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;

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