Saturday, October 14, 2017

Puzzling Appreciations - Apothecary Part VII

“Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination.” – William Shakespeare

Perhaps.  Although I’d much prefer a puzzle for that purpose, than the musky secretions of a wild cat.  Nonetheless, the role of the ancient apothecary is clear here, a purveyor of potions to aid the body, mind and soul.  Robert Yarger is a modern day puzzle box apothecary, producing the equivalent of such enrichment in wood.  This assessment is not as far-fetched as it may sound.  The Stickman logo which is branded or drawn onto each limited edition piece Rob creates, was originally created from an amalgamation of ancient alchemy symbols.  The final installment of the Apothecary Chest series is about the chest itself, the chassis which keeps all the individual puzzle box drawers in place, which Rob designed and created to hold all of those fine ingredients.  It’s also a tribute to this talented apothecary.

The Apothecary Chest by Robert Yarger et al.

The Apothecary Chest project was launched in late 2009 as a collaborative celebration of some of the best puzzle box artists in the world at that time.  Robert Yarger and all of these craftsmen had been working with each other, relying on each other, and supporting one another during this heyday of puzzle box development.  He envisioned a tribute to his friends which would literally bring everyone together in a single, epic creation.  Over the next four years, he eventually saw the project to completion, producing fifteen copies of the chest and nearly going bankrupt in the process.  Most of the chests are now held by the artists who contributed the puzzle box drawers, and a few have found their way into the hands of private collectors.  The Apothecary Chest Series published on these pages over the past many weeks owes a debt of thanks to Robert Yarger himself, whose personal chest has been featured in all of the photographs.

There were very few restrictions or instructions that Rob gave to the contributors.  Each puzzle box “drawer” had to conform to the 3”x3”x4” dimensions of the cavity planned to house them, but other than that, the craftsmen were given free reign and encouraged to create something which exemplified their unique style and personality.  This is why for example, according to Rob, he allowed Stephen Chin to include a cylindrical puzzle which was wrapped up in a sock, although he did make Stephen put it inside an actual box for the drawer mechanism.  Another notable result of this “restriction” is the drawer from Mark McCallum, who normally makes geometric style puzzles and not puzzle boxes.  Mark rose to the challenge and produced a fantastic puzzle box which houses his geometric puzzle.  Keeping in mind that the majority of contributors were not professional puzzle makers, one of the nicest reflections Rob has about the chest is how the quality of design and finish from these “hobbyists” exceeded what he would expect from the professionals.

Many discoveries await inside and out ...

The chest itself is a marvelous container, with beautiful exotic wood color accents and finely carved details.  It is, of course, also a puzzle, and at its core is a mechanical machine which moves the drawers in and out or locks them in place.  This is achieved via a unique cam lever and piston system, with arms extending into each drawer space that hook and lock the drawer in place until it is properly released.  Pushing on one drawer will make another pop out, and the mechanism can be unpredictable, surprising, and quite fun to observe.  The drawers are grouped into sections, and each section remains locked until secrets on and in the chest are discovered and properly activated. To achieve this, items and tools discovered inside the puzzle box drawers are used as well.  The idea was to ensure that the artists who contributed and thus received a copy of the chest would need to work their way through each other’s puzzles, to properly appreciate and admire the individual ideas while working toward the ending.  Again, rather than put any restrictions on the artists, Rob adapted the hidden tools and items to the boxes afterwards, placing what would fit here and there and modifying the chest as needed based on the final drawer configurations he received.   As Rob states, “the main purpose of the chest was to build bonds of friendship between puzzle makers, and that it certainly accomplished.  We are all a lot closer now having done this together.

Tippling Bros. Magical Pain Extractor by Wayne Curtis

To toast this epic achievement I wanted to stick to the apothecary theme.  Apothecaries, after all, were the original bartenders, and created the very first cocktails.  Each proprietor (what we would now call a pharmacist or druggist), would develop his own concoction from bitter herbs and roots, then serve it neat or mixed with a bit of water, sugar, and often brandy or gin as a medicinal cure all, no matter the malady.  The practice started in England, centuries ago, when it was common to add a few drops of these bitters into “Canary wine”.   Apothecary bitters really took off in colonial America and grew in prominence right up until Prohibition, when they all but disappeared.  Perhaps this was just as well, as many were sold as “miracle elixirs”, those guaranteed fixers, which certainly did not.  

Full to the brim with fruits, herbs, and bitters - it'll cure what ails ya

But the apothecary bitters, and bitter liqueurs, are back now, and these old time recipes are often celebrated in new inventive modern ways.  A particularly fun, festive and tasty tipple with which to toast the Apothecary Chest was created by spirits writer Wayne Curtis.  It’s full of fruit, herbs, spices and, of course, bitters, but has no other base spirit, making it a perfectly delicious way to appreciate the history of the Apothecary.  Here’s to many amazing individuals coming together to create a uniquely balanced whole which is so much more than the sum of its parts. Cheers!

Special thanks to Robert Yarger for the loan of his chest and his many insights into the history of the project.

This prescription comes with twelve refills

Tippling Bros. Magical Pain Extractor by Wayne Curtis

1 oz amaro (bitter liqueur such as Averna or Montenegro)
2 tsps chopped peeled green apple
3 rosemary sprigs
1 tsp sugar
6 mint leaves
1 egg white
3 dashes Angostura bitters
4 oz chilled tonic water
Cayenne pepper

Muddle the apple, rosemary, and sugar together, then gently muddle in the mint.  Add the amaro, egg white and bitters and “dry” shake, followed by a “wet” shake with ice.  Strain into an old fashioned glass (filled with ice if you like) and top with tonic water.  Garnish with rosemary, cayenne, and the cure for what ails you.

For more about Robert Yarger:

For the prior Apothecary Chest puzzles see:

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Medieval Magic - Apothecary Part VI

At last we come to the final two drawers of the Apothecary Chest.  As with many stages of the journey, the chest and the drawers are interlinked and interdependent up to the end.  The final two drawers both require elements which must be discovered along the way to open.  First we will explore the magical box known as “Abracadabra”.  The box has a few nice details including accented splines and a central dimple on the front, surrounded by inlayed wooden dots.  The lid, of course, does not come off. Without giving too much away I’ll just say that you’ll need to do a little magic to make this box reveal its secrets.  It really lives up to its name.  

Abracadabra by Matt Dawson and Kelly Snache
The box was designed by Matthew Dawson, a fellow Houstonian puzzle collector and designer who worked with Canadian artist Kelly Snache to bring this idea to life.  Kelly also created the Parameter Motion box which was encountered earlier in the chest. The mechanism for Abracadabra utilizes a little “magic” which reminds me of another design from Matt Dawson, the Ambidextrous Hexduos which was an IPP 30 puzzle exchange.  Matt worked with Robert Yarger on that design as well.  So brush off your spell books, break out the hocus pocus, and perform a little abracadabra on this puzzle box.

The Magic Hour by Tom Macy

We’ll toast the Abracadabra box with a magical cocktail full of sparkle and mischief.  Created by New York mixologist Tom Macy, the “Magic Hour” is a magically modified mimosa in disguise. This is not your ordinary brunch cocktail.  Tom Macy is the creator of socialhourcocktails.com, a hands on resource for aspiring culinary cocktail makers everywhere, and the head bartender at Clover Club, a Brooklyn landmark.  In the Magic Hour, he exchanges the classic orange juice for grapefruit, adds depth with the aperitif Lillet Rose (I used Cocchi Americano Rosa which was also wonderful), and finally stirs things up even further with a little Yellow Chartreuse.  The result is a delicious grapefruit twist on the classic which might just make you believe in magic.

A magical pair

Magic Hour by Tom Macy

1 ½ oz Lillet Rose
½ oz fresh grapefruit
¼ oz simple syrup
1 tsp Yellow Chartreuse
Sparkling wine

Shake all ingredients except sparkling wine together with ice and strain into a flute.  Add sparkles on top and garnish with some magic.

Knight vs. Dragon Box by Robert Yarger

Finally we come to the drawer which was created by the very man who envisioned and produced the entire chest, Robert Yarger.  His “contribution” to the chest, in quotations since he also built the entire chest as well which hardly makes the puzzle box his only contribution, is the magnificent Stickman No. 21 Puzzle Box, The Knight vs. Dragon Box.  Like all the other drawers, limited by the constraints of the chest, the external appearance belies the complexity of the puzzle.  Even so, the box manages to have a distinctive appearance, crafted from Mahogany and Jatoba with wood inlay dot accents.  

White Knight with Dragon

The internal mechanism is a brilliantly executed marvel to behold, but the action all plays out on the top of the box, enacted by the main characters, the Knight and the Dragon.  These are nicely rendered pewter figurines which are magnetically held in place.   As the box is navigated, the players must be moved in strategic ways to advance.  At other times, the pieces actually move by themselves, in a magical dance of parry and retreat.  To solve the box and allow it to open completely the Knight and Dragon must be maneuvered together, to face each other at last, so the Dragon may be slayed. The box can then be reset back to the beginning quite easily, or with a more difficult setting of moves if desired.  Once opened you can admire the mechanism, and understand how the magic is accomplished.  It’s a classic Stickman Box which improves upon a certain type of puzzle mechanism and adds new elements, and it’s a perfect ending to the incredible Apothecary journey.

The Difford's Guide version, with NOLA coffee liqueur

The Knight vs. Dragon Box is like the dessert at the end of an incredible chef’s tasting menu.  In that spirit I’ve paired it with a delicious drink called the White Knight.  Not only is it an after dinner drink, rich, creamy and decadent, but it also features coffee liqueur, perhaps making it the ultimate after dinner drink for this extravagant meal.  All I can tell you is that there are quite a number of White Knight cocktails, but this is the best of the bunch.  I discovered it in Difford’s Guide, the incredible and comprehensive spirits resource for enthusiasts and professionals alike created by Simon Difford.  There isn’t any additional information about it, but perhaps that is fitting, like a lost legend from the time of dragons.  I’ve used St. George Spirits incredible NOLA coffee liqueur, which, like the coffee from its namesake city, is created with Yirgacheffe coffee and chicory root, and sweetened with Madagascar vanilla.  It’s one of the best coffee liqueurs available, from one of the best American craft distillers.  Only the best would do to toast this extraordinary conclusion to the Apothecary Chest. 

Here’s to magic, to spellbinding wonders, to fantasy, and dragons, and white knights, and the imaginations which bring them to life for us.  Cheers!

This quest to slay the dragon is incredible

White Knight

¾ oz aged blended Scotch (such as Monkey Shoulder)
¾ oz Coffee liqueur (such as St. George Spirits NOLA)
¾ oz Drambuie liqueur
¾ oz milk
¾ oz half and half cream

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Sprinkle with the sparks from a freshly forged sword (or grated nutmeg) and garnish with a citrus peel, fire-breathing dragon – one of my finer creations, don’t you think?

For more about Robert Yarger see:

For the prior Apothecary Chest drawers see:


Stay tuned for the final installment of the Apothecary Chest series next week.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Triple Twist (Apothecary Part V)

Delving yet deeper into the secrets of the Apothecary Chest we move on to section three.  This is now possible thanks to something discovered in section two which is “key” to advancing.  One of the first drawers encountered in the final section has another quite distinctive appearance which also sets it apart from the other boxes.  It features a prominent brass circle on its face, with three little holes set into the circle and a ring of inlayed wooden dots surrounding it.  There are more dots arranged in a symmetrical pattern below the circle.  The wood is lustrous and exotic, and the box is surprisingly heavy.  You also won’t get very far trying to open the box without using a little of the observational skills you employed up to this stage in the Apothecary journey, as there’s more needed for the box than meets the eye.  This is A Twist of Fate, a very special, bittersweet puzzle box, from the incredibly talented Aussie Dave Cooper.  The name may reflect the puzzle box, but has taken on additional meaning in the wake of events which occurred soon after the production of these boxes.  In 2011 Cyclone Yasi hit Queensland with Category 5 force winds and left a huge path of destruction, which included much of Dave Cooper’s fine work. 

A Twist of Fate by Dave Cooper

Dave’s day (and night) job provides enough stress to warrant a set of full time hobbies.  In Dave’s case he is also a professional at his hobbies.  He apprenticed in his youth building hovercraft, submarines and warships for the Royal Australian Navy and is an expert machinist and metalworker.  As if that weren’t enough he developed master woodworking skills as well, including lathe work and wood bending, he flies solo aircraft and he is a published poet.  His self-described “signature style” of puzzle boxes refelct a combination of elements found in the work of his friends Robert Yarger, Randal Gatewood, Kelly Snache and others.  Dave developed an entire series of limited edition puzzle box concepts and had completed prototypes of each one awaiting production when the cyclone hit, wiping out all of his work and schematics.  Dave’s friends from all over the world reached out to him at that time to lend support and consolation.

For his Apothecary Chest contribution, Dave had a few self-imposed stipulations.  He felt that people who knew him would expect some kind of mechanical component machined from various metals.  The brass circle on the front of the box is only one such element in the box.  He also wanted to reference one of his very first puzzling experiences with this box as a tribute to that time and place in his life.  The puzzle is therefore an homage to one of his earliest childhood memories, of playing with a puzzle which his grandfather owned and which is now in his personal collection.  He also wanted to avoid common mechanisms that had been used before in many ways, such as centrifugal pins, magnets, and sliding panels, which he admits was almost impossible.  In the end he came up with an unusual mechanism for a puzzle box which combines all these requirements and elements.  The result is truly a twist of fate. 

A Twist of Fate adapted from Seth Friedus

Two additional points merit mention.  Dave Cooper was the official coordinator for the Apothecary Chest project during its four year development and production schedule, so in addition to Robert Yarger the project owes a debt of gratitude to him.  Additionally, he inserted a clever clue into each of his boxes which actually identifies the chest and original owner.  On the face of each Twist of Fate box there are symmetrical wooden dot inlays, but each box has a unique pattern with a unique number of dots ranging from one to fifteen, the total number of chests planned.  If you look at Cooper’s box and count, you can identify the chest number.

It's best to keep your trusty Akubra close at hand

I’d like to raise a glass to this fine fellow, a truly talented and selfless man with a fantastic sense of humor, who has dealt with life’s twists of fate and continues to embrace all that life has to offer.  Dave grew up in the Australian bush and never leaves home without his trusty Akubra – a classic Aussie bush hat.  He also enjoys a dram or two of Scotch now and then.  I discovered an apropos cocktail called, remarkably enough, “A Twist of Fate”, created by Seth Freidus from Alden and Harlow in Boston’s Harvard Square.  The drink is originally based with vodka, but for this pairing I’ve taken the liberty of exchanging that for a nice smoky scotch, which really does the trick and is Dave Cooper approved.  Smoky and sweet, it’s a twist on your typical scotch cocktail and really compliments this remarkable box quite nicely. 

These twists of fate are of the pleasing variety

Twist of Fate adapted from Seth Freidus

1 ½ oz smoky scotch
1 oz homemade grenadine
¾ oz fresh lime
2 dashes grapefruit bitters

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a grapefruit Akubra.

Super-Cubi (Trinary Box) by Hiroshi Iwahara

Next to A Twist of Fate is another amazing drawer, arriving all the way from Hakone Japan.  Hiroshi Iwahara is one of the well-known and highly respected artisans from the Karakuri Creation Group who has designed and produced well over fifty individual puzzle boxes with the group.  One of his earliest designs was the “Super-Cubi (Trinary Box)”, a developed version of the “Cubi” box by his mentor and Karakuri Group founder Akio Kamei.  Cubi opens via a binary set of moves, based on a “U” shaped internal mechanism.  Super-Cubi functions via a trinary system of movements, achieved with an “S” shaped internal mechanism.  It takes 324 individual moves to open, which was a new record when Iwahara created it in 2000.  He bested his own record in 2010 when he created the King Cubi, a quaternary mechanism box which requires 1536 moves to open!  For the Apothecary Chest, Iwahara shrunk the Trinary Box down significantly in size to meet the chest drawer restrictions, while maintaining its exact functioning.  It remains an incredible feat of engineering and skill, and opening the box is a satisfying exercise in focused meditation.

Trinary Motion

For Iwahara’s trinary masterpiece I wanted a cocktail with three ingredients which blended seamlessly together.  I’m a huge fan of the Negroni (and have featured many variations before) which is the ultimate three part cocktail.  The original, which you may know, includes gin, sweet vermouth and Campari.  For this version, which I call “Trinary Motion”, the gin is replaced with a fine Japanese whisky.  I’ve also swapped the Campari for its lighter and brighter sibling, Aperol.  The drink is pleasantly balanced, elegant, and smooth, with a distinctly Japanese flavor. It’s a perfect pairing with which to toast this incredible artist.

Japanese whisky puts a spin on this Negroni

Here’s to life’s unexpected twists, which add increasing complexity to the puzzle. May our fates be made richer for them.  Cheers!

A triple toast to Japan - kampei!

Trinary Motion

1 oz Japanese Whisky
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Aperol
Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with an a-peeling trio.

For more about Robert Yarger:

For the prior Apothecary Chest drawers:

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Key Turnings (Apothecary Part IV)

Delving deeper into the secrets of the Apothecary Chest brings us to the next two puzzles found in section two.  At this point, if you have been paying careful attention, you will have discovered a few things along the journey.  Hopefully!  Now we come to another one of the more distinctive drawers in the chest, instantly recognizable thanks to the padlock attached to its face.  The drawer slides out and you are holding Peter Hajek’s “Now What?” box.  Peter’s puzzles instantly taunt you with their name, suggesting there is more than meets the eye in store.  What do you mean, now what?  Clearly you need to unlock the padlock, it’s obvious.  Like his “How?” box, the name provokes you.  He’s thrown down the gauntlet.  It’s a clever strategy, as we tend to confuse things more when under duress.  Peter’s box does not let you down.  You’ll soon be saying, “Now What?” over and over.  

Now What? by Peter Hajek

The puzzle is so well designed and clever, it stands out as one of the best of the bunch in the chest.
The box itself is very nicely made from contrasting wood and has a geometric patterned design.  There is a little padlock on the front, locking a brass latch which appears to be holding the hinged lid down.  If you’re lucky enough to have discovered a key by now, you might find that it even fits the lock!  Ahhh, but does it work?  Did you really think it would?  Now What?!?  Peter Hajek understands human nature and how we go about solving puzzles, and uses this knowledge against us.  He has designed what can be considered a “puzzler’s puzzle” which will require you to use all your skills of observation, logic and ingenuity to solve.  It’s an extremely satisfying puzzle box and would easily make a “Best Puzzles of the Year” list – something Peter Hajek compiles from puzzle collectors around the world at the end of each year to coincide with his End of Year Puzzle Party (EPP), where collectors gather to share their favorite finds from the prior year.  Solving the Now What? box is also key to the Apothecary Chest, as it holds another critical piece of the metapuzzle inside.

The Five Keys cocktail

To toast the Now What? box I present the “Five Keys” cocktail, a delightful riff on the classic Manhattan. As you may know, the Manhattan is one of the all time classics of the cocktail world, and that seemed perfectly appropriate for this incredible classic from Peter Hajek, which is sure to go down in the puzzle history books for all time.  The Manhattan, a tasty combination of whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters, likely originated in the second half of the nineteenth century, with the first written description appearing in 1882.  Many stories of its invention exist, and none are certain, but it was most certainly named to celebrate the famous island in New York.  The original recipes from the turn of the twentieth century add various dashes of sugar and flavor, such as absinthe, or curacao, and included maraschino liqueur and orange bitters.  The Five Keys cocktail is a bit of a nod to the past – perhaps an homage to the five boroughs – in that it includes maraschino, and adds a touch of flavor in the form of Cynar, a delicious Italian Amaro.  Originally created for Blade and Bow whiskey, the Five Keys will unlock your appreciation with any fine whiskey, even if it doesn’t help you unlock the Now What? box.

Now what? Open the box and drink the cocktail, obviously.

The Five Keys

1 1⁄3 oz Whiskey (originally with Blade and Bow)
3⁄4 oz sweet vermouth
1⁄4 oz Cynar
1⁄4 oz Maraschino liqueur (I used cranberry liqueur, which was delicious)

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with the key to a great puzzle.

Next we’ll go for a little spin around the block as we drive over to Hajek’s neighbor, Chinnomotto.  Just next door to Hajek, on the Apothecary Chest at least, resides a drawer which is truly the only actual drawer in the whole chest.  Inside rests a circular lid, a little rod of some sort, and a cylindrical puzzle nestled inside a pink sock which is decorated with laces and a bow.  This can only be from the twisted turnings of our friendly Australian dentist, Stephen Chin.  Chinny, as he is fondly known by his friends, is a master wood turner and has produced some endearingly elegant creations on his lathe such as One Pinko Ringo and Ze Orange.  

If your puzzle is wearing a sock it can only mean one thing ...

His puzzles often carry a few of his hallmarks, including tiny electronic lights and sounds which are triggered when the puzzle has been solved.  He is also quite fond of whistles and spinning tops.  And his puzzles are often wrapped up in a cute sock.  Odd?  Well, at least now you know where all your mismatched socks have gone.  Exploring his “Spinnomotto” puzzle from the Apothecary Chest reveals that all of his favorite idiosyncrasies are in attendance.  The sock is obvious.  The little rod turns out to be a whistle, which fits into the lid to make a spinning top.  And the cylinder is indeed a puzzle box, with a clever mechanism keeping it quiet.  Until you discover how to open it, at which point tiny lights and electronic music ensue.  Which make you smile, despite how annoying it is!  Chin’s spin on the puzzle chest is a welcome change of pace and as endearing as all of his work.

Spinnomotto by Stephen Chin

I’m toasting the Spinnomotto with another great spin, the “Spin Move” cocktail from Houston native, Speed Rack Champion and LA Rising Star Bartender Yael Vengroff.  She tapped into her experiences in Mumbai, India for this one with the addition of green cardamom pods, which add an exotic, warm spice to the drink.  Based with a mix of blended scotch and cognac, this sour is sweetened with elderflower liqueur and the resulting combination will make your head spin.  It’s a delicious drink for a delightful box.  Here’s to the fantastic twists that unlock the mysteries in life.  Cheers!

Spin Move by Yael Vengroff

Spin Move by Yael Vengroff

3 green cardamom pods
3⁄4 oz scotch blend (org. Dewar’s White Label)
3⁄4 oz cognac (orig. D’USSÉ)
3⁄4 oz lemon
1⁄2 oz simple syrup
1⁄2 oz elderflower liqueur (org. St-Germain)
1 dash Angostura bitters

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Garnish with a lime top and take it for a spin.

These two are the tops!

For more about Robert Yarger:


For the previous Apothecary Chest drawers:

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Paramount Fortunes (Apothecary Part III)

Continuing our journey into the Apothecary Chest, we now approach section two.  It isn’t obvious from external appearances, but when you explore the chest you will find that certain drawers don’t move or release, initially.  In order to advance you must solve the drawers presented in parts I (Topless Box and Dad’s Two Cents) and II (Ferris Box and Blocks Away) because they contain elements of the chest which are needed in order to release future drawers.  This insight is presented in the instruction manual, so is not a spoiler, lest anyone be worried that I’ve now ruined things for when they get their very own Apothecary Chest.

Parameter Motion by Kelly Snache

On the top row we discover a drawer from our old friend Kelly Snache, the part Native American spiritual guide of the puzzle world.  His “Parameter Motion” box slides out and we have a nice looking, smooth wooden box which is likely made out of repurposed wood.  Kel’s philosophy has always been to reuse, renew and recycle for the benefit of our planet, and much of his work reflects that philosophy.  The box has a few nicely detailed accents and two drawers which must be opened.  There appears to be something moving inside but you are left with few clues.  Maybe the title is a hint?  Hmm, a rule or limit which defines the boundaries of an operation.  Kel’s boxes often function through clever hidden internal locking mechanism, and this one is true to form.  It’s simple and elegant once you see how it works, but may not be so easy to open until you understand it.  Accessing the first drawer allows you to then unlock the second, and waiting inside is another hidden object which may be the key to another puzzle … but that’s all I’ll say about it right now.

12 Mile Limit c. 1930

Setting parameters for the solution got me thinking about a different set of parameters for solutions, of the cocktail variety.  An interesting fact about the moment in history when alcohol was illegal in the United States known as Prohibition is how it influenced the current definition of international territorial waters.  At that time, a three mile limit surrounding the coast was the accepted standard, having to do with the range of a cannon shot.  Beyond this it became perfectly legal to consume alcohol.  Gambling boats set up shop around the coast three miles out and happily served booze to the customers.  The US government and IRS soon discovered these goings on and promptly extended the distance for prohibition to twelve miles, and a famous prohibition era cocktail was born out of spite.  The “Twelve Mile Limit” is a boozy masterpiece meant to ridicule the very law for which it was named.  Twelve miles is now the standard for territorial waters around the globe, and regardless, international spirits are once again welcome right here on dry land. 

Reversal of Fortune by Jeffrey Aurand

The end of Prohibition in 1933 was a highly celebrated reversal of fortune for many in the United States.  Here we have another, the Reversal of Fortune puzzle box by our friend Jeffrey Aurand, a collector and hobbyist woodworker who hails from upstate New York and who hosts the legendary Rochester Puzzle Picnic each year.  Jeff’s contribution to the chest is one of the best examples of a classic Japanese style puzzle box with a serious and unique twist.  It features a beautiful top panel of shimmering patterned wood with a contrasting border and dark wood exterior.  Exploration of the box reveals some movements here or there, sometimes in unexpected ways, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to get it to actually open.  With patience and perseverance you may experience a reversal of fortune and discover why this is such a fantastic puzzle.  The solution is unique, surprising and very satisfying.  It makes you hope that Jeff will decide to design and produce more of his great ideas in the future, which would indeed be fortunate.

Royal Fortune by Joshua Washburn

For the Reversal of Fortune I’m toasting my good fortune in having the opportunity to experience the Apothecary Chest and all of its fine puzzles with more good fortune - in fact, with “Royal Fortune”.  This bold and funky riff on the Manhattan from Atlanta bartender Josh Washburn evokes the West Indian spice trade and leaves Manhattan far behind.  One might even imagine all the exotic flavors and spices being shipped across the ocean inside an apothecary like chest full of drawers.  In the original recipe, Washburn uses Denizen Merchant, a special French and Jamaican rum blend created by master distiller Nick Pelis to recreate the original rum that Trader Vic Bergeron used in his classic Mai Tai.  I’ve used Hamilton’s Demerera rum which is not at all the same but still worked well.  I also swapped Ramazotti amaro for Ciociaro, a common and acceptable substitute. The drink is rich, layered, complex and rewarding – a suitable, royal compliment to this fine puzzle box.
Here’s to widening our parameters in life, and reversing all our misfortunes.  Cheers!

Twelve Mile Limit circa 1930

1 oz White Rum
1/2 oz Rye Whiskey
1/2 oz Brandy
1/2 oz Pomegranate Grenadine
1/2 oz Fresh Lemon Juice

Shake all ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a symbol of expansive universal goodwill.

I'd be happy to work within these parameters

Royal Fortune by Josh Washburn

1/2 oz Galliano
1/2 oz Amaro Ciociaro
1/2 oz Denizen Merchant
1/2 oz Neisson rhum agricole
1 oz Verdelho Madeira
Laphroaig 10 rinse
3 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into the Laphroaig rinsed glass.  Garnish with a fortune cookie lime wedge.

This is quite a fortunate pair

For more about Robert Yarger:

For the prior Apothecary Chest puzzles see:

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Wheels in Motion and Blocks Unlocked (Apothecary Part II)

Moving along the bottom row of the Apothecary Chest (introduced in Part I) we come next to one of the more distinct and recognizable “drawers” in the chest, Peter Wiltshire’s “Ferris Box”.  Distinct because unlike most of the drawers, the external face is quite unique.  Once you remove the box, or if you have seen it before, you notice that all six sides of the cube are the same.  Actually that is not entirely true if you are holding one of the original puzzles from the Apothecary Chest – on those, there is an additional panel which Robert Yarger fashioned to hold the box inside the chest.  This comes off easily enough and the true puzzle begins.  The box is a framed cube, with a contrasting maple exterior and a patterned walnut interior which is sectioned into nine small squares on each face.  The box holds a secret, given away slightly by its name, which will put a smile on your face.  The movement is unique and surprising.  So much so, and with such a clever and satisfying solution, that the puzzle box won the Jury First Prize in the 2012 International Puzzle Design Competition.   Peter is a cinematographer, and clearly likes the motion in motion-picture.  This is one movie I’d watch over and over.

Ferris Box by Peter Wiltshire

I’m toasting Peter Wilthshire’s fine box with another tribute to the fantastical flight of fancy which first debuted at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (“World’s Columbian Exposition”).  The 264 foot high structure of spokes invented by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. resembled a giant bicycle wheel and represented a technological marvel of the time which had fair goers dizzy with excitement. The Ferris Wheel cocktail from San Francisco mixologist Summer-Jane Bell might also make your head spin.  Featuring sweet pear liqueur and the French aperitif Suze, it is finished off with a wheat style beer.  I swapped the wheat beer for a grapefruit style radler from Texas’s Shiner brewery, which did not disappoint. This spin on a beer cocktail goes perfectly with the Ferris Box and is an equally giddy experience.

Ferris Wheel by Summer-Jane Bell

Next to the Ferris Box is another unique drawer in that it functions very differently than any other in the chest.  “Blocks Away” was designed and created by Ron Locke, a friend to the puzzle box world who is no longer with us.  Ron’s boxes are fanciful affairs full of mystery, legend and romance.  He even used gold leaf gilding on some of his designs, and his boxes came with a puzzling riddle in lieu of instructions.  Blocks Away is no less impressive despite the toned down nature of the box, to meet the requirements of the larger chest.  The box has two red wood blocks visible from the front, and when the drawer is removed from the chest, one finds two more along the sides.  These function like a maze burr puzzle, and must be navigated through an intricate dance if one hopes to access the secrets which wait inside the box.  Which is also necessary, whether you like it or not, because other critical elements of the meta-puzzle are housed inside.  I must admit that while opening the box was a challenge for me, closing it up, back to the original positions, was even worse.  I managed it once, and foolishly opened it again.  That’s all I’m going to say about that right now.  It’s sad to know that Ron Locke won’t be making such wonderful creations anymore, and we will treasure the ones he managed to share with the world.

Blocks Away by Ron Locke

Can't seem to get these blocks away

For Locke’s box (a lovely ring to it, no?) I’ve got more locks.  I don’t have socks, although keep your “chin” up - we’ll get to that later.  I’m revisiting an old favorite cocktail I featured in a different version previously, for another fine lock.  The “Lock Pick” is a wonderful summer sipper with bourbon and ice tea.  I featured my own version of it along with Shane Hale’s Haleslock 2 a while back, and now I present it in the original form for Locke’s box.  The drink was created for Larceny bourbon (hence the illicit name) but works well with your favorite corn and whiskey mash too.  I used pomegranate juice rather than liqueur, which is also delicious, but I added more sugar syrup to make up for it.  So mix up one of these bourbon tea treats and go pick a lock – any of Ron’s fine puzzles will do.  Cheers!

The Lock Pick 

Congratulations, we’ve made it past the first set of challenges.  Stay tuned as we move on to phase two of the apothecary box.

