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:

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