The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

December 24, 2014

The Sledgehammer 2014 Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide: Procrastination is the Last Refuge of the Scoundrel

Filed under: Holidays, shopping — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 2:09 am

Well, you blew it again.  This year, you swore that you would do your Christmas shopping at a reasonable time so you wouldn’t need to scramble at the last minute.  You figured that you’d have plenty of time to do it, but just never got around to it somehow.  As the time creeps closer, you think you’ll take a quick trip to the mall and get everything done at once,  And then you realize that this is what you’re going to have to wade through to get to the mall…

And it suddenly dawns on you that maybe you’re in just a bit of trouble here.  Once again, you’re doing your shopping at the last minute, and once again, you’re pretty much doomed.  Well, I’m here to help…  Sort of.  You see, by the point you’ve waited this long, pretty much all the good stuff has been taken, packed up and placed under some unsuspecting tree.  By this point, you’re pretty much stuck with whatever happens to be left, and there’s a pretty good chance someone is going to be very disappointed in you.  But there’s hope.  In what has become a more-or-less annual tradition (although I didn’t do one last year due to spending most of the Holiday season in the Caribbean) allow me to present my Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide, filled with ideas for stuff you should be able to easily find on the shelves.  Of course, there’s typically a very good reason that most of this stuff is still sitting on the shelves, but that’s just a minor detail, right?  Anyway, without any further ado, let’s get to the gift guide, which you will find after the jump.


February 13, 2013

Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup 2013: Love Conquers All (Except for Bad Taste)

Filed under: Holidays, shopping — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 11:30 pm

Between all that stuff, you ought to be able to find something to regret the next morning.

Once again, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and with it comes the usual shelves full of random merchandise to help you to celebrate the season in what the world’s various marketing departments and greeting card manufacturers have deemed to be an acceptable manner.  Whether you’re wading through the obligatory pile of Vaguely Valentine themed cards that get passed out to everyone in your kid’s third grade class, trying to navigate an awkward teenage crush, looking to win the heart of the one you’re convinced you’ll be spending the rest of your life with, or just trying to keep them around, there’s no shortage of ways to express whatever sentiment happens to be appropriate for the situation at hand.  Naturally, some ways are better than others.  And naturally, some ways are not particularly advisable for anyone really.  It’s the stuff in the latter category that holds the most interest to me, mostly because with some of these items the whole “Who in their right mind thought THIS was a good idea?” factor of some of this stuff is off the chart.

This marks the sixth year that I have done the Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup on this Blog, and it remains one of my favorite posts to write each year.  Shockingly, there seems to be a lot less of the truly egregious examples of bad taste that have characterized the Kitsch Roundup than there have been in previous years (looking back at the earlier posts, I think the 2011 post is going to be pretty tough to top) but that doesn’t necessarily mean that marketers of Valentine’s Day-themed merchandise have had a sudden bout of sanity, just that not quite as many of the usual bad ideas seem to have made it out onto the shelves this year.  There also seems to be a number of the more “popular” items from previous Kitsch Roundups that continue to show up on the shelves for some odd reason.  As usual, this is not intended to be a gift guide of any sort; quite the opposite in fact.  I make the assumption that most people reading this Blog will have enough common sense to realize this, but these days you never know.  Either way, you’ve been properly warned.

Anyway, without further ado, it’s time for another excursion into the dark corners of the seasonal shelves for another look at ill-advised Valentine’s Day merchandise.

Previous  Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundups:


December 20, 2012

The 2012 Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide: The Thought Only Counts If You Give One

Filed under: Holidays, shopping — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:38 am

Whatever you do, don’t say a word about his purse.

You know, one of these years you’re going to actually get all your Christmas shopping done in a reasonable amount of time.  Or at least that’s what you keep telling yourself.  And yet, once again you’ve found yourself having to shop at the last minute, and naturally, all the good stuff has been taken already.  Naturally, your choices might be a bit limited.  Actually, you’re pretty much doomed at this point, but maybe if you play your cards right, you can end up slightly less doomed than you would be otherwise.  These… are not those gifts.  Think of this as a “what not to do” list of sorts.  After the jump, you’ll find some of this year’s hottest bad gift ideas.

Previous Gift Guides and other Christmas posts:


August 20, 2011

Lost in the Baking Aisle

Filed under: Food, shopping — Brian Lutz @ 12:42 am

Image credit: Flickr user sea turtle (Creative Commons)

Picture, if you will, an ordinary American supermarket.  From the outside, it looks just like any other supermarket.  And yet, when a stranger arrives from a distant part of town to pick up a few groceries, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s something unusual about this place.  Nothing seems to be where it’s supposed to be.  Where he expects to find cereal, there are cleaning products.  The bakery has been mysteriously replaced with a floral department.  And the produce department is on the wrong side of the store.  This man thought that he was just making a trip to the store to do his grocery shopping, but instead he has bought himself a trip…  to the Twilight Zone.