Ferris Wheel by Summer-Jane Bell
1 ½ oz William’s Pear Liqueur
½ oz Suze or similar gentian aperitif
½ oz lemon juice
1 ½ oz soda water
1 ½ oz German Weisse style beer (I used Shiner’s Ruby Redbird)
Shake all but the beer together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Top with the beer and set the wheels in motion.

This pair will make your head spin


The Lock Pick
1 ½ oz bourbon
¾ oz pomegranate liqueur
¾ oz lemon juice
3 oz iced tea (such as orange pekoe)
 ½ oz simple syrup
Shake all but tea together over ice and strain into an ice filled glass.  Top off with the tea and give it a little stir as you lean back and relax.  Cheers!

I'd pick these locks any day

For more about Robert Yarger:

For the previous Apothecary Chest drawers:

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Puzzle Prescriptions (Apothecary Part I)

“True apothecary thy drugs art quick.” - William Shakespeare

I’d like to invite you to join me on a tour of a dozen special puzzle boxes over the next few weeks.  Fear not, this apothecary will not hasten your untimely death like Romeo and Juliet, but there may be true love to be found.  You can choose from any or all of the twelve unique, beautiful and rare creations which are all housed together inside the final masterpiece, a treasure trove of legendary status.  Collaborations between puzzle makers are not uncommon events but are rarely seen at this level and magnitude.  A new such collaboration, currently in the final stages of completion, which brings together fifteen artists from around the world and celebrates the stories of Lewis Carroll, provides a fitting opportunity to revisit and admire the work which inspired it.  The Apothecary Chest is the brainchild of Robert Yarger, who envisioned the design, orchestrated the collaborations, and ultimately executed the production.  We’ll get to that story in just a moment, but first let’s explore the individual “drawers” in this incredible chest. 

Topless Box by Eric Fuller

Getting down to puzzling business is hard work, at times – North Carolina puzzlesmith Eric Fuller might even suggest you take your shirt off.  At least, his Topless Box would suggest it.  I’ve actually written about the Topless Box before, and will direct you to that original rendition here while briefly summarizing.  One of the first puzzle boxes you can retrieve is Fuller’s creation, a lovely cube with contrasting quilted maple on the ends and dark sapele in the center.  Exploration reveals that the ends can be removed, no secret there, revealing bright, bold and beautiful red paduak details.  Ironically, this is one of the harder boxes in the chest and may take you some time to solve.  Like most of Fuller’s boxes, it relies on a unique and incredibly clever mechanism which is so elegantly executed.  To toast this delightful box I paired it with a modern classic cocktail apropos of both the puzzle and its maker, the “Naked and Famous”.  If you’ve never tried this drink, do yourself a favor.

Topless and Naked, a perfect pair

An apothecary should never be out of spirits. - Richard Brinsley Sheridan

I quite agree with the sentiment in this quote, and have therefore paired a unique cocktail with each of the fine findings inside this chest.  Next, we discover in our hands a rather unassuming looking box from a highly sought after puzzle maker from Oklahoma, Mark McCallum.  Mark is known for his precise assembly puzzles and his recreations of classics, using fine exotic woods.  Inside the drawer, which opens after a little trick is discovered, one is not disappointed and finds a lovely multifaceted polyhedron known as the “Thick and Thin Garnet”.  This is an elegant assembly puzzle made from six identical, irregular pieces.  Housed inside there is another, smaller garnet waiting.  The drawer is, in fact, two puzzles in one.  The box which holds the garnet is called “Dad’s Two Cents” and contains its own secret, with a rather unique feature not seen on any other puzzle box that I have encountered.  You’ll have to use your wits, and perhaps your garnet, to understand the meaning of the name, and discover a critical component of the metapuzzle.  It’s a shame that Mark McCallum doesn’t design more puzzle boxes, because this one is a “gem”.

Thick and Thin Garnet with Dad's Two Cents by Mark McCallum

I’ve mined the cocktail history books to unearth another garnet for this garnet.  The Garnet cocktail is found all the way back in the 2012 Mr. Boston’s Official Bartender’s Guide.  Not exactly ancient, but kind of perfect nonetheless.  The drink, which combines gin with orange liqueur, pomegranate and grapefruit, is light, refreshing, sweet, and shiny - just the thing for the start of something extraordinary.  Cheers!

The Garnet from Mr. Boston's

The Garnet from Mr. Boston’s Guide 2012

1 ½ oz Gin
¾ oz orange liqueur
¾ oz pomegranate juice
¾ oz grapefruit juice

Shake ingredients together over ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Flame an orange peel over the drink and garnish with a cocktail ring.  Enjoy while providing your companions with your two cents.

A couple of real gems

For more about the Topless Box:

For more about Robert Yarger:


For more about the Jabberwocky Chest: