Saturday, November 26, 2016

Business as Usual

There’s a flat little box I keep on my office desk at work.  It sits innocuously at an angle in the corner, minding its own business.  If you look more closely you will notice that it has a lid, with an indented finger hold on each side, where you can conveniently grasp it to take the lid off.  Crafted from walnut, it has dowel joint accents at each corner and a pleasant wax and lacquer finish.  On the lid there are a few grooved lines which complete the simple details.  It’s a handsome desk piece and appears right at home.  Mostly the box remains ignored, biding its time.  Mostly.  Once in a while, however, at the end of a meeting, or an interview, someone will ask for my business card.  And I will smile, nod and reach over to pass them the box.  Of course, the lid won’t come off.

Open for Business by Peter Wiltshire

The “Open for Business” box was created by Peter Wiltshire, a cinematographer who resides in Canada.  Usually busy directing the shots with his massive cameras and video equipment, Peter occasionally turns his considerable talents to woodworking.  He has designed a number of award winning and sought after puzzle boxes over the past few years, and the Open for Business box is his most recent offering which he made for the International Puzzle Party in 2015.  He created the box specifically to hold business cards and designed it to fool the unsuspecting non-puzzler.  This box also has one of the better names out there, and who doesn’t like a clever name?  There are only two moves required to access the cards inside, but they are cleverly hidden and once discovered will bring a smile to your face even if you are a seasoned puzzler.

Just open it for business (cards) ... simple, right?

The name and purpose of this puzzle box got the creative cocktail wheels in my brain turning.  Wouldn’t it be fun, I thought, to have an “Open for Cocktail” which needed to be “opened” to access it somehow, just like this box.  It couldn’t just be a bottled cocktail, open and pour - that would obviously be much too simple.  The challenge reminded me of another cocktail I once created, which changed from one thing to another over time – I called it a “sequential discovery” cocktail which “solved itself”.  That was the London Calling which celebrated Brian Young’s IPP Grand Prize for the Big Ben puzzle in 2015.  The drink transforms from a Gin and Tonic into a Pimm’s Cup as the ice melts.  Working from that idea, I present the Open for Business cocktail.  It starts out as the classic business person’s drink – the dry martini.  Inside the glass resides a purist’s ratio of mostly gin to a hint of vermouth.  Sitting prominently amidst this impeccable potion is an impressive ice ball.  Even more impressive is the fact that this sphere is not solid, and holds another cocktail inside.  That’s right – a combination of bourbon, lime, ginger beer and bitters are housed inside the hollow ice.  This is a mule variation (as in Moscow mule) which uses bourbon rather than vodka.  It’s often referred to as a Kentucky Mule or a Beacon Mule.  So now we have two cocktails.  But we should make it a true “Businessman’s Special” (three drinks), right?  We’ll have to … drumroll please … Open for Business.  Crack the ice ball and allow the drinks to mingle and you will have another classic from the tiki canon, a cocktail perfect for anyone unfortunate enough to be faced with this bothersome business card box: the Suffering Bastard.

The Open for Business cocktail

The story behind the Suffering Bastard cocktail dates back to World War II when in 1942 Allied and German forces were locked in the battle of El Alamein to determine control of Egypt on the North African continent.  After the long and hard fought defeat of Rommel’s forces by the British Army, Churchill declared the battle to be the turning point in the war for the Allies.  The height of elegance in the capital city of Cairo was the Shepheard Hotel, where officers and the likes of Charles de Gaulle, King Farouk and Churchill himself were known to gather at its Long Bar.  Head barman Joe Scialom invented a strong drink which masked the low quality booze available with limes and ginger beer and dubbed it the “Suffering Bastard” (the Allies were losing at the time).  It proved immensely popular, to the point that Scialom once received a telegram from the front lines requesting he deliver eight gallons to the soldiers right away. Rommel was quoted saying he would be “drinking champagne in the master suite at Shepheard’s soon”.  Perhaps he should have ordered the Suffering Bastard instead.

A Dry Martini plus a Kentucky Mule makes you a Suffering Bastard!

So beware next time you request someone’s business card – they just might present you with the Open for Business puzzle box.  You can politely puzzle your way through it while drinking these three cocktails at once – a martini as you get down to business, a mule since the box stubbornly refuses to open, and as it takes you longer and longer, and the ice in your glass melts, a suffering bastard.  I hope I’m not the only one who thinks this is hysterical.  Cheers!

Time to get down to business!

Open for Business:

1 oz gin
¼ oz Cocchi Americano
1 oz bourbon
½ oz fresh lime juice
¼ oz demerara syrup
2 oz ginger beer
4-5 dashes Angostura bitters

Add the gin and vermouth to a glass.  Combine the bourbon, lime, syrup, ginger beer and bitters, and inject into a prepared hollow ice sphere.  Carefully place the ice sphere into the glass and plug the hole with a twist.  Crack the ice or allow to melt to complete the cocktail.  Serve with the remaining ginger beer to be added as desired.  Take a bow.

For the London Calling sequential discovery cocktail see: 

To see the Open for Business cocktail in action, watch here:

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Locks and Libations

“My brain is the key that sets me free” – Harry Houdini.  Lest anyone try to lock me into being just a “box” man, I’m pairing this week’s potion with a puzzle lock.  I won’t try to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes again by claiming that I’m changing directions and renaming this endeavor “Locks and Libations”, the way I did last April Fools Day with “Twisties and Tonics”.  You wouldn’t believe me anyway.  I’ve featured a few “boxes” which stretched the limits of that definition before, and even started this whole blog with a non-box puzzle (just so I could fall back on that in times like these!).  But I will digress again for just a moment this week to highlight this wonderful puzzle lock from Shane Hales.

The Haleslock 2

Mr. Hales does so from England, where he spends most of his time running his construction company in London.  He is also a master carpenter and joiner, a locksmith, and an ingenious puzzle designer.   In the past he has created an extremely limited series of wooden puzzles which all reside with a few collectors as his personal gift to them.  He has more recently begun giving life to another passion of his, the “puzzle lock”, a curiosity which has been around in various cultures for centuries.  These locks usually appear to be completely normal on the surface, although many are ornate and unusual.  Opening the lock, however, is a puzzle, and the key, if present at all, seldom works as expected.  Many of these locks are wonders of fine machining with intricate mechanisms hidden inside their metal casings. I had the opportunity, thanks to Shane Hales himself, to enjoy his first lock, the “Haleslock 1”, which I featured along with the How? puzzle box (which also has a rather impressive lock) a few months back.  Now I have the pleasure of presenting the next in his series, the “Haleslock 2”.  As a way of saying thanks I am featuring it all by itself this time.

Nope, the keys don't work ...

The Haleslock 2 presents a striking contrast to its predecessor.  The first lock was created from a standard solid brass ABUS padlock and had a single key attached to the shackle by a tamper proof ring.  The key could not reach the keyhole, so that wasn’t very helpful.  Lock #2 is a stout and sturdy (dare I say “Hale” and hearty?) fellow created from a Squire Stronglock of solid laminated steel.  This time there are two different keys secured by a long metal chain with plenty of length to allow the keys to reach the keyhole.  Not that it does any good, so again, that isn’t very helpful.  The little lock is well secured with a double deadlock and bolts all around.  I’m no puzzle lock aficionado and this little gem had me hoodwinked for a while.  It has a particularly nice “A-Ha” moment of discovery which leads you along your way to solving the puzzle and a bit more experimentation (or should I say, lock-picking) will ultimately leave you unlocked.  I’ve heard some say this one is a bit too easy but I found it to be just right.

The Tampered Lock

If this beastly bolt has got you bamboozled you may well need what helps when anything gets stuck – a little lubrication.   An apropos cocktail, called the “Lock Pick”, was originally created with “Larceny” Kentucky bourbon as an ice-tea filled long sipper.  I admit I may have “tampered” with the lock a bit to create this hale riff which (if I do say so) really sets the drink free.  Try one when you need a little liquid libation inspiration.  Thank you, Shane Hales – as I said before, should you be so clever as to tackle this shackle, you will marvel at the brain in Shane.   Cheers!

I'd pick these two locks if I were you

The Tampered Lock:

1 ½ oz bourbon
¾ oz Hum (or other hibiscus) liqueur
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz Earl Grey tea syrup (or substitute Chai syrup for a delicious variation)

Shake ingredients over ice and strain into a tamper proof glass.  Lock down tight before someone else purloins your potion.

For more information about Shane Hales puzzles:

For the previous Hale’s Lock #1 review please see:
How to Hale a Billionaire


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Wish You Were Here

Close your eyes and make a wish.  The world could use some good wishes right now, so this pairing seems timely.  The “Wish Cube” is the product of two friends, two continents and some time to let the wish grow.  Originally slated for the Stickman “Apothecary Chest” project, which I (and many others) have described previously, the Wish Cube was to be one of 12 puzzles inside that massive meta-puzzle box.  Johan Heyns, the main man with the wish, decided the original design wasn’t up to snuff for that project and let it lapse but never really let it go.  As fate would have it, Johan, who hails from South Africa, had a visit from his friend Jack Krijnen, a mathematically minded puzzle master from the Netherlands who is known for designing incredibly complicated, high level interlocking puzzles.  They revisited the Wish design together, and the puzzle box was finally born anew.

The Wish Cube by Johan Heyns and Jack Krijnen

The Wish Cube is many things.  It starts out as a puzzle box, with a secret drawer that unlocks via a very satisfying and symmetrical series of movements.  This first step, which requires 26 moves, was perfected by Jack Krijnen to be far more complex, rhythmic and elegant.  Once you discover the initial moves required it becomes easy to understand and predict the next steps.  It really is a satisfying set of movements, and the crowning touch is that you must go back to the beginning to get to the end.  It’s quite lovely.  The many colorful blocks of wood which compose the box (made of Mansonia, Pau Marfim and Rhodesian Teak) make the sequence discovery incredibly fun as you press and prod around the box.  Inside the drawer is a pentomino packing puzzle, with a 3x4x5 shape and 3940 possible configurations! Keeping the pieces in place is a stabilizing stick of Tambotie, which Johan describes as “an indigenous wood to South Africa which has a lovely spicy aroma.”  After removing the drawer, the 14 sliding (burr) pieces can be removed with another 29 moves, and finally the entire frame can be disassembled into 24 separate pieces.  Whew! What a wonderful puzzle – it’s a wish come true.

Stunning South African Exotic Wood

The Wish Cube will likely enter the puzzle box history books, due to its designer provenance, complexity, beauty and rarity.  So here’s an apropos toast with a cocktail originally created for the Smithsonian’s “Raise a Glass to History” gala, which celebrated the bicentennial of a famous American flag.  The “A Wish for Grace” is a modern classic from mixologist Steven Liles of San Francisco’s landmark rum paradise, Smuggler’s Cove.  It’s named after Grace Wisher, the 13 year-old indentured African American servant who helped Mary Pickersgill sew the Great Garrison Flag in 1813, which is better known as the “Star-Spangled Banner” – the flag which inspired the U.S. National Anthem and now hangs in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.  The cocktail features a New England style pot still rum and Madeira which would have been prominent and popular at that time in history.  History never tasted so good.  It’s particularly poignant right now to recall this historic symbol of the freedom that America has stood and fought for throughout its history.  So close your eyes, raise your glass, and make a wish, wherever you may be in the world.  Here’s hoping all your wishes come true.  Cheers! 

A Wish for Grace by Steven Liles

A Wish for Grace by Steven Liles:

1 ½ oz New England style amber rum
¾ oz Blandy’s 5 Yr Verdelho Medeira
½ oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz rich simple syrup
2 dashes aromatic bitters

Shake ingredients together over ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a lemon twist.

Puzzle box, puzzle bright, solving you will take all night
I wish I may, I wish I might, have this cocktail ease my plight.

Nota Bene: Johan Heyns made two early prototypes of the Wish Cube.  The original was sized to fit as an Apothecary Box drawer (its original intention), and a second prototype of similar design was made as a larger working copy to help develop the more complex final product.  There were only 15 final copies of the Wish Cube ever made.  Johan will be placing the original two prototypes up for auction in the near future,

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: