I proudly qualify as a nerd. I either own or want everything on this list. Who better to ask what nerds want than a self-proclaimed nerd?
To begin with, let's get one thing straight: Not all nerdy guys are the same. You've got sciency, mathy, and techie nerds, gamers, fantasy buffs, pop culture enthusiasts, cosplayers, political trolls, the ones who read nothing but comic books or do nothing but watch movies, and all-around geniuses. And a bunch of others. Of course, although you do have some crossovers (like hackers who love cats or lab dudes who also know their way around a kitchen), they're all different, so they'll like different things.
Nevertheless, you'll find some really great ideas here for the nerd in your life, no matter how old he is. I link to the places where you can buy some of these items, but you should use this list as an idea-generator.
Gadgets, Games, and Gizmos a Nerd Wants
- A cool engraved wood phone case carved with an illustration of the Millennium Falcon. (The Engravers Dungeon on Etsy does beautiful work. They have tons of different wood phone covers and they have posters, too.)
- A drone. There are mini-drones that don't cost too much.
- Robots. Any kind of robots.
- Nerds like to have plenty of flash drives on hand. This is because we need lots of memory and might be too paranoid to back stuff up to the iCloud. Does your nerd want a steampunk flash drive made from a glowing filament radio tube when you plug it in? Or how about one with 512 gigabytes of capacity?
- 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Earbuds are the highest-rated, I swear they could make a can opener sound like Mozart. He probably has earbuds already, but does he have the best earbuds you can get?
- The Albert Math Clock. A clock that makes him do math to find out what time it is. So cool.
- One credit card that holds all his cards in one. Stratos makes one. You just swipe all your cards into the app and it consolidates all your info onto one card.
- Lord of the Rings chess pieces. Orcs versus trolls!
- Does he have a digital coin bank? Not only is it a tidy place to collect pocket change, but it keeps a running tally of how much there is.
- Klingon Monopoly! If you conquer all the systems in the galaxy, victory is yours!
Gifts for Science, Biology, and Physics Nerds
- A tiny solar system in a glass jar that he can carry around in his pocket. Eight planets, from Mercury to Neptune, depicted in miniature at a scale of 1:5,000,000,000 but to the correct relative sizes. He can feel like he's got the universe in his hand.
- Did you know that you can buy owl pellets online? That's right, you can give him his own owl barf balls full of the indigestible fur, bones, and teeth of prey.
- This octopus encased in resin makes a great paperweight.
- It would probably be presumptuous to buy him a real creature (like a live tarantula or a pet chameleon), so how about a carnivorous plant like a Venus flytrap, instead?
How to Say "Happy Birthday" to a Nerd
Aur Onnad Meren!
Great Gifts for Bookish Nerds
Intellectual Bookish Types
- Get him a hard-cover or first-edition copy of any of Stephen Hawking's books, like The Universe in a Nutshell, Black Holes and Baby Universes, or A Brief History of Time.
- Arguably, by Christopher Hitchens, will appeal to anyone who likes to think outside the box.
- For a pop culture nerd, I suggest Slaughterhouse 90210 by Maris Kreizman, which is both funny and smart.
- Luke Skywalker Can't Read: And Other Geeky Truths by Ryan Britt: A collection of brilliant essays on all things pop culture and nerdy, including pieces like A Back to the Future Theory, The Sounds of Science Fiction, and The Birds the Bees and Barbarella.
- If he likes mythology, he might like Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie or American Gods by Neil Gaiman: Both put mythological beings in tense contemporary settings.
- When to Rob a Bank by Steven D. Levitt and Steven J. Dubner. If he loved Freakonomics, he'll love this one, which is a collection of the best posts from a really great economics blog.
Graphic Novel Nerds
- If he's already read Adventure Time, Watchmen (Alan Moore), everything by Daniel Clowes, and Saga, you might get him a full collection of all Neil Gaiman's The Sandman comics or buy him some old vintage Marvel comic books.
- The Unwritten by Mike Carey & Peter Gross, which combines literary references with comics, is a book nerd's dream come true.
Sci-Fi or Comics Nerds
- The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains: Oddball Criminals from Comic Book History has vintage comic-book art and hilarious commentary by author Jon Morris.
- Any book from this list of must-read sci-fi authors would surely appeal: Ursula K. Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, Octavia Butler, Asimov, William Gibson, Ernest Cline, Aldous Huxley, Robert Heinlein, Clive Barker, or Neal Stephenson.
Manga Lovers (Otaku)
Death Note, Bleach, Mushishi, Akira, One Punch Man, and anything by Junji Ito.
Gift Ideas for Travel and Cartography Nerds
- An internet road map depicting the early years of the web (the PasteUpStore on Etsy has a large collection of beautiful maps from which to choose).
- Author Rebecca Solnit teamed up with several artists to create three unusual atlases (one for San Francisco, one for New York, and one for New Orleans) that not only map out each city, but highlight landmarks, sites, and areas where important political, historical, and cultural events took place. Maps like these change the way you think about a place, and new thoughts are something a nerd always appreciates.
- How about a cool thermo-elastic, liquid-filled military-grade compass with a floating dial?
- An all-leather roll-up pouch to hold all his electronic chargers, cables, adapters, a USB, SD/SIM cards, and all the other things to keep his gadgets going when he's on the road.
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Nerds Love Action Figures
Maybe not all, but most nerds like figurines. Not only are they collectible, they're fun to play with, and they make excellent company. He might line them up on his desk or stand them in the shower. Or maybe he has a special display case for them (if not, that's a great gift idea!).
- A transformer that morphs from a warrior into a shrimp.
- Of course, any Pokémon or Funko Pop figure will appeal. Just input those terms into a search and you'll find lots of options.
- I love Godzilla. I have a vast collection of Godzilla figurines, too.
- A statue of Godzilla on a rampage in the garden, eating gnomes. A twist on the same old garden gnome statue.
Gift Ideas for Fashion Nerds
- A Star Wars schematic shirt that's printed with the blueprints and design sketches of many of the vehicles and gadgets you'll find in Star Wars.
- Some Pokémon socks so even if he has to wear serious, boring clothes to work, at least his feet will make him happy.
- Pac Man suit: If he does have to wear a suit, how about an old-school Pac Man one? They call it a "costume," but it's really cool and I wear mine whenever I can.
- What's better than a bowtie? A different bowtie for each workday of the week: a Star Wars bowtie, one from Dr. Who, a galaxy bowtie, Pokémon bowtie, and a bowtie made from real wood.
- If you do a search for "playable electronic rock guitar shirt," that's just what you'll find. Hint, hint.
Gifts for a Gamer Nerd
- Did you know that the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab makes a line of RPG-scented oils inspired by his favorite fantasy RPG with names like dwarven ale, orc, bard, fighter, cleric, halfling, druid, gnome, elf, paladin, mage, ranger, neutral, chaotic, lawful, rogue, good, and evil? For example, fighter smells like leather, steel, musk, and blood. And who knew evil could smell so good?
- If your nerd guy prefers computer games, download one for him: Borderlands, Undertale, Cuphead, and Portal are great.
- If he has a console, Nintendo DS games like Pokémon and Legend of Zelda are sure to please.
- If he's already done all that, he might not have played Spore, which is old-school but very fun. You start as a single-celled organism floating in the ocean, grow legs to walk onto land and join a herd and find allies, then finally morph into a complex, urban-dwelling creature.
- Of course he'll probably want a t-shirt, action figure, or poster depicting his favorite game.
Gifts for Nerds Who Like to Play With Toys
- A battery-operated rubber band machine gun for attacking friends and coworkers with harmless rubber bands.
- An ornithopter, a beautiful flying bird machine like Leonardo da Vinci's that requires no batteries.
- LEGO adhesive tape. Have you seen this stuff? It's long strips of LEGO base texture you can stick it anywhere (on the wall, up your pant leg, down the hallway) to make lines, roads, and rivers of places to play LEGO on.
- Epic perplexus is a 3D maze inside a plastic sphere. You turn the ball to move a little metal ball along an extremely complicated passageway. Moving that little ball along 22 feet of twisted, tangled track through 125 tricky barriers will help him waste hours of time, and he'll have you to thank!
- How about a custom-made made lightsaber in the color and style of his choice?
- How about a table-top pingpong setup? They make kits that come with paddles, balls, and a little net that suctions across a regular dinner table. Just google "table tennis to go" and you'll find lots of options.
Nerdy Home Decor Gift Ideas
- Clever pint glasses. What nerd doesn't want clever beer pint glasses? I own these Heroes of Science ones depicting Nicola Tesla, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Albert Einstein.
- A Viking stein carved out of real horn. If your nerd guy prefers mead, he'll probably want a one of these.
- Along with pint glasses, we nerds need plenty of coffee mugs. I love my build-on LEGO mug, my Rorschach inkblot mug, the one that turns a different color when I pour hot coffee into it... a great coffee cup can start your day off right.
- I want bots that can help me clean my house. A robotic vacuum cleaner, for example, or a robot that will deliver me a beer (in my Albert Einstein pint glass).
- Chemist's spice rack. I love my spice rack that looks like test tubes. Pretending to be a chemist instead of a cook never gets old.
- Death Star Popcorn Popper. I can't tell you how much I love mine. There were tears of joy when I opened that gift. It matches my Death Star tea diffuser.
- And if you search for "OCD cutting board," you'll find a wide range to choose from. These are perfect for anyone who wants to make every mouthful exactly the same size.
Generically Nerdy Toys to Give a Co-Worker
- Wooden shooter that flings rubber bands, with a target.
- A decision-making paperweight so when he can't decide, he spins a little dial to let fate decide for him.
- A weird plant for his desk. Or some nerdy tension-releasing squeeze toy. Or just get the guy a sixpack and call it a day!
- A gag gift he can use at work: How about a phantom keystroker from ThinkGeek? Stick this little gadget into any USB port and it wreaks all kinds of havoc on their computer (turns on ALL CAPS, makes random mouse movements, and sends all kinds of comedically confusing messages). Fun for all!
Fun Activities to Gift Your Nerd Friend: Places to Go and Geek Out!
If your nerd friend has everything a nerd needs, consider gifting him an activity rather than an object. Here are some suggestions:
- Take him to the Museum of Science.
- Take him to the park with some props and reenact some battle from your favorite movie. Fan wars!
- Go catch some Pokemon together.
- Play paintball, pool, ultimate Frisbee, Quidditch, or pingpong.
- Go to a video arcade, or one that's full of vintage pinball machines.
- Grab some tickets to a Comic-Con or Anime convention.
Tidal Loans on April 17, 2019:
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