Saturday, July 30, 2016

Jackpot!

Jackpot! As in, this puzzle box comes up all “7”’s.  Actually, that’s a slot machine reference, so not exactly right for this particular puzzle, at least not in the traditional sense.  In this case we would need to literally “hit” the jackpot with our little metal ball as it bounces its way down the game.  I’m talking about pachinko, of course, the national amusement of Japan.  Like pinball, with many tiny metal balls cascading their way down the playing field, pachinko is part arcade game, part casino game, and wildly popular in Japan.  

Pachinko Box by William Strijbos

William Strijbos, that globetrotting designer of devious delights, has been developing his “Pachinko” Box for the past few years.  He describes having been fascinated by the game and wanting to incorporate the idea of launching a metal ball into one of his puzzle box designs.  He has succeeded in creating an incredible puzzle which really does hit the jackpot.  The Pachinko box is a shiny solid metal box with a distinctive feature in the form of a plunger sticking out of the end.  This is revealed to be holding a metal ball in place, inside the box, via a clear window on one side.  There are bolts and a hole in the bottom, and what appear to be two doors on the other side, both securely locked in place.  On top is another window through which you see a coin.  Opening the box will require you to first release that coin, somehow, and once you have opened the box completely (both doors), there is a second coin to be discovered inside, although you can’t seem to get it out.  

Two doors locked tight and an irresistible plunger ...

So these are your challenges: free the first coin, open the box completely, and free the second coin.  In order to do this you will need to embrace the concept of pachinko (you didn’t think it was all for show, did you?), but since this is a Strijbos puzzle, that will only get you so far.  If you do get that far, you will feel immensely relieved, only to quickly realize there are many more challenges still to overcome. This puzzle box delivers on so many levels.  Each of the challenges requires two or three separate steps to deduce and then implement.  In classic Strijbos style, he sets things up so that even once you think you have figured out what needs to be accomplished, in order to move on to the next step, it is by no means easy to enact.  He lays clues and gives you glimpses of things to keep you going.  Mentally this gives you the motivation you need to keep trying.  It’s all so well designed and everything you see has a purpose toward the final goal.  This puzzle challenges you on many levels, keeps you guessing, has just the right amount of difficulty, provides hints when you need them, and is incredibly satisfying.  In other words, it’s so much FUN!

This box pays you back ...


I seem to be on a Strijbos roll, having recently featured his “First Box” as well.  I created a little “puzzle pairing” for that one, keeping the connection between the puzzle box and the cocktail a secret to be deduced by any interested readers with nothing better to do.  It seems like a Strijbos thing to do, so here’s another, admittedly rather simple, puzzle pairing.  This cocktail comes by way of Fred’s Club in Soho, London, where famed bartender Dick Bradsell created it in the mid 1980’s.  It’s not as old as the many historical cocktails I seem to be fond of featuring, but it is a modern classic and very well known.  This is likely due to its simplicity, delicious-ness and perfect name: the Bramble.

The "Ramble" adapted from Dick Bradsell

Bradsell was a cocktail hero of his time, so that probably didn’t hurt either.  Simply combine gin, lemon, and sugar over crushed ice, then drizzle blackberry liqueur over it all and garnish with more blackberries.  Yum!  Of course, I’m at the beach right now, and only had crème de cassis on hand rather than the technically required crème de mure, so this isn’t quit a Bramble – more of a ramble, I’d say.  Nevermind, it’s just as delicious.  Now, back to this perfect puzzle box.  Cheers!

As Wil Strijbos likes to say, "Take your time". Cheers!

The “Ramble”: (for a true Bramble use crème de mure)
1.5 oz gin
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz simple syrup
¾ oz crème de cassis
Shake the first three ingredients with ice or just add them to a glass of crushed ice and stir.  Pour the berry liqueur over the top. Garnish with lemon and berries.

For prior puzzles by Wil Strijbos, please see:

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Here There Be Dragons

It’s that time of year again when the days are long and the ocean beckons.  We take a family trip to the beach each summer to relax and reconnect.  Of course the cocktails flow easily, and one of the simplest is my favorite “beach margarita”, which is just tequila, lime juice and simple syrup, with a splash of fresh orange juice instead of orange liqueur.  Coincidentally it also happens to be national “tequila” day at this time of year.  Naturally, I featured the beach margarita with the “Tequila” box by Kasho last year.  

Tequila Day, summer 2015

Once again we are at the beach and tequila day is Sunday July 24, so here’s another margarita variation for you.  This one comes via Jim Meehan, a celebrated mixologist whose “PDT” bar in Manhattan was one of the original new “speakeasy’s” of the modern cocktail renaissance.  Some of you may have his wonderful cocktail book, which features eye popping illustrations by graphic artist Chris Gall.  PDT stands for “Please Don’t Tell”, a rather ironic name for a bar so popular it’s almost impossible to get a reservation.  An unassuming hotdog shop in Saint Mark’s Place serves as the front, and if you are lucky enough to have secured a spot, you head to the phone booth in the back of the shop.  Pick up the phone, confirm, and viola, the back of the phone booth swings open to allow you entry to the hidden bar. 

The White Dragon by Jim Meehan

Getting back to the aforementioned margarita variation, we have Jim Meehan's “White Dragon” cocktail.  This version was originally created using Casa Dragones Blanco, a very special tequila, which certainly lends a unique flavor to the drink and explains the name.  It combines with lemon juice, Cointreau and an egg white to create a delicious, light, summer pleasure. 

Dragon Wing by Shiro Tajima

Shiro Tajima, a former member of the Karakuri Creation Group, has created a series of Asian zodiac themed puzzle boxes over the years.  For the year of the dragon (2012) he designed the “Dragon Wing” box, made from Japanese raisin tree and walnut woods to resemble a resting dragon replete with long neck, snout, tail and folded wings.  You are given the clue that this dragon will spread his wings and fly away, and the box does indeed unfold in a beautiful way.  It’s an elegant puzzle box with a few sneaky moves which compliment its form and function.  Be careful or it might just fly away when you aren’t watching into the summer night sky.  Here’s to secret bars, secret boxes, and summer skies with friends and family.  Cheers!

I hate to drag on about these, but they're incredible

The White Dragon by Jim Meehan:

1 ¾ oz Blanco Tequila
¾ oz Cointreau
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
1 egg white
Orange peel

Shake all ingredients together and strain into a favorite glass. Express the orange peel over the drink and discard.

For the “Beach Margarita” and “Tequila” Box please see:

For a prior tequila cocktail please see:


For a prior box by Shiro Tajima please see:

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Cordial First

At last we get to the first.  The First Box, by Dutch puzzle designer William Strijbos, that is.  Wil’s Streetwise puzzle company produces beautiful anodized aluminum mechanical puzzles. He travels the world looking for design ideas and inspiration. He has created many interlocking type puzzles and a few fantastic puzzle boxes.  Wil’s designs are known for the elegant touches he often includes, such as how he separates the understanding of how a puzzle must be solved from the actual ability to do so.  Another common hallmark is how he often allows you to see the objective long before you can reach it, in a teasing or infuriating way.  For example, perhaps you need to retrieve a coin from inside a puzzle – you will likely be shown that coin at some point during the puzzle solving, but won’t be able to retrieve it.  

The First Box by William Strijbos

I featured one of his more devious creations, the “Egg”, in the very first Boxes andBooze, as a symbol of beginnings.  The goal of that puzzle is to simply (!) separate the two halves of the egg.  Early on you can get the two halves apart slightly and look inside, but that may be as far as you get … ever!  Wil often provides a description of the journey he took as he developed a new design concept from idea to fruition.  His First Box is the evolution of the first puzzle box he ever created, 6 of which came to life back in 1984 and consisted of a black and silver contraption with bolts and a separate tool for opening.  The design evolved and improved and now appears as a smooth solid bright blue box with a little silver cap on top.  

So sad to be trapped in the box ...

Underneath the box you discover a small hole, with a sad smiley (frowny?) face peering out at you but trapped inside.  Once you open the box, you can free the metal rod with the frowny face, and literally turn it upside down to reveal the happy smiley face on the other side.  Along the journey you will discover things that can help you along the way.  Like most of Wil’s designs, the First Box utilizes a very simple concept which in practice becomes incredibly difficult because you cannot see what is going on inside the box.

Turn that frown upside down

Because Wil Strijbos enjoys puzzling his friends so much, I have created a little puzzle pairing for him as well.  Much like his devious creations, this cocktail takes a few simple ingredients and turns them into something incredible, classic and celebrated.  This is one of the more storied cocktails out there, which is saying something, as most cocktails have at least a short story.  We have to head back to the late 1800’s when British Royal Navy Surgeon Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Gimlette was known for mixing his gin ration (“mother’s ruin”) with the lime juice cordial (“Rose’s”) required on all ships of the British merchant marines.  Navy men had already been doing this with their rum for decades.  Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial was invented by a Scottish merchant in 1867 as a palatable “antiscorbutic” - an enjoyable way to prevent scurvy.  It would have been just about the only mixer handy on a naval ship.  The first recipe for a “Gimlet” appeared in Harry MacElhone’s “ABC’s of Mixing Cocktails” from 1922.  But the most famous Gimlet recipe comes from Philipe Marlowe, private eye:

“We sat in a corner of the bar at Victor's and drank gimlets. ‘They don't know how to make them here,’ he said. ‘What they call a gimlet is just some lime or lemon juice and gin with a dash of sugar and bitters. A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose's Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.’ “
From “The Long Goodbye”, by Ramond Chandler, 1953

The Gimlet

Rose’s Lime Juice was more cordial, less artificial sticky syrup back then.  Purists will insist on sticking to the classic recipe, even now, but I would argue that a homemade lime cordial will evoke the original gimlet more closely than the modern day bottled version.  Plus, it’s incredibly easy to make.  If you are still uncertain about the simple perfection of this drink, let Papa convince you:

“It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened. ‘Will you have lime juice or lemon squash?’ Macomber asked. ‘I’ll have a gimlet,’ Robert Wilson told him. ‘I’ll have a gimlet too. I need something,’ Macomber’s wife said. ‘I suppose it’s the thing to do,’ Macomber agreed.
From “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” by Ernest Hemingway, 1936

I can’t follow Hemingway, so that’s all I’ve got to say.  Oh, and why is the First Box paired with the Gimlet?  Sip on one while you ponder and let me know – I suppose it’s the thing to do.  Cheers!

What's the connection?

Gimlet:

2 oz gin
1 oz* lime cordial

Shake together over ice and strain into a favorite glass.  *Proportions should be adjusted to taste, depending on how sweet you like it.  Marlowe’s version was 50:50, for example. Lime cordial can be made simply by adding the zest of about 12 limes to their juice and a cup of sugar for 24 hours, then straining out the zest.  You can get fancier if you like, but that works just fine.

Wil Strijbos puzzles are available via retailers the world over. Search for him online.

For more about his Egg puzzle, please see:
A Blog Awakens

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Clutch Moves

I’ve been featuring Karakuri Creation Group boxes for a few weeks in a row so I thought I would take a (short) break from those and present something from a different part of the world.  Actually, this particular puzzle box is from two different places in the United States: Oklahoma and North Carolina.  And if you want to be completely picky about it, we should add California as well.  In Oklahoma, a humble wizard works his magic to produce highly acclaimed works of art in the form of complex mechanical wooden puzzle boxes.   Most of Robert Yarger’s creations for his “Stickman Puzzlebox Company” are entirely of his own design and creation.  He occasionally collaborates with like-minded fellow artisans as well, as in the case of his “Stickman No. 4 Puzzle Box”, also known as the “Clutch Tile Box”.  Eric Fuller, the co-creator of the Clutch Tile Box, is also a well regarded wooden puzzle maker who specializes in making precise and devious interlocking mechanical puzzles, but who is also known for his incredible box designs.  

Stickman No.4 aka Clutch Tile Box

The two together produced a beautiful hybrid puzzle box made from maple, bloodwood and cocobolo which incorporates a sliding tile puzzle design into the solution of the box.  In order to open either of the two main compartments, special tiles must be moved into the correct positions on the box, and a final tricky move is still required.  The truly special aspect to this puzzle box, though, is the mechanism with which the tiles are moved.  A completely wooden mechanical clutch is present in the center of the box, and can be moved in and out and round and round, in the most amazing and satisfying manner.  Due to the presence of a few extra long tiles, careful planning is required to get the pieces in proper position, and at least 85 moves are needed to open both compartments.  Once you do, there is an additional reward, “clutched” inside, in the form of a miniature interlocking puzzle made by yet another well regarded puzzle artist, Lee Krasnow.  As if you needed further incentive to try to open the box, but there you go.

The incredible focal point in motion

Although the Clutch Tile Box is made from maple wood, I have always had the sense that it appears to be slightly yellow.  It is not really yellow, yet I always think of it that way, perhaps because of how it appears in photographs.  So humor me this time as I create a few “Yellow Boxer” cocktails to enjoy with this fine puzzle box.  The Yellow Boxer is thought of as an odd “tiki” style cocktail, that typically rum soaked concoction associated with Polynesian themed décor and tiny paper umbrellas.  I love tiki drinks, which you may have deduced from the many which have been featured here.  The Yellow Boxer simply appears in many old cocktail books in the tiki section, and no one seems to know exactly where it came from originally.

The original Yellow Boxer and the Pale version - the difference is obvious

What makes it odd is that it uses tequila rather than rum.  So after adding lemon, lime, orange juice, and a hint of the anise flavored liqueur Galliano which adds a subtle layer as well, it strikes me as more like a special margarita.  Maybe it just got misplaced in the wrong section years ago.  Maybe there was a cirrhotic pugilist who loved them, who knows.  I decided to tinker with it slightly.  I swapped out the Galliano, which is bright yellow, for yellow Chartreuse, the French herbal liqueur which is a paler yellow (still not exactly maple wood in color, but closer…) and I used a freshly made lime cordial rather than the Rose’s lime juice called for in all the old recipes.  We’ll get back to Rose’s lime soon, I promise.  The resulting “Pale Boxer” aka “Yellow Boxer No. 4” is a refreshingly light summer sipper which compliments the Clutch Tile Box rather well.  Cheers to a finely crafted collaboration.

Clutch these tightly, they're incredible!

The Pale Boxer (aka Yellow Boxer No. 4)

1 ½ oz reposado tequila
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
¾ oz fresh orange juice
¾ oz lime cordial (I used the simple recipe from Death and Co.)
¼ oz Yellow Chartreuse

Shake over ice and strain into a glass full of crushed ice.  There are plenty of complicated lime cordial recipes but a simple infusion of lime zest with lime juice and sugar works well.

For more information about Robert Yarger:

For more information about Eric Fuller:

For more information about Lee Krasnow:

For prior Rober Yarger puzzles please see:


For prior Eric Fuller puzzles please see:

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Game is Afoot!

Puzzlers usually have a rich sense of humor.  We like to laugh with and often at each other.  It can be pretty funny to watch someone struggle to solve something, especially after you have mentioned it’s a particularly “easy” one … and don’t mention it took you weeks to solve!  Akio Kamei, the puzzle box master of the Karakuri Creation Group, appears to share that wicked sense of humor, which he lets loose in his “Ouch!” puzzle box.  

Ouch! by Akio Kamei

The design and concept of this puzzle, according to Kamei, originates with a common, frustrating occurrence in Japanese homes.  Because shoes are not worn inside, it is apparently a shared cultural experience to stub ones little toe on the corners of furniture or low shelving.  I’m not sure how often this really happens, but it’s certainly easy to imagine.  The “Ouch” box intends to turn your frown upside down and make you laugh at the pain in a playful way.  And it does – it’s very amusing and makes you smile.  The box also showcases Kamei’s tremendous skill and artistry.  The puzzle is beautifully crafted, smooth and accurate, in the shape of a perfect small foot.  On the Karakuri Group’s website there are some impressive photos chronicling the creation process for the Ouch Box which provide a rare opportunity to see one of these works from development to fruition.

Incredible craftsmanship ... you might even say it's fancy footwork

Now, how does one pair a cocktail with something named “Ouch” that looks like a foot?  It may not immediately sound plausible but in fact the challenge was picking one of many good options.  For example, there is a drink called the “Ankle Breaker” which combines overproof rum and cherry brandy with either lime or lemon juice and a little sweetener.  The name stems from the excessive alcohol content in the drink, so perhaps its best to try that one while sitting down.  

The perfect way to enjoy a Painkiller

Another choice and a close call was one of my favorite tropical island drinks, the “Painkiller”.  This delicious combination of rum, pineapple, coconut and orange juice is best enjoyed while sitting at the Soggy Dollar Bar in Jost Van Dyke where it was invented.  You’ll understand the bar’s name better once you get there.  It’s on a tiny beach in the British Virgin Islands.  You arrive via the Caribbean Sea, and there’s no dock.  But don’t worry – there are painkillers waiting.  

The Dunmore Cobbler

But I decided to go with an ounce of prevention over a pound of cure, and call in the cobbler.  In this case, the “sherry cobbler”, a drink that defined an era of American history.  The sherry cobbler rose to popularity in early to mid 18th century America and became a symbol of American prosperity.  Sherry, a fortified wine, was an exotic European import.  Sugar and citrus were being transported up from South America, and Florida was soon absorbed into the United States which made it even easier.  Finally ice, that simple commodity we take for granted, was being harvested from New England lakes in the winters and sent south year round.  Refrigeration wouldn’t be invented for a century, making this component of the cobbler rather luxurious.  That simple combination of sherry, sugar and ice, with a citrus wedge, was the height of sophistication.  Now it’s retro cool again, and this modern take by Ryan Fitzgerald and Todd Smith from ABV in San Francisco is a fantastic variation.  It might not prevent you from stubbing your toe, but you might not mind.  Cheers!

The game is afoot

For the Dunmore Cobbler recipe:

For more about Akio Kamei:

For the creation of the Ouch box:

For more Kamei puzzles please see: