Saturday, July 15, 2017

Born Again

Back from the Victorian Age where he got lost in a good book, returns American craftsman Jesse Born to his workshop in upstate New York.  You may recall his Victorian Book puzzle box, a beautiful and mysteriously ornate work full of secrets and surprises.  Emerging from that ancient era he has produced something rather logical – the “Sequence Logic” box.  A beautiful, polished box crafted from gorgeous exotic hardwoods including Katalox (Mexican Ebony), Tulip Poplar, Cherry, Maple and Bird’s Eye Maple, the Sequence Logic box is full of wonderful details both outside and in.  Most striking are the colorful banded dovetailed bars on the front, which are quickly determined to slide back and forth.  These seem to interact with the two sets of vertical bars which appear to be locking things in place.  Things start to happen as the various bars are moved, but it’s not so simple – as the name suggests, there’s a specific sequence to this logic which is required.  

Sequence Logic Box by Jesse Born

It’s all complex and confusing enough that once you have cracked this code and revealed the beautiful interior of the box, set it aside for some time and returned, you may struggle again to determine the sequence.  Even better, once the box is opened, there is a lovely mechanism inside which allows you to reset the bars however you would like to create a completely different sequence.  It’s a really nice touch and adds an additional element of enjoyment and layer of complexity to this incredible piece.  Jesse spends a long time designing his boxes and often goes through numerous prototypes before he is satisfied.  For the Sequence Logic box he created no fewer than six prototypes, for example, before settling on the final mechanism and design.  All that effort and attention to detail clearly show. 

Beautiful details and exotic woods with a polished finish

To toast this fine box I’ll stick to the sequence and offer something equally special.  The “Exit Strategy” comes via Natasha David of New York’s Nightcap, who took her inspiration from the classic Manhattan but left it far behind.  At Nightcap, Co-owners David Kaplan, Alex Day (both from Death and Co.) and David focus on simple, elegant drinks which would be great for a last call – even if the night is still young. The Exit Strategy embraces this idea right down to the name.  

Exit Strategy by Natasha David

Originally based around the unique American craft brandy Germain-Robin, I substituted another incredible American craft brandy from Nappa Valley Distillery.  The “Grand California” is an infusion of their wonderful Sauvignon grape brandy with locally sourced orange peels, which is then aged to perfection in oak barrels.  The mixture of Amaro Nonino, with flavors of thyme, menthol and orange, and Amaro Meletti, with its delightful saffron, caramel and burnt orange flavors, create something truly spectacular with this brandy.  I added a few drops of Beehive Bitters’ incredible spiced orange bitters to seal the deal.  The drink is sophisticated, sweet and sultry, perfect for a little late night logic.  This is one exit strategy that will keep you coming, just so you have an excuse for going.  It might not help you find the exit to the Sequence Logic box, but you won’t mind.  Cheers!

The logical way to plan your exit

Exit Strategy by Natasha David

1 ½ oz Amaro Nonino
¾ oz Germain-Robin Craft Method Brandy (I used Grand Californian from Nappa Valley Distillery)
¼ oz Meletti Amaro
6 drops salt solution (I substituted Beehive Bitters Spiced Orange)
orange twist garnish

Stir ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with an orange twist and start working on the exit strategy - for the liquid in your glass.

For more about Jesse Born:


To see the internals and logic bars of the Sequence Logic Box, click (SPOILERS) here.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Pennies From Heaven

Who doesn't have fond memories of strolling along the boardwalk as a child?  If you were deprived of that wonderful experience, I can tell you it was a place full of magic, excitement, sweet delicacies and adventure.  If not, then you know what I mean.  One of the most enjoyable sections was the arcade, where skee ball and air rifles tested your skill.  Thomas Cummings, who makes wonderful puzzle boxes from his home workshop in Georgia, recalls the boardwalk fondly – especially the old ‘penny arcade’ games of his youth.  His “Eden Workx” puzzle boxes are like little arcade games as well, each requiring a different sort of puzzle to be solved before allowing the box to be opened.  Cummings also likes a bit of misdirection and foul play, which is all fair in my book.  

Penny Arcade by Thomas Cummings

His “Penny Arcade” continues his series with a nod to the nostalgia of the vintage boardwalk games he recalls.  The box is unique in that it features a small see-through window on top, with a dial visible through the window.  The dial and surrounding knob have odd notations, numbers and symbols all around them, which don’t immediately appear to make any coherent sense. Hmmm – cryptic clues, a viewport and a test of skill and wits?  Take my penny, I'd like to play!  And the fun begins.  Cummings has channeled his fond penny arcade memories into another great box which will test your cunning with a smile.  If you’re lucky, it might even read your fortune!

Step right up, turn the dial, and test your skill

To toast this nostalgic number we will reference another boardwalk favorite, the carousel.  Last seen whirling its way around Kelly Snache’s Carousel Box, the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone is famous for the Vieux Carre, an old New Orleans classic.  This update to that old classic swaps the cognac for pear brandy and the Drambuie for apricot jam.  Adding preserves to cocktails is a wonderful way to bring new flavors and textures to the drink, and no one does it better than star mixologist Jeff Morgenthaler at Clyde Common in Portland Oregon.  His “Copper Penny” ode to the Vieux Carre hits all the right targets and wins the prize.  Here’s to old times, new times, and fond memories both old and new.  Cheers!

Copper Penny by Jeffrey Morgenthaler

Copper Penny by Jeff Morgenthaler

¾ oz. rye whiskey
¾ oz. pear brandy, preferably Clear Creek
¾ oz. sweet vermouth, preferably Punt e Mes
1 ½ tsp. apricot preserves
¼ tsp. Angostura bitters

Shake ingredients together well with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Lemon peel garnish. Take aim and set your sights on sipping.

That's my two cents, for what it's worth

For more about Thomas Cummings:

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Small Things

Good things come in small packages.  Following on the heels of the Wizard of Awes we have another treat from the “Wizard of Wood”, North Carolina craftsman Eric Fuller.  Well known for his precision in crafting complex interlocking mechanical wooden puzzles, Eric has also created some of the most unique and beautiful puzzle boxes in existence.  His recent effort is a series of what he calls “button boxes”.  The idea came to him from another puzzle he created called the Reactor Box, a fantastically tricky little puzzle box which waits patiently inside another fantastically tricky box, the B-Box.  I’ve written about this dynamic duo before, an amazing combined double challenge.  The Reactor Box actually holds an even tinier box inside of it – making this puzzle a triple threat and the stuff of legends.  The tiny internal box floats in place due to strong magnets, and pushing on it feels a bit like pushing a springy button.  That feeling, and that mechanism, sent a few novel ideas bouncing through Eric’s brilliant brain and the button box series was hatched.

Small Button Box by Eric Fuller

The other thing about the idea of a button that appealed to Eric was how it could be used to exploit our natural human tendencies.  He likes to create puzzles which play with expectations and abuse them – I mean, fool them.  Reactor box was a perfect example of how he used expectations and misdirection to keep the solver stumped.  Small button box takes this game to a pure and simple level, with its single large button.  The box is small, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it is simple. It has a single red protrusion sticking out of it – the button.  Made from beautiful tan striped zebrawood (for the main box) and bold red Paduak (for the button), it uses the natural woods in perfect contrast. The game here is obvious – no one could avoid trying - it’s inevitable, and although nothing happens when you do it (i.e. the box does not open, and you didn’t really think it would), you can’t help yourself from repeating the effort over, and over, and over again.  Maybe somewhere, someplace in the world, like the old Stephen Wright joke, a light is turning on and off, on and off, and someone is yelling, “Knock it off!”

Go on ... push it!!!

The Small Button Box is a truly amazing little marvel. It’s difficult to fathom the level of precise complexity that is packed inside this tiny puzzle.  Every detail, and every specific movement, matter when opening it – in fact, ten extremely specific moves are needed.  These moves are not the standard slide this side down then this side over type, but rather the stand on your head while humming the Star Spangled Banner type.  I hope I didn’t just give anything away.  Suffice it to say that random moves won’t help and there’s a lot more going on here than what one typically expects from a puzzle box.  Eric has even devised a way, in his infinite mischievousness, to force you to fight against yourself in the final stage.  Small Button Box is a rather ironic name for this huge challenge.

Midnight Train by Lucinda Sterling

A while back Eric Fuller let me know that one of his favorite drinks is an Old Fashioned.  If you’ve been following along with me you will know that I am partial to this drink myself, and have featured a number of great versions, including the classic original along with its origin story.  For Eric’s Button Box series I thought I would do a series of Old Fashioneds as well, pairing each box with a nice variation.  Let’s start out small, with a simple and delicious summer twist on the old favorite.

Four Roses single barrel, one of my favorites, works quite nicely

This one comes via Lucinda Sterling, an acclaimed New York bartender who came from Denver to Manhattan and landed at the famed Milk and Honey bar in Soho.  The owner and originator of Milk and Honey was the legendary Sasha Petraske, a pivotal figure in the nineties cocktail revival and a mentor to many modern mixologists like Sterling.  She moved on to Petraske’s second bar, Little Branch, before becoming managing partner at Middle Branch, his third effort, where she has become a leading female figure in the industry.  Her Midnight Train is a simple, elegant riff on the Old Fashioned, which substitutes peach liqueur for the standard sugar cube.  With the right bourbon, this brings out flavors of vanilla and baked dough, and you might just think you are enjoying a warm summer peach pie.  Which sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Here’s to the small pleasures in life – cheers!

This pair push all the right buttons

Midnight Train by Lucinda Sterling

2 oz Bourbon (Sterling recommends Elijah Craig Small Batch)
½ oz Peach liqueur (Sterling uses Combier)
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Lemon twist garnish and a smile.

For more about Eric Fuller:
Sabotage! (B-Box / Reactor Box)

For prior Old Fashioneds: