Help for holiday procrastinators

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December 20, 2004 // UPDATED 4:56 pm - April 25, 2007
By: sue rich
sue rich

Go ahead, fall into the 'Net -- without leaving Downtown

Does the thought of last-minute gifting to-dos make you hyperventilate? Take a breath. Get over the guilt. And grab your mouse. It's time to surf and shop.

Not only will these speed enhancers outrace your anxieties, they won't deprive Downtown of your crucial economic spending. Two of the sites tie in nicely to local merchants, and the third, the Walker Art Center's online gift shop, helps support a local organization.

Let HAL help

Think finding the perfect gift requires a personal touch? That there isn't some sort of machine you can just feed a few tidbits of information about a particular loved one and have it churn out the perfect gift?

Meet GIFTMIXER 3000.

This interactive online "machine" lives at giftmixer3000.com and is cleverly designed to simulate an '80s boombox so as not to frighten the technophobes. Adjust the "sliders," (simulated bass and treble controls), to indicate on a scale of one to 10 how "romantic," "adventurous," "brainy," "imaginative" and "funny" the intended recipient is. Turn the AM/FM knob-looking thing to "adult" or "kid." Then hit "go" and let GIFTMIXER 3000 shop.

A note of caution: If you're at work, make sure you mute the computer volume or wear headphones. As you adjust for each characteristic, the GIFTMIXER 3000 provides running commentary: "A five for 'romantic'? Romantic. Not romantic. You don't know, do you? You're feeling toyed with, teased even." Captions keep the soundless informed; some observations are astute ("A six for 'imaginative' is just a nine upside down"), and some are just plain random or even a tad frightening.

It doesn't take long for GIFTMIXER 3000 to blow its "I'm just a cute boombox" cover. MIXER's voice is a just-slightly friendlier version of HAL -- the mutinous computer from "2001: A Space Odyssey" -- and he gets jealous when you hover over the "Borders Gift Center" link too long. Nevertheless, he turns out the goods.

While some of MIXER's selections are fairly obvious -- such as "The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge" for a "brainy"-10-pointer -- others aren't. For example, MIXER suggests a biography of Alexander Hamilton for a top-shelf romantic. Turns out Hamilton, as the online back-of-the-book puts it, was "an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean"; the book sounds more like a soap opera (they call it a "dramatic saga") than a lecture.

You can purchase the goods online if you wish, or you can select "reserve for in-store pickup" and then select and visit the closest local Borders (the one Downtown is at 601 Hennepin Ave. S.) to get your presents in record time. Yet another time-saving option is to call and reserve the item at a store that's closer to work or home, maybe an independent shop you favor -- what GIFTMIXER 3000 doesn't know won't hurt him.

Half-off tickets

If what Aunt Martha really needs is a good laugh, check out TCtix.com. This discount ticket service offers deals on a wide variety of Twin Cities events, from ride-all-day wristbands at Mall of America's Camp Snoopy to the opera.

At press time, however, a large number of the half-off tickets were for bemusing Downtown mainstays "Don't Hug Me," a dark comedy of life and love upstate playing at Hennepin Stages, 824 Hennepin Ave. S., and "Triple Espresso," the reminiscences of three guys/comedians at the Music Box in Loring Park, 1407 Nicollet Ave. S. Instead of $22.50-$34, tickets were $11.25-$12.75 and $15-$17 respectively (plus the $2.50 service charge, which you'd get going through Ticketmaster anyway).

Unfortunately, you can neither purchase nor reserve the reduced-price tickets online. After spotting the deal, you have to trot over to Marshall Field's, 700 Nicollet Mall, Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. or Sunday, noon-5 p.m. to purchase them in person.

Creative goods

Every time you think you've thought of the perfect gift for that especially pernicious name on your list a little voice in your head says "nope, they've got that, too." Well, does so-and-so have blobby little dental floss mavens ($16)? How about a messenger bag made from an artistic billboard, such as Frank Gaard's bright and debonair boys formerly atop 1115 Hennepin Ave. S. ($58)? Or a do-it-yourself DNA storage and profiling kit ($17)?

The Walker Art Center may be closed for construction, but its gift shop isn't. For 2004, the store is online-only at shop.walkerart.org.

On the down side, purchases are online only, too; there isn't a phone-in option. However, the store seems to be bigger on the Web than it was in its former space. The online aisles are stocked with unconventional home and desk accessories ($3-$32), bags and jewelry ($16-$420), books ($15-$160), t-shirts and caps ($5-$19), posters of art at the Walker ($20) and kids' merchandise ($5-$40).

If your friend or loved one is creative but conservative, the sleek neoprene lunch bag ($26) and accordion files ($29) are sure to impress them as well as their image-conscious coworkers or clients. The retrospective coffee-table book on Frank Gehry ($85) -- the artist-architect behind the glass greenhouse fish in the Walker's sculpture garden and the exploding artichoke that is the Weisman Museum on the East Bank -- would pique their house guests. (A snow globe of the fish sculpture is available for $13 to complete the package.)

At press time, Jasper Johns' "Target" t-shirts for kids (featuring the colorful artwork, not the mega-store), were just $5 and available in sizes 6-8 and 10-12. Other inexpensive items and unique stocking stuffers include magnets (forget self-help credos, these say "DIE" or "EAT" [$3.25] or feature fine works of art, such as Franz Marc's "Blue Horses" [$3.25]) and "Closed Mondays" mugs ($6.95).

Shipping ranges from $6 to $30 for normal domestic delivery, plus the extra $6 you'll need to add on for express two-day mail at this point. International delivery is also available. Items can be shipped directly to the intended recipient; the Walker will take off the price tag and also toss in a gift card bearing your personalized message. Don't worry; it doesn't have to be as clever as the present.