I've overcome the beanie issues!
I'd been sulking over this project for a week. The decreases at the top just weren't doing it for me. I even complained to my friend who I was making it for that he was just too difficult to make stuff for and it was all his fault for ruining my good hat-knitting streak. I was joking, but still, this hat was frustrating me. I put it away for a week and carried on with my forgotten rainbow socks instead.
But then I figured, if I didn't take a bit of time out of my weekend to get my head around the in-pattern decreases, there would be no way my friend would be getting this before Christmas. Luckily today I had a breakthrough! And there was a tiny error in the pattern (a typo - 24 stitches when it should have been 22 on a decrease round) so I wasn't going completely insane.
Anyway, I'm very happy with the finished product. I'm wearing it right now. Might have an issue actually removing it from my head to give to my friend, buy I'm sure he can wait another day or so...