OK, so apparently I do a pretty lousy Rod Serling impersonation here, but I’m sure at lease some of you can probably relate.  As a single guy who for some reason finds it necessary to eat food every so often to survive (it’s a pesky habit I just can’t quite seem to get rid of for some reason,) I find myself in grocery stores on a fairly regular basis.  For the vast majority of those impromptu shopping trips, I stick to one or two particular stores (most often the QFC in Downtown, or the Fred Meyer in Overlake) and may occasionally make a trip to a different store for something specific (like the occasional Trader Joe’s run, for example.)  Given the comprehensive selection of groceries available between these two stores, I rarely find it necessary to go elsewhere for my grocery needs, but every so often some situation arises where I might be in a different part of town and need to grab a couple of things, and there’s a store that just happens to be along the way.  So instead of making the trip over to your usual store on the way home, I just stop into the other store.  It’s got the same sign on the front as the one you usually go to, so just how different can it be?

It turns out it can be a lot more different than you’d think.  There are some chains that manage to standardize their store layouts to at least some degree, but in a lot of cases these days, supermarkets just end up being put wherever there happens to be some room to put one, which doesn’t always end up being as convenient as some people might like it to be.  The Downtown Bellevue QFC is a good example of this.  It’s a nice store, but it’s also an older store (built in the mid Sixties, if I recall from some of my badly neglected newspaper research) that appears to have been expanded on a number of occasions over the years, resulting in a particularly odd layout that was rather confusing for quite a while until I got used to it.  Even now I still have trouble finding stuff on occasion in that store.  Another interesting example is the Broadway Market QFC over on Capitol Hill in Seattle, which is a grocery store that’s basically been integrated into the first floor of a mini-mall with a number of other shops on the upper level.  But in a nutshell, what this amounts to is that quite often, it can be a lot more difficult to standardize the layout of a grocery store than it might look.  And it also means that if you wander too far from your usual store, it can be a lot easier to get yourself lost in a typical American supermarket than you think.

 I mean, this isn’t supposed to be difficult.  It’s a grocery store, for crying out loud.  And when you’re at a grocery store, it would seem not unreasonable to expect that you would be able to find groceries.  And to be fair, when you look around you, the items in the aisle surrounding you would seem to fall more less into that definition.  The only problem is that none of those items happen to be the ones you’re looking for.  All you’re trying to do is get some milk and something to make for dinner tomorrow night, and practically everything in the store is in the wrong place.  Eventually you do manage to get your bearings (although it can be surprisingly easy to end up making an entire loop of the outer perimeter of the store before you somehow manage to stumble onto the dairy case).  And even once you’ve managed that, it’s rarely the end of your troubles.  You’d think that on a walkthrough of a grocery store an entire aisle jam-packed with 200 different varieties of sugar-soaked breakfast cereal in boxes that look like an explosion at the Technicolor factory would be a rather difficult thing to miss, but you’d be wrong on that one, especially when it happens to be on the exact opposite side of where it’s “supposed” to be.  And by the time you’re trying to find the pasta and wondering why there’s an entire shelf full of moderately overpriced organic flours and bulk beans sitting where the canned veggies are supposed to be, you come to the conclusion that you’re lost.  In a freakin’ grocery store, of all places.  Eventually, you get sick of aimless wandering, go pay for the few items you managed to stumble onto, and head off, wondering why the heck you didn’t just go to your regular store.  By now, the five minutes you might have saved by going to the more convenient store along the way instead of going a bit out of your way to your regular store on the way home have inevitably been wasted on aimless wandering, and there’s a good chance you didn’t even manage to find everything you had on your shopping list.  At least you learned a valuable lesson in the process, right?  Right?  Not that it’ll stop you from repeating the same thing over again at a different time in a different store. 

You may not actually be shopping in the Twilight Zone, but that doesn’t mean you need a creepy narrator or a slow descent into madness to get yourself lost in the supermarket.

