2023 has been particularly tough for those of us who make Best of the Year lists. From Barbie to Baldur’s Gate 3 to The Bear, there’s just been too much good stuff this year! And this doesn’t stop at the movies, TV, and anime we watched, the video games and board games we played, or the comics and sci-fi and fantasy books we read. It’s all the little (and big) things the Polygon staff got for ourselves in 2023 that made our lives easier, cheerier, cozier, and cooler, too. From the wireless earbuds that drown out construction noise to a cat-approved pet bed, the Polygon staff’s shopping carts were brimming with purchases that genuinely sparked joy — and we’re sharing all our best buys of 2023 with you here.
Oli Welsh, senior editor, U.K.
A Bluetooth audio receiver that actually works
Look, Bluetooth sucks. It’s an opaque, fiddly, and unreliable technology. But when it comes to wirelessly streaming audio, it’s more or less inescapable. The iFi Zen Air Blue is a beautifully simple Bluetooth hi-fi upgrade that plugs into a traditional stereo amp. (I’m using mine in my home office with a nearly 25-year-old Rotel amp that still sounds lovely, and that I’m in no hurry to replace.) It has its own onboard digital-to-analog converter and supports every codec and bitrate you can think of — meaning that whatever device and source you use, you know you’re always getting the best possible audio quality from it. It looks stylish, has a rich, musical sound, and, even more importantly, it can handle connections to multiple devices without losing the plot. Unlike virtually every other Bluetooth thing I own, the Zen Air Blue just works.
Masters of the Universe Uno for an upgraded game night
Sometimes, forced brand synergy can be a good thing! Someone at Mattel, which owns both the classic card game Uno and the camp fantasy world of He-Man, had the ungodly yet inspired idea to smash them together — and it turns out that in this weird equation, the sum is greater than the parts. You might reasonably ask how it is possible to improve on a game as elegant and ruthless as Uno. Two ways, it turns out. One: Put lurid 1980s airbrush art of Skeletor and pals shooting lasers and riding giant panthers and stuff on the cards. Two: Introduce a special Castle Grayskull wild card that, when deployed, the player must hold aloft while shouting, “By the power of Grayskull! I HAVE THE POWER!” Then everyone else has to draw three more cards. Never gets old.
A solar system poster for curious kids
Kurzgesagt (German for “in a nutshell”) is a Munich-based information design and animation studio that runs a terrific YouTube channel breaking down all kinds of heady topics — astrophysics, philosophy, biology, futurism, “human stuff” — in short, pithily scripted and strikingly designed videos. The channel’s store is absolutely stuffed with desirable, high-quality merch, especially for a family home with curious kids in it. I just love the blunt minimalism and eye-scorching neon colors of this infographic poster about the size of our star (and its counterpart, “The Moon Is Far Away”), but there are lots more richly detailed and colorful options available, too.
Maddy Myers, deputy editor, games
Dual monitor arms to revolutionize your desk
Let’s just start from the assumption that you have two monitors. That’s obvious. You need that second monitor for work, nominally, but also off the clock (playing a game on one screen and watching a friend’s game via Discord on the other). If you’re anything like me, you have a desk that may not be perfectly suited to the two-monitor lifestyle. Maybe you’re craning your neck a bit; maybe you’re just having trouble fitting both of those bad boys on the tabletop. This is one of those background radiation types of problems; it may not sound important, but when you finally fix it, the results are so life-changing that you can barely remember what it was like before. That’s what my dual-monitor setup is like. Was it terrifying to install my expensive 2K monitors onto those metal arms after I had already bolted them to my desk? Yes. But the version of me who did all of that is gone now. She has been replaced by a higher being who can move her monitors into the perfect positions at any moment. Godlike power. Neck cramps, cured.
