2007 Grey Matters Gift Guide

Published on Sunday, December 02, 2007 in , , , , , , , , , , ,

Breaking VegasIt's holiday time once again! If you're looking for brain straining and entertaining gift ideas, you've come to the right place! Even better, many of the links I'll share with you will allow you to compare prices, so you can get the best deal on those gifts which strike your fancy.

I live in Las Vegas, so I'm going to start close to home. Back in the late '80s and early '90s, a team of students and faculty from MIT formed a blackjack team that used mathematics, memory training, and nerve to take Las Vegas' blackjack tables for millions! The History Channel produced a documentary about the MIT blackjack team titled Breaking Vegas. One of the original team members, Ben Mezrich, has even written a detailed account of his time with the team, calling his book Bringing Down The House. We've all fantasized about winning millions in Vegas, and these true accounts show just what it takes, as well as the rewards and consequences.

Among the biggest news in entertainment this season is the return of Futurama! Among its fans, Futurama is known for including numerous examples of mathematical humor, some of it very advanced! If you know (or are) a Futurama fan, you can get caught up with the series by picking up vols. 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the series.

Once they're caught up, check out the newly-released Futurama movie, Bender's Big Score! The 90-minute movie opens, not surprisingly, with humorous references to their being canceled. After a few jabs at FOX, naked spamming aliens take control of Bender and make him travel through time to steal histories greatest treasures! Don't believe me? Check out the trailer! Among the bonuses on the DVD are a math lecture from the FuturamaMath.com team, called Bite My Shiny Metal X, a complete episode of Everybody Loves Hypnotoad, A Terrifying Message from Al Gore, and much more!

Of course, I can't mention popular math-based shows without mentioning Numb3rs! Now in its 4th season, it's proved that math can be entertaining, interesting and useful. Seasons 1, 2 and 3 are now available on DVD. The Charlievision sequences that help explain the mathematical concepts have proved especially popular with fans and educators. For those who want to learn more about the math explored in the first 3 seasons, the book Numbers behind Numb3rs: Solving Crime with Mathematics provides more details about them.

It's one thing learning about somebody else's skills in math and/or memory. Maybe you're interested in improving your own skill in these areas as part of your New Year's resolutions. But how do you go about it?

There are many fun ways to improve your memory, but as starting points, I would highly recommend the Harry Lorayne classics, The Memory Book and Super Power Memory.

For practicing the memory techniques you learn, I'm going to shamelessly self-promote my own memory training CD-ROM, Train Your Brain and Entertain (TYBE), available for both Mac OS X (view Flash demo) and Windows (view Flash demo). If you would like to try before you buy, try out the free lite version. You can download TYBELite for Mac here, and you can download TYBELite for Windows here. If you decide you like the software, but you believe it is too late to get the CD-ROM in time, it's also available for purchase as a download!

How about math? Wouldn't it be great to get better and faster at math? For improving your speed math skills, I highly recommend Secrets of Mental Math, Math Magic, Speed Mathematics and the classic Trachtenberg Speed System of Basic Mathematics.

Speed math is one thing, but how do you make math in general interesting enough to inspire further exploration? As anyone who knows will tell you, the best answer are the books of Martin Gardner. A good place to start is with his book Mathematics, Magic and Mystery, which uses magic tricks to inspire interest in mathematical principles. Martin Gardner's collections of his Scientific American columns, such as Hexaflexagons and Other Mathematical Diversions, Second Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions, and The Unexpected Hanging and Other Mathematical Diversions, are great ways to dive into math.

Martin Gardner isn't the only author who can make math fun, though. If you have a daughter in middle school who is struggling with math, Danica McKellar (whom you may remember as Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years) has written a book called Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail. For the more advanced math student, Prisoner's Dilemma is a fascinating study of John von Neumann's development of game theory. I posted about the basics of the Prisoner's Dilemma back in May, but this book goes deeper into it, discussing the effect this dilemma had on everything from simple everyday human interactions all the way up to the atomic bomb and the cold war!

Reading isn't the only way to better yourself! If your loved one is into brain training, how about giving them a black and crimson Nintendo DS Lite that comes bundled with Brain Age2? They'll also be able to play the original Brain Age and Big Brain Academy on it, as well!

Let's not forget about gifts that keep on giving. You can keep your loved ones smart all year with subscriptions to magazines like GAMES, Scientific American Mind and Mental Floss (a personal favorite).

If you have a loved one who regularly read Grey Matters or similar sites, please take a look around the Grey Matters recommended products store, which allows you to compare prices on popular items, and the Grey Matters original products store, where you'll find unique gifts that aren't available anywhere else. Happy holidays!

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