February 27, 2011

How Luxury is Made – A Visit to the Hermès Festival des Métiers

Filed under: shopping — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 1:14 am

Although I’ve never been particularly good at dressing the part, it seems that I live in a rather fashionable neighborhood these days.  With next-door neighbors with names like Louis Vutton, Jimmy Choo and Salvatore Ferragmo, I figured from day one when I moved into this place that I’ve never had much chance of keeping up, and an offhand trip to Neiman-Marcus while killing some time one day pretty much confirmed that I’ve got a long way to go before I can afford any of this stuff.  Actually that’s not true;  I can probably find a few things at some of these shops that I could afford if I was to eliminate some unnecessary expenses like food and electricity.  Sure I’d starve in the dark, but at least I’d look really snappy while I was doing it, right?

Although I’m (currently) not part of the intended audience for the really high-end stuff you’ll find around here, it’s clear that someone is, as the Bravern hosts a number of high-end stures you won’t find anywhere else in the Seattle area, one of which is the only Hermès boutique in the Pacific Northwest.  Normally, I wouldn’t have any particular reason to go anywhere near the place, but during the past week they have been hosting an event in an unoccupied store space at the Bravern called the Festival des Métiers (which translates to “Festival of Crafts.”  In essence, this event (for which Seattle is the first stop on what is expected to be a worldwide tour, with stops in Chicago and Washington DC to follow this one) is a chance for them to bring some of their master craftsmen (and women) out of the workshops in France to their customers to demonstrate their skills, and show how some of their most popular items are handmade.  Even though I seriously doubt I’ll ever buy any of these items, I’ve always had a keen interest in seeing how things are made (a marathon of the Science Channel’s How It’s Made show can easily cause me to spend a whole weekend on the couch without even noticing,) so yesterday I made the short trip over to the Bravern to check this out. 

There were a number of different craftspeople on hand demonstrating the making of shirts, ties, leather goods, watches, jewelry, and even saddles (which is where  Hermès got its start.)  Even with all the demonstrations on hand, the big attention-grabber seemed to be the demonstration of how Hermès famous silk scarves are screenprinted, aided no doubt by the two charming French men performing the printing and providing an interesting commentary on the process.  After the jump, you will find a number of additional photos of this process, along with some facts that I picked up along the way.  I don’t think I’m going to be rushing out and buying any of this stuff anytime soon, but I will say that this might be the first time that I’ve ever found myself thinking that such high-end luxury goods might not entirely be a waste of money.  If nothing else, I can certainly see where the high prices come from, and can appreciate the effort that goes into making such goods by hand. 


December 22, 2010

Coal is Overrated: The 2010 Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide

Filed under: Holidays, shopping — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:53 am

Admit it, you’ve been putting off your Christmas shopping until the last minute.  Again.  Just like you swore you wouldn’t do a year ago.  And the year before that,  And the one before that.  And pretty much every year since 1987 for that matter.  And, just as usual, you haven’t got a clue what to get anyone.  Yes, it sounds like there’s yet another Yuletide disaster brewing under the tree.  You need help and you need it fast.  Well, we’re here to help…  Sort of. 

Once again, it’s time for the annual (in spite of better judgment) Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide, an ever-so-slightly popular list of some of the hottest (or otherwise) Christmas gifts that’ll be gracing the finest closeout racks and bargain bins three days after Christmas.  Guaranteed to cause blank stares, or your money back (you DID save the receipt, didn’t you?  No?  Well then, tough luck kid.)  As usual, I don’t actually endorse (or even recommend, for that matter) any of these items for use as Christmas presents and/or doorstops, and I feel it necessary to note that if I receive any of these items under the tree on Christmas day I’ll spend the next six months coming up with fun and exciting new ways to ruin your lives.  Why do I bring this up?  Oh, no reason really.  Just carry on with your shopping and think nothing of it.  Anyway, the roundup begins, as usual, after the jump.

Other Christmas gift and/or kitsch roundups on this Blog:


March 10, 2010

All Dressed Up and Going Nowhere Fast: The Not-So-Secret Life of the Department Store Mannequin

Filed under: shopping — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:31 am


 You see them all the time, but hardly ever give much thought to them.  That’s pretty much the idea, really.  Mannequins are designed for one purpose:  To stand around all day and (most of the time) look fashionable.  Not that the job is all fun and games, of course.  After all, how would you like have to stand around all day in public wearing nothing but underwear (or, if you happened to end up in the jewelry department, quite possibly even less?)  Furthermore, it seems almost be more the exception than the rule for mannequins these days to receive the full complement of body parts which us humans have become accustomed to as standard equipment…  Then again, as inanimate slabs of vaguely human-shaped plastic and fiberglass, they tend to be a few parts short of being capable of much complaint as well.  Mostly they just silently stand around and do the job they were designed to do, but on occasion a mannequin or two manages to stand out from the anonymous crowd.  After the jump, we’ll take a look at a few of these mannequins, all dressed up and going nowhere fast.