An SSD for extra gaming storage
When I built my current PC in 2017, I installed a 1 TB SSD. That’s right, just the one terabyte. Even back then, I knew I would be pushing it, given the ballooning size of video games. Over the years, I’ve grown used to carefully coordinating my installs, always in a state of negotiation with the size of my hard drive. This year, after receiving a timely tip-off about a good deal on a 4 TB SSD from my co-worker Samit Sarkar, I finally made the plunge — and damn, do I wish I had caved sooner. Did you know you can have Baldur’s Gate 3 installed at the same time as Starfield? The same time!
A Mario movie shirt (but not that Mario movie)
A Mario movie came out this year, and I bought a Mario movie T-shirt this year. But I did not buy the T-shirt for the new Mario movie. That’s because my Mario movie came out in 1993, and my Mario is Bob Hoskins. It isn’t very easy to find merchandise for the 1993 Mario movie; it was a flop at the time, and also it’s been 30 years since then. I just had a real hankering for a 1993-era Mario movie T-shirt after seeing the other Mario movie this year, and the only one I could find was on an Amazon shop that doesn’t appear to have any official affiliation with the film. This shirt is probably a bootleg, but I’m so glad somebody bothered to keep printing this, because wearing it has brought me endless joy. My co-workers get joy out of it, too, every time I wear it in a video call, or at least I assume they do, because it’s the only response that makes sense.
Nicole Carpenter, senior reporter
A numpad for the em-dash-obsessed
Anyone who’s read anything I’ve written will have noticed that I like em dashes — that long dash mark I just used to separate these two phrases. It’s not a piece of punctuation that you’ll find on your keyboard. On Windows, you need a numpad to input the shortcut, or else you’re stuck with copy-and-pasting an em dash. (Ask me how many times I’ve Googled “em dash” simply for this purpose.) My current mechanical keyboard, the Logitech G715 with the cloud wrist rest, doesn’t have a numpad, but an external one does the trick. I’d recommend the Magicforce 21-key numpad, which lets you choose from five different keyswitches, depending on your preference. I went with the Cherry MX Brown for a softer typing experience and pink and white keycaps, which look very cute with the LED backlighting. This particular model even offers a keycap add-on for an Elvish numpad if you’re interested in something beyond convenient em dashes.
A tattoo-style Sonic the Hedgehog print
Tattoo artist Robert Morrow specializes in American traditional tattoos, which are known for their bold lines and simple color palettes — think old sailor tattoos. Morrow does a lot of classic designs, but he also puts a spin on the style by creating tattoo flash (pre-drawn tattoos that typically line the walls of tattoo shops) based on video games, comic books, and movies. I’d like to get tattooed by him in the future, but until that day, I’ve been appreciating his art by collecting prints of those flash sheets, my favorite of which is his Sonic the Hedgehog print. As an American traditional tattoo collector and a video game enthusiast, I love the way he blends traditional tattoo motifs with game characters, like putting Sonic the Hedgehog’s face on an iconic skull. I also have his Super Mario Bros. print, which swaps in Yoshis for Pharaoh’s horses — another iconic traditional tattoo design.
The cutest candy vending machine
My desktop candy vending machine is one of my prized desk possessions, simply because it’s cute. I don’t think I need to explain why it brings me so much joy. It brings candy! I bought my first candy vending machine from a Japanese grocery store, and unfortunately can’t find the particular model online (though it is similar to this mini dispenser, but without the ability to fit three different candies inside). However, I’ve recently upgraded to a larger — but still desktop-sized — candy vending machine that can hold more, and bigger, candy, like my favorite peanut M&Ms. Or, if you want to work for your candy, you can try the arcade claw machine, which can fit even bigger candy.
Petrana Radulovic, entertainment reporter
An Apple Pencil to learn digital art
For years, I’ve been telling myself that I would learn digital art, but I didn’t want to commit to a pricey Apple Pencil. Finally, I decided that the price point would incentivize me to actually pursue the hobby more, and I was right. I did save some money since I have an older iPad that only works with a first-generation Pencil, but that model works perfectly for what I need. I drew a lot when I was younger, though I’ve never been good. I still doodle often, but not with the same gusto as my younger self. But having an Apple Pencil (and Procreate) has given me a chance to rediscover this love. I’m still not good, but I’ve seen myself improve from my first shaky sketch, and that’s been very satisfying.
A cat-approved Squishmallows pet bed
Pets love to sleep on Squishmallows. These plush toys are not only fun to hug and display, but they are the perfect consistency for animal companions to rest upon (or make biscuits, if you’ve got a cat). My cat enjoys sitting on the various Squishmallows plushies I have around the house, so when I learned that Squishmallows pet beds were now a thing, I immediately ordered one. Like all Squishmallows, the pet beds come with names and backstories: I opted for Gordon, a shark who wants to start his own nonprofit. I had no idea how my cat would take to Gordon; he’s notoriously picky about new items entering his ecosystem. While he was hesitant to embrace Gordon the Shark at first, he soon realized what a soft and plush sleep option the Squishmallows bed was. My cat fits perfectly inside of Gordon and now uses my office as one of his regular resting spots.
The custom lava lamp of your dreams
Did you know that the official Lava Lamp website lets you create a customized lamp? Now you do. When I was a kid, I got a neat lava lamp for my birthday and I adored it. I’ve hinted that I wanted one for my birthday or Christmas for years (I got a Himalayan salt lamp instead, which is apparently a more grown-up and acceptable gift). Still, I coveted one, and after spotting lava lamps at my local mall’s Spencer’s (don’t ask), I went online to see what the price points were and realized I could take control of my own destiny. I bought myself a custom purple-and-pink lava lamp with a black base, and now it keeps me company during late-night gaming sessions with its sexy bi lighting.
Alice Newcome-Beill, commerce writer
Earbuds that can drown out construction
A year or two ago, I purchased the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds, and as someone who lives next to an active construction site and has a partner who snores, I quickly realized what a great investment they were. This year, I treated myself to the latest model of Sony’s noise-canceling earbuds, the WF-1000XM5, and couldn’t be happier. The XM5s certainly fall on the pricier side when it comes to wireless earbuds, but for a device that drowns out the constant cacophony of construction I’m subjected to during my workday, $299.99 is a small price to pay. In addition to some of the best noise cancellation you can get in a pair of wireless earbuds, the ability to wear the WF-1000XM5s for eight-plus hours at a stretch without having to recharge is a huge boon, and quickly turned this purchase into something I wouldn’t dare leave the house without.
An instant camera to capture wedding memories
One of the highlights of my past year was getting married, and while we dropped a substantial amount of money on a professional photographer, we also devoted $199.95 of our budget to purchasing the Fujifilm Instax Mini Evo instant camera. Our original plan to have all of our guests take selfies and print them out for our guestbook didn’t quite work out, but having the ability to quickly print out candid shots from our phones was worth every penny. The Mini Evo pairs with your phone via a dedicated app, features several built-in filters, and even allows you to make last-minute adjustments before printing on standard 2-by-3-inch Instax film. The novelty of having a credit-card-sized physical photo feels timeless, and using the Mini Evo was so easy, I found myself looking for any excuse to take more photos.
Sadie Gennis, managing editor
A Sailor Moon lamp for the coziest glow
I love everything about my apartment except for one thing: the harsh fluorescent overhead lighting. Because of that, I avoid using the Big Lights as much as possible, instead preferring to rely on the lamps scattered throughout my home. When I was upgrading my work setup this year, I knew I wanted to get a desk lamp, but not just any lamp — one that brought that extra dose of personality to my already colorful office. After spending days looking on Google, TikTok, and Etsy, my research paid off when I found this stunning Sailor Moon paper lamp. It comes with three different lighting tones and the ability to adjust the brightness of each one. Having the lamp set to the warmest light on medium brightness gives my desk the perfect relaxing glow, and makes my office feel luxuriously cozy — particularly on cloudy or rainy days.
A light-up Pokémon terrarium
The Sailor Moon lamp wasn’t the only thing that wound up in my cart as part of my desk glow-up (pun obviously intended). I fell instantly in love with PocketParadise’s Pokémon terrariums, which I justified buying as part of my warm lighting crusade since it (1) technically does light up, and (2) sits near my desk. I went with a Jolteon dome terrarium, which is sadly no longer available, but the seller has a ton of other Pokémon to choose from, each of which comes with its own unique landscape and color schemes. At $45 for a light-up dome nearly 6 inches tall, my Pokémon terrarium was far cheaper than a lot of similar products I looked at that were smaller or appeared far lower in quality. When I received my terrarium, I was absolutely blown away by the details and design, which look even more impressive in person. The lights are very subtle, but if you’re looking for an extra dose of ambiance and are not so concerned with actually lighting up a space, it’s a great piece of decor that will get you tons of compliments (at least from anyone with taste).
An Aura frame for when one photo isn’t enough
When our dog unexpectedly died this fall, my husband and I wanted to get a framed photo to display alongside her ashes. However, we quickly realized choosing just one image to represent the seven vibrant years of her life was an impossible task. We found the perfect solution in an Aura frame, filling it with hundreds of memories from the day we adopted her to the day we said goodbye. I love that in addition to photos, the digital frame plays muted videos, so as I’m going about my day, I can catch a glimpse of her running around the dog park or going absolutely ham on a pup cup. The frame also comes with the option of pressing a button to watch a video with the sound on — a feature I don’t use often but love knowing I can. Before this, we already owned and adored an Aura frame that my husband’s entire family remotely adds photos to (the typical selling feature of these frames). So now, we have one frame that helps us stay connected to the loved ones still with us, and a second to hold close the piece of our family that isn’t.
Tasha Robinson, senior editor, films
A Star Wars music box for the fan who has it all
Easily my best gaming experience in 2023 was an in-person weekend getaway with my Star Wars: Edge of the Empire crew — six people who live in four different cities and normally play remotely. After the weekend was over, I wanted a small token of thanks for our Star Wars addict GM. But what do you get a Star Wars fan who already has his own replica lightsaber, all the gaming books, all the Star Wars dice anyone could want, and even his own 3D Star Wars hologram lamp? I opted for this laser-etched Star Wars music box, a small, inexpensive, but cute token of esteem. Turn the crank, and the pin-and-comb assembly plays John Williams’ Star Wars theme. It’s a stocking-stuffer-level gift that functions as a solid fidget toy, or a respectable addition to a Star Wars collectibles shelf.
A spinning composter to make turning piles a breeze
2023 was the year I got a yard capable of supporting a composter, which opened up a lot of questions and choices. After doing the research, I opted for this 43-gallon Vivosun spinning composter, which has saved me a ton of effort in turning a compost pile. It’s solidly made, weather-resistant, and easy to load. Plus, every time I spin it to shuffle up the contents, I feel like I’m running an illicit bingo game. It also comes with the benefit of minimizing the backyard compost smell. This one might not work for really big yards — a contained composter limits how much you can compost — but it’s been the perfect size for me, and it’s held up well to a year of use.
Clawed gardening gloves that can do it all
That spinning composter came with a set of gardening gloves tipped with plastic claws, which are meant to help you root around in and separate compost chunks. I found them kind of weird at first, but now I’m committed to never buying clawless gardening gloves again. (Though they also come in mixed pairs — one with claws, one without — which can be useful as well.) The clawed gloves turn your hands into multipurpose gardening tools: They’re great for digging up roots (or digging around roots you don’t want to disturb), easily creating furrows or holes to plant seeds or seedlings, raking up clumpy dirt or dead plant matter — you name it.
Using the clawed gloves is visceral in a way that makes me feel closer to the gardening experience. I bought a pair for my mom for Mother’s Day and sent them to her without explanation. I wasn’t too surprised when my sister emailed me to ask, “Why did you send mom murder-gloves?” But now mom’s a convert, too. The gloves would also be pretty good for Catwoman cosplay, if you’re playing a particularly colorful Catwoman.
Cameron Faulkner, editor, commerce
A tripod that makes the perfect webcam mount
One of my most frequently used possessions during the COVID lockdown was the Joby GorillaPod, a tripod that made it a heck of a lot easier to hold my phone at eye level during video chats with family and friends. As life gradually returned to normal, I found a spot for the tripod on my work desk — more specifically, with its flexible (and grippy) legs wrapped around my dual monitor arm setup to hold up my webcam. Since many webcams have a tripod thread, I’ve been able to position my webcam at eye level, away from my monitors. And, thanks to the GorillaPod’s adjustable mount, I can make small adjustments to the webcam’s positioning with ease.
Adhesive shelves so you can decorate without drilling
After we moved apartments, my office looked as lifeless as you could possibly imagine. In video calls, it appeared like I was dialing in from a pretty sad place, so I needed to spruce it up — if not for myself, then for folks who look at me during these calls. Getting these affordable adhesive shelves gave me enough space to put some mementos and conversational icebreakers on display. It’s nothing revelatory, but I like that these saved me the agony of drilling holes into freshly painted walls.
Joy-Con sticks that put an end to drift
Before The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom arrived in May, many were concerned about whether their Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons would hold up, or if Joy-Con drift would have them sulking on their way to buy a new set in order to play the anticipated sequel. Fortunately, for those who aren’t intimidated by performing warranty-voiding surgery on their Joy-Cons, a relatively easy and affordable solution became readily available this year: GuliKit debuted drift-resistant Hall effect joysticks that can be installed in a Joy-Con, which eliminates drift once and for all. At around $25 for a pair — and with instructions on how to install them — the Hall effect sticks remain a savvy way to get more life out of your otherwise fine Joy-Cons.
Nicole Clark, culture editor
The keyboard so good you won’t want to build your own
My interest in keyboards started with a simple Ducky purchase. Fast-forward a few months, and my boyfriend and I had purchased a box of various MX switches, and owned different cases and PCBs. He started building really cool custom keyboards and finding Redditors who would solder components. Eventually, we saved up for a Happy Hacking Keyboard — we wanted to try out the Topre switches, and I already knew I loved a 60% layout.
That was basically when my mechanical keyboard building hobby ended, because I found the keyboard I loved so much that it became my daily driver: the HHKB Professional Hybrid Type-S. The keyboard’s Topre switches are tactile and yet still feel smooth thanks to the rubber dome within the switches. It’s got an internet brutalist simplicity to the design that feels timeless without putting style over substance. I’ve typed thousands upon thousands of words on this keyboard, to the extent that my hands are most accustomed to its layout, and it’s a joy to take the switches off and clean everything. I’ve always loved writing, and it feels like a bit of magic to find the perfect keyboard to do it with.
An planner for organization and creativity
I first spotted the Hobonichi Techo Weeks at a stationery shop in LA’s Chinatown; I loved the texture of the paper and the simple layout. Its compact size was perfect in my purse, and it fit a specific void I was looking to fill: a planner for home tasks and chores. It would be a way to keep my grocery lists in one place, and to track repeat activities like weightlifting or how often I’d cleaned the bathrooms.
After I bought mine, I learned that my co-worker Nicole Carpenter had purchased the exact same one — down to the same yellow color, even — which was honestly a huge vote of confidence, since she’s also a fountain pen expert and fellow lover of all things stationery. She invited me to a Hobonichi Discord where people shared their beautiful layouts, which led me down another wormhole of washi tape. What started as a very practical purchase turned into a creative outlet. I just bought my 2024 planner, and I can’t wait to crack open the fresh spine come January.
Magnetic thumbtacks for your most prized mementos
I’ve always loved writing letters, and am grateful for the pen pals I’ve had over my life. I’ve collected the postcards and little sketches and watercolor paintings we’ve sent each other, along with various art prints I’ve found at craft fairs, aiming to put them up on my walls or corkboard. For years I put off doing so because the idea of sticking a thumbtack through something that precious stressed me out. For some reason, it never occurred to me that there had to be better options for hanging things. That’s how I stumbled on these magnetic thumbtacks. Each one is more or less a regular pushpin with magnetic backing, plus a tiny magnet that comes with it. All you need to do is stick whatever you want to put up between the magnet and the backing. I’ve since arranged all my postcards and prints on the wall near my desk, and it makes my workdays so much brighter to get to see them every day.
Chelsea Stark, executive editor
A standing desk to ease your back and shoulder tension
After committing to working from home for the last three years, I realized I felt miserable from sitting all day for work and then sitting to play games. Since I bought this Uplift standing desk in September, my back and shoulders have lost some of their tightness — even when I only use this an hour a day. (Though I have been trying to use it much more!) When I’m dragging and have a long to-do list, standing helps me refocus. I can feel my brain engage more when I stand. I also play some games while standing; the desk is clutch for long sessions of Baldur’s Gate 3 on my PC. I genuinely enjoyed the ordering process with Uplift. They will try to sell you a million components and accessories to go with the desk — like grommets, keypads, and foot switches — but they thoroughly explain what each is used for as you build and customize your order. And as a city dweller without a lot of space, I was able to find a long and narrow desk that tucks perfectly into one of my apartment’s weird nooks.
A really nice handmade mug
This year I vowed to pick a hobby that didn’t involve a screen, and started taking ceramics classes. I’m still bad at the pottery wheel, which is fine, and not the point of this story. An instructor recommended getting ourselves a really well-made ceramic piece so that, as we grow and learn, we can study it and understand more of how it was made. At a local artists’ open studio weekend, I stumbled upon the amazingly gorgeous work of Sarah from Not Work Related, and bought an incredible mug. I actually still don’t fully understand how she made its fastidious grid of gradient glaze, but it fills me with joy every time I use it. She does also have a thorough Instagram account where she breaks down her process, so it’s a pretty effective learning tool, too!
A cat calendar so cute you’ll want to reuse it
Around this time last year, culture editor Nicole Clark shared this artist’s shop in our team Slack, specifically this hand-drawn cat wall calendar. While I technically purchased my 2023 calendar last year, I already ordered Megan Wang’s 2024 calendar this month, because seeing this year’s above my desk is pure joy. The pages are also extremely thick and easy to write on, and the stock feels incredibly high quality. My biggest challenge will be recycling these perfect illustrations when the year is over.
Samit Sarkar, deputy managing editor
A Dazed and Confused 4K Blu-ray with great bonus features
1993’s Dazed and Confused is one of the all-time great hangout movies. Set in and around a Texas high school on the last day of school in 1976, it’s a film where both nothing happens and everything happens — as is so often the case at such a fraught time in your life.
The new Criterion Collection edition features a 4K digital restoration of the film that was approved by director Richard Linklater. The picture quality is stunning, and a warmer color palette makes it look more like the ’70s do in our collective imagination. I also adore the package’s physical goods, including a 72-page booklet with some great film criticism — Chuck Klosterman’s essay about longing and nostalgia is a particular highlight — and a print of a poster that the studio rejected but Linklater preferred. I’ve bought dozens of 4K Blu-rays in 2023, but this refresh of a modern American classic is a personal favorite.
A buffet server for holiday hosting
Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday: the one day where you can forget about “eating healthy” and feast on an array of delicious food. But one of the meal’s biggest challenges is keeping all the plates spinning... and warm! This year, my wife and I hosted our family Thanksgiving for the first time, and we thought we could use some help on the preparation and presentation front.
I am loath to buy single-use kitchen gadgets — especially ones that we’ll probably only use once a year — but I have to admit, she absolutely made the right call in picking up this Proctor Silex buffet server and warming tray. We prepped roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted carrots, and sauteed green beans well ahead of dinnertime, and they stayed hot for hours in these chafing dishes. My only complaint: I just wish it looked a bit more like it belongs in a home kitchen than at a Holiday Inn continental breakfast.