Saturday, November 11, 2017

Natural Born

Every time I review one of this craftsman’s boxes, I feel “born again”.  It’s a great feeling so I’m always glad to get the chance.  Jesse Born is a talented young fellow from Rome, New York with the knack for making great puzzles, the skill for making beautiful woodwork, and the desire to perfectly merge the two together.  His prior puzzle boxes have all been gorgeous and enjoyable, and his skill simply keeps improving.  He is constantly driven to learn new methods in production, precision, and technique.   For his “Yosegi Pattern Box”, his primary goal was to produce a beautiful “standard” type of box, at least in shape and size, which he has certainly achieved. He was inspired by traditional Japanese boxes and the work of master Ninomiya.  Like all of his creations, Jesse poured his heart into this one.  Each box required over one hundred cuts with his table saw, and he went through numerous batches of yosegi while learning and perfecting his vision for the box. The secondary goal, according to Jesse, was to incorporate a unique puzzle element not seen on any other puzzle box.  He has achieved that goal as well, and the result is a delight to behold. 

Yosegi Pattern Box by Jesse Born

The box is a hefty square affair made from either shimmering light Maple or dark Mexican Ebony on the base, with the complimentary wood found in contrast on the lid.  The top is also adorned with strips of yosegi, the traditional Japanese marquetry technique which Jesse has experimented with in different wood types and patterns.  Along the sides of the box are abstract zig-zag like patterns which add another nice dimension and overall aesthetic touch to the piece.  Inside, the box has a chamber made from beautiful Purple Heart wood, but you won’t get to appreciate that for a while.  The lid is firmly fixed in place.  There’s a lot of rattling going on inside the box, and sometimes it even seems to be repeatable.  Perhaps there’s a method to this madness?  The box requires a few steps to open, and is immensely satisfying to solve.  I enjoy all sorts of puzzle boxes, but the ones that employ hidden movements which can’t be seen, requiring something inside to move here or there just right, often leave me feeling ambivalent.  I prefer to deduce the solution, or discover something which has been very cleverly hidden in plain sight.  Which is why I love this box.  It fooled me into thinking it was something else entirely, when in fact it’s completely logical, with a wonderfully surprising and unique mechanism.  Everything is waiting in plain sight for you to discover, if only you are as clever as the designer.  The box provides just the right amount of misdirection, is instantly understandable once the AHA moment hits, and rewards the solver with a beautiful interior to complement the beautiful exterior.  Like other Bornwood designs, once inside the mechanics and mystery are all revealed, which is a nice touch.  All of his boxes have been great, but this is his best yet.

Interesting yosegi inlay adorns the top

The patterns on the sides of the Yosegi Pattern Box made me think of the “Zig-Zag Café” in Seattle, former home of famed bartender Murray Stenson who in 2004 resurrected a pre-prohibition cocktail classic known as the Last Word.  The story of that cocktail dates back to the Detroit Athletic Club in 1915, where it was the drink of choice for a celebrated stand-up comic of the day who was known to always have one (the last word) – on stage and in the bar.  It’s incredibly versatile and easy to make, with equal parts gin, lime, chartreuse and maraschino liqueur, and it lit up the cocktail scene during the recent renaissance.  It’s been described as cocktail “lasagna” – meaning there are scores of different recipes which tweak the ingredients, but as long as the basic formula remains the same the drink is always good.  

Born Yesterday

Here’s a delicious variation apropos for the season which I call, “Born Yesterday”.  Ironically, it features apple brandy from America’s oldest distillery, Laird and Company.  Their classic Applejack is also fantastic this time of year.  In addition to swapping the gin for apple brandy, the maraschino is exchanged for another incredible seasonal treat from a newer American craft distillery, St. George Spirits Spiced Pear liqueur.  This magical fruit brandy liqueur tastes like a freshly pressed Bartlett pear sprinkled with cinnamon and clove.  The combination of fall flavors blends effortlessly and you might be fooled into thinking this is an inspired new creation when, in fact, it’s merely the latest word. But you weren’t born yesterday – cheers!

Treat yourself to some natural born delights

Born Yesterday

¾ oz Laird’s Old Apple Brandy
¾ oz lemon
¾ oz Yellow Chartreuse
¾ oz St. George Spirits Spiced Pear Liqueur

Stir together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a twist.

For more about Jesse Born:

For prior Last Word variations:

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Nevermore

“Once upon a midnight dreary, as I pondered, weak and weary …” – Poe

Ah yes, this indeed describes my sentiments well as I attempted to open yet another fine puzzle padlock.  Welcome back to “Locks and Libations”, the erstwhile scribblings of a box collector who finds himself in possession of something distinctly … not a box … yet wishes to share the wonderful prize with the world, nonetheless.  Plus I love to highlight the brilliant work of my friend Shane Hales, that master of wood and metal, and many other fancy titles which sound quite impressive.  Shane’s puzzle lock series was inevitable, since he is a master locksmith, a puzzle lock collector, and an admirer of the inner workings of locks in general, both old and new.  Add his penchant for puzzles and viola, the Haleslock was born.  Following up on the Haleslock 1 and Haleslock 2 (which I have also featured here – Shane, when are you going to make a puzzle lock puzzle box so I can stop pretending these are boxes? I’m becoming the opposite of puzzlemad …) is the surprisingly named Haleslock 3, which debuted as Peter Hajek’s exchange puzzle during IPP 37 in Paris. 

Haleslock 3 by Shane Hales

“Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore...” - Poe 

This lock certainly stands out from a crowd, with its unusual shape and style.  A key is attached to a chain, which is shackled to the … shackle.  There is a much more prominent lock plate on the front of this padlock, with a pleasant little door which slides open to allow the key entry.  Not that it does any good.  I feel like I say that a lot with these locks. Haleslock 3 is a modified old English lever lock, and according to Shane it’s one of the oldest types of its kind still in production, with little change to the inner workings in 200 years – that is, until Shane got a hold of one. There’s definitely something moving around inside, and a certain move seemed to be reproducible, which is not the same thing as seemed to help, but that’s about all I could discover.  I stared into the keyhole, looking for clues, for a long, long time ….

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing …” - Poe

Nevermore?

I should learn my lesson with these puzzling locks, and listen to the raven (“Nevermore”).  But there’s something so appealing about a secret lock which doesn’t open like it should – I suppose it’s the same something that draws me to boxes that don’t open the way they should, and hidden mechanisms in general.  So I’ll ignore the raven, and raise a toast to it, and this fine installment in the Haleslock series, instead.  

The Raven - a brooding, melancholy drink

The “Raven” cocktail is my take on a recipe from “Alison’s Wonderland Recipes”, a delightful blog whose author’s creations are all based on works of literature.  I took the liberty of increasing the atmospheric melancholy and funk, if you will, by using an agricole rhum, which is made from pure sugarcane rather than molasses.  The resulting “rhum” is incredibly moody and delicious.  Plus a special dose of dark rum to really set the tone – Poe is rather dark, after all. Finally my version needed a little amaro, that bitter Italian herbal potion, to capture the bittersweet depths of despair evoked in the poem … fine, and the lock, too.  Thanks Shane, and cheers!

Locking at my chamber door

The Raven – adapted from Alison’s Wonderland Recipes

1 ½ oz white rhum agricole
½ oz Plantation OFTD
1 oz fresh lime
½ oz pomegranate juice
½ oz simple syrup
¼ oz Averna
3 blackberries

Muddle the berries with the syrup and add the remaining ingredients.  Shake with ice and double strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with something apro-Poe …

For more about Shane Hales:


N.B. Special thanks to Jeff Aurand for reminding me about this great poem …

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Wolves at the Door

Ready for a spooky tale of harrowing horror, just in time for Halloween? Well, I suppose this tale won’t terrify, but it is from a collection of one of the original horror stories – Grimm’s Fairytales.  If you’ve actually read any of the originals, you’ll agree – most of these “children’s” stories are quite grotesque and some are downright horrifying. 

The Wolf from Grimm by Osamu Kasho

For their “Story” themed exhibition, Osamu Kasho of the Karakuri Creation Group tapped into these tales and made a box called “The Wolf from Grimm”.  Kasho tends to create whimsical boxes with soft curves and almost cartoon like features.  I love his playful style and craftsmanship.  This one is no exception, rendering the Big Bad Wolf from the fairytale in contrasting walnut and maple, laying on his back fast asleep.  Admittedly, I imagined that this was the wolf from the Little Red Riding Hood story, of which I am more familiar.  Kasho mentions in his description of the box that the wolf has a big belly, and wonders what could be inside.  Indeed, there is something rattling around in there.  I thought I might find Granny, freshly devoured, inside the wolf’s cavernous stomach.  But there is another tale which stars the wolf as well, “The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids”, in which he devours a family of young goats by tricking them in a few clever ways.  We find the evidence of his treachery inside the belly of Kasho’s wolf.  So the next time someone knocks at your door, perhaps wearing a disguise, beware – especially if he or she says, “Trick or Treat!”  He might just want to eat you!

One too many, Mr. Wolf?  Of what, is the question ...

For Halloween and to continue the Big Bad Wolf theme I made a late night cocktail perfect for sipping on a crisp autumn All Hallow’s eve.  Created by innovative New York mixologist Jason Walsh, the “Grannies Nightcap” is a boozy bourbon surprise.  It starts out as a traditional Manhattan, with rye and sweet vermouth, but adds layers of flavor and depth with the addition of the intensely bitter Fernet Branca, which is balanced with the honey sweet scotch liqueur Drambuie.  I can see Granny in the forest now, taking perfectly good care of herself by offering the wolf this potent nightcap, then watching him pass out by her fireside.  Trick or Treat, everyone.  Cheers!

Granny's Nightcap by Jason Walsh

Grannies Nightcap by Jason Walsh

1 oz Rittenhouse Rye
1 ½ oz Sweet Vermouth (such as Noilly Pratt, but not Carpano)
½ oz Fernet Branca
½ oz Drambuie

Stir with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Express lemon peel oil over the drink and garnish with a terrifying grin.

Trick or Treat!

For more about Osamu Kasho see:

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Autumn Keys

The only problem with spending many weeks focused on a rare and mythical masterpiece (i.e. the Apothecary Chest) is deciding what to do once the series has wrapped. Fortunately I feel like all the fine puzzle boxes are masterpieces, and indeed they all bring something new to discover.  Let’s step back and admire our old friend and champion of the modern day puzzle box, Japanese master Akio Kamei. His original works have graced these pages time and again and I suspect will continue to do so for as long as I keep this up.  He has crafted some of the most timeless designs and invented the mechanisms which made them legendary.  He is well known to enjoy making people think outside the box – a saying which takes on new poetry when considering the medium in which he works. 

The Box with a Key by Akio Kamei

Another one of his many classics is “The Box with a Key”, a lovely little chest of walnut with decorative miter splines and functional wooden hinges.  The box has a keyhole on the front and comes with a clover headed key.  As if it weren’t obvious, Kamei teases the solver with the statement that usually, the key is turned in the lock to open such a box.  But not in this case! Try as you might, turning the key has absolutely no effect.  Which is why it is truly madness that you keep trying.  The solution, known to many, is a revelation of design brilliance and one that unfailingly puts a smile on your face the first time you experience it.  Kamei knows the key to a great puzzle, and we are forever in his debt.

The solution hinges on the unexpected ...

This time of year is always perfect for an Old Fashioned cocktail, with the seasonal flavors of fall stirred into the mix.  For this classic, old fashioned puzzle from Kamei, I’ve turned the key to another old fashioned, the classic drink of spirit, sugar and bitters.  The “Black Key” is a richly satisfying rum old fashioned which was originally created for Mount Gay Black Barrel rum, a dark rum blend which is finished in bourbon barrels.  Maple syrup for the sugar really hits the right notes for the fall.  I’ve kicked up the autumn notes in my version with the use of Besamim, a delicious liqueur full of seasonal spice flavors including cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.  Angostura and orange bitters grace the original, but I’ve also played with those as well by using Black Cloud Black and White Bitters, which bring flavors of chocolate and vanilla to the party.  The key here, if it isn’t obvious, is to stir things up as you see fit, and turn them in a new way.  Here’s to playing with the recipe.  Cheers!

Autumn Old Fashioned

The Black Key (original)                          The Autumn Old Fashioned

2 oz blended dark rum                               2 oz aged rum
1⁄2 oz pure maple syrup                             ½ oz Besamim
1 dash Angostura bitters                            2 dashes Black and White bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Garnish with orange peel and puzzle over something new.

Box and Booze with the keys to autumn cheer

For more about Akio Kamei see:

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Puzzling Appreciations - Apothecary Part VII

“Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination.” – William Shakespeare

Perhaps.  Although I’d much prefer a puzzle for that purpose, than the musky secretions of a wild cat.  Nonetheless, the role of the ancient apothecary is clear here, a purveyor of potions to aid the body, mind and soul.  Robert Yarger is a modern day puzzle box apothecary, producing the equivalent of such enrichment in wood.  This assessment is not as far-fetched as it may sound.  The Stickman logo which is branded or drawn onto each limited edition piece Rob creates, was originally created from an amalgamation of ancient alchemy symbols.  The final installment of the Apothecary Chest series is about the chest itself, the chassis which keeps all the individual puzzle box drawers in place, which Rob designed and created to hold all of those fine ingredients.  It’s also a tribute to this talented apothecary.

The Apothecary Chest by Robert Yarger et al.

The Apothecary Chest project was launched in late 2009 as a collaborative celebration of some of the best puzzle box artists in the world at that time.  Robert Yarger and all of these craftsmen had been working with each other, relying on each other, and supporting one another during this heyday of puzzle box development.  He envisioned a tribute to his friends which would literally bring everyone together in a single, epic creation.  Over the next four years, he eventually saw the project to completion, producing fifteen copies of the chest and nearly going bankrupt in the process.  Most of the chests are now held by the artists who contributed the puzzle box drawers, and a few have found their way into the hands of private collectors.  The Apothecary Chest Series published on these pages over the past many weeks owes a debt of thanks to Robert Yarger himself, whose personal chest has been featured in all of the photographs.

There were very few restrictions or instructions that Rob gave to the contributors.  Each puzzle box “drawer” had to conform to the 3”x3”x4” dimensions of the cavity planned to house them, but other than that, the craftsmen were given free reign and encouraged to create something which exemplified their unique style and personality.  This is why for example, according to Rob, he allowed Stephen Chin to include a cylindrical puzzle which was wrapped up in a sock, although he did make Stephen put it inside an actual box for the drawer mechanism.  Another notable result of this “restriction” is the drawer from Mark McCallum, who normally makes geometric style puzzles and not puzzle boxes.  Mark rose to the challenge and produced a fantastic puzzle box which houses his geometric puzzle.  Keeping in mind that the majority of contributors were not professional puzzle makers, one of the nicest reflections Rob has about the chest is how the quality of design and finish from these “hobbyists” exceeded what he would expect from the professionals.

Many discoveries await inside and out ...

The chest itself is a marvelous container, with beautiful exotic wood color accents and finely carved details.  It is, of course, also a puzzle, and at its core is a mechanical machine which moves the drawers in and out or locks them in place.  This is achieved via a unique cam lever and piston system, with arms extending into each drawer space that hook and lock the drawer in place until it is properly released.  Pushing on one drawer will make another pop out, and the mechanism can be unpredictable, surprising, and quite fun to observe.  The drawers are grouped into sections, and each section remains locked until secrets on and in the chest are discovered and properly activated. To achieve this, items and tools discovered inside the puzzle box drawers are used as well.  The idea was to ensure that the artists who contributed and thus received a copy of the chest would need to work their way through each other’s puzzles, to properly appreciate and admire the individual ideas while working toward the ending.  Again, rather than put any restrictions on the artists, Rob adapted the hidden tools and items to the boxes afterwards, placing what would fit here and there and modifying the chest as needed based on the final drawer configurations he received.   As Rob states, “the main purpose of the chest was to build bonds of friendship between puzzle makers, and that it certainly accomplished.  We are all a lot closer now having done this together.

Tippling Bros. Magical Pain Extractor by Wayne Curtis

To toast this epic achievement I wanted to stick to the apothecary theme.  Apothecaries, after all, were the original bartenders, and created the very first cocktails.  Each proprietor (what we would now call a pharmacist or druggist), would develop his own concoction from bitter herbs and roots, then serve it neat or mixed with a bit of water, sugar, and often brandy or gin as a medicinal cure all, no matter the malady.  The practice started in England, centuries ago, when it was common to add a few drops of these bitters into “Canary wine”.   Apothecary bitters really took off in colonial America and grew in prominence right up until Prohibition, when they all but disappeared.  Perhaps this was just as well, as many were sold as “miracle elixirs”, those guaranteed fixers, which certainly did not.  

Full to the brim with fruits, herbs, and bitters - it'll cure what ails ya

But the apothecary bitters, and bitter liqueurs, are back now, and these old time recipes are often celebrated in new inventive modern ways.  A particularly fun, festive and tasty tipple with which to toast the Apothecary Chest was created by spirits writer Wayne Curtis.  It’s full of fruit, herbs, spices and, of course, bitters, but has no other base spirit, making it a perfectly delicious way to appreciate the history of the Apothecary.  Here’s to many amazing individuals coming together to create a uniquely balanced whole which is so much more than the sum of its parts. Cheers!

Special thanks to Robert Yarger for the loan of his chest and his many insights into the history of the project.

This prescription comes with twelve refills

Tippling Bros. Magical Pain Extractor by Wayne Curtis

1 oz amaro (bitter liqueur such as Averna or Montenegro)
2 tsps chopped peeled green apple
3 rosemary sprigs
1 tsp sugar
6 mint leaves
1 egg white
3 dashes Angostura bitters
4 oz chilled tonic water
Cayenne pepper

Muddle the apple, rosemary, and sugar together, then gently muddle in the mint.  Add the amaro, egg white and bitters and “dry” shake, followed by a “wet” shake with ice.  Strain into an old fashioned glass (filled with ice if you like) and top with tonic water.  Garnish with rosemary, cayenne, and the cure for what ails you.

For more about Robert Yarger:

For the prior Apothecary Chest puzzles see:

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Medieval Magic - Apothecary Part VI

At last we come to the final two drawers of the Apothecary Chest.  As with many stages of the journey, the chest and the drawers are interlinked and interdependent up to the end.  The final two drawers both require elements which must be discovered along the way to open.  First we will explore the magical box known as “Abracadabra”.  The box has a few nice details including accented splines and a central dimple on the front, surrounded by inlayed wooden dots.  The lid, of course, does not come off. Without giving too much away I’ll just say that you’ll need to do a little magic to make this box reveal its secrets.  It really lives up to its name.  

Abracadabra by Matt Dawson and Kelly Snache
The box was designed by Matthew Dawson, a fellow Houstonian puzzle collector and designer who worked with Canadian artist Kelly Snache to bring this idea to life.  Kelly also created the Parameter Motion box which was encountered earlier in the chest. The mechanism for Abracadabra utilizes a little “magic” which reminds me of another design from Matt Dawson, the Ambidextrous Hexduos which was an IPP 30 puzzle exchange.  Matt worked with Robert Yarger on that design as well.  So brush off your spell books, break out the hocus pocus, and perform a little abracadabra on this puzzle box.

The Magic Hour by Tom Macy

We’ll toast the Abracadabra box with a magical cocktail full of sparkle and mischief.  Created by New York mixologist Tom Macy, the “Magic Hour” is a magically modified mimosa in disguise. This is not your ordinary brunch cocktail.  Tom Macy is the creator of socialhourcocktails.com, a hands on resource for aspiring culinary cocktail makers everywhere, and the head bartender at Clover Club, a Brooklyn landmark.  In the Magic Hour, he exchanges the classic orange juice for grapefruit, adds depth with the aperitif Lillet Rose (I used Cocchi Americano Rosa which was also wonderful), and finally stirs things up even further with a little Yellow Chartreuse.  The result is a delicious grapefruit twist on the classic which might just make you believe in magic.

A magical pair

Magic Hour by Tom Macy

1 ½ oz Lillet Rose
½ oz fresh grapefruit
¼ oz simple syrup
1 tsp Yellow Chartreuse
Sparkling wine

Shake all ingredients except sparkling wine together with ice and strain into a flute.  Add sparkles on top and garnish with some magic.

Knight vs. Dragon Box by Robert Yarger

Finally we come to the drawer which was created by the very man who envisioned and produced the entire chest, Robert Yarger.  His “contribution” to the chest, in quotations since he also built the entire chest as well which hardly makes the puzzle box his only contribution, is the magnificent Stickman No. 21 Puzzle Box, The Knight vs. Dragon Box.  Like all the other drawers, limited by the constraints of the chest, the external appearance belies the complexity of the puzzle.  Even so, the box manages to have a distinctive appearance, crafted from Mahogany and Jatoba with wood inlay dot accents.  

White Knight with Dragon

The internal mechanism is a brilliantly executed marvel to behold, but the action all plays out on the top of the box, enacted by the main characters, the Knight and the Dragon.  These are nicely rendered pewter figurines which are magnetically held in place.   As the box is navigated, the players must be moved in strategic ways to advance.  At other times, the pieces actually move by themselves, in a magical dance of parry and retreat.  To solve the box and allow it to open completely the Knight and Dragon must be maneuvered together, to face each other at last, so the Dragon may be slayed. The box can then be reset back to the beginning quite easily, or with a more difficult setting of moves if desired.  Once opened you can admire the mechanism, and understand how the magic is accomplished.  It’s a classic Stickman Box which improves upon a certain type of puzzle mechanism and adds new elements, and it’s a perfect ending to the incredible Apothecary journey.

The Difford's Guide version, with NOLA coffee liqueur

The Knight vs. Dragon Box is like the dessert at the end of an incredible chef’s tasting menu.  In that spirit I’ve paired it with a delicious drink called the White Knight.  Not only is it an after dinner drink, rich, creamy and decadent, but it also features coffee liqueur, perhaps making it the ultimate after dinner drink for this extravagant meal.  All I can tell you is that there are quite a number of White Knight cocktails, but this is the best of the bunch.  I discovered it in Difford’s Guide, the incredible and comprehensive spirits resource for enthusiasts and professionals alike created by Simon Difford.  There isn’t any additional information about it, but perhaps that is fitting, like a lost legend from the time of dragons.  I’ve used St. George Spirits incredible NOLA coffee liqueur, which, like the coffee from its namesake city, is created with Yirgacheffe coffee and chicory root, and sweetened with Madagascar vanilla.  It’s one of the best coffee liqueurs available, from one of the best American craft distillers.  Only the best would do to toast this extraordinary conclusion to the Apothecary Chest. 

Here’s to magic, to spellbinding wonders, to fantasy, and dragons, and white knights, and the imaginations which bring them to life for us.  Cheers!

This quest to slay the dragon is incredible

White Knight

¾ oz aged blended Scotch (such as Monkey Shoulder)
¾ oz Coffee liqueur (such as St. George Spirits NOLA)
¾ oz Drambuie liqueur
¾ oz milk
¾ oz half and half cream

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Sprinkle with the sparks from a freshly forged sword (or grated nutmeg) and garnish with a citrus peel, fire-breathing dragon – one of my finer creations, don’t you think?

For more about Robert Yarger see:

For the prior Apothecary Chest drawers see:


Stay tuned for the final installment of the Apothecary Chest series next week.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Triple Twist (Apothecary Part V)

Delving yet deeper into the secrets of the Apothecary Chest we move on to section three.  This is now possible thanks to something discovered in section two which is “key” to advancing.  One of the first drawers encountered in the final section has another quite distinctive appearance which also sets it apart from the other boxes.  It features a prominent brass circle on its face, with three little holes set into the circle and a ring of inlayed wooden dots surrounding it.  There are more dots arranged in a symmetrical pattern below the circle.  The wood is lustrous and exotic, and the box is surprisingly heavy.  You also won’t get very far trying to open the box without using a little of the observational skills you employed up to this stage in the Apothecary journey, as there’s more needed for the box than meets the eye.  This is A Twist of Fate, a very special, bittersweet puzzle box, from the incredibly talented Aussie Dave Cooper.  The name may reflect the puzzle box, but has taken on additional meaning in the wake of events which occurred soon after the production of these boxes.  In 2011 Cyclone Yasi hit Queensland with Category 5 force winds and left a huge path of destruction, which included much of Dave Cooper’s fine work. 

A Twist of Fate by Dave Cooper

Dave’s day (and night) job provides enough stress to warrant a set of full time hobbies.  In Dave’s case he is also a professional at his hobbies.  He apprenticed in his youth building hovercraft, submarines and warships for the Royal Australian Navy and is an expert machinist and metalworker.  As if that weren’t enough he developed master woodworking skills as well, including lathe work and wood bending, he flies solo aircraft and he is a published poet.  His self-described “signature style” of puzzle boxes refelct a combination of elements found in the work of his friends Robert Yarger, Randal Gatewood, Kelly Snache and others.  Dave developed an entire series of limited edition puzzle box concepts and had completed prototypes of each one awaiting production when the cyclone hit, wiping out all of his work and schematics.  Dave’s friends from all over the world reached out to him at that time to lend support and consolation.

For his Apothecary Chest contribution, Dave had a few self-imposed stipulations.  He felt that people who knew him would expect some kind of mechanical component machined from various metals.  The brass circle on the front of the box is only one such element in the box.  He also wanted to reference one of his very first puzzling experiences with this box as a tribute to that time and place in his life.  The puzzle is therefore an homage to one of his earliest childhood memories, of playing with a puzzle which his grandfather owned and which is now in his personal collection.  He also wanted to avoid common mechanisms that had been used before in many ways, such as centrifugal pins, magnets, and sliding panels, which he admits was almost impossible.  In the end he came up with an unusual mechanism for a puzzle box which combines all these requirements and elements.  The result is truly a twist of fate. 

A Twist of Fate adapted from Seth Friedus

Two additional points merit mention.  Dave Cooper was the official coordinator for the Apothecary Chest project during its four year development and production schedule, so in addition to Robert Yarger the project owes a debt of gratitude to him.  Additionally, he inserted a clever clue into each of his boxes which actually identifies the chest and original owner.  On the face of each Twist of Fate box there are symmetrical wooden dot inlays, but each box has a unique pattern with a unique number of dots ranging from one to fifteen, the total number of chests planned.  If you look at Cooper’s box and count, you can identify the chest number.

It's best to keep your trusty Akubra close at hand

I’d like to raise a glass to this fine fellow, a truly talented and selfless man with a fantastic sense of humor, who has dealt with life’s twists of fate and continues to embrace all that life has to offer.  Dave grew up in the Australian bush and never leaves home without his trusty Akubra – a classic Aussie bush hat.  He also enjoys a dram or two of Scotch now and then.  I discovered an apropos cocktail called, remarkably enough, “A Twist of Fate”, created by Seth Freidus from Alden and Harlow in Boston’s Harvard Square.  The drink is originally based with vodka, but for this pairing I’ve taken the liberty of exchanging that for a nice smoky scotch, which really does the trick and is Dave Cooper approved.  Smoky and sweet, it’s a twist on your typical scotch cocktail and really compliments this remarkable box quite nicely. 

These twists of fate are of the pleasing variety

Twist of Fate adapted from Seth Freidus

1 ½ oz smoky scotch
1 oz homemade grenadine
¾ oz fresh lime
2 dashes grapefruit bitters

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a grapefruit Akubra.

Super-Cubi (Trinary Box) by Hiroshi Iwahara

Next to A Twist of Fate is another amazing drawer, arriving all the way from Hakone Japan.  Hiroshi Iwahara is one of the well-known and highly respected artisans from the Karakuri Creation Group who has designed and produced well over fifty individual puzzle boxes with the group.  One of his earliest designs was the “Super-Cubi (Trinary Box)”, a developed version of the “Cubi” box by his mentor and Karakuri Group founder Akio Kamei.  Cubi opens via a binary set of moves, based on a “U” shaped internal mechanism.  Super-Cubi functions via a trinary system of movements, achieved with an “S” shaped internal mechanism.  It takes 324 individual moves to open, which was a new record when Iwahara created it in 2000.  He bested his own record in 2010 when he created the King Cubi, a quaternary mechanism box which requires 1536 moves to open!  For the Apothecary Chest, Iwahara shrunk the Trinary Box down significantly in size to meet the chest drawer restrictions, while maintaining its exact functioning.  It remains an incredible feat of engineering and skill, and opening the box is a satisfying exercise in focused meditation.

Trinary Motion

For Iwahara’s trinary masterpiece I wanted a cocktail with three ingredients which blended seamlessly together.  I’m a huge fan of the Negroni (and have featured many variations before) which is the ultimate three part cocktail.  The original, which you may know, includes gin, sweet vermouth and Campari.  For this version, which I call “Trinary Motion”, the gin is replaced with a fine Japanese whisky.  I’ve also swapped the Campari for its lighter and brighter sibling, Aperol.  The drink is pleasantly balanced, elegant, and smooth, with a distinctly Japanese flavor. It’s a perfect pairing with which to toast this incredible artist.

Japanese whisky puts a spin on this Negroni

Here’s to life’s unexpected twists, which add increasing complexity to the puzzle. May our fates be made richer for them.  Cheers!

A triple toast to Japan - kampei!

Trinary Motion

1 oz Japanese Whisky
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Aperol
Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with an a-peeling trio.

For more about Robert Yarger:

For the prior Apothecary Chest drawers:

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Key Turnings (Apothecary Part IV)

Delving deeper into the secrets of the Apothecary Chest brings us to the next two puzzles found in section two.  At this point, if you have been paying careful attention, you will have discovered a few things along the journey.  Hopefully!  Now we come to another one of the more distinctive drawers in the chest, instantly recognizable thanks to the padlock attached to its face.  The drawer slides out and you are holding Peter Hajek’s “Now What?” box.  Peter’s puzzles instantly taunt you with their name, suggesting there is more than meets the eye in store.  What do you mean, now what?  Clearly you need to unlock the padlock, it’s obvious.  Like his “How?” box, the name provokes you.  He’s thrown down the gauntlet.  It’s a clever strategy, as we tend to confuse things more when under duress.  Peter’s box does not let you down.  You’ll soon be saying, “Now What?” over and over.  

Now What? by Peter Hajek

The puzzle is so well designed and clever, it stands out as one of the best of the bunch in the chest.
The box itself is very nicely made from contrasting wood and has a geometric patterned design.  There is a little padlock on the front, locking a brass latch which appears to be holding the hinged lid down.  If you’re lucky enough to have discovered a key by now, you might find that it even fits the lock!  Ahhh, but does it work?  Did you really think it would?  Now What?!?  Peter Hajek understands human nature and how we go about solving puzzles, and uses this knowledge against us.  He has designed what can be considered a “puzzler’s puzzle” which will require you to use all your skills of observation, logic and ingenuity to solve.  It’s an extremely satisfying puzzle box and would easily make a “Best Puzzles of the Year” list – something Peter Hajek compiles from puzzle collectors around the world at the end of each year to coincide with his End of Year Puzzle Party (EPP), where collectors gather to share their favorite finds from the prior year.  Solving the Now What? box is also key to the Apothecary Chest, as it holds another critical piece of the metapuzzle inside.

The Five Keys cocktail

To toast the Now What? box I present the “Five Keys” cocktail, a delightful riff on the classic Manhattan. As you may know, the Manhattan is one of the all time classics of the cocktail world, and that seemed perfectly appropriate for this incredible classic from Peter Hajek, which is sure to go down in the puzzle history books for all time.  The Manhattan, a tasty combination of whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters, likely originated in the second half of the nineteenth century, with the first written description appearing in 1882.  Many stories of its invention exist, and none are certain, but it was most certainly named to celebrate the famous island in New York.  The original recipes from the turn of the twentieth century add various dashes of sugar and flavor, such as absinthe, or curacao, and included maraschino liqueur and orange bitters.  The Five Keys cocktail is a bit of a nod to the past – perhaps an homage to the five boroughs – in that it includes maraschino, and adds a touch of flavor in the form of Cynar, a delicious Italian Amaro.  Originally created for Blade and Bow whiskey, the Five Keys will unlock your appreciation with any fine whiskey, even if it doesn’t help you unlock the Now What? box.

Now what? Open the box and drink the cocktail, obviously.

The Five Keys

1 1⁄3 oz Whiskey (originally with Blade and Bow)
3⁄4 oz sweet vermouth
1⁄4 oz Cynar
1⁄4 oz Maraschino liqueur (I used cranberry liqueur, which was delicious)

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with the key to a great puzzle.

Next we’ll go for a little spin around the block as we drive over to Hajek’s neighbor, Chinnomotto.  Just next door to Hajek, on the Apothecary Chest at least, resides a drawer which is truly the only actual drawer in the whole chest.  Inside rests a circular lid, a little rod of some sort, and a cylindrical puzzle nestled inside a pink sock which is decorated with laces and a bow.  This can only be from the twisted turnings of our friendly Australian dentist, Stephen Chin.  Chinny, as he is fondly known by his friends, is a master wood turner and has produced some endearingly elegant creations on his lathe such as One Pinko Ringo and Ze Orange.  

If your puzzle is wearing a sock it can only mean one thing ...

His puzzles often carry a few of his hallmarks, including tiny electronic lights and sounds which are triggered when the puzzle has been solved.  He is also quite fond of whistles and spinning tops.  And his puzzles are often wrapped up in a cute sock.  Odd?  Well, at least now you know where all your mismatched socks have gone.  Exploring his “Spinnomotto” puzzle from the Apothecary Chest reveals that all of his favorite idiosyncrasies are in attendance.  The sock is obvious.  The little rod turns out to be a whistle, which fits into the lid to make a spinning top.  And the cylinder is indeed a puzzle box, with a clever mechanism keeping it quiet.  Until you discover how to open it, at which point tiny lights and electronic music ensue.  Which make you smile, despite how annoying it is!  Chin’s spin on the puzzle chest is a welcome change of pace and as endearing as all of his work.

Spinnomotto by Stephen Chin

I’m toasting the Spinnomotto with another great spin, the “Spin Move” cocktail from Houston native, Speed Rack Champion and LA Rising Star Bartender Yael Vengroff.  She tapped into her experiences in Mumbai, India for this one with the addition of green cardamom pods, which add an exotic, warm spice to the drink.  Based with a mix of blended scotch and cognac, this sour is sweetened with elderflower liqueur and the resulting combination will make your head spin.  It’s a delicious drink for a delightful box.  Here’s to the fantastic twists that unlock the mysteries in life.  Cheers!

Spin Move by Yael Vengroff

Spin Move by Yael Vengroff

3 green cardamom pods
3⁄4 oz scotch blend (org. Dewar’s White Label)
3⁄4 oz cognac (orig. D’USSÉ)
3⁄4 oz lemon
1⁄2 oz simple syrup
1⁄2 oz elderflower liqueur (org. St-Germain)
1 dash Angostura bitters

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Garnish with a lime top and take it for a spin.

These two are the tops!

For more about Robert Yarger:


For the previous Apothecary Chest drawers:

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Paramount Fortunes (Apothecary Part III)

Continuing our journey into the Apothecary Chest, we now approach section two.  It isn’t obvious from external appearances, but when you explore the chest you will find that certain drawers don’t move or release, initially.  In order to advance you must solve the drawers presented in parts I (Topless Box and Dad’s Two Cents) and II (Ferris Box and Blocks Away) because they contain elements of the chest which are needed in order to release future drawers.  This insight is presented in the instruction manual, so is not a spoiler, lest anyone be worried that I’ve now ruined things for when they get their very own Apothecary Chest.

Parameter Motion by Kelly Snache

On the top row we discover a drawer from our old friend Kelly Snache, the part Native American spiritual guide of the puzzle world.  His “Parameter Motion” box slides out and we have a nice looking, smooth wooden box which is likely made out of repurposed wood.  Kel’s philosophy has always been to reuse, renew and recycle for the benefit of our planet, and much of his work reflects that philosophy.  The box has a few nicely detailed accents and two drawers which must be opened.  There appears to be something moving inside but you are left with few clues.  Maybe the title is a hint?  Hmm, a rule or limit which defines the boundaries of an operation.  Kel’s boxes often function through clever hidden internal locking mechanism, and this one is true to form.  It’s simple and elegant once you see how it works, but may not be so easy to open until you understand it.  Accessing the first drawer allows you to then unlock the second, and waiting inside is another hidden object which may be the key to another puzzle … but that’s all I’ll say about it right now.

12 Mile Limit c. 1930

Setting parameters for the solution got me thinking about a different set of parameters for solutions, of the cocktail variety.  An interesting fact about the moment in history when alcohol was illegal in the United States known as Prohibition is how it influenced the current definition of international territorial waters.  At that time, a three mile limit surrounding the coast was the accepted standard, having to do with the range of a cannon shot.  Beyond this it became perfectly legal to consume alcohol.  Gambling boats set up shop around the coast three miles out and happily served booze to the customers.  The US government and IRS soon discovered these goings on and promptly extended the distance for prohibition to twelve miles, and a famous prohibition era cocktail was born out of spite.  The “Twelve Mile Limit” is a boozy masterpiece meant to ridicule the very law for which it was named.  Twelve miles is now the standard for territorial waters around the globe, and regardless, international spirits are once again welcome right here on dry land. 

Reversal of Fortune by Jeffrey Aurand

The end of Prohibition in 1933 was a highly celebrated reversal of fortune for many in the United States.  Here we have another, the Reversal of Fortune puzzle box by our friend Jeffrey Aurand, a collector and hobbyist woodworker who hails from upstate New York and who hosts the legendary Rochester Puzzle Picnic each year.  Jeff’s contribution to the chest is one of the best examples of a classic Japanese style puzzle box with a serious and unique twist.  It features a beautiful top panel of shimmering patterned wood with a contrasting border and dark wood exterior.  Exploration of the box reveals some movements here or there, sometimes in unexpected ways, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to get it to actually open.  With patience and perseverance you may experience a reversal of fortune and discover why this is such a fantastic puzzle.  The solution is unique, surprising and very satisfying.  It makes you hope that Jeff will decide to design and produce more of his great ideas in the future, which would indeed be fortunate.

Royal Fortune by Joshua Washburn

For the Reversal of Fortune I’m toasting my good fortune in having the opportunity to experience the Apothecary Chest and all of its fine puzzles with more good fortune - in fact, with “Royal Fortune”.  This bold and funky riff on the Manhattan from Atlanta bartender Josh Washburn evokes the West Indian spice trade and leaves Manhattan far behind.  One might even imagine all the exotic flavors and spices being shipped across the ocean inside an apothecary like chest full of drawers.  In the original recipe, Washburn uses Denizen Merchant, a special French and Jamaican rum blend created by master distiller Nick Pelis to recreate the original rum that Trader Vic Bergeron used in his classic Mai Tai.  I’ve used Hamilton’s Demerera rum which is not at all the same but still worked well.  I also swapped Ramazotti amaro for Ciociaro, a common and acceptable substitute. The drink is rich, layered, complex and rewarding – a suitable, royal compliment to this fine puzzle box.
Here’s to widening our parameters in life, and reversing all our misfortunes.  Cheers!

Twelve Mile Limit circa 1930

1 oz White Rum
1/2 oz Rye Whiskey
1/2 oz Brandy
1/2 oz Pomegranate Grenadine
1/2 oz Fresh Lemon Juice

Shake all ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a symbol of expansive universal goodwill.

I'd be happy to work within these parameters

Royal Fortune by Josh Washburn

1/2 oz Galliano
1/2 oz Amaro Ciociaro
1/2 oz Denizen Merchant
1/2 oz Neisson rhum agricole
1 oz Verdelho Madeira
Laphroaig 10 rinse
3 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into the Laphroaig rinsed glass.  Garnish with a fortune cookie lime wedge.

This is quite a fortunate pair

For more about Robert Yarger:

For the prior Apothecary Chest puzzles see: