19 clever white elephant gifts worth a laugh and a steal

Illustration by Giordano Poloni / For The Times; animation by Jess Hutchison / Los Angeles Times

If you’ve never joined in a white elephant gift exchange, you’ve never lived. Or at least, you’ve never lived with the particular brand of merriment, greed, envy, snark and revenge that one of these exchanges can inspire.

Here are some gifts that might work for your next white elephant exchange, either because you’ll love them or you’ll love handing them to somebody else.

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Working on your holiday shopping? We’ve got you covered with recommendations for the best gifts to find in L.A.

Mattel Magic 8 Ball

Magic 8 Ball in its pink and purple packaging
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Is there a more effective way of seeing into the future? Not if you’re going by our stock portfolios. Of 20 possible answers with the Magic 8 Ball, 10 are positive (“It is certain,” for instance), five are negative (“My reply is no”) and five are noncommittal (“Better not tell you now”). This classic item, which has been around for more than 70 years, is offered online, of course, but you can also go to Kip’s Toyland, which has been open since 1945 in the Original Farmers Market.

$16.95 at Amazon

Melinda’s ‘La Muerta’ Day of the Dead Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce

Melinda La Muerta hot sauce
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

This high-octane peppery sauce comes in a package shaped like a coffin and adorned with colors suitable to Día de los Muertos. (The ghost pepper, formally called bhut jolokia, originally comes from India.) The Guinness World Records people listed the ghost pepper as the world’s hottest for several years although several peppers have since surpassed the ghost pepper’s heat. This limited-edition hot sauce is available online from Melinda’s Craft Pepper Sauces or at Light My Fire, a condiment shop in the Original Farmers Market in Los Angeles.

$16.99 at Melinda’s

Archie McPhee bacon air freshener

A bacon air freshener in its packaging
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

This product is about 4 inches long, with a string for hanging from your rearview mirror or mantelpiece. But be warned: It doesn’t smell much like bacon — it doesn’t smell much at all. So this is a gift that’s more about the concept (that moment when somebody spots it dangling over the dashboard) than olfactory execution.


$3.50 at McPhee

Schylling Beardies

Schylling Beardies is a fake beard packaged on a cardboard face with round blue eyes and brown hair
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

These rubbery fake beards come in black or brown, with straps to loop over your ears. One size fits all. It’s made by Schylling, which specializes in “reimagining” classic toys. (Schylling is a distributor of toys including Sea Monkeys and Tonka trucks.)

$7 at Wacko

Running Press cat phrenology head

A ceramic cat head with lines dividing it into sections labeled with words such as "eat" and "chase invisible objects"
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

What thoughts occupy the feline brain? This painted ceramic bust, about 3 inches high, appears to have the answers. Among the thought zones traced on the cat’s head: Chase invisible objects, lick butt, knock objects off tables and, of course, world domination. It comes with a tiny 32-page “Little Book of Cat Phrenology,” which unscientifically yet persuasively categorizes feline actions into broad categories such as resistance, indifference, calculation and vengeance.


$10.95 at Hachette

Star Power Umbrella hat

A multicolor umbrella hat obscures the person wearing it
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Here is a fashion statement that tells the world you are willing to be silly. It comes in rainbow colors, of course, and the sample I tested ($6 from Wacko in Los Feliz) has a diameter of 20 inches and was made in China for Star Power. It’s also held in place at forehead level by an elastic band that will be a bit snug if you wear an adult size medium hat.

$5.49 at Temu

Annabelle’s Abba-Zaba candy bar

Abba Zaba bar in its distinctive yellow-and-black checkerboard wrapper
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

This is 2 ounces of throwback chewy caloric pleasure in a bold black-and-yellow wrapper. It’s basically taffy with a peanut butter center, a joyous merger that has been made since the 1970s by Annabelle Candy Co. in Hayward.

$25 for 24 bars at Annabelle


Necco Wafers

A roll of Necco wafers with the words "Since 1847"
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

This candy, which predates the Civil War, sparks love/hate reactions (and occasional comparisons to the taste of chalk). The wafers come in eight flavors, including, for some reason, clove. The Necco brand, historically a mainstay in Massachusetts, has been through various owners over the years, the latest being Ohio-based Spangler Candy Co., but the wafers actually get made in Mexico. (The origin of the candy’s name goes back to the initials for the New England Confectionery Co.) Doordash will deliver Necco Wafers from Big Lots! for $1.65 per pack. Or you can buy this candy directly at several other retailers.

$1.99 at Walgreens

Frostie Blue Cream Soda

Frostie Blue Cream Soda
(Taylor Arthur / Los Angeles Times)

Here’s the prettiest blue brew of carbonated water, sugar and sodium benzoate that you’ll ever see. And if you’ve never been to Galco’s, it’s an old-school Eagle Rock grocery store that’s been half taken over by an encyclopedic soda pop inventory (along with wine, beer and some candy in a corner where maybe once there was produce). The taste? It’s the sweetest cream soda you’ll ever encounter, with a bit of sugary bubble-gum aftertaste — lots of bubbles. In person, this blue pop is priced at $1.99 per 12-ounce bottle from Galco’s Soda Pop Stop. You’ll need to order in multiples of eight sodas if you order online from Galco’s.

