Bar Spoons!

Not all cocktails are created equal. Many are shaken. Some extremely delicious cocktails are stirred. Get your finger out that drink! You need the right tools for the job. Yeah. I’m talking to you Susan Hayden.

You need a bar spoon. And actually, I’m going to say you need two bar spoons: one with a simple end and one with a weighted cone at the end.

bar spoons

So why is this so complicated? Here’s what you can do with these magical items:

  • Measuring Ingredients: It’s handy for measuring small amounts of ingredients: a spoonful is about an 1/8 ounce. A couple spoonfuls for 1/4 ounce.
  • Stirring Cocktails: I think this is best done with the non-spoon end of the bar spoon with the simple end.
  • Cracking Ice: Hold a larger cube in your hand, and use the weighted end of the cone end to break the ice before mixing.
  • Floating Layers: Carefully pour from a spout off the side of the cone end of the spoon for a perfect floated layer.

They’re cheap enough for a stocking stuffer, but consider wrapping it out of the package. It’ll be funnier.

Puerto Rico

The CheckedTwice founders often look for the private islands where they’ll retire when CheckedTwice goes public. (It’s nice to dream, no?) Well this game allows you to live it, and for only about $30.

Puerto Rico : economic board game

Puerto Rico allows you to manage your plantation and in-town holdings to amass greatest wealth and curry favor back in Europe. This turn based game was published originally in 2005 and can be played with 2-5 players. The strategy behind it can be fairly complex, and it has risen to the #4 on BoardGameGeek’s rankings. Here’s their description:

The players are plantation owners in Puerto Rico in the days when ships had sails. Growing up to five different kind of crops—corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco, and coffee—they must try to run their business more efficiently than their close competitors: growing crops and storing them efficiently, developing San Juan with useful buildings, deploying their colonists to best effect, selling crops at the right time, and, most importantly, shipping their goods back to Europe for maximum benefit.

 The game takes a little while to master, but the process of mastery is pretty fun. It gets the CheckedTwice nerdy boardgame seal of approval.

Catan Junior

Kid’s week continues at CheckedTwice, and for Thursday’s Game Night we have the perfect gateway game: Catan Junior.

catan junior - strategy game for kids

For those of you who don’t know, Settlers of Catan is one of the best selling nerdy board games of all time. The award winning game has oodles of expansions and has become a standard of board game nights everywhere. One problem, though: it’s a little complex for the youngsters.

That’s where Junior comes in. The game keeps elements of the original game (varied resources, strategic building), while simplifying some of the more complex aspects (trade, affect cards). This should be a great way to instill a love for nerdy board games without the tears and gnashing of teeth that would come with the full version.

I think Official CheckedTwice 6-year-old Tester Kate is getting a copy of this one for Swick Family Christmas 2012. Good thing she doesn’t read this blog. 🙂

iTunes Match

The recording industry has changed a lot over the past 20 years. We went from buying CDs at Best Buy, to being able to copy a friend’s disc, to pirating our music, to buying our music. (And now, ironically, I’m back to buying my CDs on Amazon…) Over that 20 years, I’ve acquired a lot of tunes in a lot of different formats. Many have the wrong titles. Many have poor quality. And since I, like many others, became an iPod/iPhone user, all of those tunes are organized in iTunes, Apple’s free media management application. Well Apple has a newer service that helps with those formatting issues. It also helps with the sheer size of the library, by allowing you to stream it to any device from anywhere. That service is called iTunes Match.

iTunes Match

Here’s the description from the website:

 iTunes determines which songs in your collection are available in the iTunes Store. Any music with a match is automatically added to iCloud for you to listen to anytime, on any device. … Even better, all the music iTunes matches plays back from iCloud at 256-Kbps AAC DRM-free quality — even if your original copy was of lower quality.

If you have a big audiophile in your life and they’re (roughly) between 25 and 35, you might find a great gift in iTunes Match. update: You can buy iTunes Match with a standard iTunes gift card. So if you need an easy way to gift this, you’ve got it!


Are there any students in your life? Anyone with a certain lust for learning? Or anyone that blindly stumbles out onto the internet in search of answers to life’s pressing and not so pressing questions? Chances are they–like 450 million others–have stumbled to Wikipedia.

Wikipedia! - Meaningful Charity Gifts

For those of you who haven’t yet made that digital pilgrimage (where have you been?!), Wikipedia is the free online encyclopedia. It is a non-profit that relies on donations alone to make ends meet. And as it’s the #5 site on the internet, it requires quite a bit  of cash to make those ends meet.

Here’s what their notice says:

Dear Wikipedia readers: We are the small non-profit that runs the #5 website in the world. We have only 150 staff but serve 450 million users, and have costs like any other top site: servers, power, rent, programs, staff and legal help. To protect our independence, we’ll never run ads. We take no government funds. We run on donations. If everyone reading this gave the price of a cup of coffee, our fundraiser would be done within an hour. If Wikipedia is useful to you, take one minute to keep it online another year by donating whatever you can today. We just need .3% of readers to donate an average of about $30. We’re not there yet. Please help us forget fundraising and get back to Wikipedia. Thank you.

And really, who can say no to this face:

Unfortunately, there’s not a good way to give the Wikipedia donation as a gift, but perhaps you could pair your donation with a card like this! Supporting Wikipedia is a great way of supporting anyone who has a love of learning and is constantly seeking more knowledge.. or, just settling bets.

The Gift of a Clean House

Merry Maidmas!  Happy Cleanakah!

If you’re like me, you don’t have the time or, more importantly, the inclination to do any more than pick up the socks and shoes littered around the apartment.  But, despite my general cleanliness apathy, I still get that happy tingly feeling when I see a sparkling sink or dust-free baseboards.

This year my sister got me a maid service for my birthday.  They came for one session and it was glorious.  She was nervous about buying it for me because she thought I might be insulted.  Now, if you know me, this is clearly ridiculous.  I have no illusions about my housekeeping abilities and I think most people are the same.  I do the bare minimum to make my apartment presentable and I’ve never pretended to do more.

(The exception to this is the mother or mother-in-law.  No matter how good the relationship, buying a maid service for your daughter-in-law is a big gamble.  It’s like buying a giant basket of bath and body works for the smelly girl in your office – tempting but a very risky proposition).

So buy your loved one a good spring (or winter, fall, summer) cleaning!  We all need it and soon people will be asking themselves, ‘So that rug was white the whole time and not an intentionally chic eggshell?’ or ‘You mean to tell me that was a red wine stain and not just a piece of abstract modernism?’

I recommend using the handy to search for a local maid service near you.


YGGBE (your guest gift blogger extraordinaire)

Feature image from Collin Anderson.

Little Measuring Cup

I mentioned this in an earlier post on jiggers, but I thought it merited another, more formal, mention in its own post. I like a good cocktail. Which means, I like a precisely created cocktail.

I like variety and simplicity when I’m making cocktails for myself, but I don’t like doing dishes. So when I’m making an Aviation for myself, I’ll leave the jiggers in the cabinet and turn to my trusted angled Oxo mini-measuring cup.

liquid measuring cup for cocktails

The measuring cup has angled measuring surface (giving it the strange shape). And that means you don’t have to bend down to counter level to read it. You can look straight down at the surface as you’re pouring and quickly and accurately measure the pours.

And because you can measure any amount, you don’t have to get several jiggers dirty each time you make a cocktail. (This keeps my wife slightly happier with me.)

My only problem with this cup is it list 1/4, 1/2, and 1 oz, but not 3/4 oz… quite the common measurement! But the ease of use still makes it a great gift for the cocktail enthusiast. And at less than $10, it can make a great stocking stuffer or a portion of a themed gift.

Happy Black Friday!

Kill Doctor Lucky

Kill Doctor Lucky

Kill Doctor Lucky - Games For Grownups

In the classic board game Clue, you race to be the first to solve the murder.  In Kill Doctor Lucky, you race to be the first to commit it.

Doctor Lucky progresses in a stately fashion through the rooms of a mansion, unaware that all of the house guests are out for his blood.  If you catch him alone in a room, and nobody has a clear line of sight to that room, you can make an attempt on his life.  Of course, then everybody else will try to throw obstacles in your path to make you fail… because they want to be the ones to do the deed.  Why should you have all the fun?

The game is easy to learn, entertaining, and usually quite quick (a rarity in the Games For Grownups genre).  The board represents the mansion.  Cards provide an amusing assortment of weapons (to use on the attack) and obstacles (to stop another player’s attack).

And let’s face it.  When you really get down to it, nothing brings people together like a good old fashioned assassination.  The family that slays together, stays together.

Unlike last week’s Web Service Wednesday idea (Amazon Prime), this week’s suggestion is very easy to give.  This is a good gift for your family story-telling grandma, your underemployed niece, your slightly obsessive mother-in-law, and your history major son.

ancestry is a web service that allows its users to build family trees.  What’s impressive about is that it gives you access to billions of records (e.g., immigration, census, military records) + information inputted from its millions of users. It’s easy to use and incredibly addictive.

All you do is type in your name and a few more family members (parents + grandparents ideally) and the program helps with the rest.  It suggests family members for you and then you say whether or not you’re related given the data presented.

Now this doesn’t come cheap, and that’s why it could be a great gift for someone in your family.  The gift membership costs $155 for 12 months and $77 for 6 months.

But as someone who can attest to many hours spent on, I can promise that it’ll make some history nerd if your family very happy.

Food Banks

As we look forward to stuffing our bellies in the company of family and friends this holiday season, it’s a nice thing to set aside a bit of time to remember the many that are less fortunate, particularly as the economy continues to be sluggish. It’s been reported that 1 in 7 American households were “food insecure,” meaning that at some point in the year, they struggled to put food on the table for their family.

food donation charity

Consider donating some time this week. Then when you’re ready to give gifts down the road, consider making a donation on the behalf of a family member to their community’s food bank. Your donation can mean a lot, particularly if the recipient’s city or region has been hit harder in the economic downturn.