Best Alexa Skills To Impress Your Family

Welp, it's that time of year again, when family and friends gather to celebrate the holidays. And, if you're a smart-home owner, it's the time when you'll have to get ready to explain just what that "Alexa" is.

Sure, you could just ask Alexa for the weather. You could have it turn on a light or two. But if you really want to impress your relatives, you'll want to have some cooler tricks ready to show up.

We've rounded up some of the niftiest Alexa skills, which you can show off to your relatives during this holiday season.

1. Send them a gift card

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For those family members who are hardest to shop for, a gift card is a great present. Alexa can send one in real time with a skill called GiftJoy. Say "Alexa, talk to GiftJoy," and you can send a gift card for any amount from over 100 retailers, including Starbucks, Nordstrom, Sephora and Uber. They'll get it right on their phone.

2. Play 20 questions

Your relatives will be blown away by how good Alexa is at 20 Questions. Say "Alexa, play Akinator," and Alexa will be able to guess any "character," human or animal, real or fictional, with just a series of Yes or No questions. It got Barack Obama in just eight, and Luigi in 13.

3. Sync your smart lights

If you own a smart light, or feel like shelling out for one, a number of Alexa-enabled smart lights can easily sync to the music you're playing. Sengled’s Solo Color Plus, for example, which doubles as a bluetooth speaker, will change color and pulse to the beat of your music. The smaller and cheaper Lifx Mini doesn't contain a speaker, but it can create effects to accompany whatever your external speaker is playing. And, if you have Philips Hue bulbs, an app called Philips Hue Sync can synchronize their color and brightness with movies and games, as well as music. It's an easy way to add cool effects to your family's favorite songs.

4. Play Away Mode

Away Mode is a hilarious Alexa skill in which Alexa plays continuous conversations to drive away burglars. Your relatives will be impressed by how realistic the conversations sound -- and also how damn insufferable they really are. Potential burglars will hear a group of nerds aggressively arguing over the rules of a space-pirate role-playing game, a mother trying and failing to assemble Ikea furniture, and a teenage girl yelling at her father about the logistics of her curfew. See how long your family can last.

5. Mastermind

The Mastermind skill is a bit of a hassle to set up (you have to create an account), but once it's up and running, it enables Alexa to do whatever your phone can do. Say, "Alexa, ask Mastermind to text Mom," or "Alexa, ask Mastermind to call Grandpa," and wow your family members from near or far away. You can also send emails, check your phone's battery charge, and even share your location with Google Maps.

6. Find recipes

If your family is about to cook, but they don't yet have a recipe in mind, use Alexa to help them out. Say "Alexa, show me pasta recipes" to your Echo Spot or Echo Show, and you'll see a huge list compiled from a number of sources, including Allrecipes and the Food Network. Scroll through it to pick the best one. Then, Alexa can talk them through the recipe, step by step, and display the instructions on the screen as well.

7. The Bartender

If you're at a loss for what drinks to mix for your family, or aren't sure what to drink, call upon Alexa's Bartender skill. You can ask it how to make any cocktail your family may be craving, and it will walk you through the steps (and display the instructions, if you have an Echo Spot or Echo Show). If you're not sure what to drink, or in the mood to try something new, Alexa can suggest new drink recipes as well.

8. Listen to Ted Talks

For your nerdiest friends and family, broadcast a Ted Talk directly to your living room using only your voice. Say "Alexa, play a Ted Talk" to get started right away. Alternatively, if they have preferences, say "Alexa, play a science Ted Talk"or "Alexa, play a Ted Talk by David Pogue."

9. Tic Tac Toe

If any of your friends fancy themselves a mastermind, have them challenge Alexa to Tic Tac Toe. There’s no board, so they’ll have to visualize the game, and keep track of where they and Alexa have placed their Xs and Os. But Alexa is a clever one; hard as they try, they won’t be able to beat it. (At least, I haven’t yet.)

10. Create a scene

Gather all your smart-home products into one room (or buy a couple cheap ones). Set them all up as part of a scene or routine, and watch your family’s jaws drop when “Good morning, Alexa” causes them all to turn on at once, and plays some music to fit the theme. You can do this with as little as one bulb (Lifx’s Smart Bulbs, for example, can create custom effects for different times of day, as well as holidays, such as a spooky flicker for Halloween). But if you have a more complex device that Alexa can turn on, such as a smart coffee maker or air conditioner, you can really wow them.

Credit: Tom's Guide

Monica Chin is a writer at The Verge, covering computers. Previously, she was a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she wrote about everything from artificial intelligence to social media and the internet of things to. She had a particular focus on smart home, reviewing multiple devices. In her downtime, you can usually find her at poetry slams, attempting to exercise, or yelling at people on Twitter.