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Uncovering the perfect holiday gift for one person is hard enough—but an entire group? Now that's a challenge. Because here's the deal: Every group is different! Maybe it's all your BFFs you've known forever, a group chat that's always popping off, or a bunch of coworkers who have become like family. Perhaps it's your actual blood-related family—and you need a lil something for each and every member. Whatever your gift-giving sitch, finding presents that work for a whole slew of people who are wildly unique can feel like a daunting task. All it really takes, though, is a bit of determination (and a lot of internet browsing). Of course, I already did all that for ya.

After scouring the depths of the World Wide Web, I've discovered a treasure trove of gift ideas for groups of all kinds. There are edible treats for the friend groups who love to snack, games and puzzles for the families who value togetherness, and even little trinkets that you can give to groups of people who you don't know super well. Like I said, there's something for everyone in this handy gift guide—as long as you skip the procrastination and get ahead of this year's shipping delays, obvs. Now go forth and become the Santa of every group you're in!


Climate and health coalition Ship It Zero is calling on Ikea to transition to zero-emissions shipping by The coalition delivered a petition signed by nearly 20, shoppers to the company’s Delft, Netherlands, headquarters Thursday, urging Ikea to “abandon dirty ships.”

Ship It Zero is led by environmental organizations Pacific Environment and It also targeted Walmart, Amazon and Target for their contributions to climate change and air pollution through shipping.

Ship It Zero has three main goals, according to Dawny’all Heydari, campaign lead:

  • Push companies to “immediately abandon dirty cargo ships” and incorporate emissions-reduction technologies and methods such as slow steaming and wind-assisted propulsion.
  • Call on retailers to sign contracts to ship goods on the world’s first zero-emissions vessels.
  • Urge retailers to commit to % zero-emissions shipping by

In July, the coalition published a “Shady Ships” report about the retailers that contribute the most to ocean shipping-related emissions. It listed Ikea as the seventh-largest polluter in the U.S. The report said Ikea’s shipping led to more than , metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and over 16, metric tons of air pollutants, such as sulfur oxide and particulate matter, in

This air pollution, Heydari said, leaves port communities at a “heightened risk of asthma, cancer, and premature death.” Ship It Zero even held “die-ins” to call attention to the , premature deaths and million childhood asthma cases linked to burning fossil fuels for shipping annually.

Read: Report: Sustainable marine fuels should meet expansive criteria

“We know that Ikea aims to be a climate leader in the industry. With the knowledge we gathered on Ikea&#;s ship pollution, Ship It Zero staged this action to push Ikea to be accountable to its own ambitions of averting the most catastrophic climate scenarios and ultimately saving human life. The time for ending dependence on fossil fuels in ocean shipping has arrived,” Heydari told FreightWaves.

This call to action from Ship It Zero came just a day after Ikea announced it will be a partner for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. 

Ikea did not respond to FreightWaves’ request for a comment, but the company’s climate goals, as stated on its website, include: 

  • Reducing absolute greenhouse gas emissions from product transport by 15% by , compared to , while growing the business.
  • Switching to % renewable energy across the entire supply chain by
  • Becoming “climate positive” by and reaching net-zero emissions no later than , using science-based targets.
  • Achieving a circular business model by by leveraging buy-back, resell, repair and furniture leasing programs.

“It is undeniable: There is a growing trend for corporations to set sustainability goals. Currently a quarter of the Fortune companies have set targets to be carbon-neutral by That should be applauded. Meanwhile, we should push more organizations to do the same,” said Danny Gomez, managing director of financial and emerging markets at FreightWaves.

Gomez continued: “The reality is, the world is watching, so once you publicly set goals, you need to be prepared to explain how you are tracking to those goals. Firms need to do their homework and really chart their path to carbon neutrality before they make public announcements. If you are falling short, someone is going to hold your feet to the fire, which isn’t a bad thing, but it needs to be done in a productive way. We are all in this together.”

Read:E-methanol: Missing piece to shipping’s decarbonization puzzle?

Potential for zero-emissions shipping by

The Global Maritime Forum estimates that zero-emissions shipping fuels will need to make up at least 5% of the global fuel mix by to be in line with the Paris Agreement. The forum said that establishing this target would “mobilize stakeholders along the supply chain” to make investments in zero-emissions shipping fuel, technology and infrastructure while also providing an increased level of confidence that there is a demand for these fuels.

“Corporate cargo customers like Ikea must step up to the leadership helm by taking immediate steps to reduce their maritime climate pollution and committing to zero-emissions shipping by ,” Kendra Ulrich, shipping campaigns director at, said in the release.

Ulrich referred to carbon credits, biofuels and liquefied natural gas as “false climate solutions” and said they will “sink our livable future before we’ve even set sail.”

In the short term, Ship It Zero recommended slow steaming, using wind propulsion, maximizing efficiency in terms of route planning, hull cleanings, coatings and air lubrication, prioritizing contracts with carriers for ports with shore power, demanding zero-emissions fuels from carriers, and investing in zero-emissions shipping.

The coalition’s report said that adding wind-harnessing technologies to existing ships can reduce emissions by up to 30% per voyage and 8% to 10% per year.

Long term, the coalition estimated that zero-emissions ships would be on the water by , giving the Swedish retailer six years to fully decarbonize its ocean shipping operations by Heydari said the group is looking at the life cycle emissions of fuels from well to wake and considers wind-assist propulsion, battery-electric power and green hydrogen-based fuels such as ammonia and e-methanol to be the future of clean shipping.

Heydari also said there is potential to create “thriving, green port economies” by investing in local production and storage of these zero-emissions fuels near ports.

“It’s time to set sail on zero-emissions cargo ships and break retailers’ dependence on ships that pollute our ports, harm our health and obstruct our opportunity to meet our climate objectives,” Heydari said.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Alyssa Sporrer.

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6 Months Inside One of America’s Most Dangerous Industries

This article was published online on June 14,

On the morning of May 25, , a food-safety inspector at a Cargill meatpacking plant in Dodge City, Kansas, came across a disturbing sight. In an area of the plant called the stack, a Hereford steer had, after being shot in the forehead with a bolt gun, regained consciousness. Or maybe he had never lost it. Either way, this wasn’t supposed to happen. The steer was hanging upside down by a steel chain shackled to one of his rear legs. He was showing what is known in the euphemistic language of the American beef industry as “signs of sensibility.” His breathing was “rhythmic.” His eyes were open and moving. And he was trying to right himself, which the animals commonly do by arching their back. The only sign he wasn’t exhibiting was “vocalization.”

The inspector, who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told employees in the stack to stop the moving overhead chain to which the cattle were attached and “reknock” the steer. But when one of them pulled the trigger on a handheld bolt gun, it misfired. Someone brought over another gun to finish the job. “The animal was then stunned adequately,” the inspector wrote in a memorandum describing the incident, noting that “the timeframe from observing the apparent egregious action to the final euthanizing stun was approximately 2 to 3 minutes.”

Three days after the incident occurred, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, citing the plant’s history of compliance, put the plant on notice for its “failure to prevent inhumane handling and slaughter of livestock.” FSIS ordered the plant to create an action plan to ensure that such an incident didn’t happen again. On June 4, the agency approved a plan submitted by the plant’s manager and said in a letter to him that it would defer a decision about punishment. The chain could keep moving, and with it the slaughtering of up to 5, cows a day.

Eric Schlosser: America’s slaughterhouses aren’t just killing animals

The first time I stepped foot in the stack was late last October, after I had been working at the plant for more than four months. To find it, I arrived early one day and worked my way backwards down the chain. It was surreal to see the slaughter process in reverse, to witness step-by-step what it would take to reassemble a cow: shove its organs back into its body cavities; reattach its head to its neck; pull its hide back over its flesh; draw blood back into its veins.

During my visits to the kill floor, I saw a severed hoof lying inside a metal sink in the skinning room, and puddles of bright-red blood dotting the red-brick floor. One time, a woman in a yellow synthetic-rubber apron was trimming away flesh from skinless, decapitated heads. A USDA inspector working next to her was doing something similar. I asked him what he was cutting. “Lymph nodes,” he said. I found out later that he was performing a routine check for diseases and contamination.

On my last trip to the stack, I tried to be inconspicuous. I stood against the back wall and watched as two men standing on a raised platform cut vertical incisions down the throat of each passing cow. As far as I could tell, all of the animals were unconscious, though a few of them involuntarily kicked their legs. I watched until a supervisor came over and asked what I was doing. I told him I wanted to see what this part of the plant was like. “You need to leave,” he said. “You can’t be here without a face shield.” I apologized and told him that I would get going. I couldn’t have stayed for much longer anyway; my shift was about to start.

Getting a job at the Cargill plant was surprisingly easy. The online application for “general production” was six pages long. It took less than 15 minutes to fill out. At no point was I required to submit a résumé, let alone references. The most substantial part of the application was a question form that asked things like:

“Do you have experience working with knives to cut meat (this does not include working in a grocery store or deli)?”


“How many years have you worked in a beef production plant (example: slaughter or fabrication, not a grocery store or deli)?”

No experience.

“How many years have you worked in a production or plant environment (example: assembly line or manufacturing work)?”


Four hours and 20 minutes after hitting “Submit,” I received an email confirmation for a phone interview the next day, May 19, The interview lasted three minutes. When the woman conducting it asked me for the name of my last employer, I told her that it was the First Church of Christ, Scientist, the publisher of The Christian Science Monitor. I had worked at the Monitor from to For the last two of those four years, I was its Beijing correspondent. I had quit to study Chinese and freelance.

“And what did you do there?” the woman asked about my time at the Church.

“Communications,” I said.

The woman asked a couple of follow-up questions about when I quit and why. During the interview, the only question that gave me pause was the final one.

“Do you have any issues or concerns working in our environment?” she asked.

After hesitating for a moment, I replied, “No, I don’t.”

With that, the woman said that I was “eligible for a verbal, conditional job offer.” She told me about the six positions for which the plant was hiring. All were for the second shift, which at the time was running from in the afternoon to between and 1 o’clock in the morning. Three of the jobs were in harvesting, the side of the plant more commonly known as the kill floor, and three were in fabrication, where the meat is prepared for distribution to stores and restaurants.

I quickly decided that I wanted a job in fab. Temperatures on the kill floor can approach degrees in the summer, and, as the woman on the phone explained, “the smell is stronger because of the humidity.” Then there were the jobs themselves, jobs like removing hides and “dropping tongues.” After you remove the tongue, the woman said, “you do have to hang it on a hook.” Her description of fab, on the other hand, made it sound less medieval and more like an industrial-scale butcher shop. A small army of assembly-line workers saw, cut, trim, and package all of the meat from the cows. The temperature on the fab floor ranges from 32 to 36 degrees. But, the woman told me, you work so hard that “you don’t feel the cold once you’re in there.”

On the evening before I left for Dodge City, my mom and I went to my sister and brother-in-law’s house for a steak dinner. “It might be the last one you ever have,” my sister said.

We went over the job openings. Chuck cap puller was immediately out because it involved walking and cutting at the same time. The next to go was brisket bone for the simple reason that having to remove something called brisket fingers from in between joints sounded unappealing. That left chuck final trim. That job, as the woman described it, consisted entirely of trimming pieces of chuck “to whatever spec it is that they’re running.” How hard could that be? I thought to myself. I told the woman that I would take it. “Perfect,” she said, and went on to tell me my starting pay ($ an hour) and the conditions of my job offer.

A couple of weeks later, after a background check, a drug screening, and a physical exam, I got a call about my start date: June 8, the following Monday. The drive to Dodge City from Topeka, where I had been living with my mom since mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic, takes about four hours. I decided that I would leave on Sunday.

On the evening before I left, my mom and I went to my sister and brother-in-law’s house for a steak dinner. “It might be the last one you ever have,” my sister said when she called to invite us over. My brother-in-law grilled two ounce rib eyes for him and me and a ounce sirloin for my mom and sister to split. I helped my sister cook the side dishes: mashed potatoes and green beans sautéed in butter and bacon grease. The quintessential home-cooked meal for a middle-class family in Kansas.

The steak was as good as any I’ve had. It’s hard to describe it without sounding like an Applebee’s commercial: charred crust, juicy and tender meat. I tried to eat slowly so that I could savor every bite. But soon I was caught up in conversation, and I finished eating without thinking about it. In a state where cows outnumber people two to one, where more than 5 billion pounds of beef are produced annually, and where many families—including mine, when my three sisters and I were younger—fill their deep freezer once a year with a side of beef, it’s easy to take a steak dinner for granted.

The Cargill plant is on the southeastern outskirts of Dodge City, just down the road from a slightly larger meatpacking plant owned by National Beef. The two facilities sit at opposite ends of what is surely the most noxious two-mile stretch of road in southwestern Kansas. Situated close by is a wastewater-treatment plant and a feedlot. On many days last summer, I found the stench of lactic acid, hydrogen sulfide, manure, and death to be nauseating. The oppressive heat only made it worse.

The High Plains of southwestern Kansas are home to four major meatpacking plants: the two in Dodge City, plus one in Liberal (National Beef) and another near Garden City (Tyson Foods). That Dodge City became home to two meatpacking plants is a fitting coda to the town’s early history. Founded in along the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, Dodge City was originally an outpost for buffalo hunters. After the herds that once roamed the Great Plains were decimated—to say nothing of what happened to the Native Americans who’d once lived there—the city turned to the cattle trade.

Read: The story of Ernestor

Practically overnight, Dodge City became, in the words of a prominent local businessman, “the greatest cattle market in the world.” This was the era of lawmen like Wyatt Earp and gunfighters like Doc Holliday, of gambling and shoot-outs and barroom brawls. To say that Dodge City is proud of its Wild West heritage would be an understatement, and nowhere is that heritage more celebrated—some might say mythologized—than at the Boot Hill Museum. Located at West Wyatt Earp Boulevard, near Gunsmoke Street and the Gunfighters Wax Museum, the Boot Hill Museum is anchored by a full-scale replica of the once-famous Front Street. Visitors can enjoy a sarsaparilla at the Long Branch Saloon or shop for handmade soap and homemade fudge at the Rath & Co. General Store. Entry to the museum is free for Ford County residents, a deal that I took advantage of many times last summer after I moved into a one-bedroom apartment near the local VFW.

Yet for all its dime-novel-worthy stories, Dodge City’s Wild West era was short-lived. In , under growing pressure from local ranchers, the Kansas legislature banned Texas cattle from the state, bringing an abrupt end to the cattle drives that had fueled the town’s boom years. For the next seven decades, Dodge City remained a quiet farming community. Then, in , a company called Hyplains Dressed Beef opened the first meatpacking plant in town (the same one now operated by National Beef). In , a subsidiary of Cargill opened its plant down the road. The beef industry had returned to Dodge City.

