likely enjoy the update. You can find it easily on Amazon, but consider stopping by your local game store if you can.

  2. This year is Wonder Woman’s 75th anniversary, and there are lots of great collections available to celebrate. One of my favorites is Jill Thompson’s Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, which is an updated stand-alone introduction to the character and features particularly beautiful illustrations. For a much broader overview, check out the Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Box Set, which includes a range of great authors and artists with their takes throughout the last thirty years of the comics. (It omits the earlier comics entirely, which can be a relief if you want to gift this to a young comics reader as a starting point.)

  3. While I love hosting game nights, most of the time I end up playing with my partner. Great two-player games are their own genre, and make a great gift for a significant other or a couple on your list. One of my favorites is 7 Wonders Duel, with its new expansion Pantheon, which features competitive civilization-building that’s well-balanced and easy to play. I also recommend Thunder & Lightning, which allows players to take on the roles of Loki and Thor (the gods, not the comic characters); Patchwork, a gorgeous game of competitive quilt-making through tile placement; and Lord of the Rings, a cooperative card game that takes place over several stages of the Fellowship’s journey.

  4. I’ve been trying (and, ok, mostly failing) to do better with my diet this semester. My latest attempt to make cooking at home more viable is the Instant Pot pressure cooker / slow cooker / etc. As a gadget it sounds a bit over the top, but there are an incredible number of recipes for it and it definitely takes some of the time and preparation out of making a meal at home. Setting it up is complicated, and the timing takes getting used to, but it’s an impressively flexible and reliable device. Consider throwing in a cookbook such as Pressure Cooker Perfection, Vegan Pressure Cooking, or the introductory Instant Pressure Cooker Cookbook to make getting started less daunting.

  5. Making a donation or supporting an activist organization in someone’s name can be a particularly meaningful gift this year, and there are several organizations that make it easy. The ACLU allows donations in someone else’s name, the NAACP offers memberships as gifts, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has a great “Defend Free Speech” shirt for this year as well as signed comic prints for purchase, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation has several awesome shirts and posters as potential gifts with donation. Also check your local organizations!

  6. This has been a tough year for me, particularly at the end. I admit I’ve been relying on a bit of retail therapy to get through some of the worst days. One of my favorite things is to get indulgent bath products: I’m currently loving Sabbatical Beauty’s Lavender Bath Butter, which is a body wash that doubles as a gentle bubble bath. If you’re also finding this to be a difficult holiday season, I suggest gifting yourself a recurring present for 2017. My personal choice has been the Sew Sampler box (a quilter’s supply box that mails every month with fabric, patterns, and random goodies)–similar subscription boxes can be a great way to give yourself a little something to look forward to. Check out OwlCrate if you share my obsession with young adult literature, or check out LitKit for more indie picks.


  1. All I really want for Christmas is a heaping dose of nostalgia in the form of the NES Classic Edition, which is impossible to get. Maybe everyone will be over it by August when my birthday rolls around.

  2. Maybe my nostalgia appetite will be satiated with this Star Trek: TOS Bluetooth Communicator. It’s not clear if it ACTUALLY MAKES THE NOISE when you flip it open, but come ON, who didn’t want one of these when you were young and your dad made you watch Star Trek reruns?

  3. I’m terrible at keeping in touch with the people who matter most to me. I used to do funny Christmas cards for my friends, largely from Shoebox (I think I actually had that exact box set). Send me a funny holiday card. Send one to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Send me a box of funny holiday cards, preferably from your favorite indie artist who is trying to make some extra money over the holidays (or suggest one in the comments). Let me know if you want one from me, because I’m going to try and get cards to lighten up the holidays and let the people know who matter to me that they matter enough for me to send them a mildly inappropriate holiday greeting.

  4. Take your favorite book, marked up preferably, and send it to someone you love and you know would enjoy it. Have them mark it up, too. Send it back. Repeat. Risk the privacy and intimacy of reading together in the pages. I’m going to do it with Notes from a Feminist Killjoy.

  5. Support a local charity. Consider one that is devoted to mental health issues. But above all, be kind, be generous, be empathetic. It’s cliché, I know, but I’m still struggling with how to be these things at the same time as I hold the anger and frustration I feel towards the world right now. A lot of other people are, too.


I don’t usually exchange gifts this season (for obvious reasons) but I am in the mood for ethical gift-giving. So gifts that support a cause you or the recipient would care about (see Erin’s ideas!).


Instead of listing things to give or receive, this year I am focusing on causes and generosity of action and thought. To that end, here are some organizations that I will be supporting this holiday season:

  • Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization committed to battling racial and social injustice and who have been vigilant in documenting hate crimes in the wake of 9 November 2016.

  • American Civil Liberties Union, which works to defend individual civil liberties at the local and national levels.

  • Planned Parenthood Women’s health and reproductive rights matter. See also, Every Mother Counts.

  • Girls on the Run. As a runner myself, I’ve had a soft spot for this organization which aims at empowering girls and young women through running and friendship.

  • Finally, find a local organization that benefits your community, whether it is the local Humane Society, a soup kitchen or other organization.

Finally, a list of books for the readers among you: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, The Sympathizer by Viet Thahn Nguyen, The Mothers by Brit Bennett, The Trespasser, by Tana French, and Bluets by Maggie Nelson.


  1. Runners of all abilities — especially if they’re training for a race — are likely to appreciate a good running watch. Garmin’s Forerunner is probably the most recognized product line in this market, and they have a variety available for just about every need and budget, ranging from the relatively more affordable Forerunner 25 to the mid-range Forerunner 35, on up through several more models to the high-end Forerunner 735XT. TomTom and Polar are major players, too. Running watches can get very pricey, so if a watch is something you’re considering, it might be good to have a conversation with your runner about her or his needs in a watch, rather than making the watch a surprise.

  2. For those who enjoy listening to music or to internet radio on their phone, tablet, or computer, a good bluetooth speaker might be a good choice. Some of these can get quite pricey, especially when you’re paying for a name (e.g., Bose, Beats) as well as a speaker. But some lesser-known companies make nice speakers that sound good and are quite affordable. I’ve been using an Anker Soundcore, and have been very pleased with it.

  3. As much as I’m a hopeless techie, I’m old school about some things. One of those is taking notes. I prefer to write longhand, but I hate using up paper. I resolve the dilemma by using iPad apps like OneNote and Notability, that let me handwrite with a stylus. I’ve tried a couple of bluetooth styluses and been unimpressed. I keep going back to the Adonit Jot Pro, which works remarkably well. It’s a great choice for someone who’d like to take digital notes longhand.

  4. Ereader

  5. Books (Riordan, Cornwell)


More Light, for Dark Days

  • These adhesive-backed motion-controlled LED lights are perfect for illuminating a dark stairwell, a closet without a light fixture, or that creepy dark corner in your attic or basement.

  • My family used to use clip-on lights for our evening walks, but the batteries would burn out quickly and they weren’t always that visible dangling underneath our smaller dog’s collar. These BSeen LED dog collars are the perfect solution. Simply cut the plastic tubing to a size easy to slip on and off your dog’s head and attach it to the lightweight LED fixture. Bright and easily visible at night, these collars are rechargeable with an included USB cable.

  • If you like the ambiance of candles, but can’t burn real ones for safety reasons, these flameless candles are surprisingly enjoyable. The light flickers to simulate candlelight and there’s even a very mild vanilla scent to the wax candle exterior.

Making Life Easier

  • If you have snow to shovel, leaves to rake, or heavy garden work to do, the Stout Backsaver grip attachment will make your work so much easier.  It allows you to control the shovel handle without bending over, preventing back and shoulder strain.

  • After my 20-year-old manual can opener gave up the ghost, we tried several others without much success: they either rusted or stopped grabbing the cans within only a few months. So we finally stepped up to a Hamilton Beach electric can opener which has been working beautifully. Plus, it opens the can from the side, eliminating sharp edges.

 Books to Escape Into :


  • The best thing to get a Young Person is a little Bits kit, such as either the Gizmos and Gadgets kit or the Rule Your Room kit. If the little maker has graduated from little Bits, then an AdaBox subscription is a nice touch.

  • The soccer player in your life–and come on, everyone has one!–will love the Futchi portable soccer rebounder, which is the most fun rebounder I’ve ever seen. I’ve also been adviced that these adidas fleece pants are the thing. Finally, Johan Cruyff’s My Turn makes for good reading.

  • Basics: Mahabis slippers. For guys, Mack Weldon socks/underwear/t-shirts. For everyone: Field Notes Black Ice notebooks.

  • Books: Steven Johnson’s Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World; Kai Ashante Wilson’s A Taste of Honey (set in the same world as the excellent The Sorceror of the Wildeeps; Ken Liu’s edited collection, Invisible Planets: Chinese Science Fiction in Translation; Marjorie Liu’s Monstress; and Brian Vaughan’s Paper Girls. Also, you know what ships just in time for the holidays? Brian Croxall and Rachel Bowser’s Like Clockwork: Steampunk Pasts, Presents, and Futures

  • I spend more time than is plausible in the car, and there are a few things that make that a little easier: I really enjoy the Automatic car adapter, which gives you lots of information about your car, helps you drive with greater fuel efficiency, and even will send an alert if you’ve been in an accident. Since we don’t have car with the fancy CarPlay system, I rely heavily on Anker’s dual USB charger to keep Waze’s traffic-informed map up. Alas, I am also enough of a dad to have come around on the idea of a phone mount, in order to read that map without taking one’s eyes off the road. And while it sounds a little culty, I often feel better when using my Gokhale cushion. And since winter is here, a good snow broom isn’t fun, but is indispensable in many areas of the country. (The rest of you may only need a good ice scraper.) And since my car doubles as a mobile locker room / homework spot, having a couple of hangers to keep things tidy (well, tidier) has been a good thing.

  • Erin’s list of charities is a great one. I can also vouch for Natalie’s snow shovel shout. Anastasia has already mentioned Sabbatical Beauty, so I’ll just say that my wife also swears by the products. In addition to Amy’s running recommendations, I’ll simply suggest decent Bluetooth headphones. Assuming Apple ever actually ships the AirPods, they’ll probably be nice, but in the interval, the JayBird Freedom ones are good, as are the Powerbeats3. Finally, while it’s a bit too on-the-nose for me to include it as something other people may like, it’s worth mentioning that The Hold Steady have remastered their first three albums, and released them on vinyl, bundled with interesting t-shirts and posters.

[CC BY 2.0 Photo by Kenny Louie]

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