Apple patent describes simple system to make iPhone buttons feel clicky though a case

If you keep your iPhone in a case, as most people do, you’ll know that volume and power buttons can lose their nice definitive clicking sensation, and instead feel rather squishy. That’s a problem Apple thinks it can solve …

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The post Apple patent describes simple system to make iPhone buttons feel clicky though a case appeared first on 9to5Mac.

Walmart’s Cyber Monday deals include Lenovo’s Daydream headset, Samsung smart TVs, and more

Black Friday may have come and gone, but Cyber Monday is here for shoppers who missed out on deals or want to ride the wave of more discounts. Walmart’s Cyber Monday deals started at 12AM ET today, Monday, November 26th, and there are a ton of price cuts on TVs, gaming laptops, and other fun tech accessories.

Below is our list of noteworthy tech gadgets that’ll be on sale for Cyber Monday, some of which are leftover from Black Friday. Some prices may already be in effect from this weekend’s sales, so if you spot an item you want, make sure to check it’s the best deal. If you want to take a look at more categories and items, you can check out Walmart’s Deals Hub here. For more Cyber Monday deals, check out The Verge’s curated list of deals from Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and more.

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The Best Cyber Monday Gaming & Media Deals [Updating]

GIF: Ramóna Udvardi

If you didn’t grab all of the gaming and media deals you wanted during Black Friday, there’ll be no shortage of them on Cyber Monday. We’ll be collecting all of the best deals in this space below through the entire day, so it’s game on.

Looking for the rest of our Cyber Monday coverage? You can visit our Cyber Monday hub, or jump straight to one of the posts below:


The Best Deals

Note: This sold out basically instantly, but we’re holding out hope that it could possibly return.

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If you couldn’t get your hands on the $199 Spider-Man PS4 bundle on Black Friday, here’s a more-then-decent consolation price: $199 gets you the console (sans-Spider-Man), a copy of Red Dead Redemption 2, and an extra controller. That’s even better than the Spider-Man bundle, which didn’t include the extra controller, but like that bundle, it will probably sell out extremely quickly.


This is not a drill — the LEGO Ideas NASA Apollo Saturn V Set has fallen to just $79.. It’s hard enough to find at retail price, much less at a $41 discount, so it’s not exactly rocket science if you’re on the fence about buying it.

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The main spacecraft is more than 3 feet tall when assembled, and the set allows you to simulate an entire mission, from launch to splashdown. We’re kind of bummed that it doesn’t come with a pack of astronaut ice cream for extra realism (and deliciousness!), but you can always get that at Amazon.


We don’t see iTunes gift card discounts in excess of 15% very often anymore, so when you can get $20 off a $100 card, you should jump at the chance. You can use the card to pay for apps, music, movies, Apple Music subscriptions, and even iCloud storage, so this is basically a 20% discount on all things content. Just select the $100 gift card, and use promo code APP20 to save at checkout.


Walmart and Esports Arena have their own line of gaming PCs now, and you can save on a couple of the laptops today for Cyber Monday.

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$799 gets you a Core i5, a GTX 1050, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD (paired with a 1TB HDD), or you can spend $1199 to upgrade to a Core i7, GTX 1060, 16GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. Both computers include 15″ 1080p displays with 144hz refresh rates, and even backlit mechanical (!!) keyboards.

That’s a $200 discount in both cases, and the first deal we’ve seen on these machines, both of which qualify for the Intel eSports Pack Bundle, which includes free downloads of games like Paladins and PUBG.


Dropmix | $30 | Amazon | Expansion card packs also on sale

DropMix is an NFC-enabled card game that basically turns you into a remix artist, and it’s down to $30 on Amazon right now, a match for the best price we’ve seen.

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Developed by Harmonix, of Rock Band fame, DropMix seems perhaps a little too ambitious—most people don’t have great rhythm, after all—but the game is executed shockingly well. There are multiple game modes, the base set includes 60 song cards from popular artists (though you can purchase expansions, naturally), and it’s beginner-friendly enough for anyone to play.

Several expansion card packs with more songs are also on sale today.


Truly, Amazon is the MVP for holiday toy shopping. Every day there’s a new sale, and today’s batch of discounts includes Disney, NERF, and Play-Doh items you’ve probably been eyeing. And you know the drill by now: These prices are good today only, so carpe crepundia. (That’s Latin for “seize the toy(s).” At least, I think it is. If not… whatev, it’s a dead language; don’t @ me.)


You’ve waited this long to get your hands on Red Dead Redemption 2; might as well get off your high horse and take advantage of this here deal, cowboy. Walmart is offering up Red Dead, plus a $10 Google Play eGift Card, all for $60. You won’t find a finer bargain in all the Wild West.


Update: This deal was supposed to go live at midnight, but we don’t think it ever did. We may see it later on during Cyber Monday, but in the meantime, you can also buy a Switch and get a $35 eShop gift card for free, or buy one from GameStop, and get a $50 GameStop gift card for free.


If you missed out on the $299 Mario Kart Nintendo Switch bundle on Black Friday, Walmart’s offering you a decent consolation prize today in the form of the console plus a copy of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom battle for the same price for Cyber Monday.

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If you aren’t familiar, Mario + Rabbids is basically XCOM with Nintendo characters, and it’s amazing.

Amazon has elected to make this Cyber Monday one for the ages by discounting a selection of LEGO, and sets featuring characters from Marvel and DC, Star Wars, and Ninjago are all included. More generic vehicle builds are also in the mix, and some of these kits are at new all-time price lows. Given the nature of online shopping today, they may all be sold out by lunch, so grab what you want while there’s still time. Don’t let your afternoon be marred by the regret of what might have been.


DXRacer’s Formula gaming chair has graced many an esports tournament stage in its day, and you can plant your own butt in one for $215 for Cyber Monday. That’s not a small amount of money, but it normally pushes $300, and if you spend a lot of time in a chair for gaming or for work, it’ll be a worthwhile investment.

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Kotaku’s Maddy Myers covered the very similar DXRacer Valkyrie in exhausting detail, if you want to give that a read before pulling the trigger.


Amazon’s Cyber Monday “computer components, laptops, and accessories”sale sure is eclectic, but that just means that there’s something for everybody in there. Inside, you’ll find discounted Chromebooks for every budget, gaming peripherals, graphics cards (including a GTX 1070 for $300), a 3TB external drive for $70, and even a 2TB SSD for one of the best prices we’ve ever seen on that capacity. A few favorites are below, but head over to Amazon to check out the complete sale.


Well that didn’t take long. If you want to be along for the ride to figure out whatever the hell Fallout 76 is going to be, you can grab a copy for just $35 for Cyber Monday, on the platform of your choice.


One of the great joys of the chilliest season is curling up by the fireplace with a cup of cocoa and a good book…downloaded onto your Kindle. And with Amazon’s Cyber Monday Kindle sale, its biggest book blowout of 2018, you could probably sit by the fire for years and still not get through the more than 350 e-books currently on sale for up to 80% off. No need to sift through all the titles (unless you want to, of course); a few great reads stand out from the crowd at first glance. Series like Ender’s Game and One Second After, even a few novels turned hit TV shows, like Outlander, American Gods, and The Handmaid’s Tale are all $3 or less.


Get ready to spend some money — for Cyber Monday, ThinkGeek is taking 50% off sitewide via coupon code DOTCOM. Combined with the lowered free shipping threshold (today you have to spend only $35 pre-discount, rather than the usual $75), it makes for some crazy deals on all that stuff you’ve been wanting but couldn’t justify buying. Go ahead and pick up a thematic sweater for the holiday season. Load up on stocking stuffers for your friends and family. And you know what? You’ve been good this year, so it’s just between you and me if you decide to also indulge in a little something extra for yourself, just because.


Akira is one of those films that should be in every anime movie fan’s collection, and Amazon’s knocked the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray down to $10 today for Cyber Monday, the best price we’ve ever seen. Come for the gorgeous animation, stay for the “Hypersonic” 24-Bit, 192kHz Dolby remaster of the Japanese Audio Track.


You’re probably familiar with the Disney/Lucas tax: If two items are otherwise identical, but one has Star Wars branding, you’ll be paying a significant markup to cover the licensing. It can make shopping for Star Wars fans annoying, but today it’s a little less so, with discounts on a handful of LEGO Star Wars sets at Walmart and Amazon. They make nice midrange gifts, so you might want to pick up one of each while they’re on sale. Possession may be forbidden for a Jedi, but it’s totally fine for the rest of us.


Update: Back in stock, if you missed it last week.

It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. Example: If you choose to buy this Harry Potter Illustrated Collection Boxed Set, it shows that you’re an awesome person who knows a good deal when it apparates right in front of you. The set includes the first three books and is down to an all-time low $52 (with promo code NOVBOOK18) on Amazon.

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Reading and engaging your imagination is the closest thing to magic most Muggles can manage. Like Dumbledore says, even if it is happening inside your head, why on earth should that mean it is is not real? Certainly you’ll feel like you’ve actually escaped daily life to visit the wizarding world.

You may be asking yourself whether you really need another edition of this series, but in your heart you already know the answer. Always.


The Ryze Tello Quadcopter Drone is popular with beginners for several reasons: It’s easy to control, flies steadily, and takes excellent HD photos. The price is also a factor — it’s crazy affordable, especially at its new all-time low price of $79 at Walmart and Amazon. If you’re stumped on a gift for your most gadgety friend, this would be a pretty safe bet. Just be warned that it could be a gateway into a very expensive new hobby.


We thought the days of $40 PlayStation Plus sales were behind us, but lo, here it is once again for Cyber Monday. If your membership is due to expire soon, or hell, even if it isn’t, you’ll want to take advantage of this. This is as good a price as you’re ever likely to see, so if you own a PlayStation, or are planning to get one this holiday season, this is a no-brainer. Also available at Walmart, if Amazon sells out.

Note: You can add as many 12 month codes to your PlayStation account as you want. They just extend your membership expiration date.


The Switch Pro controller isn’t just one of the best ways to control your Nintendo Switch, it might be one of the best gamepads ever made, period. If you have a Switch and still haven’t picked one up, $60 is a really good price – we rarely see it drop below $64.


The Commodore 64 Mini only came out last month, and while it hasn’t flown off the shelves like, say, an N64 Mini might, this Cyber Monday discount to $60 is the first deal we’ve seen from its original $80.

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The half-sized scale model C64 Mini includes 64 games onboard, but crucially, lets you add your own as well, no hacking required.


Haven’t read the super popular Ghost in the Shell mangas yet? This collector’s box set includes three large-sized hardcover volumes, plus a collectible lithograph by creator Shirow Masamune for $44, which is a new all-time low. Don’t let the live action movie ruin the series for you, this is better!

Haven’t used the NOVBOOK18 promo code yet? It’ll save you an extra $5 here.


Alexa can be fun to talk to when you’re lonely or bored, but she’s not exactly animated. The Anki Vector Home Robot solves that problem by behaving almost like a pet. He can answer questions, sure, but he also reacts to sight, sound, and touch and is excited to see you when you come home. And better than any other smart assistant or pet, he can also take pictures, charge himself, and avoid obstacles as he navigates your home. He’s got all the benefits of a living companion and none of the drawbacks. Forgot to feed him? No prob, he doesn’t eat. Don’t feel like talking? That’s cool, he doesn’t have feelings and won’t mind if you chill on your own. Basically, he’s like the downstairs staff on Downton Abbey: self sufficient, available when needed, invisible when not.


12 Months Hulu | $1 per Month | New and eligible returning customers only
Graphic: Shep McAllister

If you aren’t a Hulu member by the end of the day, I don’t know what to tell you. New and “eligible returning” (meaning you haven’t been a paying customer in 12+ months) members can get 12 months of the streaming service’s Limited Commercials plan for just $1 per month, this weekend only for Black Friday. It’ll auto-renew thereafter at the usual $8 per month, so you may want to set a calendar appointment to cancel, but that’s one of the best streaming deals we’ve ever seen.


Arcade1Up’s 3/4 sized arcade cabinets have been a hit with our readers, and you can save $50 on a couple of them for the first time this Cyber Monday. The deal is only supposed to be available on the Pacman and the Galaga/Galaxian machines, but now it seems that all of them are included (though not all are in stock at this moment)

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Walmart also sells a riser that brings the cabinets up to standard arcade cabinet height, so that might be a good way to spend your savings.


Obviously your prime concern when it comes to computing peripherals is that they’re highly functional; nobody wants to deal with lag or ghosting. But there’s no reason your input devices can’t also be beautiful, and that’s the appeal of the Razer Holiday Chroma Bundle. It includes a gaming keyboard, mouse, and mousepad, all with RGB lighting. The glow is so alluring that even the least techy people you know will have to appreciate it, and there’s something to be said for showcasing your interests in a new light.


With Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft basically created the Netflix of video games, and it’s a great deal at its usual $10 per month. But for a limited time, you can get a gift card for a whole year for just $70.

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Xbox Game Pass grants you access to newer releases like State of Decay 2 and Sea of Thieves, as well as classics like KOTOR and all of the Gears of War games. The only catch is that you’ll be auto-renewed at the standard rate after the year is up, but hopefully there will be another deal before that happens, right


Just because you’re not at your desk doesn’t mean you can’t play the latest games at high settings: A pair of MSI gaming laptops are on sale at Walmart for Cyber Monday:

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At $849, the perfectly capable 15″ MSI GF63 features an 8th gen Core i7, a GTX 1050 GPU, a 256GB SSD paired with a 1TB HDD, 16GB of RAM, and even a copy of Black Ops 4.

Or, for $1399, step up to the 17″ GP73, which comes with all of the above, plus a larger 120Hz display, double the SSD space, and a GTX 1070 that can handle VR gaming.


Breath of the Wild is one of the greatest games ever made, so we’ll forgive Nintendo for spiking the football with a ~400 page hardcover compendium full of design artwork, commentary about the game’s development, and a history of the Breath of the Wild’s take on Hyrule.

The book only just came out, but its price just plummeted to an all-time low $20 (technically $19.99, which is annoying given today’s Amazon $20 minimum book coupon). That’s not a lot of rupees for an incredible gift for any Nintendo fan.


What kind of person still reads physical books? The best kind of person, IMO. If you’re one of them, this is probably your favorite time of year, because you know that Amazon always drops an awesome coupon. The discount this time around is $5 off $20 via code NOVBOOK18, and it works on pretty much every single hardcover and paperback sold and shipped by Amazon. The only downside is that it’s limited to a single use per customer, so you may have a hard time deciding what to buy. But don’t wait forever — the deal ends Sunday. (You can see a few more of our suggestions here.)


For a 17 year old (approximate guess) game, Skyrim has been remarkably stubborn about going on sale on Nintendo Switch. This Cyber Monday though, you can download it for $30, easily the best deal we’ve ever seen. You could certainly argue that’s still too much for a game that you probably own on four other systems, but he, it’s Skyrim in your pocket, how cool is that!

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Life hack: It’s the same price on the eShop, but if you buy on Amazon, you’ll get credit for the number of Gold coins (300) you would have gotten if it was full price. If you buy it from Nintendo, you’ll only get credit for the discounted price (150 coins).


It’s a shame that Dead Cells launch was overshadowed by poor ethics in game journalism, because it’s a terrific game that you really ought to play. The Switch digital release is $5 off its usual $25 on Amazon right now, the first discount we’ve ever seen on the downloadable version.

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Life hack: It’s the same price on the eShop, but if you buy on Amazon, you’ll get credit for the number of Gold coins (125) you would have gotten if it was full price. If you buy it from Nintendo, you’ll only get credit for the discounted price (100 coins).


Starlink Battle for Atlas | $35 | Amazon

Starlink is the latest video game ecosystem (every game is an ecosystem now) to combine a digital game with real life toys, and it’s actually pretty fun, especially on Switch where you get to play as Star Fox.

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For a limited time, Switch starter kit (complete with an Arwing) is down to $35, as are and the PS4 and Xbox One kits, albeit with less cool ships. Those are the best deals we’re expecting to see, so do a barrel roll of excitement and go place your orders.

Amazon also has a ton of accessories on sale as well.


If you malakas haven’t picked up Assassin’s Creed Odyssey yet (and you should, because it’s amazing), Amazon just marked it down to $27 on PS4 and Xbox One, for a limited time. Praise Zeus!


The latest Call of Duty does Battle Royale better than PUBG, and has The Biggest Zombies Mode EVER. It only came out about a month ago, but Walmart is already discounting it to $39 for Cyber Monday on PS4 and Xbox One, while supplies last.


Undertale is one of Kotaku’s 12 best games for the Switch, and the love letter to/subversion of Earthbound is down to $13 on Amazon for Cyber Monday. That’s only a couple bucks off the usual price, but you should buy this game at any price.


Though you’ll still need an expensive-ass computer to run it, the Oculus Rift VR system is finally approaching affordability, with the headset and controller bundle now available for $349 for Cyber Monday. I think we could all use a little escape from reality right about now, amirite?


True story: My 6-year-old has come up with a game called “Survive the Night” where he loads up a backpack with NERF guns and other tools like flashlights and snacks and hides out in a fort. (It’s inaccurately named, though, as it never lasts an entire night.) He must not be the only kid doing this, because there’s a toy called the NERF Zombie Strike Survival System Scravenger that seems designed exactly for his purposes.

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It comes with an auxiliary blaster, a “tactical light,” and a few other accessories that’ll give your budding survivalist’s bag some nice heft. But the most interesting thing about it — today, at least — is that it’s on sale for just $25 at Walmart and Amazon. That’s half the original price and a solid deal for such a substantial NERF gun. Throw in a little real camping gear and you may not see your child again until 2019.


Real reality is pretty awful these days, but you can temporarily escape it with a PlayStation VR headset for Cyber Monday prices.

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The one you should almost certainly get is the $250 bundle which includes Superhot, Creed: Rise to Glory, the required PlayStation camera, and a pair of Move controllers. It’s a top pick in our holiday gaming gift guide for a reason. Also available here, if Walmart sells out.

For $50 less, you can also opt for a bundle with Astro Bot Rescue Mission and Moss. You don’t need the Move controllers for every VR game, but you need them for some, and they vastly improve the VR experience on others. Considering they sell for nearly $100 by themselves, you should probably buy the more expensive bundle.


Need an extra controller to go with your PS4? Amazon has a bunch of them marked down to $39 right now. Walmart has even more colors in stock for $40.


Xbox One controllers don’t drop to $40 very often, so if you think you might want one, Cyber Monday’s the time to place your order. These are the newest models with built-in Bluetooth, so they’ll also work with your PC without an adapter. Available in black or white.


If you were holding out for Black Friday for an Xbox One S, this 1TB Minecraft Creator’s bundle just dropped to $199, complete with a copy of Minecraft and a bunch of DLC.


Every princess needs a castle, and your little princess is no different. If she’s currently without, the Disney Princess Royal Celebration Wooden Dollhouse is a good option. It’s over 5 feet tall and features a working elevator — perfectly regal and sure to impress any visiting dignitary. It also comes with furniture, because you can’t expect royalty to make do with an empty domicile. In all, it befits even the most noble of ladies and is guaranteed to reign supreme over the rest of the Christmas haul.


R2-D2 App-Enabled Droid | $40 | Amazon

At its original $180, Sphero’s R2-D2 droid was something for Star Wars fans to drool over, but probably not buy. But at an all-time low $40? It’s the droid you’re looking for.

You can make R2 run around your desk with a virtual joystick on a phone app, but more importantly, you can make him emote. Even its included charging cable matches the copper color of the power couplings on his feet. I shouldn’t have to tell you that this would be a great gift for any Star Wars fan.


For sheer wow factor, a ride-on toy is hard to beat on Christmas morning. It’s a rare present that has a shot at earning a Nintendo 64-level reaction, and Walmart has all shapes and sizes on sale, from princess vehicles to superhero cars. When you surprise a kid with one, you’re showing that your gifting game is strong. Others will have to kneel before the GOAT. So really, it’s also a present for yourself!


Anki toys are smart in more ways than one. They’re smart in the technological sense because you can control the cars from your phone, but they’re also smart in the “why didn’t anybody think of this sooner?” way. Racing vehicles on a flat track is fun and all, but racing on a course with jumps, banked turns, and bridges? Now that’s legit.

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Among the Anki items on sale at Amazon are the exact pieces you need to make those upgrades. (A couple of starter kits are there too, just in case you’re a new user.) And, according to the great Dom Toretto, the small scale of the competition will not diminish your victories. Ask any racer. Any real racer. It don’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning’s winning.


Whenever Logitech’s G29/G920 racing wheels go on sale, they don’t stay on sale for long. So peel out and get over to Amazon to score yours for $200, the best price ever, and a match for last year’s Black Friday deal. Just note that there are different models for PS4/PC and Xbox One/PC, so make sure to buy the right one for you.


It’s okay to admit that you’re too old to sit comfortably on the floor. You’ve done your time, and now you deserve better. The Crew Furniture Classic Video Rocker, $25, will keep you close to the action (board games? video games? reindeer games?) while giving your ancient bones a break. Or, if you’re really popular, you can get the X Rocker Dual Commander Gaming Chair and always have room for a friend to sit with you. It’s a little more spendy at $149 (though you can save $4 if you want to deal with in-store pickup), but it does come with two built-in speakers and a subwoofer. Luxurious!


Fingerlings | 2 for $9 | Walmart
Graphic: Elizabeth Zimmerman

Remember last Christmas, when you were ready to pay $20 or more to procure a Fingerling? Would you have believed that we’d be sitting here, just a year later, able to buy two Fingerlings for only $9? Because that’s what’s going on at Walmart. It’s limited to Kingsley the Sloth, and you’ll probably want to go the store pickup route to avoid paying for shipping, but still. That’s two adorable robot creatures for even less than the usual price of one.


If you devour books the way a pygmy shrew eats (constantly, as if your life depends on it), Kindle Unlimited was designed for you. Until November 30, new customers can give it a 3-month whirl for only $1 — a massive savings and a rare discount that only the library can beat. (Be aware that you’ll automatically start paying the regular rate of $10/month if you don’t cancel at the end of the trial.) With access to more than a million ebooks and audiobooks, you’ll never run out of new material to consume.


Taking your kids to the park is a great way to pass the time. They burn off excess energy so they’ll actually go to bed at night, and playing outside is one of the healthiest activities they can do. Bring those benefits right into your own backyard with the Kidkraft Castlewood Wooden Play Set, $950 off today at Walmart. You’ll even get a workout of your own when you put it together — fun for the whole family!


Are you feeling the Christmas cash crunch yet? Wondering how Santa’s going to make a decent showing without putting you in the poorhouse? Amazon understands. When you spend $100 on a range of toys that covers everything from My Little Pony to Marvel to Hot Wheels to NERF, you’ll get $20 off at checkout. That kind of savings would make even the Grinch feel a little holly jolly, and if you can’t make a dent in your shopping list with this selection, you’re not even trying.

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Note: The promotion is limited to toys shipped and sold by Amazon (no third-party nonsense!).


You don’t need superpowers to nail down the perfect gift for Deadpool fans. Devotees of the merc with a mouth will love this $13 Deadpool Loot Crate, which allows them to express their antihero pride without saying a word. It includes a sarcastic apron, socks, lanyard, pin, and bag. They’ll have to provide their own katanas, though.

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The Walking Dead Got Scary Again in Its Mostly Excellent Mid-Season Finale

Brains?
Photo: Gene Page (AMC)

The first half of The Walking Dead’s ninth season has been mostly good, something no one could have predicted after the show’s dire, audience-hemorrhaging the last few years. Happily, the mid-season finale kept up the streak by including a few shockers, an excellent cliffhanger, and only a few instances where you want to punch someone through your screen. But most of all, for the first time in I don’t know how long, I cringed at The Walking Dead—in a good way.

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“Evolution” spends some of its time advancing some of the stories that began after the timeskip, but it was mainly about setting up the series’ new big bad, which it does very effectively. We’ll get to that in a second, but let’s knock that other stuff out of the way first. First and foremost, Michonne and Siddiq finally bring the new guys to Hilltop, and in doing so we really see the depth of just how bad things have gotten between the colonies. When Michonne and the others approach, a Hilltop horseman streaks through the fields, yelling “Riders are coming!” to the people working the fields, who absolutely run in fear. It’s very telling how anyone even approaching is something to be feared, when before people were passing back and forth through communities constantly.

It’s also telling how when Michonne enters, pretty much all of Hilltop hates her. As we learn, whatever the hell went down to destroy the bond between the colonies was Michonne’s call: “I didn’t make the choices I made because I thought they’d be easy…at least they [the Hilltoppers] are alive to hate me.” Certainly, when Michonne arrives Tara is not at all happy to see her. However, Tara does say the new guys can stay…provided they earn their keep and pending Jesus’ approval once he returns from finding Eugene. And Carol and Michonne have a friendly conversation, implying that Alexandria’s relations with the Kingdom haven’t broken down as much s they have with Hilltop, although Michonne still refuses to attend the Kingdom’s fair. Shortly thereafter Carol leaves Henry to apprentice with Earl.

Back at Alexandria, it turns out Gabriel and Negan have developed a relationship, as Gabe has been playing therapist once a week to the prisoner for years. It was a bit bizarre to see Gabriel apparently trying to teach Negan about mindfulness, but it was nice to see Negan being pretty chill and genial…for Negan. Of course he has to be a bit of an asshole by implying to Gabe he overheard Rosita talking favorably of another man, but when Gabriel finds out Rosita has been hurt and is stuck in unknown condition at Hilltop, Negan genuinely apologizes.

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Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) ponders the science of smells.
Photo: Gene Page (AMC)

I don’t really understand why Gabriel was prevented from going to Hilltop because he had to stay with Negan; there’s no way or reason he’d have been put under 24-hour surveillance for the last 5-6 years. In fact, it would have been better for Gabriel to go, since in his distraction over Rosita, he fails to lock the jail cell door, and that night, Negan walks out with a smirk on his face. We don’t see him go anywhere or do anything just yet, but hey, maybe Gabriel’s prison reform program has had some effect. At any rate, all the former Saviors seem to be scattered to the wind, so it doesn’t look like he’ll be raising an army and leading a revolt anytime soon.

If he does, though, I hope the first to die are the teens Henry hangs out with, who are among the stupidest characters The Walking Dead has ever put on screen, and that’s saying something. Finally on his own, perturbed by seeing his mom/stone-cold badass Carol cry when she said goodbye, and immediately discovering Enid is not a potential love interest for him, Henry meets some friendly teens who talk him into hanging out with them that night at some spot outside the wall. Obviously, in a world where walking corpses roam the land hoping to eat your flesh, it’s an exceedingly dumb idea, but I don’t blame Henry, dealing with the loneliness of leaving his home and his family, for taking a chance on these guys. Also because he doesn’t know what idiots they are yet.

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It’s a miracle these kids are alive. I mean, going outside the wall at all is dangerous, but then they play some music (I assume they have a boombox) whose noise would of course attract zombies, and they get drunk on moonshine just to make sure they’re mentally and physically impaired if a zombie does arrive. Henry gets peer pressured into drinking, but at least he is properly appalled when the kids revealed their coup de grâce: That they’ve dug a big hole, trapped a zombie in there, and are using it as a ring toss. It being a living corpse who can kill you with a single bite. One of the kids even pisses on it.

Joe Ando-Hirsch as Rodney, Kelly Mack as Addy, and Jackson Pace as Gage.
Photo: Gene Page (AMC)

Obviously, Henry has been making some poor decisions here, but shoving the peeing kid to the ground because he’s an asshole and then leaping in to immediately kill the zombie because even drunk he knows keeping a pet zombie is the stupidest, most needlessly dangerous thing in the world was pretty satisfying. Henry ends up in Hilltop’s jail for two days because he returned home drunk (he even threw up on Tara’s shoes); Earl gives him an appropriate amount of grief and tells him the apprenticeship is over, but I suspect that’s a bit of a “scared straight” ploy, since, as even Earl notes, he’s been in that cell before, too. Still, though, this storyline is annoying as hell.

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Luckily, the episode’s main storyline—Daryl, Jesus, and Aaron’s search for Eugene—is so good that it’s easy to ignore that stupidity. The unease ramps up wonderfully, as Jesus first sees a crowd of zombies doing something he’s never seen before: they’re just milling about, instead of walking somewhere in hopes of finding that tasty, tasty human flesh. They’re not concerned when they later notice the herd has begun heading in their direction, since they can just veer off their path. They’re more perturbed when they realize the zombies have somehow changed direction to follow them again—and doubled their numbers—but Daryl just throws an alarm clock like a timed noise grenade, to make sure the herd heads somewhere else.

Eventually, they find Eugene hiding in a small cabin. But he’s terrified—much more terrified of zombies than we’ve seen anyone be in a long, long time—because not only has the herd been actively searching for him, they talk. Obviously there’s some skepticism…but then that same group of zombies is right outside, having followed Daryl, Jesus, and Aaron again. Since Eugene’s leg is still busted, the group can’t get far enough ahead of the zombies to get clear so Daryl stays behind to draw them off.

At this point, while we know the zombies are acting unnaturally, the only weird thing we’ve seen them do is mill about. So it’s an excellent shock when Daryl uses firecrackers to try and attract their attention, and the zombie herd just ignores it. In fact, they change directions away from the firecrackers to keep chasing Jesus, Aaron, and Eugene. Watching zombies stop shambling one way and start shambling in another direction isn’t really an awe-inspiring visual, but Norman Reedus’ “oh, shit” look makes it work.

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The zombies get so close that the trio desperately heads into a cemetery through a crack in its wall, so only a few zombies can get in at a time; when they discover the gate is locked, and prepare to make a stand. The few zombies that approach them are easily handled, but the cemetery, the fog, and the ominous thunder keep things tense, even when Michonne, Magna, and Yumiko fortuitously arrive to help open the gate, while Jesus holds the zombies off.

The minute the slow-motion fighting starts, you know Jesus is done for. Honestly, I think it’s the biggest stumble of the storyline, since it telegraphs his death so completely, although as a showcase of actor Tom Payne’s martial arts skills and swordwork it’s great. Thankfully, the speed picks back-up for one of the scariest moments the show has given us: The gate is open, Eugene’s out, and Aaron yells for Jesus to come on. With only two zombies between him and the others, Jesus casually slices one, and then tries to take out the other. But the other zombie ducks, and sticks a knife right in Jesus’ back.

Jesus (Tom Payne) in less doomed times.
Photo: Jackson Lee Davis (AMC)

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Seeing one of the series’ zombies, who have been mindless monsters for nine and a half years, show that much speed and cunning was an “oh, shit” moment for me, and I even sort of knew what was coming. Seeing the others in horrified shock that everything they thought they knew about their world had suddenly changed, that the omnipresent threat of the zombies had, in just a few short seconds, increased exponentially sold it perfectly. The fact that the dead have been a lesser danger than the living for most of the last five seasons gave it so much impact, and the fact that The Walking Dead transmogrified into almost solely an action TV series for about the same time made the scare much, much scarier. Even the revelation that the zombies haven’t actually evolved, but instead are living people who are wearing the skins of zombies and hanging out with them like total weirdoes doesn’t lessen the moment.

I’d argue that it’s so damn creepy that it makes the show’s cliffhanger, which should be pretty basic (the main characters are trapped in the cemetery, surrounded by zombies, how unusual), more effective because now they’re surrounded by zombies and completely insane people. It was certainly effective to prevent me from noticing how contrived it was that Michonne shows up at the exact right location, at the exact right time—and that somehow Michonne never realized Magna and Yumiko being about 30 seconds behind her—until after the episode was done. As I’ve said before, I don’t mind plot holes, as long as I’m being entertained enough that I don’t notice them in the moment.

It helps so much that the show has found some compelling antagonists again. The Whisperers, (as they’re called in the comics), are peak Walking Dead nonsense—of course what would happen after a zombie apocalypse is that a community would form bonded by their shared love of sewing corpse faces to their heads and wandering among zombies—but man, the show’s needed that ridiculousness for a long while. That the Whisperers have felt like a genuinely new type of antagonist, at least for now, has been a huge help. Right now they feel like the bad guys in a slasher flick—incomprehensible, unreasoning, motivated only by the desire to kill. I almost hate that we’re almost certainly going to get to know them and have their mystery taken away.

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Sure, the episode wasn’t perfect, but really, can The Walking Dead ever be? We’ve always gotten a few tremendously good episodes tucked into even the direst of seasons, but the show’s also had its troubles even in the best of times. Maybe I’ve been Stockholm-syndromed by the last few years, but this first half of season nine is exactly as good as I need The Walking Dead to be. All I need is to enjoy the show is for the storylines to keep progressing, the mysteries to be intriguing, and the main characters not to be malevolent idiots. (Or at least most of the main characters; let’s not go too far.)

I don’t know if that’s going to be enough for all you folks, let alone good enough to attract all those former viewers. But now, for the first time in forever, I can say I would keep watching The Walking Dead even if I weren’t doing these recaps. And that’s enough for now.

Aaron (Ross Marquand) displays his “oh shit” face.
Photo: Gene Page (AMC)

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Assorted Musings:

  • I’m not going to bother to check this, but I’m pretty sure that this was the first Walking Dead finale in quite some time that super-sized its time, which 99% of the time it didn’t need. Showrunner Angela Kang has kept most of the episodes at a regular hour or close to it, and it’s helped things immensely because there’s less time for the show to waste.
  • Magna is ready to fight the entirety of Hilltop, just like she was willing to fight all of Alexandria. Lady, you’re five people against 50, minimum. The odds are not in your favor.
  • I liked Alden’s less clean-cut look better. The show should definitely change him back to meet the aesthetic tastes of one person.
  • Interesting how the super-smart Eugene can only theorize about the zombies’ increased intelligence, while Negan brings out the hard science of how smells are particles so technically Gabriel, who has to clean out Megan’s bedpan, has some of Negan’s shit in him.
  • I have exactly zero ideas how the Whisperers are not only directing the zombies, but keeping them from getting distracted, and I’m definitely going to need an explanation. “Because they hang out with them” will not be a sufficient answer.
  • After one enemy is defeated, a much more powerful enemy shows up? I’ve seen enough Dragonball Z to know how this Negan thing is gonna play out.
  • I understand Jesus’ death is very sad for them, but it would be pretty hilarious if they stuck his body in a cave, blocked it with a big rock, and then opened it back up three days later.

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See how Juul turned teens into influencers and threw buzzy parties to fuel its rise as Silicon Valley's favorite e-cig company

juul4An image from Juul’s 2015 New York City launch party collected by the Stanford researchers.SRITA

The kids are not all right.

Regulators and public-health experts say that vaping is the latest trend among young people and that the habit is creating a generation of new smokers. At the center of the controversy is Juul, the Silicon Valley e-cigarette startup whose sleek devices now rule the vaping market.

At Stanford University — the alma mater of Juul’s cofounders, Adam Bowen and James Monsees — researchers have been assembling a trove of images, videos, and social-media posts the startup used to market its devices. Their work, which they revealed for the first time last week, is part of a larger study on the effects of tobacco advertising and includes faculty and students from pediatrics and medicine to history and anthropology.

The thousands of images shed light on how a tiny vaping startup used a combination of launch parties, social media, and free samples to become the predominant seller of e-cigs in just three years. And they add new fuel to the debate about whether the company deliberately marketed to young people, as US regulators crack down on youth vaping.

The images suggest that Juul’s ad campaign began with launch parties in New York and other cities, where guests were invited to try Juul’s products for free and share selfies on social media.

“Juul’s launch campaign was patently youth-oriented,” Robert Jackler, a practicing Stanford physician and the principal investigator behind the tobacco image collection, told Business Insider.

juul5An ad for Juul’s launch party posted on Instagram and shared by Juul (JuulVapor).SRITA

Juul has maintained that its products are not for young people and are intended for adults looking to transition away from traditional cigarettes and into less harmful vaping products.

“The advertising was intended for adults, was short-lived, and had very little impact on our growth,” a Juul representative told Business Insider in response to questions about the Stanford research.

According to the Stanford researchers who collected the images, one of the aims of Juul’s New York launch party (along with a handful of similar events in other cities) was to give away free or steeply discounted samples of its products, which contain highly addictive nicotine.

“Their business model was to get the devices in your hands either for free or cheaply,” Jackler said.

Read more: Silicon Valley e-cig startup Juul ‘threw a really great party’ to launch its devices, which experts say deliberately targeted youth

More than 1,500 samples were given out at each event, according to materials viewed by Business Insider from the Los Angeles-based advertising firm that helped Juul plan the events.

But after learning that US regulators forbade free sampling of tobacco products — a 2010 rule that has been amended to include e-cigarettes like the Juul — the company began charging people $1 for the products, Jackler said.

Shortly after the launch parties came what Juul insiders refer to as the “triangle campaign,” a series of ads featuring young people posing with a Juul in front of a brightly colored, triangle-bedazzled background.

juul1SRITA

As part of that campaign, Juul emailed customers and encouraged them to become what it called “Juul influencers,” according to materials that Jackler shared with Business Insider.

That strategy directly affected teens, he said.

“You started seeing viral peer-to-peer communication among teens who basically became brand ambassadors for Juul,” Jackler said.

Jackler and his team of researchers also compared Juul’s ads with the campaigns of traditional big tobacco companies. In one section of the collection, the researchers display Juul’s ads side by side with those of brands like Virginia Slims, Lucky Strike, and Kool.

Juul side by side comparison e-cigs cigs Virginia SlimsSRITA

In addition to posting its ads across social-media platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter, Juul advertised its sweet flavors as one of the main reasons to use the product.

Researchers have said these flavors are used to hook young people. Juul says the flavors play a key role in helping adults transition to its products and away from combustible cigarettes.

Read more: The wildly popular e-cig startup Juul is valued at $15 billion, but it faces a growing backlash of lawsuits and investigations

One Twitter ad featuring Juul’s “Creme Brulee” cartridges asked viewers to retweet if they enjoyed “dessert without the spoon.”

Juul6SRITA

A handful of researchers and public-health experts have said that numerous components of Juul’s advertising campaign — like holding parties to launch products and emphasizing sweet flavors — had the effect of making its products appealing to young people who might not have otherwise used tobacco products.

Last week, to address what’s been called an “epidemic” of teen vaping, federal regulators at the Food and Drug Administration announced plans to place flavored e-cigarettes like the Juul behind a stronger regulatory fence.

Read more: Regulators will ban menthol cigarettes and chip away at flavored e-cigs to combat teen vaping — but experts say their plans fall short

To get ahead of the FDA’s planned regulatory moves, Juul temporarily halted sales of its flavored products in retail stores. It has also changed the names of some of its flavors to remove some of their appeal to young people — Creme Brulee is now “Creme,” while “Fruit Medley” and “Cool Cucumber” are now “Fruit” and “Cucumber.”

“Although Juul is taking measures now to address the virality of its products among teenagers, it’s too little, too late,” Jackler said.

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