It is finally gift guide season. Every publication on the internet is doing one, but The Ringer’s is a little different. Instead of offering niche, adventurous, or just plain kitschy gifts, we’re making it simpler: These are the best items we bought in the last year, and we think you’ll enjoy them, too.
Big Ice Cube Trays, $10
Kate Knibbs: I love having people over, partly because man is a social beast but also partly because whenever I have people over, I serve them the cold beverage of their choice festooned with giant, perfectly square ice cubes, and they invariably compliment my giant, fancy ice cubes. They don’t always say it, but after I serve them such gloriously large and symmetrical cubes, I can tell that in their minds they have recalibrated their estimation of who I am as a person. I become a person who has her shit together, a person with the foresight and class to prepare luxury flourishes for my get-togethers. And all because I spent $10 one time on the internet! If you are cheap, but you also want to look like one sophisticated bastard, I recommend nothing more highly than big ice cube trays.
Shea Serrano: The best thing I bought in 2017 is something that I didn't even buy: It's a Dunder Mifflin hoodie that my wife bought me as a gift. The Office is, I think, my most rewatchable TV show of all time. There are some scenes that I've seen probably at least 100 times. (The one where Michael gives Oscar a crappy scarecrow and then laughs about it is currently my favorite one.) It's just great. And wonderful. And I love it. And I love my hoodie.
Nintendo Switch, $300
Shaker Samman: The first time I ever held a Switch was when my Ringer colleague Jason Concepcion let me test his out one afternoon. The second was four hours later, when I took a train 40 minutes from my apartment to get the last console available at the third GameStop I called. The novelty of being able to switch between mobile and anchored gameplay is astounding. More impressive is the depth of each of the games I bought. Super Mario Odyssey is innovative and exciting. Mario Kart is as enjoyable on the Switch as it was on my N64 in elementary school. And The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the first game I ever reckoned was more beautiful than the world around me. Was it fiscally responsible to purchase a console on an intern’s salary? Probably not. But now the Kingdom of Hyrule is finally free of Calamity Ganon, and the dominion lives in peace. That, friends, is priceless.
Jordan Coley: I purchased this at Savers—the secondhand store chain—in Orange, Connecticut. It features the brand’s eye-catching “Aztec” sunrise logo, and it’s khaki, which is a flexible color that pairs well with most of my outfits. It’s also a hat made by Arizona Iced Tea, so every time someone says to me, “Hey, nice hat!” I get to respond, “Thanks! It’s an Arizona Iced Tea hat.” And, for me, that’s really satisfying.
Ben Lindbergh: After many months of alternately loosening the jammed key and jamming the loose key on my five-year-old Ultrabook keyboard, I set out to make typing less terrible. I soon discovered that there’s a website for that: ReplacementLaptopKeys.com, which sells—yeah, you guessed it. $9.90 plus shipping bought me an “F” key, an “N” key, and priceless peace of mind.
Lindsay Zoladz: I learned to read tarot cards this year, which I found to be a very calming and grounding hobby for when I wanted to tune out the negativity of the news and focus on, like, the cosmic wisdom of the High Priestess or whatever. Highly recommended. All of the best things I bought this year were tools that furthered my quest to become a tarot nerd: Alejandro Jodorowsky’s classic book The Way of the Tarot, Jessa Crispin’s incredibly smart The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to an Inspired Life, and, of course, several different decks of tarot cards. The Rider-Waite deck is the most famous, but it’s also a little stodgy and patriarchal. For a more contemporary update, might I recommend the Los Angeles artist Faye Orlove’s amazing hand-drawn Celeb Goddess Tarot Deck, which features (among many other things) Grace Jones as Strength, Rihanna as the Devil (that’s a compliment, trust me), and of course, my girl Stevie Nicks as the Magician. I’m sure she would approve.
Alyssa Bereznak: These days, a houseplant is to a millennial what a golden retriever was to a 1950s nuclear family: an expected adulthood accessory. But for those of us who live in cramped, radiator-heated city apartments, finding the right kind of leaf son is not as easy as you might think. (I have the shriveled remains of my watermelon peperomia to prove it.) Through trial and error I’ve discovered that the sansevieria—a.k.a. the snake plant, a.k.a. mother-in-law’s tongue, a.k.a. viper’s bowstring hemp—is one of most resilient plants you can adopt. It requires very little sun and infrequent watering. No matter how wildly out of whack my apartment’s ecosystem, or significant my neglect, it has remained resplendent, green, and spiky. It has been a joy to have around, because it’s quiet, looks nice, and requires virtually no attention. I also read that they live up to 25 years, which is longer than most golden retrievers. Just make sure you plant it in a pot that drains.
Alarm Clock, $11
Ryan O’Hanlon: I bought an $11 alarm clock. Books are good, and your phone is bad. My recommendation: If you can't run it over with a U-Haul or throw it into a volcano, then at least keep it out of your bedroom.
Michael Baumann: After two years living in Texas, I thought it'd be funny to buy cowboy boots, but this ironic purchase became nonironic within seconds of putting them on. These boots make me feel like a real man, the kind of man who smells like sawdust and patriotism. You're a little taller in cowboy boots than in normal shoes, and you can't help but walk with an authoritative, clomping swagger. But it's not just that—there's something ineffable about these cowboy boots that affects my mood the way no article of clothing ever had before. Buy a pair for yourself immediately.
Amanda Dobbins: This cookbook was technically a gift, but I am so grateful to its gifter, as it has brought the joy back into my home-cooking life. Julia Turshen is a longtime cookbook author and recipe developer—she cowrote Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good, Jody Williams’s Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food, and Dana Cowin’s Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen, among others—but Small Victories, published last year, is her first solo project. I do not usually put much stock (sorry) in book blurbs, but the roster here gives you a sense of the rarefied company you can now keep: Ina Garten wrote the foreword, and Ruth Reichl, Mario Batali, April Bloomfield, Gail Simmons, Sally Field, and Sofia Coppola are all featured on the back cover.
Those famous people all signed up because Julia Turshen is a wonder. Her recipes are, to repurpose a cherished Garten phrase, “earthy but elegant”; they use between five and 10 ingredients on average, and are almost always composed of items you’d have on hand or could easily find at the regular grocery store. Turshen’s scallops with chili and breadcrumbs, which I agreed to make as part of a weekly marital compromise re: seafood, turned out to be a beautiful, dinner-party-worthy meal; her turkey ricotta meatballs convinced my husband that meatballs should be a part of our dinner rotation (thus solving the weekly seafood issue).
I haven’t found a bad recipe in the book, but the true genius of Small Victories is the lessons that Turshen includes in each meal: toast dried spices for 10 (ten!) minutes to bring out the flavor; roast those aging herbs and put them in a dip. It’s a practical but still-indulgent approach to cooking and a reminder that you too deserve a thoughtful meal. Also, I like to imagine myself eating the same dinner as Sofia Coppola on a regular basis.
Furbo Dog Camera, $200
Andrew Gruttadaro: Have you ever been out and thought to yourself, “I wonder what my dog’s doing right now”? You don’t have to wonder anymore—there’s this incredible invention called Dog Camera by Furbo. It’s basically a webcam that connects to your phone so you can check in on your dog when you’re not home. Turns out my dog sleeps 100 percent of the time I’m gone. Unless I shoot her treats, which is another Furbo feature. Then she wakes up immediately.
Donnie Kwak: If you know someone with rudimentary knife skills, then gift them a pair of kitchen scissors. I cut everything with these: kimchi, pork belly, steak, laver, whole chickens, etc. OK, I’ve never cooked a whole chicken—but if I did, I’d use these to cut that, too. Plus: They disassemble for easy cleaning. Sharp!
Haley O’Shaughnessy: Full disclosure: I am ignoring the prompt and choosing something I bought for my brother as a gift. These coasters are both made of slate (classy—what a real adult you are!) and feature your favorite team’s most significant play calls. I personally recommend the Louisville set. Posh up that woman (or … man [?]) cave.
Amazon Echo, $100
Danny Heifetz: Remember the first era of iPhone apps, when nobody yet grasped how to use this profound technology, which meant that the full range was a lighter you could flick on and off and a glass of milk you could shake until it became cheese? That's where voice technology is. Right now, it's great for listening to podcasts while cooking. In 2027, it could replace many functions of our phones. You might be surveilled by Amazon, or the NSA, or perhaps both, but if that doesn't faze you, you'll be ahead of the curve.
Isaac Lee: All my life, I have struggled to find hair products that are powerful enough to manage my stiff, thick, Korean hair. While complaining about having thick hair is very much #firstworldproblems, I nevertheless must confess that it has been an issue for styling my hair since I was a toddler. After many disappointing trials with various so-called heavy-duty products (Lasting hold! Amazing control!), I finally found my winner in this sleek gold-capped cylinder. It is unbelievably strong yet offers the as-advertised benefit of a subtle matte finish and convenient water solubility. Plus, it carries a faint vanilla-like scent, a pleasant compliment for such a strong product.
Lee: While not recommended for heavy-duty mixing, these bad boys are precise enough to revolutionize your everyday listening experience. Even though it is only a single-driver IEM, the flat frequency response and true noise isolation make the M6 PRO's sound quality comparable to most three-driver IEMs. And at $40, they are half the price of the next-best IEM, the Shure SE215. If you are using overpriced commercial headphones or those unfathomably low-quality Apple EarPods, please do yourself a favor and switch to the M6 PROs. However, they do come with only an ⅛-inch TRS jack, so if you are an iPhone user, make sure you don’t lose your dongle.
Danny Chau: Traditional stove-top pressure cookers are terrifying. They wheeze and they tremor; it's like handling a stainless-steel rattlesnake that can spew scalding steam in your face (or worse, explode) if you come at it from the wrong angle. One of the best deals of 2017 was the six-quart Instant Pot, which could’ve been had for as little as $60 at Kohl’s—but even at the $90, it’s a worthwhile kitchen investment. The Instant Pot makes the pressure-cooking process as benign as steaming rice. There’s no noise and no shaking, and you can have a bowl of pho ready in less than an hour.
Julie Kliegman: I now understand why my coworkers hyped this seemingly ordinary brush (pro tip: score it on eBay for ~$12). I thought my cat hated being brushed—or me—but now she purrs through it. I cherish Furmination, too; the mountains of fur spared from her hair balls and my couch are unreal.
Molly McHugh: I bought this phone case–wallet combo when I got my new iPhone 8. I bought the 8 only because my 6s had fallen into a puddle (for a second time) and had accumulated so many scratches that it was unusable. I, of course, had never put a case on it. I also am always the person who shows up somewhere and realizes I've left my ID and money at home so someone has to go buy my beers and deliver them to the table in case the place is carding. Then I have to ashamedly Venmo my friends later. Two birds, one stone: My phone isn't broken and I always have my identification and credit card on me.
Hurricane Fur Wizard, $19
McHugh: I know this fur eliminator isn't actually cleaning my furniture, but it does that thing where it makes all the fibers on the couch face the same way so it suddenly looks cleaner.
Riley McAtee: You probably didn’t click on this article expecting to read about a pillow, but I’m going to recommend this one, anyway. This pillow isn’t cheap—$50 is a lot when you can get one for under $10 at Target—but it’s $50 well spent. I used to use two pillows, and I always replaced them because they would flatten and become uncomfortable. This one has held up like a champ, it’s cool and soft to the touch, and it puts me right to sleep. I would easily drop $100 on this if I ever needed to replace it.
Kate Halliwell: 2017 was the year I finally figured out how to effortlessly style my hair (yes, it took 22 years), and it’s all thanks to celebrity hairstylist Kristin Ess. No, she didn’t start coming to my house in the morning to do it for me, but she did the next best thing: She created a super affordable brand of styling products available at Target. The working texture spray has finally raised my game from “I spent an hour trying to achieve these waves” to “I woke up like this.” Plus, her Instagram is full of hypnotizing how-to videos, so there’s no excuse for another bad hair day.
Zach Schwartz: The sound quality is terrific on these. They have an incredible sound range for both music and movies. The snug in-ear design helps block out noise on airplanes or your coworkers laughing at you as your alma mater hires Herm Edwards to be its next head coach.
Rubie Edmondson: I can't speak to the effectiveness of these mini-masks for dark circles or lines—I haven't noticed any real improvement in that arena—but man, do they feel like a treat for tired eyes. I'm the opposite of a morning person, but two of these Petitfee masks post-shower (in tandem with an Olympic-sized swimming pool of coffee) instantly make me feel perky and refreshed. The cooling effect is also great if you feel a headache coming on or need to fight off a nasty hangover. The best part: It's only $10 for a pack of 60, so you can buy one for you and one for that friend whose bathroom is overflowing with skin care products.
Keith Fujimoto: One-pot meals are the waviest of waves. All flavor, no fuss. Also, it costs less than $40!
A Painting Purchased Via Twitter DM, ???$
Katie Baker: I can’t remember how I first started following Canadian artist Brigitte Granton on Twitter, but it wasn’t long before I was sliding into the DMs to purchase her oil-on-canvas “Stormy Skies.” The texture of the work makes such a nice complement to all the flat framed prints I own, and looking at it just makes me happy and at peace—a true rarity for anything Twitter-related.