Saturday, June 25, 2016

Blast Off - Part II

It’s time to do a little summer stargazing now.  Launching off from last week’s post where we boarded Kasho’s rocket ship and blasted into space with the X-15 “rocktail”, we now find ourselves floating amidst the stars and planets of the cosmos.  Our story picks up where we left off last time, enjoying the surprisingly light and refreshing X-15 cocktail named in honor of that innovative, ground breaking rocket plane.  I didn’t mention the entire story about the X-15 cocktail until now.  As you might imagine with a hypersonic rocket plane, things didn’t go entirely without a hitch.  Overall, with 199 test flights, there was only one disaster, and the X-15 is still considered to be one of the most successful aeronautic research programs in American history.  However, in 1967, Major Michael Adams was killed when the rocket tore apart during a reentry spin.  Whether right or wrong, in response Popo Galsini (the creator of the X-15 cocktail) decided to change the drink’s name at that time to the “Saturn” cocktail, by which name it is better known today.  So hold onto your X-15 as it turns into a Saturn cocktail and the vehicle becomes the destination.  If we rocket at light speed from Earth to our planetary target, the trip will take about 90 seconds.

The Planet with a Ring I (Saturn) by Hideaki Kawashima

June is one of the best times of the year to view Saturn with the naked eye.  Rising in the mid evening (that time between sunset and midnight), it is just nearby to Antares, recognizable as the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius.  Look up and left from Antares and you should see Saturn.  Also very close by, up and to the right, is Mars, which is likely to be the first and brightest object you notice, with its reddish hue.  

Two Saturns in orbit ...

I recently had the opportunity to see Saturn through a super powerful telescope, and it is an amazing site, floating in the inky blackness at its tilted angle, with its distinct rings.  Even at a billion miles away, it is iconic and the most recognizable planet after Earth.  Perhaps it is not surprising that Hideaki Kawashima chose to represent it in his “Planet with a Ring I (Saturn)” puzzle box, also part of the Karakuri Creation Group’s “Space” exhibition.  Crafted from magnolia, cherry, maple, walnut, and the striking zebrawood which gives it a distinctive striped pattern, the Saturn box poses the conundrum of how to open a box with a ring running around it.  

Zebrawood gives this planet a unique appearance

Kawashima is a master of interdependent motion and uses the ring in his signature style to aid or block you from access to either of the two hidden compartments.  He also uses your logical assumptions to fool and frustrate you.  The Saturn box is an excellent representation of his style and an evolution of his design sense.  There is also a little stand to display the puzzle box, which recreates the planetary angle we observe for Saturn from Earth – another nice touch.

The Planet with a Ring II by Hideaki Kawashima

Kawashima’s mind must have been racing at lightspeed, though, because he didn’t stop with the first Saturn box.  He took that concept and evolved it further, adding a new layer of complexity and a new “flavor”, like taking a classic cocktail, changing or adding a few ingredients, upping the ante, and making something similar but unique.  With cocktails, there is usually a great new name for the fancy version, such as “The Finer Points of Bad Behavior”.  With Kawashima’s second planet, we get “Planet with a Ring II”.  I’ll just let the puzzle box speak for itself, though - it doesn’t need a fancy name.  Kawashima has really outdone himself with the Planet II box, taking the idea of a box with a ring even further than with the first box.  

Beautiful purpleheart runs rings around this puzzle

He has tried to add a bit more of a spherical feel to the box structure by placing raised octagonal faces on each of the six sides of the cube.  This serves more than the aesthetic, because the ring is now free floating and not attached to the central box as in Planet I.  The octagonal faces and cubic corners trap the ring in place.  The ring itself is beautifully made from maple wood layers sandwiching a purpleheart wood core, and is intertwined about the walnut box such that it cannot be removed.  Planet II is actually two puzzles in one, with the first challenge of figuring out how to free the ring from the box followed by an elegant finale of how to open the box itself.  I found that getting the ring back to its proper starting position to be an even greater challenge.  This may well be one of Kawashima’s masterpieces.

Step one complete ...

Which brings us back to the Finer Points of Bad Behavior, a modern recreation of the classic Saturn cocktail with some fancy upgrades created by Gregg Jackson and Thor Messer from Merchant in Madison, Wisconsin.  Recall that the Saturn (aka X-15) is a combination of gin, orgeat (an almond syrup), passion fruit syrup, falernum (an almond, ginger and lime syrup) and lemon juice (see the last post for the recipe).  In the Finer Points, the gin is supercharged by using “navy strength” (higher proof) gin, and Jamaican rum and agricole rhum are added (why rhum and not rum? I’ll have to explain that some other time).   The passion fruit syrup becomes a honey-passionfruit puree, and the orgeat which is typically almond based becomes a homemade pistachio version.  

The Finer Points of Bad Behavior ... how can you resist a drink with that name?

Why would anyone want to go to all that trouble?  Kawashima knows.  The Finer Points is really, really good.  It truly compliments the drink that inspired it, while adding flavorful complexity and making it a uniquely delicious experience.  I learned how to make pistachio orgeat, too, so can now lend you my experiential wisdom, which is to not bother – don’t do it!  There is at least one cocktail guru out there who agrees, it’s just not worth trying to make your own “nut milk” syrup, but I didn’t listen.  I guess that just makes me a nut.  It was pretty tasty in the end, but milking nuts is best left to the experts.  I’ll just leave it at that and not go there anymore.  

Not to put too Fine a Point on it ... but Bad Behavior is so good

Instead I’ll make a toast:

Come climb aboard this wooden rocket ship
And join me on this jaunt to outer space
I promise you a pleasant puzzling trip
Astride the fastest jet of human race
Let’s speed onward to objects far from sight
Our way is straight despite ol’ Saturn’s tilt
Yet ‘ere we reach the planet and alight
We’ll orbit round what Kawashima built
To those who travel far beyond the sky
Who fail to notice what is out of reach
While going faster, further, farther, high
Above the limit of impossible they breach
I raise my glass to those with minds evolved
To see life’s puzzles waiting to be solved.

Cheers!

Good heavens ... these are celestial!

For more information about Hideaki Kawashima:

For the recipe to “The Finer Points of Bad Behavior”:

For “Blast Off – Part I” please see:

For prior Kawashima puzzle boxes please see:
Perfect Duets
Down for the Count

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