Saturday, January 28, 2017

Puzzle Or Drink?

“POD”, by Karakuri Creation Group artist Hideaki Kawashima, is a little box with a large secret.  In fact, Kawashima says that this box represents the culmination of all he has learned about puzzle box making over the last 8 years, and that’s saying something.  His boxes tend to move in unexpected ways, and interact within themselves to either assist or block the way.  They are incredibly well thought out, and often contain multiple compartments, which can only be accessed at the expense of other compartments which then remain locked.  He creates many of his puzzles to embody internal contrary forces, which are thus complimentary, interconnected, and interdependent.  It’s as though these boxes embody the spirit of Taoism.  

POD by Hideaki Kawashima

The POD box ranks as one of Kawashima’s greatest achievements yet.  It is visually striking thanks to the bold primary design it features, a “Yin-Yang” of contrasting woods set into each of the six cube faces.  The box behaves in a very unique and unusual way, which becomes quickly apparent from the moment you begin to explore it.  The functionality of the yin-yangs is revealed, and the mechanism is wonderful.  Panels start to move in every which way and you can quickly get lost or find that your way has been blocked.  Yet there is a poetic symmetry and characteristic logic underneath it all, which, once you recognize it, leads to the solution.  The box requires at least 20 moves to open, depending on how you count.  The purist in me puts it at 30 moves, with each move counted separately.  Either way, it’s one of the most complex boxes Kawashima has created, and one of the most entertaining.  An additional anecdote is worth mentioning, about the name of the box.  He did not want to give away even the slightest hint with the name of the box, as he has done with some of his other boxes (e.g. R-L Box, X Y Box), so struggled for a while to come up with an appropriate name which contained no clue.  He hit upon it one day when he observed that the ‘yin-yang’ design could also be seen as Roman alphabet letters – “p” “O’ and “d”.

Notice the "p" "O" and "d"? You might have to twist your mind around it ...

For one of my favorite artists, I thought I would toast with one of my favorite cocktails.  I’ve written about the storied “daiquiri” before, that simple yet simply perfect combination of rum, lime juice and sugar.  Much maligned and confused with the frozen slush, fruit sweetened and sad slurper which many think of as a daiquiri, the original was the simple and elegant combination of rum, lime, and sugar.  Hemingway and JFK were famously infatuated with them, and so am I.  To prove it, we won’t even settle for one daiquiri, but for this special box, we’ll have two – a “pair of daiquiris”.  

The Pear of Daiquiris cocktail

The first uses standard simple syrup and Plantation’s Pineapple “Stiggin’s Fancy” rum – a potion I have mentioned before along with another puzzling pineapple.  The folks at Pierre Ferrand teamed up with cocktail historian David Wondrich to recreate an old-time pineapple rum the likes of which would have been imbibed in Dicken’s day.  They have done it again, this time to create an overproof dark rum known as Plantation OFTD (Old Fashioned Traditional Dark, or as it is also fondly known Oh F* That's Delicious).  The OFTD rum is the brainchild of a team of seven leading rum aficionados led by Pierre Ferrand's master blender Alexandre Gabriel.  Such a rich and tasty rum holds up well to a bit of acidity, and the second daiquiri uses the OFTD rum with a spiced pear “shrub” (a sweetened drinking vinegar) to great effect.  Put these two delightful daiquiris together and you’ve got a prefect pair.  Of course, I had to take it a step further (I’m a glutton for pun-ishment), so this is the “Pear of Daiquiris” cocktail.  Here’s to contradictory yet interdependent forces, light and dark (rum), magnificent puzzles and the culmination of our collective experiences. Cheers!

Puzzle Or Drink? Go ahead, have both.

The Pear of Daiquiris

1 oz Plantation Stiggins Fancy Pineapple rum
1 oz Plantation OFTD rum
1 oz fresh lime juice
½ oz spiced pear shrub
½ oz simple syrup

Shake together over ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish and enjoy with balanced energy.

For more about Hideaki Kawashima:

For prior puzzles by Kawashima:

For prior daiquiris:

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Lunch Box

Hungry? Me too, I could really use a sandwich. I’m particularly fond of what we called “hoagies” in the north east.  You might know them as “submarines”, “po-boys” or “grinders”.  Hmmmm? Oh, not that kind of sandwich?  Ahhh.  Too bad, really, but that’s okay.  How about a smørrebrød instead?  Bill Sheckels, the fine furniture maker from Greenfield Massachusetts, has got just the thing.  Bill makes classic and custom fine furniture in the Scandinavian and Shaker styles which reflect his Denmark training and heritage.  He also happens to enjoy puzzles, and applies his considerable skill to that pursuit as well.  On his Black Dog Puzzle Works etsy shop you will find all sorts of beautiful hand-made interlocking and stacking wooden puzzles, all crafted and finished with a fine furniture maker’s touch.  Many will be familiar with his “Caged Coin” puzzle, which was exchanged at IPP32 in Washington, D.C..  It’s a compact and clever little puzzle, and keeps your quarter well secured – at least my Texas state quarter has never been freed from its cage.  I featured Bill’s Book Puzzle Box last year, which is a nice addition to the bookshelf although some consider it to be a challenging read.  Bill has a wonderful new puzzle box, which he has very generously sent to me, knowing my fondness for such things!

The Sandwich Puzzle Box by Bill Sheckels

The “Sandwich” Puzzle Box is a bit of a hybrid and will appeal to a broad audience.  The box is composed of lovely lacewood, with its shimmering scales and waves brought to a fine polish.  The two halves of the box make up the sandwich, I suppose, and they do resemble a few slices of perfectly toasted bread.  Not so fast, however, as this sandwich is locked (you might even say sandwiched) between eight notched pieces of walnut.  Like many of Bill’s puzzles, the whole thing can be disassembled, if you can figure out how.  I actually needed a little hint from Bill, as I did not want to risk any damage to this gorgeous gift.  No force whatsoever is needed, however, and he has hidden a wonderful trick here in plain sight. I even enjoyed the burr-like disassembly on this box, and I’m not “PuzzleMad”.  The Sandwich box has a perfectly satisfying mechanism and as a bonus there’s plenty of space inside the box for your lunch.  So if you’re feeling hungry, grab a Sandwich – Bill’s in the kitchen now.

Beautiful lacewood and walnut

Naturally, we need something to drink with our lunch.    Bill’s box inspired me to create something apropos as well.  I present to you the “BLT”.  I found a few versions of this cocktail out there which were either a variation of the Bloody Mary or a clever acronym which had nothing to do with the sandwich (bourbon, lemon, tonic – which does sound delicious).  I wanted to make an actual bacon, lettuce and tomato cocktail, which retained the essential flavors and tasted good somehow.  I’m not sure how well I succeeded but it was fun trying.  

The BLT Cocktail

A hugely popular trend in mixology emerged about ten years ago called “fat washing”.  It was started by Don Lee, a bartender at New York’s iconic PDT bar (Please Don’t Tell). Lee infused bourbon with bacon fat and created the famous “Benton’s Bacon Old Fashioned” which caused a sensation at the time.  That sounded like a great place to start. I made bacon fat washed bourbon for the BLT, and used Weller’s Special Reserve, a smooth wheated bourbon, for the “bread” and bacon aspects.  I used an heirloom tomato syrup, which gives the drink a sweet tomato flavor while avoiding the overpowering effects of actual tomato juice. The lettuce comes in as a bit of muddled arugula, which lends pepper spice too. Shake it all up and enjoy it with a fresh BLT on some Texas toast while trying to turn this puzzle box into an “open-faced” sandwich.  Thanks Bill, and Cheers!

Go ahead, it's completely healthy ...

The BLT

2 oz bacon fat washed bourbon (such as Wellers)
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz heirloom tomato syrup
Dash of salt and pepper tinctures
2 dashes celery bitters
Pinch of baby arugula leaves

Gently muddle the arugula with the tomato syrup.  Add the remaining ingredients and shake vigorously with ice.  Double strain into a favorite glass over a large cube. Crumble crispy bacon over it for your very best friends.

A pair of atypical sandwiches, and "Both Look Terrific"! 

For more about Bill Sheckels and to purchase the Sandwich Box see:


For his Book Puzzle Box see:

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Fine Creations

I fancy a few words for a fine creation.  Nicholas Phillips is a furniture maker and woodworker from Silver Springs, Maryland, who produces lovely wooden boxes and chests under his “Affine Creations” moniker.  One of his hallmarks is the use of yosegizaiku, the centuries old Japanese traditional marquetry technique born in Hakone Japan.  Phillips has developed his own skill at this technique over the years, right down to making his own rice glue.  Recently his skill was recognized abroad and he was invited to visit Hakone, where he studied with yosegi master Mr. Ichiro Ishikawa, a seventh generation artisan and a direct descendent of Nihei Ishikawa (1790-1850) who invented the technique.  He joins an extremely limited number of artists who are versed in this ancient art form.

Weave pattern puzzle box by Nicholas Phillips

The geometrical patterns and tessellations likely appeal to Dr. Phillips’ mathematical mind – he holds a PhD in theoretical physics and worked with NASA as a mathematician for much of his life. This background also sparked his delight in secret mechanisms and puzzle boxes.  The results he produces in his workshop are a perfect storm of beauty and brains.  Phillips love for the art of woodworking literally shines through in his meticulous finishes and polishes.  The tung oil he applies to the finished works glows with a warmth unlike any other and begs to be handled.  One of his masterpieces is the “Bernoulli Chest, No. 1” a trick chest which incorporates many different puzzles, including a set of drawers which only open via a binary sequence, and a drawer which is itself a stand-alone puzzle box. The 14 drawers are resplendent in multi-patterned yosegi.  You can read more about the magnificent Bernoulli Chest here.

Clearly a fine creation

I was fortunate enough to acquire one of Nicholas’s beautiful puzzle boxes.  The box is 6 ½ inches long, or 5.4 “sun” to use the traditional Japanese unit of carpentry measurement. The top and bottom are Cocobolo, an exotic and rich dark wood which looks outstanding with a high gloss.  The veneer (yosegi) weave pattern is made from Bloodwood, Curly Maple and Chechen (Caribbean Rosewood) and the internal supports are Cherry. The box is treated with a coat of Tung Oil and finally finished with a French Polished Shellac.  The final product is simply stunning to behold.  It’s quite an entertaining puzzle box as well, requiring 10 non-traditional moves to open, and an additional 12 moves to further remove all 4 of the side panels completely and admire the internal structure.  When you have finished your admiration and have succeeded in putting everything back together again, Phillips provides a lovely little display stand to compliment the piece.

An unusual bonus, the side panels can all be removed

Nicholas has a fine appreciation for the spirited life as well, and has been known to enjoy a good scotch. He knows of my predilection for potion pairings and let me know that he appreciates an Aperol Negroni.  If you have been following me you will have seen quite a few Negroni variations here in the past, and a few tales of its storied history.  It’s a cocktail which lends itself particularly well to experimentation due to its equal proportions of distinct spirits.  Classically made with gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, any and all components can and have been swapped for other options within each category.  Aperol, for example, can easily replace the Campari in the “bitter liquor” category.  Both are Italian Amari, created with plants, herbs and flowers indigenous to the region of Italy from where they originate.  Aperol has a lighter and more grapefruit flavor compared to Campari and is a wonderful introduction to Amari.  

The Toffee Negroni by Lynnette Marrero

I’m using it here in the “Toffee Negroni”, a fantastic negroni variation by Lynnette Marrero featured in Kara Newman’s new book, “Shake. Stir. Sip.” which includes only equal parts cocktails – so easy!  In the Toffee Negroni, the vermouth is replaced with Amontillado sherry, and the gin is replaced with aged rum. Notice, there is no actual toffee or sweetener at all, but the combination of these perfect ingredients does all the magic.  I’m using something particularly special for the rum – the Don Pancho Origenes 18.  Francisco Jose Fernandez Perez “Don Pancho” is a legendary rum master schooled in the traditions of Cuban rum making who has developed many product lines over the past 50 years. He has recently released his life’s work, his own “origins” series, blended from his personal barrels which he has been aging patiently for decades.  The rum is so good you should really sip it neat, like a fine cognac or scotch, but I couldn’t resist using it for this negroni as well.  One fine creation deserves another, don’t you think? Here’s to fine creations everywhere.  Cheers!

A few fine creations

For more information about Nicholas Phillips see:

For prior Negronis and variations see:

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Sabotage!

Let’s start 2017 out with a double dose of frustration.  It’s going to be an interesting year so we need to start practicing.  One of my favorite puzzle box artists, Eric Fuller from North Carolina, has designed many brilliant boxes over the years, and has crafted even more interlocking puzzles designed by others.  As you may recall from my recent review of his Spline Cube #3, he likes to make boxes that are very tricky to open.  This time he has collaborated with the prolific puzzle designer Goh Pit Khiam from Singapore to create a double challenge.  The fun begins with the “B-Box”, Khiam’s design which is based off of Karakuri artist Hiroshi Iwahara’s Super-CUBI design.  That puzzle utilizes a trinary movement system and requires 324 moves to open, while Khiam’s B-Box is a bit simpler, merely requiring 135 moves to access the internal compartment.  The “B” likely stands for “Burr”, as in, interlocking mechanical puzzle, because the B-Box can further be disassembled into 6 individual panels which were expertly crafted from maple and mahogany by Eric Fuller.  The inner side of each panel is etched with a similar appearing maze, and if you are Khiam, you can probably deduce all 135 movements merely from studying these patterns, but for the rest of us the B-Box is a fair challenge.  Particularly difficult is putting it back to the starting position once opened – a fair many friends have singularly failed at this effort.  Not that I would know, mine is perfectly squared up again.  Ahem.

B-Box by Goh Pit Khiam and Eric Fuller

Once opened, as a wonderful reward there is another entirely independent puzzle box, perfectly nestled inside the internal compartment of B-Box.  Tip this out and you are holding the “Reactor Box”, a tiny puzzle box which packs a huge headache designed and created by Eric Fuller from walnut, mahogany and paduak woods.  Reactor Box is truly diminutive, measuring a wee 1.75 inches squared.  You might imagine that a box this tiny couldn’t pack much of a punch, and you would be seriously mistaken.  Initial exploration reveals a few initial movements and something rather unusual – a piece falls out into your lap.  There are, coincidently, a whole bunch of places where this bit can now go, and you may spend a long time trying to figure out this particular step of the puzzle.  All I can tell you is that, once again, Eric Fuller is a devious bastard who is out to sabotage you.  The finale is quite wonderful, with a truly satisfying aha moment, and you are treated to yet another tiny treasure inside an even tinier box.  You can also marvel at the mechanism inside the “reactor”, which provided the inspiration for Eric’s follow up, the Small Button Box (to be reviewed later this year).  Reactor Box demonstrates Eric’s virtuoso skill, hiding the tiniest mechanisms in a perfectly precise “puzzler’s puzzle”.

Reactor Box by Eric Fuller

Believe it or not, there is a perfect cocktail to toast the genius behind this double dose of devious delight.  It originates from the Michelin starred restaurant in Malmo Sweden named, appropriately enough, Bastard.  The home of head chef Andreas Dahlberg, Bastard has been described as “school room meets old fashioned butchers” and “hipster heaven” to name a few.  At the back bar, they mix up a perfect concoction of smoky mezcal, sweet vermouth, green Chartreuse and bitters which is known as “Le Saboteur”.  Next time you find yourself in Malmo, you may want to check it out, but you can start your own sabotage at home in the meantime with this “guess-cipe” from the cocktail traveling duo over at the Cocktail Detour blog, who have recreated the drink proportions.  The drink is impressive, boozy and well balanced.  It pairs well with these two puzzle boxes – but you might need one for each!  Cheers!

Le Saboteur from Bastard, Malmo

Le Saboteur from Bastard, Malmo (proportions provided by Cocktail Detour)
1 oz Mezcal (I used Soltado, a spicy infused tequila)
1 oz Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Green Chartreuse
Few dashes Regans’ Orange Bitters to taste
Stir well to dilute with plenty of ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a double dose of frustration and keep your wits about you.

A triple dose of sabotage

For more information about Eric Fuller see his website at:

For prior puzzle pairings from Eric Fuller: