Saturday, October 22, 2016

Harvest Hijinks

I love autumn.  As if you couldn’t tell already, with all the recent autumn themed puzzles and cocktails featured here the past few weeks.   I’ve even been stretching my repertoire a bit with some autumn themed cocktail creations of my own, such as the Autumn Daze and the Waterfall (paired with some seriously amazing puzzle boxes).  We haven’t exactly broken out the sweaters yet here in Houston, but there’s a chill in the air for sure. So here’s one more for good measure, which incorporates the holiday Sukkot as well.  What’s that, you say?  The “Festival of Booths” comes around this time of year to celebrate the harvest season.  Reminiscent of the harvester’s hut, which was set out in the fields of yore during the season, a sukkah is a little outdoor shelter where you can rest, eat, and look at the stars. You’ll also find a strange citrus fruit there called an etrog, or citron. This ancient Mediterranean fruit looks like a fat wrinkled lemon and has an intense citrus and violet fragrance – cocktails, anyone?  

Secret Box House

It turns out that a small distillery in Los Angeles has actually created an Etrog liqueur, which is so unusual that I literally decided to create an entire box and booze pairing around it.  Starting with the cocktail, I thought about other fruit flavors of this seasonal holiday, which include apples, pears, figs, grapes and pomegranates.    Pomegranate equals grenadine, of course, and I’ll use any excuse to break out the apple brandy (or Applejack).  So here’s the “Harvest Highball”, made with Applejack, Etrog, and a fig-pomegranate grenadine.  It’s pretty tasty.

Harvest Highball

Now we need a little hut under which to imbibe this bountiful beverage.  It’s not exactly a hut, I admit, but it is a really cute little house.  It might even be made out of palm, myrtle and willow woods, who knows?  Those are the symbolic branches of Sukkot, by the way, in case anyone wants to make a puzzle box out of them.  The “Secret Box House” was created by the master craftsmen in Hakone, Japan, the cradle of yosegi marquetry woodwork and origin of the “himitsu-bako”, or secret box.  The house is adorned with incredible yosegi details, including the bricks of the house, the chimney, and the shingles on the roof.  Of course, to truly appreciate the beauty of the season we need to be able to see the stars from our hut.  On this little house, it will take 12 secret moves to accomplish that task, and every adorable detail of the house must be used.  There’s a front door, a few windows, a tiny chimney – it’s going to take a bit of home improvement to open the sky light, but you’ll have a lot of fun in the process.  This is a really enjoyable little puzzle box, with plenty of tricks to keep you guessing packed into a charming shape.  So turn on Cannonball Adderly’s “Autumn Leaves” and get up to some harvest hijinks yourself as well.  Cheers!

This cozy couple are ready for the autumn

Harvest Highball
1 ½ Laird’s Applejack
¾ oz fresh lime juice
¾ oz fig grenadine
½ oz Etrog liqueuer (Sukkah Hill Spirits)
3-6 oz club soda to taste
2 dashes orange bitters
Stir all ingredients over ice and enjoy while listening to Autumn Leaves.

For more information about Sukkah Hill Spirits:

For more information about Japanese yosegi marquetry see:

For more information about Applejack see:

For a prior cocktail with grenadine see:

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Complimentary Condimentaries

The deviously puzzling Sandfield brothers, Robert and Norman, designed their Salt and Pepper Shakers to exchange at IPP 22 held in Antwerp in 2002.  Like so many of their puzzle designs, the salt and pepper shakers feature impossible dovetails on each end.  They were expertly crafted from oak and walnut by their friend and long-time Sandfield collaborator Perry McDaniel, whose precision expertise is easily seen in this pair of what I have dubbed, “complimentary condimentaries”.  The brothers Sandfield are well known for their “puzzler’s puzzles”, which second guess what many “puzzle experts” would normally try in their attempts to find the solution.  They lay traps which have absolutely nothing to do with solving the puzzles, and thoroughly enjoy when people fall into them.  The salt and pepper shakers were just such a trap which they set for well “seasoned” puzzlers during the exchange. As the story goes, they each went round, exchanging their puzzles separately, to give the illusion that they were independent.  At least they made sure that everyone who got one puzzle, also got the other.  But many fell into the trap, and never realized that in order to open either the salt or the pepper shaker, you need both together. 

Salt and Pepper Shakers by Norman and Robert Sandfield

The shakers are often considered to be one of their greatest designs. They are a “sequential discovery” type puzzle, with the added wrinkle of being interdependent, so that an item or “tool” discovered in one shaker may very well be needed for a step on the other shaker.  They are also perfectly elegant in the way that nothing is wasted in the design, everything has an exact purpose and use, and there is at least one rather beautiful, unique movement which is unforgettable and brilliantly executed.  When every last discovery and compartment is revealed, you do indeed find a bit of salt and some pepper secreted away in two tiny compartments (they are technically puzzle boxes, according to my very broad definition) – but I wouldn’t use these as your go-to table side seasonings.  Unless you like to let your food get cold!

For the "seasoned" puzzler ...

I’ve been playing around with salt and pepper in cocktails as well, so this provided a nice excuse to make a few more.  Salt and pepper in cocktails is nothing new – you are probably familiar with a salted rim on your margarita, or fresh black pepper in your bloody mary.  But these ingredients have been finding their way into all sorts of cocktails as more prominent players over the last few years.  A true cocktail, dating back to the origins of the concept, should always be properly “seasoned”. What distinguished the cocktail of yore from otherwise ordinary booze was the combination of the spirit with sugar and “bitters”, those medicinal elixirs made of bits of bark, spices and seasonings.  Bitters are literally referred to as the “salt and pepper” of cocktails, even though they are usually far more complex.  

Passing Cars by Yours Truly

Let’s keep it simple (not really) and focus on just the salt and the pepper, shall we?
For the salt cocktail, I present one of my own creations, the “Passing Cars”.  This savory and satisfying solution is created with a base of gin created in the “old style”.  Ransom distillery teamed up with cocktail historian David Wondrich to recreate the type of gin found in the mid 1800’s, pre-prohibition cocktail heyday.  Standout features of this gin are a maltiness due to a base wort of malted barley and the infusion of botanicals in corn spirits, which is then aged in barrels – sounds a bit like bourbon, no? This unusual gin is then combined with lemon juice, Cynar (an artichoke(!) based Italian Amaro) and parsley syrup and finished off with, of course, a salt water solution. 

For the pepper cocktail, I borrowed a smoky, peaty and peppery scotch creation from New York’s Up and Up bar.  Inspired by the “Rob Roy” (previously featured here), creator Matt Piacentini describes how his “Peat’s Dragon” flaunts a “super concentrated” black pepper tincture amid a mix of Cutty Sark Prohibition and Talisker 10-year-old scotches, Lillet Blanc, Dolin dry vermouth and Grand Marnier.

Peat's Dragon by Matt Piacentini

So next time you reach for the salt and pepper shaker, it just might be for your cocktail! And don’t blame me if you find this all very puzzling – I blame the Sandfields.  Here’s to savoring the well-seasoned diversions in all our lives.  Cheers!

"Cocktail - Shakers"

Peat’s Dragon adapted from Matt Piacentini (The Up&Up, NYC)

1 oz Cutty Sark Prohibition whisky (I used High West Campfire Whiskey)
½ oz Talisker 10-year whisky (I used Compass Box Peat Monster)
½ oz Lillet Blanc (I used Cocchi Americano)
½ oz Dolin dry vermouth (I used Noilly Prat)
½ oz Grand Marnier (I used Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao)
¼ oz black peppercorn tincture

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite glass.

*Black pepper tincture: Steep 4 oz of black peppercorns, then add in a blender with 1 liter of Everclear. Strain through a cheesecloth, and cut with equal parts water.

Passing Cars:

1 ½ oz Ransom Old Tom Gin
1 oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz Cynar
½ oz parsley syrup*
Few dashes of salt water solution

Shake ingredients together over ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a sprig of parsley.

*Parsley syrup: Bring 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to gentle boil.  Remove from heat and add a few bunches of parsley.  Steep for 5 minutes then strain out parsley before bottling.

For more Sandfield creations see:

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Chasing Waterfalls

With fall in full swing it’s the perfect time for cocktails and puzzle boxes.  I know, I know - when isn’t it a good time for cocktails and puzzle boxes, right? The flavors of fall are evocative of the season and work so well in cocktails and spirits, too.  For this particular fall cocktail we’ll use a crisp, fine pear brandy.  But first we need to back up, all the way to 17th century France, where an Alsatian monk may or may not have (as with all great cocktail lore) fermented some mashed up cherries to create a restorative and curative elixir which he called “eau de vie”, French for “water of life”.  Eau de vie are clear distilled fruit brandies, unaged and bursting with the intense essential flavor from which they are derived.  Very different from fruit liqueurs, which are sweet and satisfying in their own right, eau de vie are dry and highly aromatic.  Technically, any distilled spirit is an eau de vie.  For example, Scotch, which is distilled from malted barley, derives the name “whisky” from a Gaelic word meaning “water of life”.  But typically eau de vie refers to the clear fruit brandies, and there are plenty of great fall options.  As mentioned I selected a perfect pear brandy eau de vie, which we can consider a “water of fall”.

The 83 Move Waterfall Box by Kagen Sound

Coincidentally, I know just the box to pair with this pear.  Considered by many to be a master of the art, Kagen Sound (nee Schaeffer) crafts his artisanal puzzle boxes in Colorado using his mathematical mindset and wood working techniques usually reserved for fine musical instruments.  One of his modern masterpieces is his “Waterfall” box set.  This series of 5 puzzle boxes are beautifully rendered from walnut and feature decorative inlay ribbons of wenge and maple which run around the boxes in various intentional patterns.  The series builds with the first four from the “7” move box to the “15”, “19” and “42” move boxes.  Add these together (7+15+19+42) and you have the final installment, the “83” Move Waterfall Box. 

Tiny inlay clues map each side. Notice how the ribbons don't line up ... yet.

On the first four boxes, the dark wood inlay ribbon runs around the boxes in a serpentine, irregular fashion.  This is a clue as to how the panels need to move in order to open the box.  Unlike traditional Japanese puzzle boxes, which typically have 4 sliding side panels that move in fairly predictable ways, the Waterfall box panels move on all sides, and in multiple directions.  The ribbon clues are helpful but only just get you started.  As the number of moves goes up, the ribbon becomes less and less helpful.  On the 83 move box, the ribbons wrap all around on all sides like a well tied up present, and each side panel has a little clue in the center. Unique to this final box in the series, these little inlaid clues are a map to the movement of each individual panel.  Another clever design feature is that when the box is closed, the ribbons wrapping it do not line up – but when the box is solved, they do.  And the piece de rĂ©sistance reveals serious pre-planning, considering that these boxes were created over a five year period: if the first four boxes in the series are stacked together in the proper way, they form a new ribbon which reveals the initial opening sequence  for the final box.  Viola!

The Waterfall cocktail

I suppose I should create a meta cocktail to compliment the Waterfall Box, building four separate drinks which share some common theme and a fifth which takes elements from the first four and adds even more.  I guess I’m not as ambitious as Kagen Sound.  My “Waterfall” cocktail will have to do.  Based off the “water of fall” pear brandy, it adds fresh lemon juice, maple syrup (for that eau so autumn sweetness) and fresh apple cider via a muddled crisp apple.  This eau de vie brings the joie de vivre.  It’s a modest homage to this amazing masterpiece, and a lovely treat you’re sure to “fall” for.  Cheers!

These pear eau so well

The Waterfall

2 oz  Pear Eau de Vie
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz maple syrup (Grade B preferred)
¼ seasonal apple, cubed with skin and core
Dash of black walnut bitters

In a mixing tin, muddle the apple and maple syrup.  Add the remaining ingredients, shake with ice and double strain into a favorite glass. 

For more about Kagen Sound:

For prior Kagen Sound puzzle boxes:

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Autumn Daze

Welcome to the south, sun.  On September 22 the sun’s ecliptic (the imaginary plane along which the planets orbit) intersected with the celestial equator (the imaginary projection into space of Earth’s equator) to mark the autumnal aequus (equal) nox (night) – more commonly known as the equinox.   The days are now getting shorter and the temperature cooler (in the northern hemisphere at least) as the sun spends its time south of the celestial equator.  Hopefully things will cool off soon in Texas, too!

The Autumn Box by Robert Yarger

Last spring we enjoyed a springtime “daisy” cocktail to celebrate the early bird (see why spring came early this year).  The classic daisy is light and refreshing with a base spirit (originally gin), citrus and sweetener.  It gave rise to another well known classic, the margarita (daisy in Spanish) which swapped the gin for tequila. We paired up the daisy with Kamei’s “Spring Box” to keep with the theme, of course.  It’s only fitting we continue that theme now, and give fall its fair due.
The Autumn Box by Robert Yarger takes on a more traditional rectangular prism (box) shape than many of his designs, yet remains one of his more beautiful creations thanks to the vibrant fall colors it features.  Made with shimmering leopardwood, dark wenge, and the bright reddish orange padauk which really makes it pop, the Autumn Box does evoke the traditional feelings of fall.  

Something sneaky going on here ...

Robert describes how working with the red wood left a strange coating of sawdust over his shop so it looked like he was on Mars.  The box appears rather straightforward, with two apparent end panels locked in place by long dovetailed slider bars.  Getting one side open is usually not too tricky, but don’t “fall” for that – there’s something going on you may have missed, and revealing the second hidden compartment is all but impossible until you discover the exact set of secret moves required.  Winter may come on ere you deduce these devious moves, but you won’t mind.  The box is so pleasing to look at and manipulate, you can take your time.

The Autumn Daze

While doing just that we can sip on something special to celebrate the season.  The spring daisy we enjoyed the last time the days and nights were equally long was light and refreshing.  Let’s put an autumn spin on that and bundle up with a little warmth, shall we?  I mentioned that the margarita can be considered a daisy with tequila (for a little history of the margarita see here).  For this autumn daisy I used a special anejo tequila which has been infused with serrano peppers and cinnamon.  Anejo tequilas are aged for at least 1 year, often in oak barrels, which adds complexity and maturity similar to other aged spirits.  The aging for this particular tequila is for 28 months, which imparts a rich amber color as well, and the infusion of peppers and cinnamon give it a uniquely warming heat and delicious spice.  To this wonderful base I added lime juice and lightly sweetened things up with the perfect dry curacao.  Finally a few dashes of chocolate bitters to enhance the orange and cinnamon flavors and we have the perfect fall cup to contemplate these autumn days.  As the days grow shorter, let one of these “Autumn Daze” cocktails put you into a pleasant autumn daze.  Cheers!

A double dose of autumn

The Autumn Daze:
2 oz Soltado Anejo Tequila (if you don’t have Soltado, try infusing some spice to a different anejo)
1 oz fresh lime juice
½ oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
2 dashes Xocolatl Mole Bitters
Shake together over ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with some chilly weather and warm companions.

For the previous equinox this year see:

For other boxes by Robert Yarger see:

For the perfect margarita see:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

More(tis) Dovetail At-ten(on)-tion

We’re back in Texas again after a few weeks of setting sail via the Southern Cross and the high seas.  It’s good to be on dry land again!  You might think things are cooling off a bit as fall quickly approaches, but it’s still hot here in Texas!  Let’s ignore the weather and explore some local “cool” anyway.  Last year around this time, following on the heels of the International Puzzle Party, Houstonians Robert Sandfield and Kathleen Malcolmson hosted their annual fall party, where I created the “Puzzle Box No. 2” cocktail and wrote about Malcolmson’s beautiful Japanese style box of the same name.  Also known as the “16 move puzzle box”, it features gorgeous contrasting waves of wood and a tricky locking pin device added to the more traditional sliding panel movements.  Robert Sandfield and his brother Norman are also well known for their “dovetail” puzzle designs which feature “impossible” dovetail joints at all edges, making the construction appear all but impossible.  To create these wooden illusions requires woodworking master precision, and luckily the Sandfields have been able to collaborate with Kathleen Malcolmson and Perry McDaniel, two incredible Texan woodworking artists, over the years. 

ReBanded Dovetail by Robert Sandfield and Kathleen Malcolmson

As another tribute to my puzzling neighbors and just in time for this year's gathering, I present a few more of their beautiful creations.  The Sandfield’s ReBanded Dovetail was their IPP 32 exchange puzzle in 2012.  Designed by Robert and Kathleen and crafted by Kathleen from light baltic birch plywood, walnut and lacewood, these little boxes feature a double dovetail on the ends and are wrapped tightly with double bands of shimmering lacewood.  They are a follow-up to the original Banded Dovetail box exchanged at IPP 29.  Robert felt that the original version, which Kathleen ironically mentions was harder to make, was a little easier to solve than he wanted (which reportedly meant that some people were able to solve it too quickly!).  

Lovely lacewood lends luster

So of course he designed this version, which has a completely new mechanism and adds a few extra steps.  Like the original, there is a coin hidden inside to discover.  I’m taking a bit of puzzle box liberty to call this a “box” but it does have a storage compartment inside for the coin, which counts in my book.  The ReBanded Dovetail is an expertly crafted little beauty and really fun to explore.  Like all of Robert’s designs, it disguises its secrets well, plays with your assumptions and makes you discover each step in turn.

A triple layer-cake ... but how!?!

The Three-Layer-Double-Dovetail (TLDD) was Robert Sandfield’s exchange puzzle in 2014.  This small box was a collaboration by all three friends – Sandfield, McDaniel and Malcolmson.  It exemplifies the impossible dovetail concept – all four sides have a dovetail joint (how is that possible?!?).  The TLDD takes things a bit further by contrasting lovely dark Honduran Mohagony with light Primavera wood to create a triple layered effect.  When the box is opened you can inspect that middle layer, and truly marvel at Kathleen’s remarkable craftsmanship.  There’s even a gift waiting for you in the tiny space inside – Robert doesn’t like people to leave empty handed.  It’s another wonderful work of art from this group of talented Texans!

Last year’s “Puzzle Box No 2” cocktail made mention of another drink called the “Dovetail”, but mostly owed its existence to the New York Sour, a favorite classic.  With all these impossible dovetailed details on display this year, I thought we should revisit the Dovetail cocktail for its own merit.  A modern drink created at the Bradstreet Craftshouse in Minneapolis, the Dovetail combines orange liqueur (originally with Grand Marnier), grapefruit and lemon juices, and orange bitters.  Grapefruit are coming into season here in Texas as well, where the Rio Star are the reddest, sweetest variety in the world, so it dovetails nicely.  

The Dovetail adapted from Bradstreet Craftshouse

I’m more partial to a less sweet cocktail, so used Pierre Ferrand’s Dry Curacao (rather than the sweeter Grand Marnier), a modern recreation of the “old style” of French curacao found in the 19th century and made in the “ancient method”.  This involves using a base spirit of grape brandy, and a subtle technique known as mise en value (“enhancing”) in which unnoticed background flavors are used to bring out the main flavor (in this case, orange).  These mystery ingredients, such as sun-dried walnut skins, grilled almonds, and prunes, are aged in cognac before being added to the mix to create the orange “essence”.  The flavor is just right and fantastic when trying to experience how classic old cocktails might have tasted in their hey-day. Perhaps I like this orange liqueur even more due to the description of this process by Alexandre Gabriel, the owner of Pierre Ferrand: "You don't taste the puzzle, but the orange in its whole."  Here’s a Texas toast to these delightful dovetails. Cheers ya’ll!

These delights dovetail nicely!

Dovetail (adapted from Bradstreet Craftshouse):

2 oz orange liqueur (such as Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao)
1 1/2 oz fresh ruby red grapefruit juice
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
3 generous dashes of orange bitters
grapefruit twist garnish

Shake ingredients together over ice and staring into a favorite glass.  Express grapefruit and garnish.

For Kathleen Malcolmson's 16-move puzzle box see:

For another talented Texan see:

For more cocktails with orange curacao see;

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Get Groggy and Talk Like a Pirate!

The Booze

The Box

Aaaaargh!  No, I didn’t just stub my peg leg, ye fools, it’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day again!  This silly celebration sets sail on September 19 each year so it’s time to engage in more ribaldry and weigh anchor on another fine adventure.  Ye may recall my prittle-prattle last year when we took to the high seas and plundered Miyamoto’s Pirate Chest while getting squiffy with a Dark and Stormy cocktail.  Well buckle yer bootstraps cause this year we’ll feather yer nest with another fine fancy to pair and ponder.  

The Pirate's Wallet by Robert Yarger - it'll run a rig on ye!

What perfect puzzle awaits our picaroon pirates today?  Why, it's the aptly named “Pirate’s Wallet”, created by none other than that Admiral of the Black, Robert Yaaaaarrrger.  Crafted from ambrosia maple, the Pirate’s Wallet is an impressive looking solid wood chest replete with functional wooden hinges and latch straps made of yellowheart and redheart woods.  But enough of that flummery.  In front is a wooden padlock which keeps things well secured, and there’s even a wooden key provided.  Aye, but that would be far too easy for our cunning privateers, even when they’re loaded to the gunwalls.  On this particular pirate chest, the lock is actually … the key.  That ol’ sly boots Cap’n Yarger be ever the poet.  Ye have to pick this lock apart, if ye dare, and the pieces ye discover will be used as keys to unlock the rest of the chest – if ye can figure out how.  This chest be full of quirks and quillets to turn ye into a ragamuffin so yer fit to be frummagemmed.  There are two secret chambers awaiting ye inside, and nothing is as it seems.  The box will bamboozle the jackanape after its booty.  If ye’re clever enough to tackle the thirty-three tasks set by puzzle master Yarger, ye’ll end up flush in the pocket.  Or ye might stay spiflicated till ye find that ultimate pirate puzzle - the eternity box.

Blasted key gives no quarter! Where's me cutlass? Aaaarrrgh!

 Now don’t be looking like death’s head upon a mop stick, me hearties, there’s rum to be had!  But don’t ye be drinking it all at once – who knows when we’ll have the chance to steal some more?  We’ll just stretch it out for the long journey – a little trick we learned from those scallywags in the Navy.  We’ll add some lovely limes to keep away the scurvy, a little brown sugar (pirates can be sweet, too, ye know), and dilute it up with water (hope it’s fresh, but bah, the rum should kill off anything nasty) so’s to make it go farther.  

Grog! circa 1655-1740

What’s that ye say?  Why it’s Grog, of course! And a rum fine nip of Nelson’s folly it is, too.  Just mix up these four fellows, as the old rhyme says: one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak.  Now, being the rum bluffer I am, I used some extra fine rum just for ye, dark and aged well, so don’t hang the jib unless ye want a dowse on the chops.  They say this pirate potion was actually conceived of by British Vice Admiral Edward Vernon in the 1700’s, reputed to wear a coat of grogram cloth and known as “Old Grog”, but I say that tale’s all higgledy piggledy.  He must have been a pirate.  We’ll sort this scuttlebutt out one of these odd-come-shortlys, but let’s not waste more time – there’s Grog in yer hand (or hook) so sluice yer gobs, guzzle guts!  Splice the main brace and get plundering!  Bottoms Up!

This rum treasure chest keeps ye puzzling till yer groggy!


1-2 oz dark rum (dependin’ on the gen’rosity of yer Capn’)
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz demerara syrup or brown sugar
4 oz water (fresh, if ye can wrest it from the bilge rats)

Shake over ice and pour it down yer bung hole (or a tankard filled with crushed ice will do)

Careful or ye'll bung yer eye like this rum roger!

For more about Cap'n Yaaaarrrger see:

For last year's pirate day prittle-prattle avail yerself here:

For the official "Talk Like A Pirate Day" site go here:

For all ye struggling with this blasted "Pirate Speak" here is a glossary of terms to enlighten' ye:
Boxes and Booze Unboxed: Pirate Glossary

Now, be nice, blast ye, and leave a comment, or I'll see yer scragged!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Double Crossed

Last week we set sail to southern destinations while listening to some Crosby, Stills and Nash, exploring the incredible Cross Box by Robert Yarger, and enjoying the classic Southern Cross cocktail by “The Only” William, a famous bartender of the day in turn of the (20th) century New York City.  We’ll continue our journey south, following our starry guide in the southern hemisphere, the “Southern Cross”.  Leaving Oklahoma and the Stickman Cross Box, we make our way down to Texas (don’t mess with us) where we find another master of wooden puzzle madness named Randal Gatewood.  He ups the ante with not one but two crosses, in his “Double Crossed” Puzzle Box.  

The Double Crossed Puzzle Box by Randal Gatewood

This beautiful box is crafted from Argentine Walnut and Palo Blanco Acacia woods and features bow tie splined corners, an internal aromatic cedar liner and an amazing all wood double action hinge inside which raises the lid in a fascinating manner.  On top of the box there is a prominent cross outlined in contrasting wood.  Exploration reveals that each of the twelve sections of the cross can move, although most appear to be locked in place initially.  The name of the box is a play on words, since this cross will make you cross as it double crosses you.  As you slide pieces about (if you can even get the first piece to move at all), you will likely find that your progress has suddenly been erased by this devious device.  At times you will need to hold things in place to prevent this from happening, and towards the endgame there is a move requiring you to hold back not one, not two, but three separate pieces at once in order to make the next move.  It’s like a game of puzzle box twister.  You are finally rewarded with an interior as beautiful as the exterior, and can marvel at the meticulously crafted wooden hinge and wonder how all those internal springs and set-backs can be made entirely out of wood.

This one will double cross you, and give you hell. (sorry, couldn't resist)

Continuing the theme, we can up the ante on “The Only” William Schmidt’s Southern Cross cocktail as well.  We’ll swap out the base spirit of white rum for something quite a bit bolder and funkier, some Smith and Cross Jamaican rum.  This distinctive rum, which has a dark caramel color from molasses, is made from some very unique pot stills and dates back to 1788.  It is presented at “Navy Strength”, which is 57% alcohol by volume (114 Proof).  Navy strength was the minimum percentage of alcohol needed to still be able to ignite gunpowder if it were to be soaked in the spirit (sailors of old could never be too careful).  It’s also how we got the term “proof” – as in, this rum ration better not be diluted – let’s soak it in gunpowder, ignite it, and see the proof.  It became the standard concentration for rum in the British Royal Navy, back when daily rum was good for soldiers.

The Double Cross, adapted from William Schmidt

Jamaican rum is also often fermented with wild yeast, which can add an odd, strong flavor (let’s just call it “funky”).  Now we’ve got Smith and Cross in our Southern Cross – it’s a double cross.  In case you missed it.  If that wasn’t enough (it was, truly) I’ve swapped out the classic brandy for an intense apricot “rakia” brandy, of which I’m particularly fond.  So double cross your fingers and hope you get to try one of the Southern Cross versions for yourself someday soon.  I’m sailing on into the sunset now, my destination a puzzle, but I’ll see you here next time on our next journey, and leave you with another soulful sailor’s song, this time from Van Morrison: “Hark, now hear the sailors cry, smell the sea, and feel the sky, let your soul and spirit fly, into the mystic.”  Cheers!

Don't be cross if you're seeing double ...

The Double Cross (adapted from William Schmidt circa 1891):

1 ½ oz Smith and Cross Jamaican rum
½ oz apricot brandy
1 oz fresh lime juice
½ oz demerera syrup
1 barspoonful orange curacao

Shake ingredients over ice and strain into a glass filled with crushed ice.

For more information about Randal Gatewood:

For a prior puzzle box by Randal Gatewood please see:

For the original Southern Cross cocktail:

For other rum cocktails see: