Saturday, January 21, 2017

Lunch Box

Hungry? Me too, I could really use a sandwich. I’m particularly fond of what we called “hoagies” in the north east.  You might know them as “submarines”, “po-boys” or “grinders”.  Hmmmm? Oh, not that kind of sandwich?  Ahhh.  Too bad, really, but that’s okay.  How about a smørrebrød instead?  Bill Sheckels, the fine furniture maker from Greenfield Massachusetts, has got just the thing.  Bill makes classic and custom fine furniture in the Scandinavian and Shaker styles which reflect his Denmark training and heritage.  He also happens to enjoy puzzles, and applies his considerable skill to that pursuit as well.  On his Black Dog Puzzle Works etsy shop you will find all sorts of beautiful hand-made interlocking and stacking wooden puzzles, all crafted and finished with a fine furniture maker’s touch.  Many will be familiar with his “Caged Coin” puzzle, which was exchanged at IPP32 in Washington, D.C..  It’s a compact and clever little puzzle, and keeps your quarter well secured – at least my Texas state quarter has never been freed from its cage.  I featured Bill’s Book Puzzle Box last year, which is a nice addition to the bookshelf although some consider it to be a challenging read.  Bill has a wonderful new puzzle box, which he has very generously sent to me, knowing my fondness for such things!

The Sandwich Puzzle Box by Bill Sheckels

The “Sandwich” Puzzle Box is a bit of a hybrid and will appeal to a broad audience.  The box is composed of lovely lacewood, with its shimmering scales and waves brought to a fine polish.  The two halves of the box make up the sandwich, I suppose, and they do resemble a few slices of perfectly toasted bread.  Not so fast, however, as this sandwich is locked (you might even say sandwiched) between eight notched pieces of walnut.  Like many of Bill’s puzzles, the whole thing can be disassembled, if you can figure out how.  I actually needed a little hint from Bill, as I did not want to risk any damage to this gorgeous gift.  No force whatsoever is needed, however, and he has hidden a wonderful trick here in plain sight. I even enjoyed the burr-like disassembly on this box, and I’m not “PuzzleMad”.  The Sandwich box has a perfectly satisfying mechanism and as a bonus there’s plenty of space inside the box for your lunch.  So if you’re feeling hungry, grab a Sandwich – Bill’s in the kitchen now.

Beautiful lacewood and walnut

Naturally, we need something to drink with our lunch.    Bill’s box inspired me to create something apropos as well.  I present to you the “BLT”.  I found a few versions of this cocktail out there which were either a variation of the Bloody Mary or a clever acronym which had nothing to do with the sandwich (bourbon, lemon, tonic – which does sound delicious).  I wanted to make an actual bacon, lettuce and tomato cocktail, which retained the essential flavors and tasted good somehow.  I’m not sure how well I succeeded but it was fun trying.  

The BLT Cocktail

A hugely popular trend in mixology emerged about ten years ago called “fat washing”.  It was started by Don Lee, a bartender at New York’s iconic PDT bar (Please Don’t Tell). Lee infused bourbon with bacon fat and created the famous “Benton’s Bacon Old Fashioned” which caused a sensation at the time.  That sounded like a great place to start. I made bacon fat washed bourbon for the BLT, and used Weller’s Special Reserve, a smooth wheated bourbon, for the “bread” and bacon aspects.  I used an heirloom tomato syrup, which gives the drink a sweet tomato flavor while avoiding the overpowering effects of actual tomato juice. The lettuce comes in as a bit of muddled arugula, which lends pepper spice too. Shake it all up and enjoy it with a fresh BLT on some Texas toast while trying to turn this puzzle box into an “open-faced” sandwich.  Thanks Bill, and Cheers!

Go ahead, it's completely healthy ...

The BLT

2 oz bacon fat washed bourbon (such as Wellers)
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz heirloom tomato syrup
Dash of salt and pepper tinctures
2 dashes celery bitters
Pinch of baby arugula leaves

Gently muddle the arugula with the tomato syrup.  Add the remaining ingredients and shake vigorously with ice.  Double strain into a favorite glass over a large cube. Crumble crispy bacon over it for your very best friends.

A pair of atypical sandwiches, and "Both Look Terrific"! 

For more about Bill Sheckels and to purchase the Sandwich Box see:


For his Book Puzzle Box see:

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Fine Creations

I fancy a few words for a fine creation.  Nicholas Phillips is a furniture maker and woodworker from Silver Springs, Maryland, who produces lovely wooden boxes and chests under his “Affine Creations” moniker.  One of his hallmarks is the use of yosegizaiku, the centuries old Japanese traditional marquetry technique born in Hakone Japan.  Phillips has developed his own skill at this technique over the years, right down to making his own rice glue.  Recently his skill was recognized abroad and he was invited to visit Hakone, where he studied with yosegi master Mr. Ichiro Ishikawa, a seventh generation artisan and a direct descendent of Nihei Ishikawa (1790-1850) who invented the technique.  He joins an extremely limited number of artists who are versed in this ancient art form.

Weave pattern puzzle box by Nicholas Phillips

The geometrical patterns and tessellations likely appeal to Dr. Phillips’ mathematical mind – he holds a PhD in theoretical physics and worked with NASA as a mathematician for much of his life. This background also sparked his delight in secret mechanisms and puzzle boxes.  The results he produces in his workshop are a perfect storm of beauty and brains.  Phillips love for the art of woodworking literally shines through in his meticulous finishes and polishes.  The tung oil he applies to the finished works glows with a warmth unlike any other and begs to be handled.  One of his masterpieces is the “Bernoulli Chest, No. 1” a trick chest which incorporates many different puzzles, including a set of drawers which only open via a binary sequence, and a drawer which is itself a stand-alone puzzle box. The 14 drawers are resplendent in multi-patterned yosegi.  You can read more about the magnificent Bernoulli Chest here.

Clearly a fine creation

I was fortunate enough to acquire one of Nicholas’s beautiful puzzle boxes.  The box is 6 ½ inches long, or 5.4 “sun” to use the traditional Japanese unit of carpentry measurement. The top and bottom are Cocobolo, an exotic and rich dark wood which looks outstanding with a high gloss.  The veneer (yosegi) weave pattern is made from Bloodwood, Curly Maple and Chechen (Caribbean Rosewood) and the internal supports are Cherry. The box is treated with a coat of Tung Oil and finally finished with a French Polished Shellac.  The final product is simply stunning to behold.  It’s quite an entertaining puzzle box as well, requiring 10 non-traditional moves to open, and an additional 12 moves to further remove all 4 of the side panels completely and admire the internal structure.  When you have finished your admiration and have succeeded in putting everything back together again, Phillips provides a lovely little display stand to compliment the piece.

An unusual bonus, the side panels can all be removed

Nicholas has a fine appreciation for the spirited life as well, and has been known to enjoy a good scotch. He knows of my predilection for potion pairings and let me know that he appreciates an Aperol Negroni.  If you have been following me you will have seen quite a few Negroni variations here in the past, and a few tales of its storied history.  It’s a cocktail which lends itself particularly well to experimentation due to its equal proportions of distinct spirits.  Classically made with gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, any and all components can and have been swapped for other options within each category.  Aperol, for example, can easily replace the Campari in the “bitter liquor” category.  Both are Italian Amari, created with plants, herbs and flowers indigenous to the region of Italy from where they originate.  Aperol has a lighter and more grapefruit flavor compared to Campari and is a wonderful introduction to Amari.  

The Toffee Negroni by Lynnette Marrero

I’m using it here in the “Toffee Negroni”, a fantastic negroni variation by Lynnette Marrero featured in Kara Newman’s new book, “Shake. Stir. Sip.” which includes only equal parts cocktails – so easy!  In the Toffee Negroni, the vermouth is replaced with Amontillado sherry, and the gin is replaced with aged rum. Notice, there is no actual toffee or sweetener at all, but the combination of these perfect ingredients does all the magic.  I’m using something particularly special for the rum – the Don Pancho Origenes 18.  Francisco Jose Fernandez Perez “Don Pancho” is a legendary rum master schooled in the traditions of Cuban rum making who has developed many product lines over the past 50 years. He has recently released his life’s work, his own “origins” series, blended from his personal barrels which he has been aging patiently for decades.  The rum is so good you should really sip it neat, like a fine cognac or scotch, but I couldn’t resist using it for this negroni as well.  One fine creation deserves another, don’t you think? Here’s to fine creations everywhere.  Cheers!

A few fine creations

For more information about Nicholas Phillips see:

For prior Negronis and variations see:

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Sabotage!

Let’s start 2017 out with a double dose of frustration.  It’s going to be an interesting year so we need to start practicing.  One of my favorite puzzle box artists, Eric Fuller from North Carolina, has designed many brilliant boxes over the years, and has crafted even more interlocking puzzles designed by others.  As you may recall from my recent review of his Spline Cube #3, he likes to make boxes that are very tricky to open.  This time he has collaborated with the prolific puzzle designer Goh Pit Khiam from Singapore to create a double challenge.  The fun begins with the “B-Box”, Khiam’s design which is based off of Karakuri artist Hiroshi Iwahara’s Super-CUBI design.  That puzzle utilizes a trinary movement system and requires 324 moves to open, while Khiam’s B-Box is a bit simpler, merely requiring 135 moves to access the internal compartment.  The “B” likely stands for “Burr”, as in, interlocking mechanical puzzle, because the B-Box can further be disassembled into 6 individual panels which were expertly crafted from maple and mahogany by Eric Fuller.  The inner side of each panel is etched with a similar appearing maze, and if you are Khiam, you can probably deduce all 135 movements merely from studying these patterns, but for the rest of us the B-Box is a fair challenge.  Particularly difficult is putting it back to the starting position once opened – a fair many friends have singularly failed at this effort.  Not that I would know, mine is perfectly squared up again.  Ahem.

B-Box by Goh Pit Khiam and Eric Fuller

Once opened, as a wonderful reward there is another entirely independent puzzle box, perfectly nestled inside the internal compartment of B-Box.  Tip this out and you are holding the “Reactor Box”, a tiny puzzle box which packs a huge headache designed and created by Eric Fuller from walnut, mahogany and paduak woods.  Reactor Box is truly diminutive, measuring a wee 1.75 inches squared.  You might imagine that a box this tiny couldn’t pack much of a punch, and you would be seriously mistaken.  Initial exploration reveals a few initial movements and something rather unusual – a piece falls out into your lap.  There are, coincidently, a whole bunch of places where this bit can now go, and you may spend a long time trying to figure out this particular step of the puzzle.  All I can tell you is that, once again, Eric Fuller is a devious bastard who is out to sabotage you.  The finale is quite wonderful, with a truly satisfying aha moment, and you are treated to yet another tiny treasure inside an even tinier box.  You can also marvel at the mechanism inside the “reactor”, which provided the inspiration for Eric’s follow up, the Small Button Box (to be reviewed later this year).  Reactor Box demonstrates Eric’s virtuoso skill, hiding the tiniest mechanisms in a perfectly precise “puzzler’s puzzle”.

Reactor Box by Eric Fuller

Believe it or not, there is a perfect cocktail to toast the genius behind this double dose of devious delight.  It originates from the Michelin starred restaurant in Malmo Sweden named, appropriately enough, Bastard.  The home of head chef Andreas Dahlberg, Bastard has been described as “school room meets old fashioned butchers” and “hipster heaven” to name a few.  At the back bar, they mix up a perfect concoction of smoky mezcal, sweet vermouth, green Chartreuse and bitters which is known as “Le Saboteur”.  Next time you find yourself in Malmo, you may want to check it out, but you can start your own sabotage at home in the meantime with this “guess-cipe” from the cocktail traveling duo over at the Cocktail Detour blog, who have recreated the drink proportions.  The drink is impressive, boozy and well balanced.  It pairs well with these two puzzle boxes – but you might need one for each!  Cheers!

Le Saboteur from Bastard, Malmo

Le Saboteur from Bastard, Malmo (proportions provided by Cocktail Detour)
1 oz Mezcal (I used Soltado, a spicy infused tequila)
1 oz Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Green Chartreuse
Few dashes Regans’ Orange Bitters to taste
Stir well to dilute with plenty of ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a double dose of frustration and keep your wits about you.

A triple dose of sabotage

For more information about Eric Fuller see his website at:

For prior puzzle pairings from Eric Fuller:

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Time Passages

“Time is an illusion” – Albert Einstein.  I might add that all good illusions could be considered puzzles, and derive that time is a puzzle.  Which is quite literally true this time.  Kelly Snache, the puzzle box philosopher and spiritual guide, has created a unique play on time which spans the generations.  One of his favorite ways of expressing his art is by re-purposing old wooden objects into new puzzles and giving them new life.  This “time” he has taken a vintage mantel clock case which was merely an old shell, and built it full of surprises and adventure.  Time waits for no man, so let’s explore his timely creation.

The Gates of Time by Kelly Snache

The clock case has a wonderful provenance.  It was originally from the Seth Thomas clock company, one of the preeminent clock makers of the 19th century.  Seth Thomas himself was born in 1785 and established his own clock making brand in 1813 in the town of Plymouth Hollow, Connecticut.  After his death in 1859, the town was renamed Thomaston.  His sons continued the business and introduced modern clockworks, mechanisms and materials to stay current and compete with the French.  One of their most famous inventions was the “Adamantine Clock” from 1880, which incorporated a veneer developed by the Celluloid Manufacturing Company.  The patented finish, according to the original label inside the back cover of the clock case, “is very desirable, will not chip, and cannot be scratched or dented in any ordinary usage.”  Indeed, the original finish remains bright and lustrous to this day, over 100 years later.

Lustrous "Adamantine" finish withstands the test of time

Starting with that illustrious, albeit empty and hollow, clock case, Kelly rebuilt the entire internal compartment, filling it from “stem to stern” as he likes to say.  He even added the front glass bezel and clock face, which were long gone.  Visible from the front, back and insides are an impressive assortment of exotic hardwoods and other materials including zebrawood, snakewood, walnut, ash, purpleheart, paduk, bloodwood, curly maple, ebony, wenge, American holly, cocobolo, pau amarello, brass, steel, metal gears, red coral, and Falcon’s eye gemstone.   The clock face on front is set to 1:50 or thereabouts.  The back of the case has been replaced with a gate, which of course does not open.  Through the gate the internal workings of the “clock” can be viewed – a wild array of colorful wooden gears, levers and knobs.  There is more going on in there that can’t be viewed, yet, as well.  The goal of the puzzle is to, in Kelly’s own words, “Transcend the Gates of Time so that you may manipulate the gears of The Universe and make it 5 o’clock within your time stream and usher in Happy Hour! … you will be justly rewarded!”

What secrets lay beyond the gates?

A few words about the puzzle itself are in order, but will be abbreviated as we are on the clock. The first task is obvious, you must open the gate to gain access to the internal workings.  Once accomplished you are met with layer upon layer of mechanical wooden gears.  Some will move, others, not so much or at all.  There is a bit of fiddling in the dark as well.  Sometimes, if you are paying attention, you may find that the time is changing.  If you aren’t paying attention, you may well get lost in time, which is no bad thing with this beautiful work of art.  Will you succeed in setting the clock to the desired time?  Or perhaps fall into a trap?  If you are a master horologist you will unlock the final secret, a hidden compartment which is yet again locked tight, biding its time.  An apropos triumph awaits the tenacious time smith.

A glimpse of the Gears of the Universe

One last bit of provenance deserves mention.  Kelly Snache is friends with another North American puzzle box maestro, Robert Yarger, and the two often trade stories, secrets and schemes.  Such was the case with this clock as well.  Robert happened to have a few vintage 1930’s functional clock mechanisms he discovered in his grandmother’s attic many years ago.  Kel was interested and Robert sent them along.  Time ensued, so to speak, and along with the bespoke wooden gears and mechanisms Kel built inside the case, he also scattered about some of these authentic vintage clock parts as well, for decorative whimsy and added beauty.  There is so much loving attention to the most “minute” detail.

Thyme Passages

And now it’s time for a drink, don’t you think? Kel turned something classic and timeless into something new (and timely), which seems like a good theme for a special drink to toast this masterpiece.  I love a good classic cocktail, as you may be aware, and there’s nothing more classic than the drink which likely started it all – the “Old Fashioned”.  This combination of spirit, sugar and bitters was the father of all cocktails.  But it’s a new year, and the theme requires something new from this old classic.  I’ll include the lessons learned over time - a little bitter, a little sweet, as we look to the future to create something new.  I’ve also played some word games with the flavors, but it’s forgivable – it tastes really good.  So let me offer this sage advice with my limited wisdom: take your time to laugh and love a lot this year. Thanks for reading my ramblings and from me and my family to you and yours, Happy New Year!

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” – J. R.R. Tolkien


Time to enjoy the new year - cheers!

Thyme Passages

2 oz thyme infused bourbon
½ oz Averna
½ oz sage agave syrup

Stir ingredients together over ice and strain into a favorite glass with a large cube.  Garnish with lots of time to enjoy it.

For prior puzzles by Kelly Snache see:

For more opening photos of the Gates of Time see the solutions pages:
WARNING: spoilers: Messing with Time

Friday, December 23, 2016

Keys to the Kingdom

Happy Holidays!  The next winter themed installment evokes the Christmas “spirit” both figuratively and literally.  I’ll keep this one short and sweet so we can all get back to the holiday cheer.  Kanae Saito, an occasional contributor to the Karakuri Creation Group, is an artist whose work I wish we had more of to enjoy.  She created the Brothers, one of my favorite Karakuri boxes, which I wrote about for the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.  

Mouse Kingdom by Kanae Saito

One of the other very few boxes she has designed is “Mouse Kingdom”, which always reminds me of the Nutcracker story, so it seemed appropriate for this Christmas post.  Mouse Kingdom depicts a brave and clever little mouse who is hoisting the mouse flag over his (or her) dominion in triumph while the sleepy cat snoozes unaware on the other side of the wall.  Maybe the cat is dreaming of sugar plum fairies or cat nip laced eggnog, or merely trying to figure out how to open this box.  Meanwhile, the clever mouse has already learned the secret.  Let’s toast his victory with something apropos.

Sleeping cats dream while clever mice scheme

I’ve steered clear of the rich and decadent dessert cocktails synonymous with winter and the holidays for long enough.  It’s time to bring on the heavy cream.  Of course egg nog deserves a mention right now as well, but perhaps I’ll save that for next year.  If you are dying to add an egg, or perhaps I should say “flipping” over it, try the Flipped Life cocktail I paired with Kamei’s egg puzzle.  For the Mouse Kingdom, I felt the classic Brandy Alexander would be in order.  The Alexander was originally a gin drink, dating back to the turn of the twentieth century when it was likely created as part of a railroad add campaign by New York bartender Troy Alexander.  It first appears in Hugo Ensslin’s “Recipes for Mixed Drinks” (1915) as a combination of gin, crème de cacao and cream.  The brandy version showed up later, with many possible references as to why and for whom it was changed.  John Lennon famously enjoyed these “milkshakes” as well. 

Sugar Plum Brandy Alexander

I added a little sugar plum goodness to the mix as well for this version, which uses Jeff Morgenthaler’s equal proportions.  Interestingly, sugar plums originally referred to comfits, or candy coated seeds, nuts or bits of spice such as anise, and had nothing at all to do with plums.  Modern sugar plums are merely sugar hard candies.  So when history leaves us wanting, we can rewrite it and add plum jam instead.  The mouse won’t tell - just don’t wake the cat.  Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and good “cheers” to all.

Happy Holidays!

Sugar Plum Brandy Alexander

1 oz brandy
1 oz Crème de Cacao
1 oz heavy cream
1 barspoon sugar plum jam

Shake together well over ice and strain into a favorite glass. Grate fresh nutmeg over top.

For more about Kanae Saito:

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Duke of Burl

The winter wonderland theme continues with an extra special toasty treat.  Just in time to combat the chilly weather is something to warm the spirit - the long awaited Stickman No. 30 Puzzle Box, the “Burl Tile Box”.  Crafted from leopardwood and walnut, it features exotic tamo burl along the sides.  It’s extremely solid and quite rugged, with heavily framed edges all around, and little crenellation accents on the sides, giving it an almost medieval appearance.  Hmmm.  The top and bottom are composed of 15 separate tiles and there appear to be two different shades of burl, one lighter and one darker.  You notice that the burl pattern on each side is jumbled, and the colors are mixed up, and realize you must correct that and restore the tiles to their proper positions on each side.  Finally there is a distinct and ingenious feature (naturally) which allows you to trade tiles from the top and bottom – the entire end on one side rotates like a wheel.  As if that wasn’t enough (it was, trust me, it was), you soon realize (or hopefully read the instructions) that some tiles are also rotated in orientation, and to complete the burl patterns properly must be rotated back to their proper orientation as well as position in the pattern.  There is a secret trick (naturally) which must be discovered that allows the tiles to be rotated in orientation, which is a separate mechanism from the side wheel which allows tiles to trade from top and bottom.  Whew!

The Burl Tile Box by Robert Yarger

As far as sliding tile puzzles are concerned, this one proves to be infuriatingly difficult for various reasons, many of which I have just elucidated.  To make matters worse, the mid-section of the rotating end is blocked so tiles can not be moved directly from the middle and you must plan a circular path all around this section.  But the hardest part of the puzzle for me is the simplest – to arrange the burl patterns properly on each side.  It is an enormous challenge to visualize exactly where each tile should properly fit, working only with a burl pattern.  So many swirls and eddies seem to look fine next to each other, or almost fine … until you realize they do not, in fact, match correctly.  At least it was not too difficult to figure out which tiles were probably disoriented, based on the burl pattern.  That didn’t necessarily make the proper orientation obvious, though.  Finding the trick to rotate them was another story, but “turns” out to be an exceptionally cool aspect to the box once found. 

Putting a new spin on the old sliding tile puzzle

Robert Yarger, the mastermind behind this madness, is not such a cruel guy after all.  He has thoughtfully placed subtle but extremely helpful clues which can be used to guide the tile placement, if you are mortal, like me.  In the end, even using the clues (after figuring them out), I had to resort to labeled pieces of sticky notes in order to keep track of all the tiles! And they kept falling off.  If you are successful in recreating the beautiful burl patterns on each side, locking “logic” bars can be removed which allow the secret chamber to be revealed.  Lastly, since this is a Stickman, the logic bars can be replaced in a different configuration (naturally), which causes certain tiles to be locked in place at times, to create an entirely new and more difficult solving process.  When configured in this alternate way, it is known as the “Burl Tile Torture Chamber”.  If you have solved one of these boxes, and have reconfigured it in this alternate way, “for fun”, I don’t like you anymore. Ahem. Sniff.

“Torture Chamber” is not as far fetched as it sounds – it wouldn’t be a true castle without a dungeon, would it?  The crenellations along the sides of the box (also known as battlements) are meant to conjur that very image – Robert envisioned this box to resemble a castle.  His original concept was in fact to make the sliding tile puzzle solution a bit more obvious by having silhouette images form when the tiles were in proper position – on one side there was to be a dragon, and on the other, a castle.  The whole form of the box appears in a new perspective knowing this design intent.  The dragon and castle reliefs were not to be – after many iterations and attempts with stains and gold leaf, the beauty of the burl wood alone won out.   But there are no losers in this beautiful battle of burls.

The Burl Ives by Tuxedo No. 2

Pairing this box with a wintery cocktail proved incredible easy, which was a huge relief after losing my mind trying to match up those bothersome burls.  Robert Yarger actually gave me the idea, and it was much too good to pass up.  The “Burl Ives” is a modern holiday classic with blended scotch created by the talented team behind Tuxedo No. 2, a cocktail collection.  Evoking the Bobby Burns (that bonnie sip previously paired with another Yarger creation), the Burl Ives adds crème de cacao, a rich and indulgent chocolate liqueur.  History traces chocolate liqueur in some form back to as early as the mid to late 16oo’s. Here I am using Tempis Fugit’s brilliant offering, which is crafted from 19th century French and English recipes. One unique feature of this luscious liqueur is how the cacao is sourced from Venezuela and the vanilla from Mexico, as in the old recipes.  It’s sweet and rich and nuanced in cocktails. In other words, crème de cacao brings the party. In the Burl Ives it creates a wonderful wintry nightcap to savor by the fire, while fiddling, flailing, or finessing this fine puzzle box.  Robert also mentioned that he prefers his Burl Ives with dry vermouth, instead of the original sweet version called for by the recipe.  Either way, have too many of these, and you may be dancing burl-esque.  Cheers!

The holidays came burly this year

The Burl Ives by Tuxedo No. 2

2 oz blended scotch
½ oz sweet vermouth
½ oz creme de cacao
4 dashes angostura bitters
orange peel for garnish

Stir ingredients together over ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with expressed orange peel and enjoy while humming “Silver Bells”.

For more information about Robert Yarger see:


For prior Stickman puzzle box reviews see:

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Pleasant Porters

Now for a taste of Texas.  We’ll continue our winter theme with a treat from the Lone Star State.  West of Houston in the Texas Hill Country resides the Real Ale Brewing Co., an independent outfit which only sells its awesome beer in Texas.  One of the reasons they limit their product sales regionally is to avoid quality issues with shipping over long distances.  I think they could use a little help from this trusty porter of mine, Ronaporthe.  

Ronaporthe by Yoh Kakuda

This handsome fellow is a beast of burden created by Karakuri Creation Group artist Yoh Kakuda, who is known for his magical menagerie of puzzle box designs.  Ronaporthe “is a good worker” who is always carrying his beautiful bags around.  The yosegi design on the saddle bags is particularly pretty here, with five different brightly colored exotic hardwoods featured in an alternating herringbone pattern. There is a lot more movement with this box than you might expect and Ronaporthe nods his approval  as you proceed– he seems glad to be relieved of some of his burden.  I won’t give away any more of the secret mechanism, lest I make an ass of myself.  Suffice it to say this is another beautiful Kakuda creation.

Got baggage?

Lending out this stoic sidekick to the Real Ale Brewing Co., at least this time of year, would actually make some sense.  They produce a seasonal porter which uses fair trade cold brewed coffee from Houston’s own Katz Coffee.  They’ve got to get that coffee from Houston out to the Hill Country somehow, don’t they?  It’s not impossible that they just haven’t considered using a wooden puzzle box donkey – yet. However they do get it there, they put it to really good use.  

The Good Cheer by Casey Barber

Porter is a dark style beer made with brown malt which originated in 1700’s London as a fully mature, strong dark beer which was very popular with the river porters (thus the name).  Stout beer, such as Guinness, developed from extra strong porters (“stout” porter).  Real Ale Brewing Co. adds java to their seasonal porter just prior to bottling and the resulting coffee porter is a popular holiday treat which disappears off the shelves pretty fast.  I’ve used it in a fantastic cocktail called the “Good Cheer” from Casey Barber, who edits “Good. Food. Stories.” online magazine.  She combines a rich coffee porter with amaretto and cherry liqueur for a sweet spin on the after dinner coffee drink.  Of course, the coffee porter is damn tasty all on its own so you really can’t go wrong.  Unload your bags and pop the cap on this night cap for a puzzling good treat. Cheers!

These porters will transport you

The Good Cheer by Casey Barber
1 ½ oz Cherry liqueur (Barber suggests Cherry Heering)
1 ½ oz amaretto
6 oz coffee porter
Fill your glass with ice, add the liqueurs, then pout the beer over top to fill the glass.  Leave your baggage with the porter and enjoy.

For more about Yoh Kakuda see:


For a prior puzzle from Yoh Kakuda see: