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How do you choose a stocking stuffer for the science geek on your gift list? If it were a yes-or-no, alive-or-dead kind of question, you could settle the matter using ThinkGeek's Schrödinger's Cat Executive Decision Maker. But there are so many geeky goodies out there that even Sheldon Cooper, the alpha geek on "The Big Bang Theory" sitcom, would find it hard to calculate the solution.
Fortunately, we have computer software and social media to help us select the Science Geek Gift of 2013. Here are this year's five finalists, plus a goodly number of honorable mentions. Cast a vote for your favorite and you could help someone win a goodie bag.
Schrödinger's Cat Executive Decision Maker
You can be the office oracle when you put this $14.99 battery-powered decision box in your cubicle. Open a sliding door, and the ghostly image of a cat blinks between alive and dead, just as it would in physicist Erwin Schrödinger's famous gedankenexperiment. If the cat ends up alive, that means yes. If it's dead, that's no. And don't worry: "No real kittehs were harmed in the production of this product," ThinkGeek promises. Suggested by Facebook fan Cathi Joseph, who says "it combines quantum physics with indecision, a perfect match."
Human anatomy felt set
If I had one of these when I was a kid, I might have ended up going to medical school, or maybe cutting internal organs out of felt. Cake in the Morn says its fuzzy fabric re-creation of the human body is used around the world in schools, homes and medical offices. It's available from Etsy for $25 (for the 14-inch-tall model) or $100 (for the 4-foot-tall model). Suggested by Facebook fan Heidi Pross Gray, who says it's "pretty geeky and super cool!" Cake in the Morn has lots of other cool creations, including felt sets for fractions, plant cells, animal cells and meteorology.
Kerbal Space Program
This isn't merely a video game — it's a virtual space program that sells for $26.99, backed up by its own discussion forum and YouTube video series. Here's what Kevin Conner, the Facebook fan who made the gift suggestion, says about Kerbal: "A fun cartoony spaceflight simulator that forces you to learn trajectory, thrust and all the important rocket science stuff needed to blow up your astronauts." Conner points to several other brainy games from Steam, including Papers Please, Antichamber and The Stanley Parable — plus other gift ideas. You'll have to check out this Facebook posting to take them all in.
"Does it get any geekier than the Arduino?" says Facebook fan Mike Lewinski, who made the gift suggestion. Arduino is basically a standardized electronics platform that you can use to create a host of goodies. Tinkerers have used Arduino kits to build Love-O-Meters, binary clocks, thermal imaging cameras and even nanosatellites. The Arduino Starter Kit is available from Amazon for $122.42.
Michele Banks suggests her "Blue Mitosis" scarf ($55), which brings out the beauty in cell division. "It's perfect for biologists, doctors, science teachers or for any chic geek," she notes in her Artologica online shop on Etsy. If mitosis isn't your thing, Banks also offers green and pink neuron scarves, a colorful Petri dish scarf, sunspots and a deep red electrocardiogram in silk. For the geeky guys on your gift list, consider a Sheldon shirt from SheldonShirts.com.
- Cona Coffee Maker (for a high-class cup of joe)
- Science bracelets (brain cells, bacteria, DNA, mitochondria and more)
- Hubble Star Cards (trading cards for the cosmos)
- Police Box Ring (for the Doctor Who fan in your life)
Which of these gifts would you choose as Science Geek Gift of the Year? Cast a vote for your favorite of the five, or feel free to leave a write-in vote for one of the honorable mentions or something completely different. You can leave your write-in vote as a blog comment, or as a comment on the NBC News Science Facebook page. Deadline for voting is noon ET Dec. 9.
The person behind the most popular gift suggestion will be eligible to receive a gift package containing a 2014 Year in Space Calendar, a signed copy of "The Case for Pluto," a slightly used Black Hole Starter Kit, a pair of Microsoft Research 3-D glasses made from high-quality cardboard, and any other geeky goodies I can come up with by then. May the oddities be ever in your favor!
Update for 6 p.m. ET Dec. 9: The results are definitely in for the Science Geek Gift of the Year. Kerbal Space Program takes the prize for 2013, and Kevin Conner is the winner of the geek goodie bag. Stay tuned for more about Kerbal later this week. Thanks to everyone who sent in suggestions and voted in our contest!
More gift ideas for your brainy pals:
- Laser beam games and other geeky gift ideas
- Tech the halls! Great gadgets for under $100
- Science books for all sorts of tables
- 5 shopping apps to get you the best prices
Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the NBC News Science Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding +Alan Boyle to your Google+ circles. To keep up with NBCNews.com's stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.