January 2, 2010

Well, You Did Say You Wanted Screaming Deals

Filed under: Random Stuff, shopping — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 2:28 am

Upon visiting the local Target this afternoon, most of the Christmas merchandise had left the store, and what remained carried 75% off tags (nothing I couldn’t live without, most of what’s left was the decorative stuff they bought a couple truckloads too much of.)  In the spot that the Christmas merchandise had spent the last two months in, I came across this: 

While the folks at Target are no strangers to questionable color schemes in the seasonal department, even by their standards this one is pushing it.  I don’t begrudge them a bit of price slashing here and there; they do plenty of it, but they’re usually quieter about the whole thing.  It’s just that  these signs are, to put it bluntly, obnoxious, almost as though the place got attacked by an Old Navy in the middle of the night.  I’m half-afraid to wander through this department for fear of being ambushed by a used car salesman. 

Between typefaces that look like they were designed primarily to speed up ransom note writing  (complete with  del!berately m!sused exclamat!on marks,) combinations of colors that haven’t belonged anywhere near each other since the Ford administration and the apparent use of plain unmarked cardboard as a decorative element, Target’s designers have managed to put together a design scheme that somehow manages to pull off a rare combination of cheapness AND tackiness that few people will dare to go anywhere near again.

December 22, 2009

Deck the Halls with Something or Other – A Roundup of Questionable Holiday Decorations

Filed under: Holidays, shopping — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:41 am

As the guy in the red suit on the right is more than happy to remind you, Christmas is only a couple of days away.  It’s the season we wait all year for, the time of year when friends, family and others gather around the cozy little fireplace they build each year out of 12-packs of  Coca-Cola and an LCD television.  From there, they…  Wait, what do you MEAN you don’t build a fireplace out of Coke every year?  How do you even celebrate Christmas without the Fireplace of Coke?  No, I’m NOT crazy enough to use a real fireplace, you know how much of a fire hazard one of those things is?  And do those bricks contain enough caffeinated beverages to keep you awake until New Year’s Day 2013?  Didn’t think so. 

If you haven’t gotten around to doing your Holiday decorating yet , you should probably think about getting it done pretty quickly.  I should probably confess that I haven’t done any yet here, since the last time I tried pulling out the fake Christmas tree that gets stored in the Closet of Oblivion out on the back porch, it had a rather significant string of lights out AND a shockingly large spider which had taken up residence in the box, and I suspect at this point I might as well just get another one (which at this point probably means to grab one on closeout on the 26th.  Fortunately there’s still plenty of options available out there for your decorating.  Unfortunately, most of those options are somewhat less than ideal.  Although I’m probably just a bit late with this one, I thought this might be a good time for a roundup of some of the odd, kitschy, unusual or just plain tacky Christmas decorations that I have observed over the course of the Holiday season.   You will find this roundup after the jump.


April 8, 2009

A Brief Tour of the Bellevue Galleria, Bungie’s Future Home

Filed under: Bellevue, Games, Malls, shopping — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:41 pm

For some time now, there have been various rumors floating around that Bungie, creators of the popular Halo series of games, has been contemplating a move from their current offices in downtown Kirkland to a new location in downtown Bellevue.  Those rumors have now officially been confirmed, albeit in somewhat surprising fashion.  Instead of the conventional office space that one might expect such a company to reside in, it turns out that Bungie will actually be making their new home at the Bellevue Galleria of all places, in the space which formerly housed an 11-screen cinema that closed down about a year ago.  For a company that tends to be somewhat secretive (even when they were under Microsoft, access to their current headquarters in an unmarked former hardware store in Kirkland was unusually restricted,) a space like this within a shopping center seems like a bit of an odd choice, but given the company’s preference for an open plan office, the spacious interior of the former movie theater provides the type of space they would be unlikely to find available anywhere else in Bellevue.

At the same time, this move also serves to fill at least some of the vacancies in the Bellevue Galleria, a moderately sized urban entertainment and shopping complex  in the heart of downtown Bellevue which has so far largely failed to live up to its potential in spite of its location.  Unlike most of the shopping centers that I have profiled on this Blog so far, I have actually been around here long enough to see the Bellevue Galleria for pretty much its entire history, although for much of that time there hasn’t been a whole lot to see here.  With the nice weather on Monday, I did take the opportunity to wander over to the Galleria while I was in Bellevue to take some pictures and put together a brief profile of the complex, which you will find after the jump.


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