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Must-own software for any hip relatives

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The task of picking the right gift — something cool yet not too costly — for wired family members can drive you nuts. But any of the selections in our Can’t Miss collection of holiday software is guaranteed to delight the recipient and raise your standing as a suave shopper.

AGE OF EMPIRES (Microsoft, for PC, $54.95) An impressive real-time strategy sim that’s sure to excite thoughtful gamers.

YOU DON’T KNOW JACK TV (Berkeley Systems, for PC and Mac, $30) The third installment (following sports and movie editions) of the pop-culture CD-ROM quiz game.

MIXMAN STUDIO (Mixman Technologies, for PC, $49.95) Mouse mixers will take their digital music-making to the next level with this huge selection of audio clips.

ENCARTA ENCYCLOPEDIA 98 (Microsoft, for PC, $54.95; deluxe edition, for PC and Mac, $79.95) The definitive encyclopedia for students features Web links, multimedia presentations, and minutely detailed entries on topics ranging from aardvark to zygote.

DIDDY KONG RACING (Nintendo, $59.95) A breakneck dash to the finish line with hovercraft, go-carts, and planes.

CRASH BANDICOOT 2 (Sony, for PlayStation, $39.95) Dr. Cortex’s nemesis is back for more animated mayhem in this much-improved sequel.

TOMB RAIDER II (Eidos, for PC and PlayStation, $49.95-54.95) Help game babe Lara Croft find the lost ”Dagger of Xian.”

JEDI KNIGHT: DARK FORCES II (LucasArts, for PC, $49.95) Cross lightsabers with bad guys in this Quake-style game set in the Star Wars universe.

STAR TREK ENCYCLOPEDIA/STAR TREK CAPTAIN’S CHAIR (Simon & Schuster, for PC and Mac, $49.95 and $39.95) An A-Z Trekker’s bible, plus handy episode guides for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. In Captain’s Chair, take QuickTime VR tours of starships from the Enterprise to Voyager.

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