Custom Bobblehead Dolls (Whoopass Enterprises, $39.95)
"You're a doll," said to a loved one, is a cliché, but thanks to Jaeson Rosenfeld, Anthony DiMaggio, and Darby Bringham, it can become a reality. The process is simple. First, go to www.whoopassenterprises.com and decide which body your bobblehead will haveis he muscular or does he have a beer belly? Is she wearing a T-shirt and pants or a bikini? Or is it not even a person but a turkey, pig, or jackass? Then, upload a JPEG of your recipient's facea single frontal head shot will do fine, giving the artists a general shape and features to re-create. Soon, the sincerest form of flattery will be bouncing from the neck up on the desk of an acquaintance of your choice. Completely custom dolls, with bodies made to your specifications, are available for $70 plus shipping; firstname.lastname@example.org. MICHAELANGELO MATOS
Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph (Aperture, $35)
Of her expeditions into nudist camps, homes for the mentally handicapped, and birthday parties of cross-dressers in the '60s, photographer Diane Arbus said, "It's a little bit like walking into an hallucination without being quite sure whose it is." This is very much the case with looking at Arbus' anthropological images. In Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph (the 25th anniversary, 184-page oversize paperback edition goes for $24.50 on Amazon.com), a portrait of a small boy in Central Park in 1962 shows him stretching his face into a bizarre grimace. His suspendered short pants are strangely askew, in one hand he holds a toy hand grenade, and the other hand is curled into a snarled frozen grasp while remaining empty. You don't know if he's on drugs or if you are. It is possible to "read" this book of black-and-white photography in the same way that one would read a collection of Burroughs stories. A perfect gift for those who love to recall the '60s, as well as those who obsess about missing themand also all your Williamsburg-wanna-be buddies. Arbus, who committed suicide in 1971, taught at the Rhode Island School of Design and Parsons, and the hard copies of her channeled hallucinations would make uneasy yet incredible visual accompaniments for any art-punk band around. LAURA CASSIDY
Happy Naked Girls by Andrew Einhorn (Goliath, $37.95)
Truth in advertising will out: The women in New York photographer Andrew Einhorn's new, sturdy little volume of black and whites, are indeed naked, and they do indeed look happy. Or maybe playful is more like itEinhorn captures his subjects seeming completely at ease with themselves, usually in their own apartments, and frequently with their cats sharing the frame with them. (Insert Freudian slip here.) They're also very New Yorkforthright, resilient without being brittle, ready for whatever, exceptionally diverse. M.M.
The Billboard Book of Number One Hits by Fred Bronson (Billboard Books, $27.95)
Watching the top of the Billboard charts has become a mite depressing, not because pop music sucks (it doesn't, at least not any more than usual), but because its biggest examples have become so extremely omnipresent. For instance, the 52 weeks of 2002 were divided among a whopping eight No. 1 hits. You might think that in the face of such homogenization, the latest update of Fred Bronson's compendium of page-long, 700-word profiles of the most popular songs in the country (for example, Clay Aiken's June chart-topper, "This Is the Night") would have no interest at all. But you'd be wrong. As he has since its earliest printings, Bronson seems to relish the stories behind each of the entries in The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, and his fascination comes through even if you don't particularly care for the song or the artist in question. M.M.
Clue 1949 First Edition (Winning Moves, $29.95)
Was it Col. Mustard in the ballroom with the candlestick? The board game Clue has been a part of pop culture for decades, spawning even a Tim Curry feature film with three different endings. But it's the classics that endure. Retro board game experts Winning Moves have replicated the 1949 first edition of Clue: The Great Detective Game (ages 8 and up), complete with original artwork and game pieces, including the metal gun and slightly bent lead pipe. Every part of this replica feels substantial, and a 12-page bonus booklet details Clue's history, versions (note the rare "Sherlock Holmes" edition), and tips. But you still have to figure out who committed the murder with what weapon in which room of the mansion out of 324 possible combinations . . .hey . . . put down that pipe wrench! www.winning-moves.com. FRANK CATALANO
The Game Makers by Philip E. Orbanes (Harvard Business School Press, $29.95) That beaten-up copy of Monopoly in your closet has a storied historyas do Sorry, Nerf, Trivial Pursuit, Risk, and something called Innocence Abroad. All are games that came out of the firm that George Parker began, as a teenager, 120 years ago. This fascinating new history of the pioneering game maker, by games historian and former Parker Brothers executive Philip Orbanes, is based in part on the never-before- published personal archives of Parker. From its start in 1883 with the card game Banking through Parker Brothers' ultimate home as a brand at toy giant Hasbro, The Game Makers follows how Parker developed 12 "rules" to guide his business decisions for decades. But feel free to focus on the Boggle instead of the business. The history of Parker Brothers is the history of the games we all grew up with. www.harvardbusinessonline.com. F.C.
Heartaches by the Number: Country Music's 500 Greatest Singles by David Cantwell and Bill Friskics-Warren (Vanderbilt University Press/Country Music Foundation Press, $27.95)
Call this a wild, blind guess, but chances are that the list freak on your holiday list is also a music fan. The two go hand in handfrom the charts to the surfeit of best-of-all-time lists clogging most major music mags these days (most recently, see Rolling Stone's god-awful recent top 500 albums list or the insultingly useless Q Special Edition: 1001 Best Songs Ever special issue), numbered rankings have been part and parcel of the pop experience. But country music? That's another storyin more ways than one. And it's a story that Kansas City freelancer David Cantwell and Nashville Scene music editor Bill Friskics-Warren attempt to at once alter, summarize, and open up with Heartaches by the Number, their list of, and argument for, the 500 greatest country singles.
The bona fides of both authors, both noted country critics and historians, are in impeccable order, and for a novice this is a great way into the music. The obvious names dominatecounting duets, George Jones has the most entries (12), followed by Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton (10 each) and Hank Williams, Conway Twitty, Ray Price, and Loretta Lynn (nine apiece). But Cantwell and Friskics-Warren have quirky tastetheir No. 1 isn't a Hank or George number, but Sammi Smith's 1970 "Help Me Make It Through the Night." This points toor stems fromthe authors' rigorously catholic taste; their pantheon makes room for not only Hag and Dolly but also Otis Redding, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Los Lobos, Swamp Dogg, and Neil Young. Like the year-by-year lists of the 40 best singles and 25 best albums at the end of Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists, Heartaches by the Number is idiosyncratic and stimulating and will make any serious music lover want to track down the entire list, pronto. M.M.
Proper Records Box Sets ($23.98 each)
Reissues rule at Christmastime. It's when the big guns put out career retrospectives (see In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003, The Very Best of Sheryl Crow, and No Doubt's The Singles 1992-2002), and in a season driven by nostalgia both implicit and explicit, it makes sense to wallow in the past. And for the past few years, the best reissue label in the world, England's Proper Records, has been offering fine-sounding and decently annotated four-CD box setsprimarily jazz and country titlesfor a fraction of what you'd expect to pay for them.
Duke Ellington's Masterpieces 1926-1949 provides as astute an overview of the first half of his illustrious career as you'll findyou may want more, but after these 93 songs ,you won't necessarily need it. There's also a nice Louis Armstrong overview in C'est Ci Bon: Satchmo in the Forties. Bebop Spoken Here is a frisky stroll through the landscape wrought by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie; the box contains tracks from both, along with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Tadd Dameron, Ella Fitzgerald, Kenny Clarke, and Wardell Gray. On the other side of the fence between populist jazz and its artier cousins, The Big Horn: The History of Honkin' & Screamin' Saxophone documents the rise of the blatantly exciting, "bar-walking," gut-bucket style that would help bring about '50s R&B and rock and roll. Just as critical to that shift were the vocal groups swept up on the splendid Birth of Doo-Wop, whose contents largely predate that of Rhino's three Doo Wop Boxes.
Rock's single biggest progenitor, both in terms of influence and popularity, was Louis Jordan, the subject of a Proper box called Jivin' With Jordan. As a mad Jordan fan who found myself made tired by a two-CD MCA anthology from a few years back, I put on Jivin' and waited to get bored. It never happened. For 100 songs, Jordan's quicksilver wit, skintight arrangements, scintillating sax breaks, conversational good humor, and locomotive rhythms just keep on giving. A contemporary with a lighter musical touch but even more comic appeal was Slim Gaillard, who dubbed his self-created, idiosyncratic lingual stylings "Vout." It included phrases like "o-reeny" and "o-rooney," which led to Gaillard once asking what Mickey Rooney's last name was. That verbal bonkersosity, as well as his warm voice and relaxed guitar, make the deranged jokes of Laughing in Rhythm something more than a bunch of novelty recordscall it a novelty manifesto, and an endlessly listenable one. Besides, you haven't heard a sillier recording in your life than "Serenade to a Poodle."
On the country side, Doughboys, Playboys & Cowboys: The Golden Years of Western Swing mines some of the best '30s and '40s fusions of country and jazz, while the late-'40s and early-'50s songs on the brilliant Hillbilly Boogie leans more toward prerock R&Bthey don't swing, they hop, and hard. (Bonus points for wrangling together 100 songs that all have the word "boogie" in their titles!) And a couple other styles in the Proper catalog deserve a nod: Deep Ska is an 80-song compendium that serves as a useful overview to early Jamaican R&B, while both the main title and subtitle of Good News: 100 Gospel Greats are exactly what they say they are. M.M.
Guns N' Roses: Use Your Illusion I and II (Universal DVD, $14.98 each)
The former undisputable greatest frontman in the world once alternated between the following onstage ensembles: velvet hot pants and vest, biker shorts and do-rag, cowboy hat and American flag jacketbare chest every time. No, we are not talking about Freddie Mercury. Axl Rose and his Gunners knew excess, and they're captured in all their action-figure glory on these live DVDs from the Tokyo Dome, circa 1992 (i.e., the beginning of the possibly Nirvana-induced end). Despite Illusion's bootleg caliber graphics and sound, the multi-angle footage adeptly captures the quintet's renowned Axleticism, not to mention the sleazy, compact (well, for the genre) glam of "Mr. Brownstone," "Don't Cry," and "Rocket Queen." ANDREW BONAZELLI
Pocket CD-Rs (Memorex, $19.99 per bundle of 50)
The compact disc took out the old concept of the album sideinstead of being hemmed to 24 minutes or less, artists had room to stretch out for 70 to 80 minutes at a time. The mixtapeusually held to 30 or 45 minutes per sidefollowed suit when home recording went digital. No more side-ending filler, no more having to fade the eight-minute song you want to end the side with early because there's only six minutes' worth of space. But the mini-mix CD? Now we're talking strategy. Memorex's 3-inch Pocket CD-Rs hold a whopping 24 minutes of music (as opposed to the 21 of their previous incarnation), and they force the potential mixer to think smaller and more incremental. They're catching on, tooone friend is planning a set of 26 mini-mixes of songs whose titles begin with different letters of the alphabet. Sometimes imaginations need to be unleashed, but watching what happens when you hem them in can be just as fascinating. M.M.
SET: The Family Game of Visual Perception (SET Enterprises, $11.10)
Honestly, this game actually made my head hurt (in a good way) after playing it for a while. It's not that I'm not used to concentrating, but you have to tap deeply into the left side of your brain to play well. Recommended by Mensa, the object of the game is to identify "sets" of three cards. Each card is a blend of four features: number, shading, color, and symbol. A set consists of three cards whereby each feature is either the same on each card or different on each card. Ages 6 and up; one or more players. Top Ten Toys, 104 N. 85th Street, 206-782-0098. SAMANTHA STOREY
Book Lights (under $10)
Think of your bookworm friends, the ones who will read those fascinating placards lined up above the windows of Metro buses. Think how they'll ruin their eyes by reading in low light. Save them from themselves with a small, lightweight, battery-operated, clip-on-the-book reading light. Fred Meyer carries three models that cost less than $10. The Book Light, which declares itself "A Design of Art," caught the eyes of many a reader in Seattle Weekly's well-lighted office. It is about 3.5 inches by 3.5 inches at its widest and longest points and takes two AAA batteries. It folds open and closed, and that action is the light switch. It's unobtrusive, won't shine in other riders' eyes, and comes in blue, green, and red. Compare the six or so bucks it costs to your friend paying for stronger spectacle lenses. Be sure to include batteries, so they can begin playing with it immediately. JOANNE GARRETT
Canasta Caliente (Winning Moves, Inc. $9.95)
My grandmother, an easygoing lady, turned ruthless (and spiteful, if I beat her) when we played canasta. I hadn't played since I was a teenager, so it was a pleasure to discover this colorful set, with cards that explain their role and point value. Based on rummy, reading your partner, and some old-fashioned bluffing, the object of the game is to score 5,000 points with your partner by laying down canastas, seven or more cards of the same type, and adding them. Ages 7 and up, two to six players. www.funagain.com. S.S.
Crayola Centennial Series Tins (Binney and Smith, $8.99 each)
Miss that "new crayon smell" and the taste of Raw Umber? To mark the 100th anniversary of Crayola Crayons, four tins representing 25-year periods of Crayola history have been released. Each tin (1903-1928, 1928-1953, 1953-1978, 1978-2003; all ages 3 and up) contains two boxes of crayons: one of the now-standard 64 colors and a special limited edition box of 12 "retired" colors, including Mulberry, Maize, and Magic Mint. Perhaps the best thing is each 64-color box is done in the graphics of that era (the 1928 box is boldly labeled "SCHOOL CRAYONS") and has historical snippets on the back along with the popular crayon sharpener. Pretend they're collectible. But relive your childhood when no one's looking. www.crayola100.com. F.C.
Electronic Flash Magic Flash Cards (LeapFrog, $9.99 each)
Despite computers, PDAs, and Game Boys, kids still have to learn their math (so they can grow up to program computers, PDAs, and Game Boys). Electronic Flash Magic puts the function of paper flash cards into a palm-sized, thin, lightweight device. The two versionsaddition/subtraction (ages 4 and up) and multiplication/ division (ages 7 and up)work in either learn or quiz mode. In learn mode, kids think of the correct answer to the problem and the next screen displays it. Quiz mode is multiple choice, where kids play against a 60-second clock. Coolest feature: A snap of the wrist displays the next card (or answer) on the LCD screen. Most annoying feature: the frenetic music, which thankfully can be turned off. www.leapfrog.com. F.C.
Guillotine (Wizards of the Coast, $9.95)
You are a guillotine operator during the French Revolution, and to win the game you must chop off as many noble heads as possible. Marie Antoinette's head gives you higher points than, say, the "piss boy," but make sure you don't lose points for beheading the Hero of the People. You have three rounds to collect the most valuable heads and win. Who knew there was so much fun to be had with decapitation? Ages 12 and up, two to five players. Gary's Games and Hobbies, 8539 Greenwood Ave. N., 206-789-8891. S.S.
Jesus Action Figure ($6.95)
And on the seventh day, our lord savior Jesus Christ's likeness was made into a mold, into which plastic would verily be poured, which when hardened and painted would thereby be made available as a gift item for the season of his birth. His arms would move, his legs a little bit, too, but most of the recipients of himor, perhaps more to the point, Little Plastic Himwould mostly keep him in the clear package used to mount him on display in store racks. This, it is safe to say, hurt his wrists and feet a lot less than other methods of display He has endured lo these many centuries. Either way, he will not be movedbut you might, to either revelation or the giggles, depending. (Insert sacrilegious epithet here.) Archie McPhee & Co., 2428 N.W. Market St. 206-297-0240. www.mcphee.com. M.M.
Light Speed (Cheapass Games, $4.99)
A card game of space combat, this was surprisingly easy to learn and quick to play (each round took less than a minute to play, with a few minutes to score). The object of the game is to wage battle over an important asteroid. Each player has just 10 ships to position. Fast ships shoot first, big ships shoot last, and whoever scores the most points wins. Ages 12 and up, two to four players. Game Wizard, 704 N.W. 65th St., 206-781-4933. S.S.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Action Figures (Playing Mantis, $5.99 each)
It's been nearly 40 years and the glowing nose still doesn't need changing. The 1964 Rankin/Bass animated TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is enjoying a mini-revival with a remastered DVD, board game, and toys. Nostalgia leader Playing Mantis has added four new characters to its exhaustive line of Rudolph action figures, each 4 to 7 inches tall, accessorized, and, as they say, with "multiple points of articulation" (ages 8 and up). "Boy Elf" has an umbrella, hammer, sunglasses, and Misfit train engine. "Girl Elf" includes pliers, saw, and Misfit train caboose (with square wheels). "Tall Elf" holds mistletoe and holiday packages. Finally, "Casual Santa" (aka "skinny Santa" to aficionados) comes with a throne and a Misfit nesting doll. Set up a display. Re-enact scenes. And ponder the question: Hasn't Hermey ever heard of dental anesthetic? www.playingmantis.com. F.C.