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:

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Wheels in Motion and Blocks Unlocked (Apothecary Part II)

Moving along the bottom row of the Apothecary Chest (introduced in Part I) we come next to one of the more distinct and recognizable “drawers” in the chest, Peter Wiltshire’s “Ferris Box”.  Distinct because unlike most of the drawers, the external face is quite unique.  Once you remove the box, or if you have seen it before, you notice that all six sides of the cube are the same.  Actually that is not entirely true if you are holding one of the original puzzles from the Apothecary Chest – on those, there is an additional panel which Robert Yarger fashioned to hold the box inside the chest.  This comes off easily enough and the true puzzle begins.  The box is a framed cube, with a contrasting maple exterior and a patterned walnut interior which is sectioned into nine small squares on each face.  The box holds a secret, given away slightly by its name, which will put a smile on your face.  The movement is unique and surprising.  So much so, and with such a clever and satisfying solution, that the puzzle box won the Jury First Prize in the 2012 International Puzzle Design Competition.   Peter is a cinematographer, and clearly likes the motion in motion-picture.  This is one movie I’d watch over and over.

Ferris Box by Peter Wiltshire

I’m toasting Peter Wilthshire’s fine box with another tribute to the fantastical flight of fancy which first debuted at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (“World’s Columbian Exposition”).  The 264 foot high structure of spokes invented by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. resembled a giant bicycle wheel and represented a technological marvel of the time which had fair goers dizzy with excitement. The Ferris Wheel cocktail from San Francisco mixologist Summer-Jane Bell might also make your head spin.  Featuring sweet pear liqueur and the French aperitif Suze, it is finished off with a wheat style beer.  I swapped the wheat beer for a grapefruit style radler from Texas’s Shiner brewery, which did not disappoint. This spin on a beer cocktail goes perfectly with the Ferris Box and is an equally giddy experience.

Ferris Wheel by Summer-Jane Bell

Next to the Ferris Box is another unique drawer in that it functions very differently than any other in the chest.  “Blocks Away” was designed and created by Ron Locke, a friend to the puzzle box world who is no longer with us.  Ron’s boxes are fanciful affairs full of mystery, legend and romance.  He even used gold leaf gilding on some of his designs, and his boxes came with a puzzling riddle in lieu of instructions.  Blocks Away is no less impressive despite the toned down nature of the box, to meet the requirements of the larger chest.  The box has two red wood blocks visible from the front, and when the drawer is removed from the chest, one finds two more along the sides.  These function like a maze burr puzzle, and must be navigated through an intricate dance if one hopes to access the secrets which wait inside the box.  Which is also necessary, whether you like it or not, because other critical elements of the meta-puzzle are housed inside.  I must admit that while opening the box was a challenge for me, closing it up, back to the original positions, was even worse.  I managed it once, and foolishly opened it again.  That’s all I’m going to say about that right now.  It’s sad to know that Ron Locke won’t be making such wonderful creations anymore, and we will treasure the ones he managed to share with the world.

Blocks Away by Ron Locke

Can't seem to get these blocks away

For Locke’s box (a lovely ring to it, no?) I’ve got more locks.  I don’t have socks, although keep your “chin” up - we’ll get to that later.  I’m revisiting an old favorite cocktail I featured in a different version previously, for another fine lock.  The “Lock Pick” is a wonderful summer sipper with bourbon and ice tea.  I featured my own version of it along with Shane Hale’s Haleslock 2 a while back, and now I present it in the original form for Locke’s box.  The drink was created for Larceny bourbon (hence the illicit name) but works well with your favorite corn and whiskey mash too.  I used pomegranate juice rather than liqueur, which is also delicious, but I added more sugar syrup to make up for it.  So mix up one of these bourbon tea treats and go pick a lock – any of Ron’s fine puzzles will do.  Cheers!

The Lock Pick 

Congratulations, we’ve made it past the first set of challenges.  Stay tuned as we move on to phase two of the apothecary box.

Ferris Wheel by Summer-Jane Bell
1 ½ oz William’s Pear Liqueur
½ oz Suze or similar gentian aperitif
½ oz lemon juice
1 ½ oz soda water
1 ½ oz German Weisse style beer (I used Shiner’s Ruby Redbird)
Shake all but the beer together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Top with the beer and set the wheels in motion.

This pair will make your head spin


The Lock Pick
1 ½ oz bourbon
¾ oz pomegranate liqueur
¾ oz lemon juice
3 oz iced tea (such as orange pekoe)
 ½ oz simple syrup
Shake all but tea together over ice and strain into an ice filled glass.  Top off with the tea and give it a little stir as you lean back and relax.  Cheers!

I'd pick these locks any day

For more about Robert Yarger:

For the previous Apothecary Chest drawers:

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Puzzle Prescriptions (Apothecary Part I)

“True apothecary thy drugs art quick.” - William Shakespeare

I’d like to invite you to join me on a tour of a dozen special puzzle boxes over the next few weeks.  Fear not, this apothecary will not hasten your untimely death like Romeo and Juliet, but there may be true love to be found.  You can choose from any or all of the twelve unique, beautiful and rare creations which are all housed together inside the final masterpiece, a treasure trove of legendary status.  Collaborations between puzzle makers are not uncommon events but are rarely seen at this level and magnitude.  A new such collaboration, currently in the final stages of completion, which brings together fifteen artists from around the world and celebrates the stories of Lewis Carroll, provides a fitting opportunity to revisit and admire the work which inspired it.  The Apothecary Chest is the brainchild of Robert Yarger, who envisioned the design, orchestrated the collaborations, and ultimately executed the production.  We’ll get to that story in just a moment, but first let’s explore the individual “drawers” in this incredible chest. 

Topless Box by Eric Fuller

Getting down to puzzling business is hard work, at times – North Carolina puzzlesmith Eric Fuller might even suggest you take your shirt off.  At least, his Topless Box would suggest it.  I’ve actually written about the Topless Box before, and will direct you to that original rendition here while briefly summarizing.  One of the first puzzle boxes you can retrieve is Fuller’s creation, a lovely cube with contrasting quilted maple on the ends and dark sapele in the center.  Exploration reveals that the ends can be removed, no secret there, revealing bright, bold and beautiful red paduak details.  Ironically, this is one of the harder boxes in the chest and may take you some time to solve.  Like most of Fuller’s boxes, it relies on a unique and incredibly clever mechanism which is so elegantly executed.  To toast this delightful box I paired it with a modern classic cocktail apropos of both the puzzle and its maker, the “Naked and Famous”.  If you’ve never tried this drink, do yourself a favor.

Topless and Naked, a perfect pair

An apothecary should never be out of spirits. - Richard Brinsley Sheridan

I quite agree with the sentiment in this quote, and have therefore paired a unique cocktail with each of the fine findings inside this chest.  Next, we discover in our hands a rather unassuming looking box from a highly sought after puzzle maker from Oklahoma, Mark McCallum.  Mark is known for his precise assembly puzzles and his recreations of classics, using fine exotic woods.  Inside the drawer, which opens after a little trick is discovered, one is not disappointed and finds a lovely multifaceted polyhedron known as the “Thick and Thin Garnet”.  This is an elegant assembly puzzle made from six identical, irregular pieces.  Housed inside there is another, smaller garnet waiting.  The drawer is, in fact, two puzzles in one.  The box which holds the garnet is called “Dad’s Two Cents” and contains its own secret, with a rather unique feature not seen on any other puzzle box that I have encountered.  You’ll have to use your wits, and perhaps your garnet, to understand the meaning of the name, and discover a critical component of the metapuzzle.  It’s a shame that Mark McCallum doesn’t design more puzzle boxes, because this one is a “gem”.

Thick and Thin Garnet with Dad's Two Cents by Mark McCallum

I’ve mined the cocktail history books to unearth another garnet for this garnet.  The Garnet cocktail is found all the way back in the 2012 Mr. Boston’s Official Bartender’s Guide.  Not exactly ancient, but kind of perfect nonetheless.  The drink, which combines gin with orange liqueur, pomegranate and grapefruit, is light, refreshing, sweet, and shiny - just the thing for the start of something extraordinary.  Cheers!

The Garnet from Mr. Boston's

The Garnet from Mr. Boston’s Guide 2012

1 ½ oz Gin
¾ oz orange liqueur
¾ oz pomegranate juice
¾ oz grapefruit juice

Shake ingredients together over ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Flame an orange peel over the drink and garnish with a cocktail ring.  Enjoy while providing your companions with your two cents.

A couple of real gems

For more about the Topless Box:

For more about Robert Yarger:


For more about the Jabberwocky Chest: