About the Manual

The Nerd Manual is meant to be both a useful resource for nerds and a guide for the people involved with nerds. If you're a nerd you can find information here that will help you improve your life and perhaps better understand yourself. If you're close friends with, dating, or married to a nerd, I want to give you insight into things nerds do that a lot of people have difficulty understanding.

I hope to avoid offending anyone--either nerd or non-nerd--but please understand that the manual will get into some sensitive topics, stray into contentious territories, and even use stereotypes to illustrate points. It's OK to disagree with something, but keep your comments civil.


Nerdy and Geeky Gifts Guide Winter 2021 Edition

No matter your reason for celebrating this time of year--Decemberween, Emperor's Day, Hogswatch, Life Day--December is THE big month for gift giving. And while you're passing around cards and edible arrangements, make sure you do right by the nerds in your life! 

Sure, you could order up a Funko Pop figure (please don't), but you can do better. You're here because you want to show that you’ve dug deeper than the "Top 14 Geeky Gifts" list on Buzzfeed and the Dallas Morning Herald. You're here because you care!

Hold onto your hat because here it is: the long awaited, extra thoughtful, Nerdy and Geeky Gifts Guide for 2021, Winter Edition!

Items in this list range from super affordable to fairly expensive, so you should be able to find something appropriate for any nerd you know. I try to locate gifts suitable for nerds and geeks from all walks of life, adults and children, and I’ve sorted things (a little bit) to help you out. I do not own all of these items, but I won’t recommend something that I wouldn’t buy for my own friends.

Full disclosure: if you use one of my links I may get a reward, which helps pay for The Nerd Manual, but even if you don’t buy one of these items, I hope the guide gives you ideas for gifts that your nerd friends will love!

Ready? Let's go!


Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir 

Fans of The Martian will find the same science-based fiction in Weir's latest novel, but this time the story goes interstellar and the stakes are much higher. Ryland Grace wakes up in a sealed room with no memory of how he got there. As he slowly pieces together the clues of where and who he is, he remembers that he's on a mission to save all life on Earth. 

Black Nerd Problems: Essays by William Evans and Omar Holmon 

Evans and Holmon bring their signature wit to the printed page in this collection of essays that take on a range of pop culture topics like police accountability in Green Lantern comics, if Simba is really Lion King material, an open letter to Gohan, how a manga about boxing brings a grown man to tears, and what being a nerd is really about. Even if you don't pick up this book, take a look at the Black Nerd Problems website for some of the most insightful commentary on pop culture you can find today.

Star Trek: Designing the Final Frontier by Dan Chavkin and Brian McGuire

Here's a book that looks at the interplay between midcentury design and science fiction from the perspective of how the present (or the past at this point in time) heavily influenced the popular view of our future. I think this counts as time travel. 

The sets for the original series of Star Trek were, often created by modifying existing furniture like Knoll Tulips and the iconic Madison Furniture Danish Modern armchair that Kirk's command seat is built around, so the mid-century modern aesthetic was baked into the core of the show's vision of the future. As Trek went into syndication and found audiences around the world, this vision was imprinted on the minds of viewers everywhere, influencing the retro-futuristic aesthetics of the late 1960s and well into the 1970s. The authors are design experts who dug deep for historical details, set design notes, and stock photos to illustrate how we got from the 60s to the future and back again. 

All of the Marvels by Douglas Wolk

Rather than dissecting the history of Marvel Comics decade by decade or artist by artist, Wolk takes the unique view of ALL the Marvel superhero comics as one continuous story, what he calls the “epic of epics.” Wolk's expertise shines through as he deftly handles more than half a million pages of story (yes, he read EVERYTHING, over 27,000 comics) to tell the history of Marvel and how it meshes with the past sixty years of U.S. culture from the Cold War to the hyper-politicization of the present.

The Other History of the DC Universe by John Ridley, illustrated by Giussepi Camuncoli and Andrea Cucchi

In this anthology of DC's The Other History issues 1-5, Ridley focuses on heroes from historically disenfranchised minority groups to tell DC stories from a different perspective, reframing many of DCs most iconic moments in completely different sociopolitical contexts from their origins. The comics industry is known for "rebooting" their franchises and recycling their canon over and over, but Ridley has created a truly innovative take on the DC mythology. 


How Not to Get Eaten by Ewoks and Other Galactic Survival Skills by Christian Blauvelt

The galaxy is a dangerous place and you never know when you might find yourself in a wretched hive of scum and villainy, but Blauvelt has you covered with tips on dealing with bounty hunters, beasts, and backstabbing allies. Do you know how to find a starship and pilot willing to get you past a blockade of star destroyers? How about handling agressive Tusken Raiders? Escaping an exploding space station?  If you're not sure, this is the book you need to stay alive. From making your own survival kits and disguises, to tips on etiquette and diplomacy, here are the step-by-step instructions that will teach you to recognize threats, escape sticky situations, and avoid galactic pitfalls.

Gifts for nerds who like putting things together

As always, I'm recommending the Raspberry Pi. It isn't new, but it's still one of the coolest gifts for nerds who like to build their own computers. Raspberry Pi is basically a very small computer that you can program and add to, so you can make anything from a media server to a home security system. 

You can get everything you need to start out in a Raspberry Pi 4 starter kit, and there are tons of add-ons including an HD camera, a sensor kit, and even a touchscreen.


The Lego Apollo Saturn V Building Kit is still the heavy hitter in this category. It's a drool-worthy model that, at $120, is definitely a splurge gift, but if you know a space nerd who enjoys assembling things, this is worth it. You get 1,969 pieces (commemorating the year Apollo 11 launched) that assemble into the Saturn V rocket with all its stages, the command and lunar modules, splashdown version of the capsule, two astronauts, and even a flag. This thing is huge, a meter tall, and can be displayed vertically, ready for launch, or horizontally on the included display stands.

In life things break. Be prepared with Sugru Mouldable Glue

This is like Play-Doh, but infinitely more useful because it can be used as a structural element to hold things in place, join things together, repair breaks in objects that aren't flat, and quite a bit more. 

It's flexible, waterproof, heat resistant, cold resistant, and non-conductive up to 24 volts.

Glue may not seem like an appropriate gift, but geeks who build things will appreciate it. If you aren't comfortable stuffing a stocking with mouldable glue, Sugru has a Rebel Tech Kit with sachets of Sugru and a book full of cool projects.

If you have a nerd friend who works on a lot of electronics, chances are they'll need to solder things. Soldering irons are pretty basic, but Pine64 offers the Pinecil rechargeable smart soldering iron, a pencil-sized hot wand with a difference...it's hackable. There are varieties of open source code available for the Pinecil that allow users to customize its settings. Even without the hacker cred, this is a great iron that heats up in seconds and gets into really tight spaces with ease. 


Did I mention that things break? 

That includes your phone, and you may need more than Sugru to deal with that scenario. The iFixit Pro tool kit gives you the tools you need to repair phones, tablets, and computers. Tackle all those different screws, safely remove adhesive, and get under those expensive screens without destroying them. Your iFixit kit also gives you access to over 60,000 repair guides, so if you can't find a YouTube tear-down video, you're covered.

For gaming nerds

Evolution is a unique board game where players compete by adapting their species to survive in an ecosystem with limited resources full of hungry predators. Vibrantly illustrated trait cards are used to augment the life forms--horns give species a defense against carnivores, while scavenger helps them get the food that others leave behind. There are over 12,000 different species combinations, so every game is different and allows for a variety of play strategies. There are also Climate and Ocean expansions that will appeal to players who want to branch out into different environments.

If you don't think it's too creepy to play a game about a pandemic during a pandemic, then Z-Man has a board game for you. 

The aptly named Pandemic puts you and up to three other friends on a disease fighting team tasked with keeping the world safe from epidemics. This might be your chance to put your recent experience with COVID-19 to use.

Collectible card game fans will enjoy Boss Monster, a game inspired by classic side-scrolling video games where you're the boss monster! To win, you have to construct a dungeon full of treasures that attract hapless heroes, but is also deadly enough to slay them before they find and destroy you. Each room of your dungeon is built from the cards at your disposal with different traps for the mages, fighters, and clerics exploring for treasure, and spells that affect these heroes and the other players. There are even multiple expansion packs that add to your dungeon building repertoire. 

Dungeons & Dragons is traditionally a solid choice for role players, and you can find something for beginners, character players, game masters, and even players who've been rolling since the 70s and have a decades-old collection of stuff. 

If you know someone you think will enjoy D&D but hasn't played before, there's a boxed starter set that includes rules, character sheets, and even dice; but it's just going to whet their appetite and I recommend going straight for the Player's Handbook for someone who is likely to play more than a couple of games, and the Dungeon Master's Guide for the burgeoning game master. 

For D&D players who are fans of the Stranger Things series, there's a great Stranger Things Dungeons & Dragons starter set that makes the perfect crossover collectible. Veteran players won't need the basic rulebook or character sheets, but they'll love the Hunt for the Thessalhydra adventure book and demogorgon miniatures included in the set. Older players will also get a kick out of the red box design that hearkens back to the early 80s beginner set the characters are using in the show.

Even if your roleplaying friends aren't fans of D&D they'll still use dice, so why not give them something classier than a box of colored polyhedral plastic? Splash out on a set of metal gaming dice that are hefty, shiny, available in different colors, and a delight to use. 

NOTE: it's a good idea to avoid scratching your Game Master's furniture. A simple dice tray keeps the polyhedrons from getting away, but some gamers might like the looks of a dice scroll that doubles as a storage tube, or perhaps an elegant combination of dice arena tray and storage box. No matter what you choose, it shows the GM that the player cares. 

Finally, if you've got a video gamer friend who isn't already on a Humble Bundle Humble Choice subscription, you need to remedy that situation. Humble offers bundles of games worth at least $100 each month, and you'll pay less than that for an entire year's subscription. The best part of this deal is that Humble donates 5% to charities.

For nerds who like gadgets

The Qwerkywriter S is a typewriter-style keyboard that you can attach to your tablet, phone, or computer, which isn't exactly a new idea but the Qwerkywriter is built like a tank with actual metal keys, mechanical action, and even a tablet stand that looks like the carriage on an old typewriter. If you have a friend who likes to write on an iPad but doesn't have a keyboard yet, this is an awesome way to encourage their work, and perhaps inspire a new mystery novel. 

Divoom make some really neat lighting and display items including Pixoo pixel art frames that you can connect to each other for an interactive home decor, and the Ditoo pixel art Bluetooth speaker that looks like a retro game console. The Ditoo comes in different colors to match your tastes, and all of their pixel art panels connect to an app that allows you to create your own pixel art of load in existing art, and control the various functions such as animations and alarm clock features. 

I wasn't sure where the Dino Friends mini-dinosaur waffle maker should go in this list, but I think it's a quirky gadget for kids of all ages. Spoon your batter into the trays, close the lid, and you'll have delicious dinosaur waffles in a matter of minutes. 

Do you know someone who wants to get into drones, but hasn't made the leap because it's an expensive hobby? The Tello Quadcopter is an easy gateway. 

For under $100 you get a camera quadcopter that's smaller than a paperback book, but takes photos and streams 720p video to your smartphone. You can control it directly or program it to fly autonomously. I've used mine to inspect roofs for leaks after a storm came through...and drone derby day.

Most geeks daily carry some kind of multitool, but there are times when we can't. The GeeKey Multi-Tool is a simple, very portable device that attaches to a keyring but provides options for tightening loose fasteners or cutting open boxes without carrying a knife. Handy if you're traveling a lot and can't take something larger through TSA checkpoints, and it's much better than trying to use a house key to pry open a stuck lid.

Musically-inclined nerds can make music on the go with the Orba portable synth. This handheld wonder is ready to rock right out of the box with pre-loaded sounds and a built-in speaker (or you can plug headphones into the jack if you prefer to keep your jam to yourself). Orba is a synth, looper, and MIDI controller that uses touch pads as well as gestures like tilt and bump to play your music, and when you get home you can connect it to your favorite digital audio program to control your software instruments.

If your gadget nerd shoots a lot of phone video, DJI has you covered with their Osmo and OM camera stabilizers. 

The Osmo Mobile 3 (pictured) is their simplest and least expensive model. The mount holds a standard phone, and it has a 3-axis gimbal--the arm pivots to keep the phone camera steady--with smooth motors to give your footage rock solid stability. There are different in-app functions you control from the handle, and the whole thing folds up so you can store it easily.

DJI's higher end OM models have a newer design that offers more bells and whistles in the software and hardware--the bottom of the OM 4 opens into a tripod that can hold your phone for hands-free shooting, and the OM 5 has a telescoping arm that makes it easier to shoot higher or lower angles.  

For quirky nerds

Out of Print have an entire line of literary wardrobe items from The Hitchhiker's Guide t-shirts to Sherlock Holmes socks, as well as tote bags, pins, and even face masks. There's even a seasonally appropriate Book Nerd knit hat. Bonus: while you get to feel good about getting someone the perfect pair of socks, you also get to feel good because your purchase helps Out of Print to fund literacy programs and book donations to communities in need.

That's no ice cube...it's a space station! These Death Star Ice Sphere Molds give drinks the perfect touch of intimidation. Made of silicone, this mold pops out frosty battle stations large enough to chill your favorite beverages with one to a glass. TIP: if you want your Death Star crystal clear, boil the water before filling the mold and fill it while the water is still hot.


Behold, the Nachosaurus.

Yes, you can serve your nacho chips in a stegasaurus!

What else can I say about this item? Nothing says nerdy like a dinosaur nacho set. Don't eat nachos? No problem. Use it for your potato chips, your fries, heck, you can put your wallet or mail in it. 

Funwares is also the creator of the Wash n' Roar T-Rex shower head, in case you make a mess while eating your nachos.

The Ototo Nessie Tale bookmark is is by far the cutest bookmark I've seen. The shy and elusive Nessie may not like cameras, but she'll happily keep track of where you are in your latest book adventure. If you don't have them already, be sure to check out the Nessie Family strainer, ladle, and tea infuser.

Do you know an older computer nerd who remembers the days before WiFi, when you had to sneakernet files between computers using plastic encased floppy discs. Give them a set of Floppy Disc Coasters to rekindle that nostalgia. Unlike the hard plastic originals, these are made of colorful silicone, so you can use them as drink coasters, spoon rests or hot pads, microwave them, freeze them, and pop them in the dishwasher when you're done.

It's only prudent to warn people when you're transporting dangerous liquids, so carry your dangerous liquid in this WARNING Dihydrogen Monoxide container and rest easy knowing that no one will accidentally inhale it, make contact with its irritating solid form, or get contact burns from its gaseous form.

DISCLAIMER: The Nerd Manual admits no liability for people who choose to knowingly transport dihydrogen monoxide across state lines, or within 100 meters of a day care center.

Gifts for nerdy kids...of varying ages

Think Fun's Gravity Maze is an interactive STEM game that comes with sixty challenges that involve getting a marble from the starting point to the target tower using only gravity. The instructions are super easy to understand, so you'll be building mazes within minutes of unboxing. The brain teasing challenge cards rely on logical reasoning, spatial awareness, and planning skills to win the game.

Keep the shadows away while practicing the greatest video game of all time with the Tetris Night Light. This LED light comes with seven Tetris shapes that light up as they're connected with each other, although as far as I can tell they don't vanish if you complete a row. 

For kids who ask a lot of questions and like squishy things, you can't go wrong with The World's Greatest Putty Kit. You might wonder what's so nerdy about putty, but this collection from National Geographic contains six tins of putty with varying properties--magnetic, bouncing, glowing, color changing, metallic, and sparkling--that can lead to all sorts of "what if" experiments like, "can I draw pictures on the glow putty with a laser pointer?" 

Thames & Kosmos have been making board games and science experiment kits for years, and I've included several on previous lists. Their Exit series of escape games, like The Sinister Mansion, are family friendly mysteries suitable for players 12 and up, while their Crew cooperative card games are suitable for a slightly younger audience. 

However, I'm a huge fan of their kits that cover pretty much every aspect of science like the Physics Workshop with experiments using simple and complex machines to explore the different aspects of forces; or the Soap and Bath Bomb Lab that uses a variety of safe and soapy experiments to explore pH levels, hydrophilic and hydrophobic molecules, and even the composition of human skin. And one sure hit with kids is the Gummy Candy Lab where kids can cook up different flavored gummy candies while learning about phases of matter and natural polymers.

Of all their kits, my favorites are centered on robotics, a growing field with loads of opportunities. 

T&K have a variety of options that range from simple to complex. For the 5-year-old and up crowd, there's the Kid's First series like the Robot Pet Shop that shows you how to build eight robo-pets including a cat, bulldog, turtle, panda, and even a Sloth. 

For older kids T&K have a complete line of robotics kits that explore mechanics, engineering, and even AI. A good starting point is the Robotics: Smart Machines kit that includes modules to construct walking robots capable of sensing the environment around them and connecting to an app that acts as their brain so they can interact with things. 

Build your own electronically controlled structures with the Snap Circuits BRIC kit. Snap Circuits is a multi-award winner, and this kit introduces you to electronics in an engineering environment that requires no soldering or glue--everything literally snaps together. The Snap Modules and bricks come with blueprints for 20 projects, and you can use the parts to build your own creations.

I'm a big fan of Snap Circuits, and if you'd like a bit more flexibility, try the Snap Circuits Classic that gives you 60 components for 300 projects including a burglar alarm, and a radio. This kit is upgradeable, or you can go straight for the Extreme kit and get 80 components including an analog meter, photoresistor, power amplifier, and solar cell to build 750 projects.

Elenco the company that makes them also produces several other lines of educational toys, including the Mech-5 Robot, an entry-level kit that teaches robotics and coding using a mechanical interface. It's a very tactile robot that makes satisfying noises, if you're into that sort of thing.

Botley the Coding Robot is cute as heck and ready to play, but he's way smarter than an Aibo or dancing gorilla. You don't need a computer, or even download an app to your phone, the coding device is a handheld remote with, believe it or not, actual buttons. This is the perfect first coding bot for young children that could lead them straight into Lego Mindstorms and perhaps FIRST robotics later on.

The unfortunately named Klutz Paper Flying Dragons Craft Kit will introduce you to six flying dragons from a variety of terrains--even including a steampunk dragon--with a fairly detailed book that not only gives you the lore behind each creature, but instructions for making great folds, checking your dragons' symmetry, and tweaking them so they fly the way you want. Seriously, everything you need to start flying dragons is in this kit, even the tape.

And why not throw in a few more books?

Be More Star Wars Boxed Set--4 books: Vader, Leia, Lando, and Yoda by Christian Blauvelt

Get advice from the perspectives of different Star Wars characters on making it in the world. From working with colleagues and perfecting your business persona, to winning the best deal and forging your own path, there's a lot you can learn from a galaxy far, far away.

Be More Vader: assertive thinking from the dark side
Be More Leia: find your rebel voice and fight the system
Be More Lando: how to get what you want (and look good doing it)
Be More Yoda: mindful thinking from a galaxy far, far away

The Game Console 2.0 by Evan Amos

The first edition of this book made the gift guide a few years ago, and the 2nd edition is still a great idea for video gamers who are really into console history, or perhaps have been playing long enough to remember the consoles in this book. The revision adds fifty additional pages of content about more consoles and accessories, which makes this a thorough catalog of gaming systems, although someone who already has the first edition won't really miss the new content. The Game Console is still beautifully illustrated and gives you detailed photos of systems from the past fifty years including the usual suspects like the 2600 and NES, but also rarities like the Fairchild Channel F. There are plenty of facts about the development and construction of these consoles, enough to keep any gamer entertained without picking up a controller.

Immune: A Journey into the Mysterious System That Keeps You Alive by Philipp Dettmer

Dettmer, creator of the Kurzgesagt YouTube channel, turns his eye to the human immune system in this witty illustrated guide to one of the most complex systems in the human body. Immune starts simple, explaining why we even need an immune system in the first place, then breaks everything down into easy to digest chunks from The Murder University of the Thymus to The Swamp Kingdom of the Mucosa and everything in between including antibodies and inflammation as well as threats like bacteria, allergies, and, of course, viruses. Considering that we're living in a pandemic, this is timely reading.

Star Wars: The Life Day Cookbook by Jenn Fujikawa and Marc Sumerak

Could I find another Star Wars book for this gift list? You bet! If you want to observe the Life Day spirit of fellowship and love, then these are the recipes you're looking for. Learn to prepare appetizers, mains, beverages, and desserts from Kashyyyk, Endor, Mon Cala, and Alderaan with easy to follow recipes like Bantha Surprise, Jelly Life Day Orbs, Bantha Milk Hot Chocolate (there's quite a bit of bantha in here), and Mudhorn Eggnog. It's like bringing the Tree of Life from Kashyyyk right into your own home. 

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