It's not that they're no fun, or have something against games, but we all know someone who seems to prefer the most analog means of interactive entertainment—a good old pencil and paper—over all of the modern media. Here are some gift ideas that will both cater to that preference and maybe nudge him to try something new.
Annual Subscription to The New York Times Premium Crosswords
Assuming this guy doesn't already have it, the $39.95 here is well spent and a luxury a crossword fiend, no matter how dedicated, may not think to buy for himself, making do with free—and two weeks older— versions of the Times crossword available elsewhere. The subscription offers access to an archive of more than 5,000 puzzles and bonus features such as playing against a clock and, get this, online co-operative multiplayer, in which he and a pal can solve a puzzle together. Is this really a video game? Sounds like one to me.
($39.95 via The New York Times)
A Nice Cribbage Board
Cribbage is a vexing card game for anyone with an analytical mind, because so much of the scoring appears to come from the deal. It's the puncher's chance, the rubber band AI, if you will, before there were computer games to employ it. But the most critical points always come from the play, whether in setting up your witless opponent for a run of three, or getting him to pair you so you can then snatch three for six, and pegging out before he can count. As my great-grandmother was fond of saying, "Skill and knowledge always triumph over ignorance and superstition." Only after a hundred hands of cribbage do you know what she really means.
(variable depending on materials; Cribscapes.com offers a variety of novelty and traditional designs.
Top Spin 4
Tennis frustrated me when I took lessons as a child. Only now do I know why. It wasn't so much the placement of shots or the discipline to hit a ball, hard, within a defined space. It was in understanding the scoring. Tennis is played as much to hold a score as it is to advance it. Some critical points are won simply to remain on serve. 2K Sports' tennis simulator is highly regarded for bringing the strategy of the game to life through the strengths and playing styles of 20 licensed professionals atop the world rankings.
($29.99 new, from GameStop)
National Geographic Mural-Sized Map
A dedicated puzzler considers any spare moment an opportunity to learn, and to apply that knowledge. Get him or her this giant National Geographic political map of the world and spread it over a wall in their There is always some border, some geographic oddity, some capital they may not know, some feature that will be the answer to No. 16 across on that bastard of a Saturday puzzle in the New York Times.
(Map shown is 5'9" by 4'; $59.95 from National Geographic)
A chatpad for his Xbox 360 (or PS3)
If your puzzler friend has an Xbox 360 or the PlayStation 3, they're probably driven nuts by using a keyboard to hunt and peck a virtual keyboard on screen just to answer a message or compliment an opponent. Pick up a chatpad for them, they've probably been meaning to for a while.
A Subscription to Baseball-Reference.com
Baseball stats aren't just for amateur personnel evaluators and obsessive fantasy league players. Sometimes a rain-delay reverie leads a fan to wonder, say, what pitcher has the most victories with zero games started, zero games finished, and zero games saved in a single season? (Answer: It's Omar Daal with 4 in 2004.) No sport indulges that kind of curiosity like baseball, and no web site answers its burning questions like the Play Index for Baseball-Reference.com. A $35 subscription gives a year's worth of access to Baseball Reference's databases, some spanning more than a century. Simply learning how to use its interface presents many "What if" questions a seamhead may not have thought up. Who holds the American League record for most times reaching first base on catcher's interference? (Answer: Bob Stinson, of the 1977 Seattle Mariners).
($36 for one year; available online)