When in doubt, an invigorating piece of video-game software or entertaining DVD box set makes a great gift for dads and grads - and summertime fun for all.
Let's look at the freshest offerings.
Some people like to solve crossword puzzles with ink pens. Show-offs. For the rest of us, "CrossworDS" (Nintendo) for the DS portable game system works better. You use a stylus to enter (and erase) letters on the touch-sensitive screen. More than 1,000 puzzles are included, becoming more challenging as you prove your skill. Also on board, Wordsearch and Anagrams.
Likewise new and rating high on the most popular of video-game systems are DS action-and role-playing titles "The World Ends With You" and "Finale Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates" (Enix) and "Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword" (Techmo), plus the Bejiing-2008-themed "Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games," in which the cartoony superstars of Nintendo and Sega compete.
If the PSP is your portable system of choice, let me recommend "MLB 08: The Show" (Sony), and not just because Phillie Ryan Howard is on the cover. Also noteworthy are the action adventures "Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII" (Square Enix), the unique, drumming-for-victory "Patapon" and "Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee 2" (both Sony).
PS3 PICKS: For amateur vocalists (and TV contest wannabes), Sony's popular "SingStar" game series lends a thrill as you trill. The first edition customized for the Playstation 3 is called just "Singstar" and boasts a great set of tunes, from Beck's "Loser" and Britney's "Toxic" to OutKast's "Hey Ya" and U2's "Beautiful Day." Plus, this version uniquely downloads extra songs and videos from SingStore and uploads your own photos and performances to My SingStarOnline. Requires SingStar microphones. It's compatible with the Playstation EyeToy camera.
Also hot and happening on PS3 are the European soccer match "UEFA Euro 2008" (EA); bargain-priced driving game "Grand Turismo 5 Prologue" (Sony), employing the new Dual Shock 3 controller; "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08" (EA), which lets players import their own faces into the game, and the title all fanboys have been panting for - "Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots," hitting stores June 12.
PS2 LIVES: Game-show devotees get a big kick out of Sony's "Buzz" series for the PS2, wherein participants (up to eight simultaneously) respond to questions by tapping on the Buzz Buzzers.
Newest and niftiest is "Buzz! The Hollywood Quiz," which challenges your show-biz knowledge with more than 5,000 questions and hundreds of movie clips (from "Antz" to "Vertigo"). A Playstation EyeToy can put you on screen, and there's an option to take over as Quizmaster, posing your own questions.
Also new and hot on PS2, the role-playing game "Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES" (Atlus USA), "Pro Evolution Soccer 2008" (Konami) and "Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures" (Lucas Arts), wherein all characters and props of the first three movies are played by, um, Legos.
WII IS FOR WEE! Almost every kind of board and puzzle game has been translated into a pumped-up video version. "Boom Blox" (EA), billed as a Steven Spielberg/Electronic Arts production, evolves block-building games (think "Jenga") into a major extravaganza. More than 300 levels of single or multiplayer action are available - and blow up real good. Or create your own level and share it via WiiConnect24.
OTHER WII WONDERS: Exercise becomes a fun game on "Wii Fit." And driving's a cartoon blast with the "Mario Kart Wii" especially when using the accessory wireless wheel (both Nintendo).
XBOX 360 MARKS THE SPOT: "Grand Theft Auto IV" (Rockstar Games) has been hogging most of the player action on Xbox 360 and PS3 lately. But it's hardly the only recent title of note. Other high scorers include "UEFA Euro 2008" (EA), the tactical shooter "Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas 2" (Ubisoft) and the hack-and-slash "Ninja Gaiden" Techmo/Microsoft), due out on June 15.
ALL BOXED UP: Speaking of Spielberg again, the first three of his Indiana Jones action titles, developed with George Lucas, have finally come to DVD, boxed up as "The Adventure Collection" (Paramount). Both warming viewers to the fourth Indie flick and reminding us how fine (OK, superior) its predecessors were, the package includes sharpened video and surroundsound tracks.
And there are 12 all-new features - including how-they-done-it documentaries like "The Mystery of the Melting Face," storyboards (great for fledgling filmmakers) and a demo of that new "LEGO Indiana Jones" video game.
Saturday morning TV - especially the rip-roaring adventure dramas - was an early inspiration for Spielberg and Lucas. You can see what some of them looked like in "Hi Ya, Kids!! '50s Saturday Morning" (Shout Factory), a collection of black-and-white filmed adventures such as "Flash Gordon," "Sky King," "The Cisco Kid" and "Sheena, Queen of the Jungle."
Also packed on the four-disc set are puppet show perennials like "Kukla, Fran and Ollie," "The Paul Winchell Show" and "Howdy Doody," plus the very first interactive TV show, "Winky Dink and You." Many look incredibly (and refreshingly) primitive by today's standards.
Another bunch of '50s viewers grew up to write and perform on the early, golden years of "Saturday Night Live." Just out is "The Complete Third Season, 1977-78" (Universal), when Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin invented the Coneheads, and Bill Murray and Gilda Radner became the Nerds next door.
Killer hosts that season included Steve "King Tut" Martin and O.J. Simpson, with musical scoring by the likes of Ray Charles, Billy Joel, Elvis Costello and the homegrown Blues Brothers.
TV also inspired "Soap," a prime-time satire of daytime soap operas. Many a TV taboo tumbled and strange laughs were generated on the 1977-81 series, which dealt with two dysfunctional families - one wealthy, one blue-collar. Also noteworthy, the show made stars of Billy Crystal and Robert Guillaume. Now all 90 episodes are packed into "Soap: The Complete Series" (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment). The 12-disc box is no thicker than three DVDs thanks to an innovative spindle tray.
MUSIC BUFFS, REJOICE! British documentary TV maker Tony Palmer's energized and enlightening history of popular music, "All You Need Is Love" (MVD Visuals), has finally landed on our shores. Created in the 1970s, episodes focus on ragtime, jazz, blues, vaudeville and music hall, Broadway, swing, R&B, country and several shades of rock.
Many a rare performance clip was uncovered, and the interview list includes Bing Crosby, Richard Rodgers, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Bill Monroe and the just-passed Bo Diddley(available at SeeofSound.com). *