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:

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Pooh Corner

The Japanese zodiac is divided into a twelve year cycle, with repeating blocks of years represented by a different animal.  It is said that you pick up a few characteristics from the animal year you were born during.  If you find yourself to be a bit stubborn, short-tempered, selfish, and mean, perhaps you were born in the year of the tiger.  On the other hand, tigers are also known to be sensitive, courageous, and thoughtful, with a great capacity for sympathy, especially to those they love.  So cheer up!

Sweet Tooth Tiger (Tiger of Carboholic) by Shiro Tajima

Perhaps this puzzle box, from Japanese artist Shiro Tajima, might help.  Tajima has crafted a series of the signs of the zodiac, and this one, the “Sweet Tooth Tiger”, was released for the Year of the Tiger in 2010.  Such a silly, sweet tiger reminds me more of Tigger from Winnie the Pooh than Shere Khan from the Jungle Book.  This tiger is all smiles, crafted from Japanese Raisin Tree and Walnut, with Dogwood and Rengas details.  I’d be smiling too if I had such a nice lollipop.  On the other hand, I don’t think this tiger will smile at all if you withhold his sweet treat, so you’d better take care not to lose it.  A clever, whimsical and fun box, the Tiger is another fine achievement from Tajima.

What do Tiggers like?

Sticking with the Winnie the Pooh theme, I’ve invited Eeyore to the party as well.  You may not realize, but Eeyore’s name is intended to be onomatopoeic.  When spoken with the appropriate English accent (presumably the kind favored by A. A. Milne, for example), the “r” is less “r” and more “aw”, such that “Eeyore” sounds quite like “hee-haw”, just the sound that an old gray donkey might be fond of making.  Of course all my English friends are probably reading dumbfounded at the idiocy of their American friend, having to explain something so obvious.  

Eeyore's Requiem by Toby Maloney

If Eeyore grew up and wanted an after dinner drink, I imagine he would drink amaro.  Amaro, you recall, is that class of bitter aperitif or digestive drink made from botanicals and herbs and favored by old Italian grandfathers and old gray donkeys alike.  Amari have become quite popular and are being produced all over the world now.  Author Brad Parsons has written an entire cocktail book devoted to them, and this particular cocktail suits our theme quite well.  In “Eeyore’s Requiem”, Chicago bartender Toby Maloney combines no fewer than three separate Amari in a negroni-esque tribute to our favorite droll and depressing character, and the result might just lift your spirits.  Here’s to the surprising sweetness in life hiding inside the unlikeliest of characters, like a puzzle waiting to be solved.  Cheers!

Help me if you can, I've got to get back to the House on Pooh Corner by one ...

Eeyore’s Requiem by Toby Maloney

1 ½ oz Campari
½ oz Gin
¼ oz Cynar
¼ oz Fernet Branca
1 oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth
15 drops Orange bitters
3 Orange twists

Stir ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with Eeyore’s Tail, which you may find is serving as a bell pull over at Owl’s place.  Cheers!

For more about Shiro Tajima see:

Friday, August 18, 2017

Butterfly Feelings

Now for something pleasant.  And painful.  From the international man of mystery and mayhem, the Dutch devil of devious delights – that’s right, Wil Strijbos, the brilliant puzzle designer from the Netherlands – comes more mischievous merriment.  Last summer I wrote about one of my favorite puzzle boxes, the long awaited PachinkoBox from Strijbos.  That box is immensely clever, satisfying and fun to solve.  But the year prior to that I fumbled through his Butterfly Box (aka “Pleasure and Pain” Box).  I say that I fumbled, not to appear self effacing, but to admit that I fell right into his trap.  The one he set on purpose for everyone who attempts to solve this box.  I don’t want to explain exactly what happened (some of you will know quite well anyway) as this may give quite a bit away about the solution.  That would be a shame, as it would violate Wil’s request not to give any hints or solutions to his puzzles, especially the ones like the Butterfly Box.  It would also be a shame since I now want anyone else who tries this puzzle to suffer like I did.  Wil should name his next puzzle box “Schadenfreude”.  I suppose enough time has passed that I can now happily write about this wonderful puzzle.

