While gift guides peddling slick headphones and smart electronics abound, they miss the point. The soul of gadgetry lies not in sleek, buttonless chrome and subtly pulsing LEDs. Gadgets in their truest sense are clunky and somewhat dorky, more like a Rube Goldberg machine than an Apple Watch, more time-traveling DeLorean than Batmobile. Atlas Obscura’s techy treasures may not necessarily make your life easier, but they’ll definitely make it more interesting.
This is one part of Atlas Obscura’s eight-part 2015 gift guide. See the rest.
7. Truck Simulator Video Game
This simulation game focused around driving a fake truck around Europe has developed a cult following, including among our staff. While it may not be very much like real-life trucking, it turns out that guiding a shipment of oranges through a digitally-rendered Dutch coastline is a surprisingly therapeutic endeavor. Euro Truck is also the most economical European road trip you’ll ever take: some competitive expansion-pack pricing means that all of Scandinavia can be yours for less than the price of an average IKEA shelving unit.
6. Full Rollersuit
Dinky rollerblades get a full-body upgrade in the form of this wheel-covered armor. Rollersuits like this one are a prerequisite for those looking to get into Buggy Rollin, an extreme form of skating where you move forward low to the ground and face-first, looking something like a many-wheeled super-spider. The sport’s inventor, Jean Yves Blondeau, says its “like being a human jet.” While Blondeau routinely throws himself down bobsled tracks at 80 miles per hour, beginners should probably start (well-helmeted) on the bunny slopes.
5. Radio-Controlled Balloon
Hot air balloons have been the offbeat geek’s transportation of choice ever since Jules Verne decided that spending 80 days in one was as novel-worthy as trips to both a) 20 leagues under the sea and b) the center of the earth. Slow, kind of silly, and delightful at any scale, this doll-sized radio-controlled flyer is both good outdoor fun and easily repurposed into a cookie-delivery system.
4. Stirling Engine
The Stirling engine was invented in 1816 and was meant to rival the steam engine. Nearly 200 years later, it still hasn’t quite made it to ubiquity, but works just fine. This one will get going on just a cup of water, either hot or iced. It runs quietly and looks like a cross between art and a really dangerous fan.
3. Pinhole Camera Book
The best gadgets aren’t necessarily the ones with the most hardware (or even any hardware at all). This incredible little item is a working camera, made entirely of paper and housed inside a pop-up book. Much like a camera obscura, the cleverly-designed paper structure focuses a single beam of light in order to produce a photograph. It’s a mindblowing example of just one of the ways the universe is both simpler and more complex than we imagine it to be.
2. Reversing Goggles
Images fall onto our retinas upside down, but we see our reality in reverse, both in terms of up and down and left and right. Trick your image-flipping brain and experience the world anew (or at least wrong-side-up) with a pair of reversing goggles. We promise that pouring a cup of water has never been so exciting.
1. Mistletoe Drone
This whirring mack-machine is a surefire way to never get invited to a holiday party ever again, giving you time to stay at home and work on that DIY rollersuit.