9 apps to help make a crazy Thanksgiving more bearable

Expecting Uncle Bob and Grandpa Joe to get into their usual Thanksgiving debate? Crave's Michael Franco has some apps to help you deal with everything from shouting matches to awkward silences.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
5 min read

Stress Baal, just one of the nine apps you might need to call upon to get through a tense Thanksgiving. Double Flawless

Yeah, yeah, I know. Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate our families. To put aside our differences and get together for one glorious, harmonious meal. To remember that it was by sticking together as one big community (along with heaps of help from the Native Americans) that the pilgrims made it through that first chilly winter in Plymouth all those years ago. Yada, yada.

But what if you feel more thankful when your relatives leave then when they arrive? What if instead of harmony, your house is filled with a cacophony of relative-talking-over-relative and kid-fighting-with-kid -- all amplified by the blaring football game on the TV? What if your Uncle Nesbo lets loose with one of his always inappropriate conversation-halting jokes just as dinner is being served?

Fear not! As with most things these days, technology can came to your rescue in the form of the incredible, omnipresent app. Here are nine that can help make Thanksgiving go a little more smoothly, especially if your home is a bit less than warm and fuzzy during this Day of Thanks.

Let's face it. No one can push our buttons better than our dearly beloved family members. So if you find that those family ties are just getting a little too tight, step into another room and loosen up with the Relax: Stress & Anxiety Relief app by Saagara (lite version free on iOS and Android). It's a handy little app that has you breathe in and out to a soothing sound and accompanying pie-chart-style animation. The lite app is good enough to get you through any heartburn-inducing moments during Thanksgiving dinner, while the paid version offers more sounds and backgrounds. You'll be amazed at how quickly it brings your boil down to a simmer.

If that's all too "woo woo" for you, check out Stress Baal by Double Flawless (99 cents for iOS; free for Android). It's simply an illustrated red, oblong cartoon character vaguely reminiscent of a stress ball that you can fling all around your smartphone or tablet's screen to get out your frustration. In the words of the creators: "Do with him what you will, but know that he is responsible for a lot of this angry, blue planet's problems including oil separation in good peanut butter, built-in obsolescence and poachers."

Is that annual "debate" about who was the greatest boxer of all time getting close to blows? Nothing can dispel the heat from "one of those" conversations better than a "cool" joke, so be sure to have 18,000 of them nearby with Objectified Apps' (you guessed it) 18,000 Cool Jokes app (free for iOS and Android). The name of the app pretty much says it all -- just be careful to view the category under each joke that appears as you scroll to the right. Might be better to go with the "blonde" category than with "dirty" when the family's around.

Marble Mixer is a game everyone can play. GameHouse

Play games
If things get a little too tense at family gatherings, I've always found that a good game can sort things out in a jiff. Two that I recommend are Marble Mixer and Heads Up. Marble Mixer ($1.99 for iOS, free for Android) is great not only because it pumps out really soothing, hypnotizing music, but because pretty much anyone can learn to play, from baby Caitlin to Grandpa Joe. All you really need to do is be able to flick your fingers to get the marbles where you want them and voila -- intergenerational happiness.

Heads Up (free for iOS and Android) is another great group game everyone can play. It's kind of like charades in reverse. You simply pick a category (like "superstars"), then put your phone or tablet on your forehead. The game gives you a countdown and the other players begin trying to feed you clues to guess the name on the screen. Once you get it right, just tilt your device downward to advance to the next clue (or tilt it up to pass). Whoever gets the best score wins.

Break the ice
In my house, family gatherings are rarely quiet. But I know of families where the opposite is true and awkward silences descend like shoppers at a Walmart on Black Friday. In case that happens, you might want to bust out a "conversation starter" app. There are several out there for both Android and iPhone. For Android, the free Conversation Starter Help app is pretty decent. You can choose a category for your conversation starters like Fun Facts or Deep and Meaningful. I recommend those two categories in particular because you get things like "Did you know a cockroach can live two weeks without its head?" If that doesn't get some conversations flowing, what will?

For iOS, check out Ask Me Anything for Adults ($1.99). It might sound risque, but the "adult" designation just separates this app from others aimed at starting convos with kids. It's all pretty above board with topics like, "In your opinion, does your past necessarily determine your present or future?"

Sound off
They might all be your family members, but I bet their musical tastes aren't all the same. So what do you do to satisfy cousin Ernest's need for death metal and Grandpa Joe's yen for Sinatra? Put it all in the hands of Songza (free for iOS and Android). Unlike other music services out there, Songza specializes in arranging your music according to either your mood or activity. So you simply pick the theme that will suit the room -- like "Pleasing a Crowd" or "Dinner Party: Formal" -- and let the app do the rest. Of course, if things are all just getting a little too intense, there's also the "Music To Get High To" station, which you can stream to the portable speaker in the upstairs bedroom. (Just saying.)

Be grateful
While it might seem like the holiday is all about hoarding cans of whipped cream and cranberry sauce before they sell out at the store, Thanksgiving's got another component. Remember, um, gratitude?

But when the pie is burning, the wine gets spilled on that gorgeous tablecloth and the TV is STILL blaring, it can be pretty hard to feel grateful. There's an app that can help with that called Happier (free for iOS and Android). When you launch the app, you'll get a list of all the things people have been recently thankful for, and with a simple click you can add your own to the list to be shared with the community. You can "smile" at other people's posts and add your own comments to them. There are also a series of courses, like "More Calm, Less Stress," that you can take now to start prepping for guaranteed happiness on Thanksgiving. (Note: The Android app is brand new and is still lacking some functionality, but the makers are on it and a full-fledged version should be out soon.)

If that feels just a bit too public, then check out the Attitude of Gratitude Journal (free Android), a simple app that lets you quickly jot down something you're grateful for, creating a journal of thanks you can refer back to all year long. What better day to start such a practice than Thanksgiving? Give it a try and you might find that there simply is no better antidote to frustration than a simple moment of thanks.

Now get that pie out of the oven and lower that dang music!