Butterfly Box by Wil Strijbos

Most of what you need to know about this puzzle “box” (technically a box since it has space inside, although that is not the main goal) is apparent from examining it.  A large metal block with an anodized green front plate is adorned with a very large, very heavy solid brass padlock affixed to a bolt on top.  A cuff which is locked in place is also present, with the word “LOCK” inscribed, but it is upside down.  Your task is to unlock the padlock, right the cuff, and lock up everything with the puzzle back to the starting position.  On the back of the metal block “box” there is an etching which to me looks like a butterfly – perhaps the reason behind the name.  But what of the puzzle’s nickname – the "Pleasure and Pain" box?  The whole affair is certainly a pleasure to look at and handle, being extremely well built and unusual in appearance.  Fiddling about with it produces some expected and some unexpected results, and you may very well find the means to unlock the padlock.  Quite pleasurable.  Nevermind the pleasant looking fellow who may strangely appear out of nowhere and send an odd pleasantry.  A little additional dexterity and maneuvering and perhaps you will even have reset it all back to the start as instructed.  Pleasure all around.  Perhaps a month might even go by, while you politely wonder what all the fuss was about.  But at some point, doubt will creep in, prompted by the paranoia induced by other puzzlers in pain.  Or even by Wil Strijbos himself, wondering whether congratulations are truly in order.  That will be the moment when you revisit the puzzle, and realize you are a fool.  Or at least, Wil’s fool.  That was no pleasantry from the mysterious pleasant fellow – it was a plaintiff cry!  A painful process indeed ensues, and it will literally be many weeks before you can finally say you have succeeded in mastering this masterpiece.  And that’s all I’ll say, so that you, too may suffer the pleasures someday.

Simple pleasures await inside this box.  So why do I have butterflies in my stomach?

To toast this marvelous, menacing box, I’ve devised a tasty tipple sure to catch your fancy.  Since Wil “caught” me in his trap I raise my glass to him with the “Butterfly Catcher” cocktail.  Created by Adele Stratton of San Diego’s fabulous secret bar, Noble Experiment, the “Fly Catcher” is a perfect summer drink which highlights the bright sweet flavor of watermelon and balances it with smoky mezcal and bitter Campari, all sweetened with a touch of almond syrup.  The drink is absolutely delicious.  I infused the mezcal in mine with dried Butterfly Pea plant leaves, for a number of reasons.  First of all, this allowed me to call it the Butterfly Catcher, which was useful for obvious reasons.  Next, Butterfly plant leaves lend a brilliant blue or indigo color to things, which makes the drink look lovely.  If you mix the drink without the acid component (such as the lime juice in this drink), then add it slowly later, you can watch the drink change colors from bright blue to purple, which is a nice cocktail magic trick.  Additionally, the Butterfly Pea plant has been used in ancient Asian medicine for its reported antistress, antianxiety, antidepressant, tranquilizing and sedative properties – which may be very helpful after trying to solve this puzzle.  Finally, the Butterfly Pea plant is from a particular plant genus which I suspect Wil Strijbos would enjoy.  Those of you who know your taxonomy will understand.  Wishing you all the pleasures, with no pain, that life has to offer – cheers!

Butterfly Catcher adapted from Adele Stratton

Butterfly Catcher – adapted from Adele Stratton

1 ½ oz mezcal infused with Butterfly Pea leaf
1 ½ oz watermelon juice
¾ oz fresh lime juice
¾ oz Campari
½ oz orgeat
Pinch of salt

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass filled with crushed ice.  Don’t be fooled – this will ease your pain.

This pair will give you butterflies

For more from Wil Strijbos:

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Boxes and Books

“We live for books.” – Umberto Eco

Happy National Book Lover’s Day, everyone.  Technically this event is celebrated on August 9th each year, but I’m a slow reader.  I’d be remiss to miss this lovely holiday, as reading and the love of books is so important to the Boxes and Booze household.  There are many great puzzle boxes which are book themed, and so many storied drinks throughout literature, that it’s easy to provide a pairing.  Check out some past offerings for Book Lover’s and Read a Book Days from Akio Kamei and Jesse Born if you need something else to read, too.

Secret Book Box by Hideaki Kawashima

This year I present the stunning “Secret Book Box” from the Karakuri Creation Group artist Hideaki Kawashima. Produced for their “Story” themed exhibition, the box does not reflect a particular individual story but rather encompasses the enchantment that great stories weave together for our enjoyment and discovery.  The box, crafted from magnolia, cherry, walnut, chanchin, and maple woods, forms the shape of three interlocked books of different colors.  The pages are made from black and white yosegi created by master Ninomiya, which adds such beauty and provenance to the work. 

Like the intricate plot twists woven into great stories ...

There are many, many stories to discover in these pages.  Master Kawashima has outdone himself with another masterpiece.  The puzzle is rewarding, requiring approximately thirty six moves to reveal all of its secret chambers, which a numerous.  Opening the box and its many compartments is an enjoyable process of discovery, like reading a good book.  Similar to book chapters, there are different phases to this puzzle as well, and the finale is wonderful.  If you aren’t paying careful attention, you might even miss the ending, but you’ll be left with a feeling that all the plot twists haven’t been fully resolved.  Keep reading, and the satisfying dénouement makes this box one to treasure and gives it a place of pride on the bookshelf. 

Beautiful page yosegi from Ninomiya

“Some like to believe it's the book that chooses the person.”  ― Carlos Ruiz Zafón  

This quote by the “The Shadow of the Wind” author rather reminds me of another well-known adage, if you happen to know a fellow named Olivander: “The wand chooses the wizard.”  One of the most beloved set of books in our family is the Harry Potter series.  Clearly we are not alone, as this series has broken all sorts of international publishing records over the last decade.  To toast the Secret Book Box and celebrate Book Lover’s Day I’ve made a few tasty tipples one might find at fine establishments like the Three Broomsticks and the Hog’s Head in Hogsmeade.  First of all we have Butterbeer, that delicious delight full of foamy goodness that all muggles deserve to taste.  There are numerous recipes floating about for this treat, and it can get quite elaborate.  My son (the ultimate Harry Potter fanatic) and I were quite satisfied with a simple version.  We went with the cold style (Butterbeer can also be served hot, for a warm winter treat) and turned butterscotch soda slushy by putting it in our ice cream maker.  Adding butterscotch syrup to vanilla cream soda also works well if you don’t have butterscotch soda.  The foam is the best part – we made butterscotch whipped cream by whisking heavy cream, sugar, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and butterscotch syrup together. This heavenly mix gets heaped upon the slushy drink and the result is hard to put down.  This is good enough, but of course I went even farther by adding a touch of rum to mine – Butterbeer is speculated to be mildly alcoholic in the books, after all.

A few potions from the wizarding world

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” – Cicero

And for the adult wizards among us who hanker for something a bit stronger than Butterbeer, I poured a bracing glass of Firewhisky, the potion of preference for merry magicians.  Pick your favorite whisky (or whiskey if you’re Stateside) and add a dose of spicy cinnamon syrup.  The drink (as I’ve created it, at least) is like a cinnamon Old fashioned, with a serious kick.  Not to be confused with a Sirius Black, which is not a drink at all.  Many thanks to J.K. Rowling for these delightful drinks.  Here’s to the magic in boxes and books, so enjoyable to open.  Cheers!

What magic awaits in your favorite book?

 “I cannot live without books;” – Thomas Jefferson

2 oz fine bourbon or whisky
½ oz serrano pepper infused cinnamon syrup
Stir ingredients over ice to chill and dilute, then strain into a favorite glass. Sip and let yourself fall under its spell.

For more about Hideaki Kawashima:

For prior book themed puzzle boxes see:

Friday, August 4, 2017

Louvre Is In The Air

Ahhh, Paris, the City of Light.  I’m sending out a toast to my friends in France this week, to celebrate that luminous city and some intriguingly perplexing people who happen to be there.  One of those people, let’s just call him “Mr. Puzzle”, has produced, in perfect proportion, a tiny replica of a palace which is also the world’s largest museum.  We circle to the first arrondissement and marvel at I. Pei’s Pyramid to begin our cultural immersion.  Presently, perhaps, we head straight to the most famous of art works housed therein, DaVinci’s Mona Lisa (is her smile impish? perturbed? pleased?) … only to find that it cannot be found.  What sorcery is this? Go ask Brian.

The Louvre by Brian Young

Brain Young, that is, aka Mr. Puzzle, the brilliant, baffling and inimitable puzzle producer from Queensland.  His shop is well stocked in the finest puzzles the world has to offer, many of which are designed and crafted by his own hands using exotic Australian hardwoods.  His limited editions often reflect a specific location or famous landmark, such as his award winning Big Ben sequential discovery puzzle.  His newest offering, another sequential discovery puzzle, is “The Louvre”, a mini model of the famous museum crafted from indigenous prized Papua New Guinean Rosewood.  A nice engraving of the museum façade adorns the puzzle’s front surface, which is studded with metal ornamentation.  There is a hole on top, purportedly for a flag pole, and you are given a few instructions.  You must search the Louvre, recover the lost masterpiece, and raise the French flag high in victory, to solve the intended puzzle properly.  Since the painting is hidden inside, protectively placed, this is technically a puzzle box.  Anyway I’ve made plenty of exceptions for Brian Young's work in the past, it’s much too much fun to pass up.  The Louvre has three separate locks to deduce – did you think security would be lax here? – including a novel mechanism Brian invented previously (part of the infamous SMS Telephone Box, one of the most difficult puzzle boxes ever invented).  I wrote about that one last year, after months had gone by without a single person in the world having solved it. The lock from that box which is recreated here is almost identical, pardoning polarity, but easier to navigate, thanks to the ability to see a bit of what is going on at that point.  How kind of Brian, he must have felt guilty about the SMS torture box – err, telephone box.  The Louvre is truly enjoyable.  Like a leisurely stroll through the famous museum, it is enlightening, rewarding and satisfying.

Mercifully, this puzzle makes you feel like saying merci

Continuing with the French theme, I politely present the unofficial cocktail of intoxicated Parisian puzzlists.  This ideal pairing packs a historic punch – it’s named after a deadly World War I machine gun, after all.  And it contains gin, naturally, the favored ingredient of many of my inebriated puzzle pals.  While there’s evidence of the drink’s existence in the mid 1800’s (Dickens mentions it tangentially in personal papers from an 1867 trip to Boston), it didn’t become the famous “French 75” until dubbed so at the New York Bar in Paris, popularized during the American Prohibition era.  Made with gin, lemon, sugar and champagne, the deliciously deceptive drink is particularly potent.  In the words of the British novelist Alec Waugh (brother to the more famous Evelyn Waugh), it’s “the most powerful drink in the world.”

Pineapple in Paris (perhaps a French 37?)

Not content with this most classic of cocktails, I purposefully pondered a slight modification - I just couldn’t leave it as is.  Puzzle people are among the most warm, welcoming and hospitable on the planet, and what better symbol of those virtues than the pineapple?  No? Trust me, look it up.  So for the official unofficial cocktail of imbibing Parisian puzzlers I substituted pineapple cider for the champagne.  The delightful result is an incredibly pleasing, playful variation on the classic.  I certainly encourage all interested potion purists to order the Soixante Quinze while in Paris and toast the day.  However, if luck might have it, and you find yourself in possession of pineapple cider (in pineapple possession, that is to say), give this one a try.  Cheers, mes amis.

You'll fall in Louvre with this pair

Pineapple in Paris

1 oz gin
1 oz simple syrup
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
3 oz pineapple cider (use champagne for the classic French 75)

Shake all ingredients but the bubbles over ice and strain into a flute. Add bubbles on top and garnish with a twist.  Or the Mona Lisa made out of citrus peels.  à votre santé!

In parting, perhaps you noticed an interesting pattern pervasive on these ingeniously penned pages.  How often does it appear?

For more about Brain Young, aka Mr. Puzzle:

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Diamond Sounds

It’s always a treat to discuss one of Kagen Sound’s fine boxes.  He has made a reputation for himself as one of the world’s foremost puzzle box makers.  The description doesn’t quite do justice to his work.  His designs are an evolution of his background in mathematics, and he identifies himself as a mathematician who has channeled that intellectual pursuit into his wood working.  But he is also a formidable master craftsman recognized by his peers around the globe for his skill.  His creations achieve the pinnacle of quality and beauty and can be admired for their form alone as objects of art.  Yet they contain delightful, logical, and often mesmerizing movement within them, to actualize their purpose, and “open”. 

Diamond Box by Kagen Sound

Kagen Sound’s name is also tied to his work and life ethos.  He and his wife changed their last names together when they married, choosing a word which reflects their character and the quality of their life’s work.  It’s a beautiful daily affirmation.  I can see it in the Diamond Box, a true diamond in many ways.  The puzzle box is as elegant as you would expect from this artist, crafted from gorgeous figured west coast big leaf maple and walnut.  It features an ebony diamond centered on the lid, showing through a patterned window.  The box shimmers with the finished polish typically reserved for fine musical instruments.  Playing this instrument takes some practice as well, but once mastered, it sounds like a diamond.

The maker's mark

To toast this sound creation I present the Ruby Diamond, a cocktail created by Matt Ducker, a food and lifestyle multimedia editor and columnist, which combines two unlikely allies – gin and mezcal.  Classic cocktail contain a single “base spirit” – such as gin in your Martini, or rye whiskey in your Manhattan.  Modern mixologists began to combine base spirits in a single drink a while back, producing interesting and unusual results.  Some combinations work better than others, and some just seem like a bad idea – at least in theory.  Gin and Mezcal, surprisingly, work incredibly well together, creating complex layers of flavorful interplay.  The drink is essentially a sour with these unusual base spirits, plus a healthy dose of Italian Amaro to make things truly interesting.  Ducker’s recipe calls for Cappelletti, similar to Campari but less sweet, and I used Meletti, again like Camapari but more complex with added flavors of grapefruit and saffron.  The drink is delicious – a diamond in the rough.

Ruby Diamond by Matt Ducker

Why pair the Diamond Box, with its ebony diamond, with the Ruby Diamond cocktail?  Once you solve the puzzle, and can open the lid, the ebony diamond changes to a vibrant pink ivory in a magical transformation.  It’s a brilliant touch from the master maker.  And that would be that, and it would be enough, if you’re not paying attention.  That’s all I’ll say for now.  Except to say that a secret box with a hidden secret of its own is a diamond indeed.  Cheers!

Two Diamonds in the rough

Ruby Diamond by Matt Ducker

1 ½ ounces gin
1 ½ ounces mezcal
¾ ounce Cappelletti (I used Meletti)
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice

¼ ounce fresh orange juice

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Garnish with diamonds and rubies.  Sound nice?

For more about Kagen Sound:

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Side Notes

I’ve been meaning to feature this little box for a while, as a way to say thanks.  The box in turn was a thank you gift from the maker, Tracy Clemons, who sent it as a companion piece to the original “Writer’s Block”.  I wrote about that incredible box quite a while ago now, calling it the ultimate “Boxes and Booze” box (an honor also bestowed on Kamei’s Whiskey Bottle, of course).  The Writer’s Block is a seriously large and sturdy piece from Clemons which resembles a hefty chest. On the front it has an imposing wooden padlock keeping it all closed up tight.  To start, you must discover hidden tools which are helpful in picking that lock.  Once released, the box opens along a diagonal hinge to reveal that it is a functional writing desk, with two separate compartments which are, of course, locked.  There’s a lot more to discover and the erstwhile writer is eventually rewarded with something to help loosen his tongue – there are two whiskey glasses and a bottle compartment (yes with a bottle stashed – did you seriously have to ask) secreted away inside.

Writer's Block 2 by Tracy Clemons

One detail I never mentioned about that box was how it arrived the first time I received it from Tracy.  As stated, it’s very large and heavy.  The contents had shifted significantly and there was some damage to the box and internal contents. The padlock had snapped right off and the box was in two pieces.  A few other pieces had broken. One of the glasses had shattered.  Needless to say I was a bit disappointed.  The box was sent back and eventually returned, better than before and with some new improvements.  A few months later, something else arrived from Tracy - a little “Thanks for your patience, sorry that happened, and here’s a side piece to go with the original” gift.  

A traveling kit for when inspiration strikes while on the road ... or for when it fails to strike ...

Formally known as the “Writer’s Block 2”, this little wonder is also fondly called, at various times, the “ink blot”, the “traveler’s kit” and the “sidecar”.  It's small relative to its parent box, more the size of a standard puzzle box, and quite handsome.  With matching details and a similar design sense, the sidekick sidecar fits right in alongside the original.  On top sits a fountain pen, complete with metal nib.  The ink must be inside, obviously.  Only this is another Writer’s Block, so maybe not.  In fact there is a set of shot glasses hiding inside this clever companion piece.  The secret mechanism is wonderful as well, and perfectly ironic for the puzzle’s name.  No case of Writer’s Block would be complete now without this little bonus.

If only I could make this situation right ... err, write

I’ve also been meaning to write about another classic from the dawn of cocktails called the “Sidecar”, and this puzzle box has given me the perfect pairing opportunity.  The Sidecar is the fancy, evolved version of a prior original drink, the Brandy Crusta, which was invented in New Orleans in the mid nineteenth century by Joseph Santini.  It was then made famous by the “Professor” Jerry Thomas when he published the recipe in his 1868 cocktail book.  The Crusta elevated the cocktail game, which was typically a mix of spirits, sugar, water (ice) and bitters (i.e. the Old Fashioned), by adding some lemon juice and a sugared rim to a glass of brandy, curacao and bitters.  This was a turning point for cocktails and a leap forward, believe it or not.  If the Crusta was an evolved cocktail, the Sidecar was the refined finale.  Unlike the typical sidecar, which rides alongside the more prominent primary vehicle, the cocktail Sidecar stole the show.  The drink is of course almost identical, but as it came to life in Paris during the American Prohibition, it took on a more elegant and mystical air.  There, at the famous Harry’s New York Bar, it was made with cognac, and sweet orange Cointreau, along with the lemon juice.  The sugared rim acted as more than a flourish, providing an important additional component of sweetness essential to each sip.  The name, so the story goes, was for the Army captain who it was created for, who reportedly arrived to receive the tasty tipple in a motorcycle sidecar.  True story? Who knows.  It’s clear the drink existed as the Crusta long before the Sidecar showed up, but that’s the way the crusta crumbles.

Tantris Sidecar by Audrey Saunders

A classic sidecar would have been just fine for this pairing, but I felt like it needed, well, a little extra.  So I continued following the evolution and refinement of this drink into the current era.  Which brings us to one of the pioneering figures of the modern cocktail revival, a woman named Audrey Saunders.  Her Pegu Club bar set new standards when it opened in New York.  Through her exacting creative process she invented a handful of well known modern classics, including the “Tantris Sidecar”, an innovative and delicious update to the original.  This Sidecar once again improves on the original and takes center stage.

Calvados and Chartreuse plus a little pineapple make this sidecar take center stage 

Another apropos aside about the perfect pairing of the Writer’s Block 2 with the Sidecar pertains to the alternate meaning of the term sidecar in libation lingo.  The term was adopted by bartenders who would misjudge the amount of cocktail they were mixing, and have too much for the glass.  The extra would be poured into a shot glass and served alongside the main drink as a little bonus, a sidecar.  Some even suspect that this term is truly how the Sidecar cocktail got its name, too.  How perfect that the Writer’s Block 2, a true sidecar of a puzzle box, contains a set of shot glasses, just in case there’s a little extra liquid inspiration overflowing from the original box.  Here’s to the little extras in life – cheers!

These Sidecars are the main attraction

Tantris Sidecar by Audrey Saunders

1 ¼ oz. Cognac
½ oz. calvados
½ oz. Cointreau
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup (1:1)
¼ oz. pineapple juice
¼ oz. green Chartreuse

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a sugar rimmed glass. Lemon peel garnish is traditional.  Make extra and add a little sidecar to your sidecar.

For more about Tracy Clemons:

For another Audrey Saunders modern classic cocktail:

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Born Again

Back from the Victorian Age where he got lost in a good book, returns American craftsman Jesse Born to his workshop in upstate New York.  You may recall his Victorian Book puzzle box, a beautiful and mysteriously ornate work full of secrets and surprises.  Emerging from that ancient era he has produced something rather logical – the “Sequence Logic” box.  A beautiful, polished box crafted from gorgeous exotic hardwoods including Katalox (Mexican Ebony), Tulip Poplar, Cherry, Maple and Bird’s Eye Maple, the Sequence Logic box is full of wonderful details both outside and in.  Most striking are the colorful banded dovetailed bars on the front, which are quickly determined to slide back and forth.  These seem to interact with the two sets of vertical bars which appear to be locking things in place.  Things start to happen as the various bars are moved, but it’s not so simple – as the name suggests, there’s a specific sequence to this logic which is required.  

Sequence Logic Box by Jesse Born

It’s all complex and confusing enough that once you have cracked this code and revealed the beautiful interior of the box, set it aside for some time and returned, you may struggle again to determine the sequence.  Even better, once the box is opened, there is a lovely mechanism inside which allows you to reset the bars however you would like to create a completely different sequence.  It’s a really nice touch and adds an additional element of enjoyment and layer of complexity to this incredible piece.  Jesse spends a long time designing his boxes and often goes through numerous prototypes before he is satisfied.  For the Sequence Logic box he created no fewer than six prototypes, for example, before settling on the final mechanism and design.  All that effort and attention to detail clearly show. 

Beautiful details and exotic woods with a polished finish

To toast this fine box I’ll stick to the sequence and offer something equally special.  The “Exit Strategy” comes via Natasha David of New York’s Nightcap, who took her inspiration from the classic Manhattan but left it far behind.  At Nightcap, Co-owners David Kaplan, Alex Day (both from Death and Co.) and David focus on simple, elegant drinks which would be great for a last call – even if the night is still young. The Exit Strategy embraces this idea right down to the name.  

Exit Strategy by Natasha David

Originally based around the unique American craft brandy Germain-Robin, I substituted another incredible American craft brandy from Nappa Valley Distillery.  The “Grand California” is an infusion of their wonderful Sauvignon grape brandy with locally sourced orange peels, which is then aged to perfection in oak barrels.  The mixture of Amaro Nonino, with flavors of thyme, menthol and orange, and Amaro Meletti, with its delightful saffron, caramel and burnt orange flavors, create something truly spectacular with this brandy.  I added a few drops of Beehive Bitters’ incredible spiced orange bitters to seal the deal.  The drink is sophisticated, sweet and sultry, perfect for a little late night logic.  This is one exit strategy that will keep you coming, just so you have an excuse for going.  It might not help you find the exit to the Sequence Logic box, but you won’t mind.  Cheers!

The logical way to plan your exit

Exit Strategy by Natasha David

1 ½ oz Amaro Nonino
¾ oz Germain-Robin Craft Method Brandy (I used Grand Californian from Nappa Valley Distillery)
¼ oz Meletti Amaro
6 drops salt solution (I substituted Beehive Bitters Spiced Orange)
orange twist garnish

Stir ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with an orange twist and start working on the exit strategy - for the liquid in your glass.

For more about Jesse Born:

To see the internals and logic bars of the Sequence Logic Box, click (SPOILERS) here.