Saturday, November 5, 2016

Socratic Method

“True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing” – Socrates.  I don’t know what he was talking about, which makes me extremely knowledgeable on the subject.  Famous for his “Socratic Method” of bringing about learning and understanding through perceptive, deductive questioning, Socrates has become a historical symbol for logical reasoning.  “What does this have to do with a puzzle box?” Puzzle boxes utilize a logical sequence of movements. “What is the purpose of a box?” To hold something inside.  “How does one begin to enable this purpose?” By opening the lid. “And what is the purpose of the lid?” To open and close, of course. “How does one open a lid?” Simply by lifting it up or off.  “If the lid on a box does not open as expected, it does not follow its purpose. Is this logical?” Umm, no?  Ahhh Socrates, you clever rogue, trapping me in my own argument.  

Illogical Box by Robert Yarger

This brings me to the “Illogical Box” by Robert Yarger, who recognizes that, of course, puzzle boxes are not logical.  Although we could continue our Socratic discussion along the lines that the purpose of a puzzle box is in fact to be illogical, in that it should not open as expected, at least insofar as it appears to be a non-puzzle box.  This argument circles around to suggest that being illogical is in fact logical, for a puzzle box.  If you’re still with me, you might appreciate the brilliance of Mr. Yarger’s design for his “Illogical Box”, which embraces all of these arguments at once.  Crafted from wenge, cherry, and walnut, with maple and ebony inlays, this beautiful square box features strange decorative symbols all around and includes four triangular pieces which attach magnetically to the sides and top.  There does not appear to be any rhyme or reason to the dots, grooves, lines and holes which adorn the box and triangular attachments.  They appear, for all intents and purposes, to be an illogical assortment of details.  Indeed, they are, and by embracing that line of “reasoning” you may well deduce the logic behind them.  For this illogical box requires a logic all its own to yield its secrets.  It’s no secret, however, that this is yet another of Mr. Yarger’s brilliant and beautiful designs.  The triangular tiles are keys which must be properly placed to unlock one section of the box at a time.  With 180 possible combinations, it would be illogical to imagine solving this by chance.  Rather, deducing the cryptic cipher would be the logical thing to do. 

Where's the logic here?

Socrates was also known to enjoy a good cocktail, believe it or not.  I personally have seen the French painter David’s famous tribute to the great Greek, in which Socrates is holding aloft his delicious cocktail, about to savor the first sip.  I’m not too sure why the painting is called “The Death of Socrates”, but you know these neoclassical painters, so dramatic all the time.  Anyway, I’m sure it was tasty.  (What, too soon for a hemlock joke? It was 2400 years ago, for goodness sake.)  I think we’ll pass on the poison as we ponder this pensive puzzle pairing.  Luckily, the logic in this one is obvious.  

Socrates surrounded by his philosophers

The “Socrates” cocktail appeared in Australian mixologist, journalist and author Jane Rocca’s 2005 book, “The Cocktail – 200 Fabulous Drinks”.  Some modifications to it have occurred since, such as swapping in Canadian whisky and Cointreau, and changing the proportions, so feel free to argue for your own philosophy on how to best perfect this recipe, or why it might have been named after our erstwhile Athenian. I don’t propose to know, which again, makes me wise, right?  In other words (those of the “modern” day philosopher Mark Twain), “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”  Of course, apparently, Twain never said that.  Cheers!  

The logical conclusion

Socrates (as originally published by Jane Rocca)

2 oz Scotch whiskey
1 oz apricot brandy
1 tsp triple sec
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir ingredients well with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with intellect, wit and well-reasoned arguments – although the garnish is debatable.

For more about Robert Yarger see:


For prior Robert Yarger puzzles see:

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