$3.25 per bottle (online) at Galco’s Soda Pop Stop

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The Thomas Guide to L.A. and Orange counties

The cover of the new Thomas Guide for Los Angeles and Orange counties shows sunlit palm trees with downtown L.A. and beyond
(The Thomas Guide)

What’s the perfect gift for someone who already loves typewriters, vinyl and film cameras? Maps on paper. (Bound to be the next big thing, right?) This spiral-bound compendium, once an Angeleno necessity, includes 504 pages of street maps in great gridded detail. If the electronic apocalypse comes, it’ll be priceless. Otherwise, it might make cool garage wallpaper, or maybe it’ll just make boomers smile wistfully and tell stories about the days when service stations sold gasoline and gave out S&H green stamps. Thomas Bros. Maps, founded in Oakland in 1915, moved to Los Angeles in 1940 and then Irvine in the 1970s, before Rand McNally acquired the company in 1998.

$44.99 at Rand McNally Store

54 Celsius CandleHand

A blue candle in the shape of a hand giving a peace sign
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

CandleHand is what it sounds like. It’s a candle in the shape of a hand that’s making a gesture. Gestures include the peace sign, the greeting for “live long and prosper,” the middle finger, and the index-and-pinkie “you rock” salute. The candles are made by hand in Vilnius, Lithuania, and are available in several colors.

$40 at 54 Celsius

Graf Lantz’s Bierfilzl coasters

A diamond composed of four felt coasters of different colors
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Graf Lantz’s Bierfilzl coasters are available in more than a dozen colors. Made of highly absorbent German Merino wool, they come square or round and are 5 millimeters thick. The Silver Lake-based company is run by Holger Graf and Daniel Lantz. But does having a PhD in structural engineering make you better at designing coasters? Maybe. Graf has one of those. (And the brand also makes other stuff including backpacks, seat pads and place mats.)

$26 for four coasters at Graf Lantz

Outee rubber snakes

A pile of rubber snakes, topped with a bright yellow one with a red head
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

You get seven snakes in this package, including a bright yellow one and a bright green one, measuring 15 inches to 47 inches long. “Children like to play terrible games and pranks,” say the snake makers at Outee, the brand that sells various toys on Amazon. Besides pranks, you might use these to scare off squirrels or other pests.

$13.99 at Amazon

Time Travel Mart’s Red Shield Barbarian Repellent

A spray bottle of Red Shield Barbarian Repellent
(Taylor Arthur / Los Angeles Times)

This 17.5-ounce spray bottle holds an unspecified watery purple liquid that smells like potpourri, and the bottle’s label claims it repels Barbarians on contact. That label is well worth reading, especially the reference to where Barbarians are commonly found (“campfires, bonfires, pyres, temples to fire, and taverns”) and the warning regarding Ostrogoths. The repellent is available at the Time Travel Mart in Echo Park, which is the playful storefront for 826LA and 826 Valencia, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to supporting under-resourced students with their writing skills.” Or for $9.99 you can order an empty 24-ounce version of the bottle online.

$15.99 at Time Travel Mart


Time Travel Mart’s Evil Robot Memory Eraser

Evil Robot Memory Eraser (that's also a magnet)
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

This looks suspiciously like a magnet. (Well, it is a magnet.) But you must admit, in the current AI-inflected era, this is a comforting way to think about a magnet. Remember to heed the label’s messaging: “Not for use on androids or cyborgs.”

$12.99 at Time Travel Mart

Time Travel Mart’s Mammoth Chunks

A container of Mammoth Chunks
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

This is another fine pseudo-product from the people at Time Travel Mart. The label states that this hefty can “may contain up to 30% mastodon meat.” The actual contents are shredded paper stuffing and several booklets of writing prompts and brief compositions by past 826 writing students.

$18.99 at Time Travel Mart

John August Writer Emergency Pack

A writer emergency pack/deck of cards
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

This deck of cards — 26 designed to prompt details, 26 to coax ideas —are all aimed at bringing imagined worlds from your brain to the page. The cards are tailored to writers of fiction, whether novels, poems, plays or scripts, and they might stir some deep thinking. Sample tip: “What does ‘home’ mean to your hero? Is it a sanctuary or a prison? Is it a location or a relationship? Most heroes are either running to or from home.” The deck also comes as an XL version with double the suggestions.

$19 at John August

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BigMouth Inc. recycle bin coffee mug

BigMouth coffee mug in the shape of a blue recycle bin
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Drink your joe from a little blue bin and strike a tiny symbolic blow for sustainability (while increasing the planet’s inventory of unnecessary objects). Unlike in real life, this blue bin does not have a flip top and it holds 12 ounces of coffee.

$16.49 at Amazon

BigMouth Inc. giant skull-shaped beach blanket

Skull-shaped beach blanket
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

This will make an impression at the beach (especially if there are drones). The polyester blanket is 66½ inches across and 52 inches from the chin to the top of the head, wildly colorful on one side, white on the other, and comes in a plastic pouch.


$24.99 at Big Mouth Inc.

Prices and availability of items in the Gift Guide are subject to change.

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3:32 p.m. Nov. 7, 2023: The prices increased on a bottle of Time Travel Mart’s Red Shield Barbarian Repellent, full or empty.