With a combined workforce of more than 12, people, the four meatpacking plants are among the largest employers in southwestern Kansas, and all of them rely on immigrants to help staff their production lines. “The packers followed the maxim of ‘Build it and they will come,’ ” Donald Stull, an anthropologist who has studied the meatpacking industry for more than 30 years, told me. “And that’s basically what happened.”

According to Stull, the boom started in the early s with the arrival of refugees from Vietnam and migrants from Mexico and Central America. In more recent years, refugees from Myanmar, Sudan, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have all come to work in the plants. Today, nearly one in three Dodge City residents is foreign-born, and three in five are Latino or Hispanic. When I arrived at the plant on my first day of work, I was greeted by four banners at the entrance, one each in English, Spanish, French, and Somali, warning employees to stay home if they were exhibiting symptoms of COVID

I spent much of my first two days at the plant with six other new hires in a windowless classroom near the kill floor. The room had beige cinder-block walls and fluorescent overhead lighting. On the wall near the door hung two posters, one in English and the other in Somali, that read bringing beef to the people. The HR rep who was with us for most of those two days of orientation made sure we didn’t forget that mission. “Cargill is a worldwide organization,” she said before starting a lengthy PowerPoint presentation. “We pretty much feed the world. That’s why when the coronavirus started, we didn’t shut down. Because you guys want to eat, right?” Everyone nodded.

Read: How the meat industry thinks about non-meat-eaters

By that point, in early June, COVID had forced at least 30 meatpacking plants across the United States to pause operations and, according to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, had killed at least 74 workers. The Cargill plant reported its first case on April Kansas public-health records reveal that over the course of , more than of the plant’s 2, employees contracted COVID At least four died.

In March, the plant started to implement a series of social-distancing measures, including some that had been recommended by the CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It staggered breaks and installed plexiglass barriers on tables in the cafeteria and thick plastic curtains between workstations on the production line. During the third week of August, metal dividers suddenly appeared in the men’s bathrooms, providing workers with a bit of space (and privacy) at the stainless-steel urinal troughs.

The plant also hired a company called Examinetics to screen employees before each shift. In a white tent at the entrance to the plant, a team of medical personnel—all of whom wore N95 masks, white coveralls, and gloves—checked temperatures and handed out disposable face masks. Thermal cameras were set up inside the plant for additional temperature checks. Face coverings were mandatory. I always wore the disposable masks, but many other employees preferred to wear a blue neck gaiter with a United Food and Commercial Workers International Union logo or a black bandana with the Cargill logo and, for some reason, #extraordinary printed on it.

Catching the coronavirus wasn’t the only health risk at the plant. Meatpacking is notoriously dangerous. According to Human Rights Watch, government statistics show that from to , a meat or poultry worker lost a body part or was sent to the hospital for in-patient treatment about every other day. On the first day of orientation, one of the other new hires, a Black man from Alabama, described a close call he’d had when he worked in packaging at National Beef’s plant up the road. He rolled up his right sleeve to reveal a four-inch scar on the outside of his elbow. “I almost turned into chocolate milk,” he said.

The HR rep told a similar story about a man whose sleeve got caught in a conveyor belt. “He lost his arm up to here,” she said, pointing halfway up her left biceps. She let this sink in for a few moments, before moving on to the next PowerPoint slide: “That’s a good transition into workplace violence.” She began explaining Cargill’s zero-tolerance policy on guns.

After a minute break, we returned to the classroom for a presentation by a union rep.

“Why are we all here?” he asked.

“To make money,” someone responded.

“To make money!” the union rep repeated.

For the next hour and 15 minutes, money—and how the union helped us make more of it—was our focus. The union rep told us that UFCW’s local chapter had recently negotiated a permanent $2 raise for all hourly employees. He explained that all hourly employees would also earn an additional $6 an hour in “purpose pay,” because of the pandemic, through the end of August. This brought the starting wage up to $ The next day at lunch, the man from Alabama told me how eager he was to work overtime. “Right now I’m trying to work on my credit,” he said. “We’ll be working so much, we won’t even have time to spend all that money.”

On my third day of work at the Cargill plant, the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. surpassed 2 million. But the plant was beginning to bounce back from the outbreak that it had experienced earlier in the spring. (In early May, the plant’s production output had fallen by about 50 percent, according to a text message sent by Cargill’s director of state-government affairs to Kansas’s secretary of agriculture, which I later obtained through a public-records request.) The superintendent in charge of second shift, a giant man with a bushy white beard and a missing right thumb, sounded pleased. “It’s balls to the wall,” I overheard him say to contractors fixing a broken air conditioner. “Last week we were hitting 4, a day. This week we’ll probably be around 4,”

From the November issue: Slaughterhouse rules

In fab, processing all of those cows takes place in a cavernous room filled with steel chains, hard-plastic conveyor belts, industrial-size vacuum sealers, and stacks of cardboard shipping boxes. But first is the cooler, where sides of beef are left to hang for an average of 36 hours after they leave the kill floor. When they are brought out for butchering, the sides are broken down into forequarters and hindquarters and then into smaller, marketable cuts of meat. These are what get vacuum-sealed and loaded into boxes for distribution. In non-pandemic times, an average of 40, boxes, each weighing between 10 and 90 pounds, are shipped out from the plant every day. McDonald’s and Taco Bell, Walmart and Kroger—they all buy beef from Cargill. The company has six beef-processing plants across the U.S.; the one in Dodge City is the largest.

He showed me how to put on a chain-mail tunic that looked made for a knight, layers of gloves, and a white-cotton frock. He led me to a spot near the middle of a foot-long conveyor belt.

The most important tenet of the meatpacking industry is “The chain never stops.” Companies do everything they can to ensure that their production lines keep moving as fast as possible. Yet delays do occur. Mechanical problems are the most common reason; less common are shutdowns initiated by USDA inspectors because of suspected contamination or “inhumane handling” incidents like the one that occurred two years ago at the Cargill plant. Individual workers help keep the line moving by “pulling count”—industry parlance for doing your share of the work. The surest way to lose the respect of your co-workers is to continually fall behind on count, because doing so invariably means more work for them. The most heated confrontations I witnessed on the line happened when someone was perceived to be slacking off. These fights never escalated into anything more than yelling or the occasional elbow jab. If things got out of hand, a foreman would be called over to mediate.

New hires have a probation period of 45 days in which to prove that they can pull count—to “qualify,” as it’s known at the Cargill plant. Each one is supervised by a trainer for the duration of that time. My trainer was 30, just a few months younger than me, and had smiling eyes and broad shoulders. He was a member of a persecuted ethnic minority from Myanmar, the Karen. His Karen name was Par Taw, but after becoming an American citizen in , he changed his name to Billion. “Maybe I’ll be a billionaire one day,” he told me when I asked him how he had chosen his new name. He laughed, as if embarrassed by sharing this part of his American dream.

Billion was born in in a small village in eastern Myanmar. Karen rebels were in the middle of a long insurgency against the country’s central government. The conflict raged on into the new millennium—it is one of the longest-running civil wars in the world—and forced tens of thousands of Karen to flee over the border into Thailand. Billion was one of them. When he was 12 years old, he began living in a refugee camp there. He moved to the U.S. when he was 18 years old, first to Houston and then to Garden City, where he went to work at the nearby Tyson plant. In , he landed a job at Cargill, where he has worked ever since. Like many Karen people who arrived before him in Garden City, Billion attends Grace Bible Church. It was there that he met Toe Kwee, whose English name is Dahlia. The two started dating in In , they had their first son, Shine. They bought a house and got married two years later.

Billion was a patient teacher. He showed me how to put on a chain-mail tunic that looked made for a knight, layers of gloves, and a white-cotton frock. Later, he gave me an orange-handled steel hook and a plastic scabbard filled with three identical knives, each with a black handle and a slightly curved six-inch blade, and led me to an empty spot near the middle of a foot-long conveyor belt. Billion slid a knife from the scabbard and demonstrated how to sharpen it using a counterweight sharpener. Then he got to work, trimming away cartilage and bone fragments and ripping off long, thin ligaments from boulder-size pieces of chuck moving past us on the belt.

Billion worked methodically as I stood behind him and watched. He told me that the key was to cut off as little meat as possible. (As a supervisor succinctly put it: “More meat, more money.”) Billion made the job look effortless. In one swift motion, he flipped over pound slabs of chuck with the flick of his hook and pulled out ligaments from folds in the meat. “Take it slow,” he told me after we switched spots.

I cut into the next piece of chuck that came down the line, surprised by how easily my knife sliced through the chilled meat. Billion told me to sharpen my knife after every other piece. On my tenth or so piece, I accidentally hit the blade against the side of my hook. Billion motioned for me to stop working. “Be careful not to do that,” he said, the expression on his face telling me that I had made a cardinal mistake. Nothing is worse than trying to cut meat with a dull knife. I grabbed a new one from my scabbard and got back to work.

Looking back on my time at the plant, I consider myself lucky to have ended up in the nurse’s office only once. The precipitating incident occurred on my 11th day on the line. I was trying to flip over a piece of chuck when I lost my grip and drove the tip of my hook into the palm of my right hand. “It should heal in a few days,” the nurse said after she wrapped a bandage around the resulting half-inch-long gash. She told me that she often treated injuries like mine.

“I see at least one or two a day,” she said. “It’s why I have a job.”

“What’s the worst you’ve seen?” I asked.

“Guys losing a finger,” she said.

Over the next several weeks, Billion checked on me sporadically during my shifts, tapping me on the shoulder and asking, “Doing good, Mike?” before walking away. Other times he would linger to talk. If he saw that I was tired, he might grab a knife and work alongside me for a while. During one of these moments, I asked him if many people had been infected during the spring COVID‑19 outbreak. “Yeah, a ton,” he said. “I had it just a few weeks ago.”

Billion said that he’d likely caught the virus from someone in his carpool. Forced to quarantine at home for two weeks, Billion did his best to isolate himself from Shine and Dahlia, who was eight months pregnant at the time. He slept in the basement and rarely came upstairs. But during his second week of quarantine, Dahlia developed a fever and a cough. She started having difficulty breathing a few days later. Billion drove her to the hospital, where she was admitted and put on oxygen. Three days after that, a doctor induced labor. On May 23, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. They named him Clever.

Billion told me all of this shortly before our minute dinner break, which, along with our earlier minute break, I had come to cherish. I had been working at the plant for three weeks by then, and my hands constantly throbbed with pain. When I woke in the mornings, my fingers were so stiff and swollen that I could hardly bend them. I took two ibuprofen tablets before work most days. If the pain persisted, I would take two more during one of my breaks. This was a relatively tame solution, I discovered. For many of my co-workers, oxycodone and hydrocodone were the painkillers of choice. (A Cargill spokesperson said that the company “is not aware of any trend in the plant” of illegal use of either drug.)

A typical shift last summer: I pull into the plant’s parking lot at p.m. According to a digital bank sign that I passed on the way here, it’s 98 degrees outside. The windows of my car—a Kia Spectra with extensive hail damage and , miles on it—are rolled down on account of the air conditioner being broken. This means that when the wind blows from the southeast, I sometimes smell the plant before I see it.

I’m wearing an old cotton T-shirt, Levi’s jeans, wool socks, and Timberland steel-toed boots that I got for 15 percent off with my Cargill ID at a local shoe store. After I park, I put on my hairnet and hard hat and grab my lunch box and fleece jacket from the back seat. I walk past a holding pen on my way to the plant’s main entrance. Inside the pen are hundreds of cows waiting to be slaughtered. Seeing them alive like this makes my job harder, but I look at them anyway. Some jostle with their neighbors. Others crane their neck, as if they’re trying to see what’s ahead.

The cows fall out of view as I step into the medical tent for my health screening. When it’s my turn, a woman in full protective gear calls me over. She holds a thermometer to my forehead and hands me a face mask, while asking me a series of routine questions. When she tells me I’m good to go, I put on my mask, exit the tent, and pass through a turnstile and a security shack. The kill floor is to the left; fab is straight ahead, on the opposite side of the plant. On my way there, I walk past dozens of first-shift workers who are on their way out. They look tired and sore and grateful to be done for the day.

I make a brief stop in the cafeteria and take two ibuprofen. I put on my jacket and leave my lunch box on a wooden shelf. I then walk down a long hallway that leads to the production floor. I put in a pair of foam earplugs and pass through a swinging double door. The floor is a cacophony of industrial machinery. To help mute the noise and stave off boredom, employees can pay $45 for a pair of company-approved 3M noise-reduction earbuds, though the consensus is that they don’t drown out enough of the din to make listening to music possible. (Few seem to worry about the added distraction of listening to music while doing what is already an incredibly dangerous job.) One alternative is to buy a pair of non-approved Bluetooth earbuds that I could hide underneath a neck gaiter. I know a few guys who do this and have never been caught, but I decide not to risk it. I stick with the standard-issue earplugs, new pairs of which are handed out every Monday.

To get to my workstation, I climb up to a catwalk, then down a stairway that leads to a conveyor belt. The belt is one of a dozen that stretch across the middle of the production floor in long, parallel rows. Each row is called a “table,” and each table has a number. I work at table two: the chuck table. There are tables for shank, brisket, sirloin, round, and so on. The tables are one of the most crowded areas in the plant. At my spot on table two, I stand less than two feet away from the men who work on either side of me. The plastic curtains are supposed to help make up for the lack of social distancing, but most of my co-workers flip the curtains up and around the metal bars from which they hang. It’s easier to see what’s coming down the line this way, and before long I start doing the same thing. (Cargill denies that most workers flip up the curtains.)

At , I swipe my ID card at a time clock near my workstation. Employees have a five-minute window in which to clock in: to Any later and you lose half an attendance point (losing 12 points in a month period can lead to termination). I walk to the front of the belt to get my equipment. I suit up at my workstation. I sharpen my knives and stretch my hands. A few of my co-workers fist-bump me as they walk by. I look across the table and watch two Mexican men standing next to each other make the sign of the cross. They do this at the start of every shift.

“You aren’t an undercover boss, are you?” a co-worker asked me late one shift. “In the four years that I’ve worked here, I’ve never seen another white guy do your job.”

Pieces of chuck soon start coming down the belt, which on my side of the table moves from right to left. Ahead of me are seven chuck boners whose job it is to remove the bones from the meat. This is one of the hardest positions in fab (a grade eight, the highest grade of difficulty there is and five grades higher than chuck final trim, with a wage increase of $6 an hour). The job requires both careful precision and brute strength: careful precision for cutting as close to the bones as possible, and brute strength for prying them out. My job is to trim off whatever pieces of bone and ligament the chuck boners miss. This is what I do for the next nine hours, stopping only for my minute break at and minute dinner break at “Not too much!” my supervisor yells when he catches me cutting off too much meat. “Money! Money! Money!”

Toward the end of the shift, a palpable restlessness sets in across the floor. The line slows down and everyone keeps glancing over at the cooler, waiting for the last side of beef to come down the chain. I make eye contact with the shorter of the two Mexican men who made the sign of the cross. He gives me a thumbs-up, tilts his head to the side, and shrugs his shoulders. Translation: You doing all right? I nod my head and return the thumbs-up. He points to an invisible watch on his wrist and holds his index finger and thumb half an inch apart. Hang in there. The shift is almost over. He then mimes opening a can of beer. He tilts his head back and takes a swig. He nods a satisfied nod, makes a pillow with his hands, and rests the side of his head against it with his eyes closed. When he opens them and lifts his head, I nod approvingly and give him another thumbs-up.

A few minutes later, one of the chuck boners bangs the edge of the belt with the handle of his hook. He does this every night to announce that the last side of beef has left the cooler. I hurriedly trim the last piece of chuck as soon as it reaches me. I put away my equipment and clock out at I’m tired and sore and grateful to be done for the day. When I get back to my apartment, I grab a beer and drink it on the balcony. Across the street is a small pasture. I usually see a dozen or more cattle there during the day, but in the dark they are impossible to spot. Not that I mind. The last thing I want to see right now is a cow.

My job on the chuck table turned out to be much more difficult than I had anticipated. The sheer volume of meat that came down the line could be overwhelming at times; more than once, I threw my hands up in defeat.

A month or so in, things started to improve. My hands were still sore most days, as were my shoulders. (In mid-August, my left ring finger would develop an annoying habit of spontaneously locking up so I couldn’t extend it—a condition known as “trigger finger.”) But at least the constant, throbbing pain had begun to relent. And now that my hands were stronger, I was getting better at the job. By the Fourth of July, I was close enough to pulling count that Billion told me I qualified. On my 20th day on the line, he drew me aside to sign some paperwork that made it official. He later gave me a white hard hat to replace the brown one that I had received during orientation. I was surprised by how excited I was to put it on.

A part of me had hoped that qualifying was all I needed to do to fit in with my co-workers. Yet some of them had suspicions about me that my new hard hat did nothing to allay. My skin color alone was enough to raise eyebrows. Of the 30 or so men who worked on the chuck table, I was one of only two white Americans. Most of the other men were from Mexico; others were from El Salvador, Cuba, Somalia, Sudan, and Myanmar. When anyone asked how I’d ended up working at the plant, my usual approach was to explain, truthfully, that I had been traveling in Asia when the pandemic hit and, after flying home, wanted a quick way to make money. I didn’t tell anyone that I was a journalist, though a Mexican American chuck boner who worked next to me came close to figuring it out.

“You aren’t an undercover boss, are you?” he asked me late one shift.

“Why would you think that?” I asked.

“In the four years that I’ve worked here,” he said, “I’ve never seen another white guy do your job.”

Read: Why it’s immigrants who pack your meat

Most of the men eventually got used to my presence on the line. Even the skeptical chuck boner warmed up to me. As time went on, he would turn to me to talk about his latest marital drama or to ask questions about traveling abroad. “Have you had McDonald’s over there?” he once asked me about Singapore. I told him that I had. He told me that he dreamed of traveling abroad someday but that for now he needed to work to support his wife and two young children. He was 24 years old, and he told me that he planned to work at the plant until he could retire. “I got my (k) here and everything,” he said, in a tone that suggested a kind of forced acceptance.

“If you could do any job in the world, what would you want to do?” I once asked.

“Lots of shit,” he said, his eyes wide.

“What’s your No. 1?”

He thought for a few seconds and looked up at the ceiling. “Own something like this,” he said.

My conversations with the chuck boner were a welcome distraction from the monotony of my job. Another thing that helped was an unspoken agreement I had with the friendly Mexican man who worked to my left. If one of us walked away from the line to check the nearby time clock—something we both did at least once a shift—we would report back to the other one by using the butt of our knives to carve the time into the thin layer of pink juices that coated the conveyor belt. It was a simple act of solidarity, one that meant more to me as the weeks passed. Though I often felt a profound sense of alienation on the line, I never once felt alone.

Working second shift, especially amid a pandemic, made it virtually impossible to spend time with my co-workers outside the plant. Every bar in Dodge City closes by 2 a.m. This meant that if I ever wanted to brave the risk of infection to go out for drinks after work, I would have no more than an hour before last call. But one evening in September, Billion asked me if I had any plans for the weekend. I told him that I didn’t. “Tomorrow after work I’m going frog hunting with my brother-in-law,” he said. “You wanna come?”

The next night after clocking out, I met Billion in the cafeteria and walked with him to the parking lot, where his brother-in-law sat waiting for us in a black Toyota Camry. I got in my car and followed the two men to a small lake 20 miles north of the plant. We passed endless fields of corn and hundreds of wind turbines, their red warning lights flashing in hypnotic unison across a moonless sky. As Billion later explained to me, the new moon was key to helping us avoid casting shadows over the easily spooked bullfrogs. The problem was the wind, which rustled the prairie grass that encircled the lake and made it difficult to hear their calls.

When we arrived at the lake, Billion introduced me to his brother-in-law, Leo, who was 20 years old. “Do you recognize him?” Billion asked. “He used to work on table three.” I didn’t, and Leo explained that he had worked there for only two and a half weeks before switching to the Tyson plant near Garden City, where he lives. “I got tired of the drive,” he said. Billion opened the trunk of his car and reached inside for three flashlights and an empty burlap sack. These were our hunting supplies. I asked what I needed to do. “Just follow me,” Billion said, before heading down a trampled path through the prairie grass and onto the lake’s muddy bank.

Before long, Billion spotted a frog at the edge of the water. To catch it, he first stunned it by shining his flashlight directly into its eyes. He then crept up next to it in a crouch, slowly positioned his hand over its torso like the crane of an arcade claw machine, and snatched it off the ground. The frog was about the size of a pint glass, and Billion held it so tightly that its eyes bulged out of their sockets. Rather than kill it, he left it alive and broke its hind legs. “So it can’t get away,” he said. I watched him drop the maimed frog into the burlap sack, which Leo held with outstretched arms.

For the next two hours, we slowly made our way around the lake. Billion walked in front and caught most of the frogs, about 20 in total. I caught only four. I thought that together we had a good haul, but Billion and Leo were disappointed. “Someone else must have been out here already,” Billion said, pointing down at a pair of fresh shoe prints. Perhaps it was someone from the small community of Karen people in Garden City. Leo said that everyone in the community knew about the lake and had been hunting frogs there for years.

We didn’t call it a night until sometime after 3 o’clock. On the way back to our cars, Billion talked excitedly about the spicy frog curry he planned to cook for dinner the next day. It was one of his specialties, something he had learned to make in the refugee camp. “Frog is the only meat that we can eat fresh here,” he said. “It’s better than chicken.”

At some point in early July, the TVs in the cafeteria at the plant switched from showing the Wichita Fox affiliate to showing Fox News. Seeing the chyrons on Laura Ingraham’s show in place of the local 9 o’clock news was a stark change—“Trump: I will bring law and order, Biden won’t”; “Trump’s America first vs Biden’s America last”; “Biden beholden to billionaires and Bolsheviks”; “Biden’s COVID plan: blindly following the ‘experts.’ ”

The night before the election, Fox News was broadcasting live from Kenosha, Wisconsin, at one of Donald Trump’s final campaign rallies. During my dinner break, I watched a Haitian-born man in his mids stop underneath one of the TVs on his way back to the floor. When the camera zoomed in on Trump, the man held up both his middle fingers toward the screen. He did this for about half a minute without saying a word. Then he yelled, “I’m voting for Biden!” as he walked away. It was the most overt act of political expression I witnessed at the plant. The only other thing that came close was some pro-Trump graffiti scrawled anonymously on the inside of a bathroom stall: america love it or leave it and trump The latter got a couple of responses: fok you and chinga tu madre.

Mostly what I found at the plant was a pervasive sense of political apathy. Many people I talked with in the weeks leading up to November 3 told me the results hardly mattered to them. “As long as they leave me alone, I don’t care who wins,” a Mexican American man told me over dinner in late October. “The government hasn’t done anything for me.” It seemed clear that he didn’t plan to vote.

On Election Day, I drove to a polling station south of downtown. At a stone-and-concrete band shell by the voting pavilion, I met an older white man who was happy to share his opinion on almost anything. The man said that he had voted for Trump, that China needed to pay for starting the pandemic, and that he didn’t have a problem with immigrants as long as they came here legally. “If they ever leave,” he said, referring to those who worked in the local meatpacking plants, “we’d be in a world of hurt.” The man knew how important immigrants were to Dodge City’s economy, but he showed little interest in getting to know them personally. “It’s like oil and water,” he said. “We don’t really get together … I guess they’re scared of us.”

After leaving the band shell, I drove to a liquor store up the street from my apartment. I knew that it was going to be a long week. While I was browsing the whiskey shelves, the store owner came over to offer a few recommendations. “They say if you take a shot of whiskey that is proof or higher a day it will help protect you against the coronavirus,” she said as she reached for a bottle of proof Woodford Reserve. “The virus likes to lodge in your throat, and the whiskey will help keep your throat clear. I don’t know if it’s true, but I did it religiously over the summer. Then I went to Florida and I was fine.” I looked at her incredulously—then went for something even stronger, splurging on a bottle of proof Willett.

I arrived at work an hour before the start of my shift to see if there was finally any buzz about the election. I sat outside and talked with a middle-aged Somali man. “I voted for Trump,” he said. He was both Muslim and a former refugee—not typical of Trump supporters as I imagined them. “He’s good at business,” he said when I asked him what he liked about Trump.

As Election Day turned into Election Week, I heard dozens of stories from nonwhite workers who wanted Trump to win. A Congolese man told me that he liked Trump because he “makes everything good.” “Trump takes care of the world,” a Salvadoran man said. “If Biden wins, I think ISIS will be happy.” Then there was the man from Sudan who said that he, too, admired Trump’s business credentials before leaning in to tell me why else he liked him. “Trump doesn’t want people from Arab countries to come to America,” he whispered. “I think that’s good.”

Read: How meat producers have influenced nutrition guidelines for decades

I did also meet people at the plant who supported Joe Biden, many of them because they couldn’t stand Trump. “He’s crazy” was the most common sentiment expressed by those who wanted Trump to lose. No worker I spoke with was more invested in the election outcome than the Haitian man who had flipped off the TV. “You know why I don’t like Trump?” he asked me during our minute break one night. “Because he knew about the coronavirus and didn’t do anything about it. We need a president who will protect us. So many people have died because of him.” The man paced back and forth while he talked. He paused for a moment to check an Electoral College map that he had pulled up on his phone. “Trump doesn’t give a shit about us,” he concluded.

On the Saturday the election was called for Biden, I went into work. During the shift change that afternoon, I noticed few signs of celebration or disappointment.

The Mexican American man I’d eaten dinner with a couple of weeks earlier came over to my table. He was carrying a large styrofoam cup of coffee and a bag of Bimbo puff pastries. He smelled of marijuana. As he sat down at an adjacent table, a white pill fell out of his pants pocket and onto the floor. He reached down to pick it up. “I’m telling you, Michael,” he said. “This is my life.” He said that for the past week he had felt an excruciating pain in his left arm and shoulder. He couldn’t see a doctor until January because his health-insurance coverage didn’t start until then, so for now he was self-medicating with hydrocodone. I didn’t ask where he’d gotten it. “I’m going to ask for oxycodone when I go to the doctor,” he said. “I need something more powerful.” I decided not to ask him about the election. He had more important things to worry about.

On the Monday after the election, the news reported that the U.S. had surpassed 10 million coronavirus cases, and Pfizer-BioNTech announced that early data showed their vaccine was more than 90 percent effective. In Kansas, the virus was raging out of control. New cases were hitting record numbers, hospitals were strained for resources, and deaths were on the rise. At the plant, additional plexiglass barriers were installed on the tables in the cafeteria, splitting them into quarters instead of halves. Department holiday parties were canceled. And everyone who didn’t already have a plastic face shield was given one to attach to their hard hat. Wearing them was mandatory. But many people, including me, didn’t pull them down all the way, because of how easily they fogged up from the masks that we still had to wear. The supervisors didn’t seem to care; many of them did the same thing.

My last shift at the plant was the night before Thanksgiving, some six months after I’d started. The work itself had become muscle memory, and I spent much of the night lost in thought. At , I clocked out for the last time. “Nothing we can do to convince you to stay, help us out a bit longer?” one of the foremen asked me when I approached him to turn in my ID badge. I told him that I really couldn’t, that I had to get back to Topeka. “Let us know if you want to come back,” he said. “The door is always open.” I didn’t doubt that, but I knew that I would likely never step foot inside the plant again.

Outside, the night air was frigid. Across the way, hundreds of foot refrigerated trailers sat in neat rows, waiting to be loaded with beef before being hauled away. I wish I could say that, in the early hours of Thanksgiving morning, the trailers put me in mind of American gluttony and abundance—our insatiable and unsustainable craving for meat. But as I walked to my car, all that came to mind were photos I had seen of identical trailers, mobile morgues, parked outside hospitals across the country.

A couple of weeks after I left the plant, I drove to Garden City to visit Billion and his family. I met them at a small Vietnamese restaurant and then followed them to the local zoo. It was an unseasonably warm day, and the mid-afternoon sun was melting what little snow remained from a recent winter storm. The lemurs seemed especially happy about this. Billion lifted Shine onto his shoulders to give him a better view, while Dahlia kept an eye on Clever in his stroller. Dahlia was four months pregnant. Billion was hoping for a girl; Dahlia didn’t have a preference. She just wanted the pregnancy to go better than her last one.

I usually don’t care much for zoos. I find them depressing, largely because my childhood zoo, in Topeka, has a long and troubling animal-safety record. (In , a hippopotamus died there, hours after being found in degree water.) But after working in a meatpacking plant, I found it comforting to see so many animals that were still alive, even if they were in cages. Seeing them with a 5-year-old made the experience all the more enjoyable. When Shine wasn’t perched on Billion’s shoulders, he was sprinting ahead to the next exhibit and shouting out each animal he saw. “Rhino!” “Giraffe!” “Fox!” “Lions!” He was in awe of the animals, which made me wonder what he knew about where his dad worked.

As we made our way past the antelope exhibit, I asked Billion and Dahlia how they had chosen their sons’ names. Shine had been Dahlia’s idea. “I want him to shine brightly,” she said. Billion had picked Clever with more concrete aspirations in mind. “I want him to be smart and do well in school,” he said. “Maybe he’ll become a doctor or a lawyer someday.” Whatever they grew up to be, Billion would never allow them to work in a meatpacking plant. That was something only he did. “I do it for them,” he told me. They were what made his work essential.

This article appears in the July/August print edition with the headline “Pulling Count.”


The 14 best PlayStation 5 games

What are the best games on the PlayStation 5? If you’re among the lucky few who’ve obtained Sony’s new console (which is still suffering from supply and shipping issues) you’ll be wondering what to play. This is a living list of the best video games available on the platform, to be updated as more games come out.

Our recommendation lists here at Polygon ordinarily contain 22 games, because it’s a solid number that can encompass many different kinds of games. This list doesn’t have 22 picks because, well, the PS5 is still young. However, it does have backward-compatibility with PlayStation 4 games, so our list of the 22 best PS4 games will also serve you well.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Image: Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is securely a role-playing game with a stealth influence, instead of the other way around. It allows the player to enact both large-scale battles and quick assassinations while hidden within a crowd. The Vikings, too, introduce their own expression of stealth in their raids, where narrow longships sneak up to encampments to attack without warning. Eivor has an assassin’s blade, a gift given to her from Sigurd. Hers, though, is not hidden — she wears it atop her cloak, because she wants her foes to see their fates in her weapon. []

Valhalla’s most intriguing story is one about faith, honor, and family, but it’s buried inside this massive, massive world stuffed with combat and side quests. That balance is not always ideal, but I’m glad, at least, that it forces me to spend more time seeking out interesting things in the game’s world. — Nicole Carpenter

Read our full review

Astro’s Playroom

Image: Team Asobi/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Astro’s Playroom is themed around the idea that you’re running around inside your working PlayStation 5. The first area, Cooling Springs, is filled with waterslides and glaciers, implying that it’s keeping the heat down to a manageable level. This cute theming runs throughout the game, showing off different chunks of the hardware.

As in any great platformer, it’s a treat to just run around the environment in Astro’s Playroom. Astro doesn’t have as wide a range of talents as, say, Mario in Super Mario Odyssey, but he does have a handy jetpack, a fierce spin attack, and the ability to tug on ropes real hard. Each of these activates the new haptics in the DualSense controller, showing off the nuances of the enhanced vibration technology. As just a simple example, if you walk across a glass surface as Astro, you’ll feel the small tippy-taps of each step within the controller. Tugging on a rope to launch an underground enemy into the sky yields a far different experience, with a more intense vibration within the whole of the controller, followed by the ka-thunk of Astro falling back on his robutt.

Without playing it, it’s easy to write off Astro’s Playroom as a silly, ignorable pack-in game, something to fill up your system storage while you wait for the actual games to download. But it turns out that this is one of the best platformers Sony has ever made, matching the charm and fluidity of a Nintendo platformer while also demonstrating the power of this new console. It should be a major launch-day treat for those lucky few who managed to score a PlayStation 5 pre-order. — Russ Frushtick

Read our full review

Get it here: PlayStation Store

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

Image: Treyarch, Raven Software/Activision

Much of [Black Ops Cold War’s campaign] leans into this polished, if artificial, one-dimensional feel. Rather than taking place as naturalistic beats along a linear narrative, Cold War’s missions feel more modular, represented as stacks of photos, scribbled code sheets and newspaper clippings pasted up on a wall in your safe house. Hidden in most missions are collectible evidence items which you can bring back to the safe house and use to solve the small, escape-room style puzzles on the evidence board, which are necessary to complete a series of side missions (of which, sadly, there are only two).

The members of your clandestine team will pace around the safe house on pre-programmed routes, sometimes going up to each other and engaging in hushed conversations, like actors on an immersive set. One of them might answer a phone call and hold the receiver in place, saying nothing and staring out into space until you interact with him. Little distinguishes them from the cardboard figures of Amerika Town. Within missions, they’ll belt out sardonic quips and jingoistic inculcations, all with the same emotionless reserve–‘We don’t sit back and hope for the best, we make the best happen’ or ‘Some of us have crossed the line, to make sure the line’s still there in the morning’–each entreatment meant to draw the player into the game’s ideology and which belie the truth that the game doesn’t seem to believe in its own ideology. It’s all theater that knows it’s theater. —Yussef Cole

Read our full review of Black Ops Cold War’s campaign

The secret heart of Treyarch’s Call of Duty games since has always been Zombies. The wave-based survival mode is equal parts silly, challenging, and endlessly repeatable in Black Ops Cold War, Treyarch has brought the focus all the way back to zombies and how you kill them.

Black Ops Cold War doesn’t reinvent the Zombie-mode wheel. It keeps most of the basic ideas that Treyarch has added to the mode over the last 12 years, but simplifies them down to their most fun elements.

The best example of this comes from Black Ops Cold War’s map, which takes the original Nazi research lab from the first World at War Zombie map and expands it into a modern, much larger, Zombies experience. [] Everything I do in the map now feels like it’s in service of my survival. — Austen Goslin

Read our full review of Black Ops Cold War’s Zombies mode

Demon’s Souls

Image: Bluepoint Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Demon’s Souls has good bones. It was true in , when developer FromSoftware released the mechanically groundbreaking role-playing game on PlayStation 3, and remains true for Bluepoint Games’ remake, released alongside Sony’s PlayStation 5 this week.

Over those bones is a gorgeous remodeling. Every texture in Demon’s Souls has been painstakingly repainted, sometimes to the point of questionable reinterpretation. Every stilted animation appears to have been replaced by three or four new ones, all of them remixed with more lifelike flourishes. Many of the original game’s points of aggravation, like long load times and frequent backtracking, have been softened or nearly eliminated. But rarely does Bluepoint muck with the foundation of Demon’s Souls, because to do so would be sacrilege. — Michael McWhertor

Read our full review

Destiny 2: Beyond Light

Image: Bungie

Destiny 2: Beyond Light’s most impressive feat is how it takes Destiny’s first step into a new era — the Era of Darkness — without being a full sequel.

Beyond Light isn’t a new golden age for the franchise like Destiny: The Taken King and Destiny 2: Forsaken were. Beyond Light is something different. It’s more Destiny, but it’s actively stepping into a new generation of powers, performance, and design.

The game loads faster. The menus are snappier. The Director is cleaner. And the new tutorial experience is actually useful for new and returning players. So is this Destiny 3? Not exactly.

Beyond Light avoids the pitfall of a fully rebooted sequel by making strategic, targeted improvements rather than sweeping ones. — Ryan Gilliam

Destiny 2 will get a next-gen upgrade on Dec. 8. Owners of the PS4 version will receive the PS5 upgrade for free.

Read our full review

Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition

Image: Capcom

Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition isn’t a new game like the others on the list, but it is one of the first examples out the gate that put the promises of next-generation hardware on full display. The world of Devil May Cry always seems to be slick with something — water, demonic ooze, slimy roots of a world-sized tree filled with blood. All of that dazzles with easily accessible ray tracing, even if it’s a little stomach churning. Some of the most memorable set piece battles look better than before, and having a higher frame rate makes the constant action much easier to follow.

Capcom stuffed the game with characters on the first go-round, switching the campaign between three heroes with their own distinct, over-the-top fighting styles. (And the special edition adds big bad Vergil as a playable option, letting you replay the entire campaign from a new perspective.) All these options offer variety that makes the campaign — which embraces demonic camp as well as any great CW show — worth experiencing all over again. This was an excellent game when it came out in , but hopefully its special edition treatment means more people will appreciate its campiness and stellar action. — Chelsea Stark

Dirt 5

Image: Codemasters

Dirt 5, by Codemasters, steps into the time-honored role of offering the racing showcase to a new console generation. The series and Codemasters are both known for a demanding brand of simulation racing, but Dirt 5 moves strongly for mass audience appeal and accessibility, staying true to visual fidelity and physics.

Dirt 5 is a racer more in the MotorStorm mold, which fits considering how many Evolution Studios alumni now work for Codemasters. It’s pack racing at heart, with lots of contact and not much technical know-how necessary to win. Experienced drivers will probably need the very hard difficulty setting to get much of a challenge, particularly in the early goings of the Career mode.

Career offers the most depth, showing the player all of the events (point-to-point rallies; circuit races; hill climbs against a clock; and even ice racing) in all of the exotic, no-way-you-could-actually-race-there locales. There’s a fleet of 64 vehicles, some fictional, among 13 classes. Those looking for a serious, you-against-the-timer rally simulation should look to KT Racing’s WRC 9, also on Xbox Series X and PS5. For every other racing itch on the new console generation of consoles, Dirt 5 can scratch it. — Owen Good

Dirt 5

Prices taken at time of publishing.

NBA 2K21

Image: Visual Concepts/2K Sports

If you’re only a sometimes-fan of professional basketball, NBA 2K21’s offerings verge on overkill. But there’s no denying that this series offers the most complete immersion of the NBA, as a game, a business, and a lifestyle, in ways rival FIFA doesn’t.

The staple modes of a team sports title are all here, but MyCareer is where most should spend their time. In NBA 2K21 on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, MyCareer’s hub world of pickup basketball, socializing, and even shoe shopping gets a robust expansion into ‘The City.’ Players are now transported to a larger environment where their co-operative competitive play supports one of the four factions they join, somewhat like an MMO. Don’t worry, there’s still a ton of basketball to be played here, whether that’s with others or as you practice for and play the next game on your single-player career schedule.

Visual Concepts brought NBA 2K21 to launch determined to show what they can do with all this new power. Visually, the game is sharper than ever, with even more detail in the arenas to help it mimic a real-life broadcast. There are gameplay upgrades taking advantage of beefier processing, like players’ contextual awareness of the three-point line, taking a step back if necessary to attempt the shot. There’s even a dedicated career mode for the WNBA, though it’s not that much to crow about. Still, everything in NBA 2K21 on PS5 and Xbox Series X makes what launched in September for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One already seem stone age. — Owen Good

NBA 2K21

Prices taken at time of publishing.


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Best Custom Photo Puzzles

Quality time with family is what makes weekends the best. Hence, we have come up with unique customizing photo puzzle design tool where you can use your very own favorite photos to entice your kids to make the puzzle night more fun!

Custom Photo Puzzles

Create Your Own Picture Puzzle

Game night will never be the same again when you create your own unique photo puzzle! Ditch traditional puzzles with their typical scenes and make a picture puzzle that you and your friends or family will never forget.

Personalized Photo Puzzle

Photos on Puzzles with Us Have Superb Features

For many years, people have been intrigued with picture puzzles to pass their time. It increases productivity and also makes solving a mystery more fun. So, how about you try out our personalized puzzles to increase family time more??

Every Personalized Photo Puzzle

  • Printed on high-quality acrylic for a colorful, vivid look.
  • Comes with a firm backing so it will last through endless rounds of assembly.
  • Includes a storage box.
  • Can have one or multiple photos plus text.
  • Comes with a % Love-It Guarantee.
  • Suitable for ages 3 years and up.

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Photo Puzzle Collage

Bring on The Fun With a Photo Puzzle Collage

More Pictures and More Fun!

Want to heighten the fun a bit? Opt for 1, piece puzzles and create a photo puzzle collage that will keep you busy for hours! Creating a collage for your puzzle means:

  • More memorable images and text in one puzzle
  • More design options to choose from
  • Makes completing larger puzzles easier
  • No extra cost for extra pictures

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Make A Puzzle From A Picture

It’s Easier than You Think! We’ve made this process really easy to do.

  • Choose Your Size
    Choose Your Size

    Pick a size (they range from 4” x 6” to 20” x 20”) and the number of pieces you want (from 6 to ).

  • Upload Your Photo
    Upload Your Photo

    Upload your favorite image(s) into our photo puzzle tool and adjust as needed.

  • Preview Your Design
    Preview Your Design

    Look it all over and make sure everything is just right, then hit order!

Create Your Puzzle

Custom Jigsaw Puzzles for Kids

Custom Jigsaw Puzzles for Kids

They’ll Love Being a Part of the Fun

You can even create personalized jigsaw puzzle for kids! Design one with their favorite cartoon character or a fun memory from a family vacation. Go a step further and add text to your images. Our personalized picture puzzle for kids comes in 1-inch or 2-inch wide pieces that are perfect for small hands to pick up.

If you have a little older kid, you can even make complex photo puzzle of piece from our photo puzzle maker to make it a challenging game night. For double fun, try out photo puzzle of pieces to keep you and your kids bent on the photo for hours which will guarantee a quality time together!

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Personalized Puzzles

Personalized Puzzles - Plan for an Active Occasion

The Perfect Gift for any Occasion!

Make a puzzle from a picture for the ultimate, personalized gift for birthdays and more. Share memories of that awesome vacation or create new memories with a special announcement or celebration. You can even create special Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holiday puzzles! There’s no limit to the possibilities you can dream up or the good times you can have while piecing it together with friends and family members.

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Not Sure If Creating a Photo Puzzle Online Is for You?

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Doing a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle in real-time...

Create Your Own Photo Jigsaw Puzzle

Turn your favorite pictures into custom photo puzzles!  Take your digital moments and create hours of family fun.  Relive photos from family vacations, wedding celebrations, or a beautiful moment.  Birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas are all great times cherish and celebrate.  Puzzles from these events make great gifts.  Our simple online ordering process makes it quick and easy.  Select from a wide variety of sizes and difficulty levels.  Upload your photo and we do the rest.

Our family-owned business focuses on delivering the highest quality custom photo puzzles. We care for and inspect your order each step of the way.  Our customer service team is available by either phone or email to answer any questions that you may have.

Portrait Puzzles uses the best materials, the latest printing technology, and the most tried and true cutting process.  This adds up to custom photo puzzles that you are able to assemble and re-assemble many times.  Our products will last and provide continued enjoyment.  We guarantee that you will be thrilled with your custom jigsaw puzzle, or we will send your money back.

Our custom photo puzzles make a perfect gift.  We have a custom jigsaw puzzle that is right for everyone from age 3 to   Surprise someone today.  Made in the USA by people who care.  Orders shipped within business days!    We ship to Canada; delivered by Canada Post.


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