It can be a challenge to buy a gift for your brainy, science-obsessed friend. What kind of games might he or she like? The science brains among us can be so intimidating, partly because it's always scary buying things for smart people, but partly because who knows what those science people even like? Do they want beakers? A scale perhaps? Maybe some sort of assistance in covering up their secret meth-cooking operation?
This list is for you, weary gift-giver. It's here to help you find some fun science-ish gifts for the egghead in your life. And always remember: if none of these sound good, you can always tell them that your gift-selection process is "still in the hypothesis stage." Scientists love that kind of stuff.
One of the smartest games in recent memory, Spacechem and science go together like peas and carrots. I mean come on, it's called "SpaceChem!" And it lives up to that name. It's an ever-more complex game that involves creatively coming up with combinations of molecules to form new chemicals. It's open-ended, hugely brainy, and rewards lateral thought and creativity.
($9.99 on Steam)
Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell
While we're talking about things that smart people like, Tom Bissell's 2010 book Extra Lives: While Video Games Matter, while not particularly sciency, remains one of the most purely enjoyable pieces of video game writing you can buy. Think of it as a more holistic alternative to Jesse Schell's book (later)—well-written, humorous stories about games and the people who make them.
($15.61 at Amazon)
Portal 2 "Science to Do" T-Shirt
Since it's a safe bet that your friend will already have played Valve's smart and sciency Portal 2, what better way to celebrate both their love of games and their love of Portal than with a fun Portal T-shirt? This one, from ThinkGeek.com, seems particularly appropriate. One of the best things about Portal T-shirts is that they hold up even if the person viewing the shirt doesn't get the reference. There's science to do!
($18.99 at ThinkGeek.com)
Fate of the World
Fate of the World is a game that cries out for a scientific mind. A complicated and unforgiving simulation about global climate change and strife, it requires players to carefully navigate a minefield of potential disasters while working towards some sort of accord. Which usually never comes. A knowledge of world economic, political, and environmental affairs is required, and even the most seasoned leader will learn something after a few games. It's not easy, and it's not forgiving, but science never is.
The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell
One of the smartest and most accessible game-design books out there, Jesse Schell's The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses strikes a great balance by being both hugely informative about the process of making games while not shutting out readers who may not know a ton about the nuts and bolts of game design. Schell himself—former Disney imagineer, professor at Carnegie Mellon, all around cool dude—is the main attraction here, and his inviting style makes for a tremendously enjoyable and educational read.
($30.87 at Amazon)
When buying games and gifts for a person who loves science, it's important not to forget the most science-tastic game of all, Portal 2. While it's likely that most science fans have already played the game, it's worth making sure, since Portal 2 was easily one of the smartest and most enjoyable games of 2011. The puzzles are first-rate and make you to really use your brain, and the story is hilarious—you'll never look at robots (or potatoes) the same way again.
($42.75 at Amazon, Cheaper Used at Half.com)
You can contact Kirk Hamilton, the author of this post, at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.