Picks

We Thought Buying This Stuff Would Make 2020 Better. Boy Were We Wrong.

Way too much Pez, a ring light, and more.

A pile of grape Pez candy, a large fan, and a plastic slide.
Photo illustration by Slate

We’ve spent this year feeling stuck and anxious, searching everywhere for both meaning and relief. Sometimes, we have directed that search toward the things we could purchase on the internet. Often, that has not yielded great results. Here are some of the things we bought this year in attempt to solve a problem or to feel better that did not work. We do not recommend these products. We wasted our money on them—we implore you not to. Unless you find something you like, of course.

Kitchen Miscalculations

Gatorade Thirst Quencher 51 oz Powder Variety Pack

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I read a Washington Post piece in late February by a man who got COVID-19 on a cruise ship and went to a biocontainment unit in Nebraska. He said his treatment consisted largely of drinking Gatorade. I thought it would be good to have Gatorade powder on hand if I got sick? But I never drink Gatorade. My household has still barely gotten halfway through one. —Asha Saluja, podcast operations manager

Airtight Container Set for Food Storage

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I purchased this container set on March 13, which might be enough said on its own. I’ve read too much pandemic lit over the years, so I’d already been doing some panic buying. Then I read something online about the risk of pests getting into pantries and chewing through cardboard boxes. I live in fear of bugs, so I bought these things. As soon as they arrived, I realized that I did not have enough consumable goods in cardboard boxes to warrant them. —Torie Bosch, Future Tense editor

Stainless Steel Dumpling and Empanada Maker

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We eat a lot of empanadas in our house, and I’ve always been terrible at rolling them despite lessons from my Argentine husband. On a whim, I ordered this highly rated dumpling/empanada press. I just knew with this I’d be a one-woman empanada factory. Maybe I’d even branch out into re-creating some of my favorite dumplings. I used it once. It made a huge mess, and I couldn’t get a good seal on the dough no matter what I tried. The round cutters that you use before the step of pressing, however, are pretty good quality. I use them regularly for biscuits and cookies. —Faith Smith, executive producer of Slate Live

Mini Hexagon Glass Jars

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I had an ambitious plan to can some preserves, but these were much tinier than expected. What are these even good for? —Jonathan Zuckerman, website developer

Cento Artichoke Hearts in Brine

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I was really worried about running out of any kind of vegetable at all as the grocery delivery infrastructure buckled under the weight of the pandemic, but now that things have stabilized, they’re not really vegetable-y enough to be the lead vegetable at a meal and after 10 months of nearly uninterrupted cooking, I can’t face the thought of making any unnecessary side dishes, even if I’m just throwing them in the oven to brown a little. —Tom Scocca, politics editor

Pez Candy Single Flavor 5 lb Bulk Bag (Grape)

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Impulse splurge before the first time seeing my niece in months. Way too much Pez for a 4-year-old, so I’ve been stuck with what seems like a lifetime Pez candy supply. Worst part: My partner, who eats them without a dispenser, leaves the wrappers everywhere! —Molly Gallagher, programmatic ad-ops manager

Empty Entertainments

Little Tykes First Slide

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There’s a lot we didn’t understand about the coronavirus back in the spring. For example, authorities in Washington, D.C., didn’t know that playgrounds were relatively low-risk places for children to play during a pandemic, which is why they kept them shut for months. Also, for example, my wife and I did not know that we really should not have bought this slide. Oh, sure, we got use out of it for a few weeks—first our daughter asked us to place her at the top so she could slide down, then she figured out how to climb it. (“Great job!”) Now it sits untouched in our living room, an obstacle we walk around by habit and a monument to our desperation to occupy our child by any means. —Jonathan Fischer, technology editor

DIY Paint by Numbers for Adults

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I desperately needed something to distract myself, rather than worrying about [gestures widely]. A paint-by-numbers kit seemed like a good thing to occupy my time. After I bought this in October, I painted six numbers in the upper-left corner while watching an old season of The Great British Bake Off. I haven’t touched it since. —Megan Wiegand, senior managing editor 

Jump Rope Cable With Memory Foam Handles

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I bought this jump rope because I thought I’d be working out with it. I used it once! —Seung Park, senior audience development editor

Nike FE/NOM Flyknit Women’s High-Support Sports Bra

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Not to overstate things, but this sports bra, purchased during the summer, has caused something of an existential crisis. I didn’t need another sports bra. I wasn’t exercising regularly when I got it. When I do exercise, I wear a shirt, so it’s not like anyone would be able to notice my cool bra, which I purchased in neon.

I bought this bra in a frenzy of “I have to buy something or I will shrivel up and die.” This purchase was rash and out of character, like peeing outside behind a pizza place when you’re on a bender. I haven’t ever done that, but if I did, I’d be less embarrassed than I am for buying this stupid, high-support bra for body parts that, not to be weird but, do not need a whole lot of scaffolding in my case. I didn’t even wait for the bra to go on sale. It was $80. I’m kind of worried my parents are going to read this. I’ve sent the money I used to spend taking the subway to the altar of a false god. Am I a pagan now? I think I have to go pray about this. I never pray!  —Mary Wilson, politics editor for What Next

WFH Woes

Flash Furniture Black Sit to Stand Mobile Laptop Computer and Kangaroo Original Standing Mat

About six weeks into the pandemic, I was experiencing back pain. I knew standing more would help, so I bought this thing. But it doesn’t actually go up high enough and is apparently almost the exact same height as my tall kitchen table. When I do stand to work (which is still not as much as I should), I mostly just use the table, leaving the desk in a corner taking up valuable real estate in my small apartment. Oh, and of course I bought an “anti-fatigue standing mat” to go with the desk; it’s now hidden behind a chair. —Torie Bosch, Future Tense editor

Ring Light With Stand and Phone Holder

I bought a ring light to look better on Zooms. It’s cheaply made, clunky, and it makes little light rings appear in my pupils that give away the fact that I am vain enough to have purchased a ring light. —Heidi Grothaus, VP of people operations

Sony Noise-Canceling Headphones

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I bought noise-canceling headphones because I was hoping I could wear them during the times when I’m trying to work in my apartment’s open kitchen/living room area while one of my roommates is doing something sound-producing like watching TV or talking on the phone. I regret this because, silly me, I was wrong to assume that what noise-canceling headphones do is cancel noise. They don’t. They can drown out certain ambient sounds, supposedly, but not any of the ambient sounds in or surrounding my apartment. And these specific ones also hurt my ears. —Heather Schwedel, staff writer

LapDome Portable Sun Shade for Laptop

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There was a time not so long ago when my husband, daughter, and I had temporarily moved in with my parents, and I was straight-up desperate to avail myself of their suburban outdoor space after months of pacing our Brooklyn apartment. So listen: I bought this “portable sun shade”—otherwise known as the LapDome, baby—to block the glare from my laptop while I worked outside. This purchase was insane. The LapDome, even though I bought it on sale, is not well-priced. It barely even works. You look like an absolute dingbat while using it. I’m sorry; I bought two of them. One for my husband, who literally never touched his because it sucks. — Laura Bennett, editorial director

Miscellaneous Mysteries

Tornado Heavy-Duty Air Circulator Fan

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When it was warm, the kids were being tutored in the backyard with two other kids and the mosquitoes were so horrendous that I bought this to blow them away. It worked, BUT it was so loud they couldn’t hear the teacher. I ended up not figuring that out until after I couldn’t return it anymore. I bought two smaller fans that blew the mosquitoes quietly, and the monstrosity fan was left on the porch most of the summer. Then the kids figured out that they could attach a parachute to the big fan and play inside the balloon-sized tent it created, but then, due to arguments about who would get to turn it off and trap other people in the parachute, we had to ban that activity entirely. Now, all the fans are in a closet and have been swapped out for the patio heater that I bought in July, though soon it will be too cold for any kind of outdoor tutelage. We may or may not reconvene, with the fans, in the spring. —Greg Lavallee, director of technology

Zacurate Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

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I bought it because of that one piece and I regret it because I never got COVID! But there’s still time. —Dan Kois, senior writer

Side Zip Faux-Leather Legging

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My thinking was “these are sort of like leggings, but I’ll feel like I’m wearing real pants.” I haven’t worn them once! Pleather pants in a pandemic! —Susan Matthews, news director 

The Years of Lyndon Johnson

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I saw three out of four of the books in this set at a garage sale. The nice lady running it insisted that I take all three of them (along with a large nonstick pan, a Levi’s backpack, and a huge chili pot) for $10. I couldn’t resist the bargain, and it was easy enough to shove the paperback volumes into my new backpack. Now, they’re just staring at me from my bookshelf. There’s just no way I’m going to read them. I get embarrassed when I think about having to drop them off at my local Little Free Library, or (God forbid) sell them at my own garage sale. —Madeline Ducharme, podcast production assistant

Animals Being Derps 2021 Day-to-Day Calendar

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Just before the election, arguably the peak stress point of 2020, I decided I was going to make the holidays easy by giving everyone a page-a-day calendar, tailored to their interests in some way. I got as far as purchasing this one, ostensibly for my boyfriend. But not too long after it arrived, we had a new president-elect, and I had the mental capacity to question the merits of gifting anyone I love 365 small pieces of paper, let alone with the words ANIMALS BEING DERPS written on every single one. —Shannon Palus, staff writer

Cleaning Gel Universal Dust Cleaner

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This blobby stuff is supposed to clean your computer keyboard. It sort of has the consistency of slime, but it snaps much more easily when you pull it, smells like Banana Runts, and will leave your hands feeling moist. It does not clean up dust that well. It does get dirty itself. —Shannon Palus, staff writer

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