Saturday, April 4, 2020

Grin and Bear It


“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
― Philip Pullman

Ursa Major by Yoh Kakuda

Tell me a story. Now is the perfect moment to revisit old tales. We are all searching for a good book to read, a new show to watch, another story to pass the time. Stories, the ancient mythologies of cultures long gone, were the backbone of entertainment eons ago, and the scripts were written in the stars. Some say as far back as 50,000 years ago a Paleolithic bear cult existed, and gave the original name to the pattern in the night sky so familiar to us after all this time, The Great Bear. So many stories about this constellation exist from so many cultures. The Greeks and Romans mythologized Callisto, the beautiful forest nymph who won Zeus’s (Jupiter’s) heart. Hera (or Juno, or even Artemis), transformed the nymph into a bear in a fit of jealous rage. Callisto’s son Arcas (via Zeus, or Jupiter) grew to be a hunter, and as these melodramas go, almost killed his own mother while out hunting one day. Divine intervention saved them both for eternity, turning Arcas into a hunter (or a little bear) as well and flinging them both into the sky. Arcas is Minor to Callisto’s Major, with the Latin Ursa for “bear” explaining the rest.

Whoa ... what just happened?!?

The Native American tribes had a similar mythology to explain the bears in the sky. Their stories differ and vary, but most include a hunt. The Micmac and Iroquois tribes say that the three stars trailing the bear represent the hunters, chasing the bear in Autumn across the sky. The blood of the kill sprayed the forest leaves, turning them red. Karakuri artist Yoh Kakuda tells another Native American tale, of the bear who got lost in the woods. Hearing the voices of the forest, the bear ran about in surprise, attacking the trees. The forest King grabbed the bear up and flung him into the sky by his tail, which extends out in an arc now, forever. Kakuda loves stories, and has compassion for the characters, like the poor bear. He created Ursa Major with this story in mind, and included elements from the tale so the story plays out in the work. Even the bear’s eyes are a different size, to express the surprise and shock the bear felt. It’s like the surprise and shock we are all feeling in the world right now.

Bear Market

 Bear with me as I pivot to a cocktail now, to drink while enjoying the beautiful tale that this puzzle box tells. The ripple effects of the world’s health are being seen in so many different ways, including the global economies. There are animals afoot here as well, dating back to the turn of the eighteenth century when a proverb warned it was unwise “to sell the bear’s skin before one has caught the bear”. The term “bearskin”, and later simply “bear”, became associated with an expected decline in stock prices, and a financial crisis in 1720 precipitated by the South Sea Company, known as the “South Sea Bubble” sealed the term’s fate. Alexander Pope wrote this poem in 1720: “Come fill the South Sea goblet full; The gods shall of our stock take care: Europa pleased accepts the Bull, and Jove with joy puts off the Bear.”

I'm feeling bullish about this bear

It’s important we keep our immune systems in top shape right now, so exercise, sleep, and healthy eating are essential. As far as cocktails go, it’s a great time for so called “low ABV” drinks – “low alcohol by volume” – because too much alcohol will lower the immune system and make you more susceptible to illness. Drinks that rely on lower proof spirits or contain a smaller proportion of high proof spirits fit the requirement. Here’s a delicious potion that will elevate the evening while going easy on your system. It features some homemade hibiscus tea, a sweet and vibrant drink favored by South American cultures that is full of antioxidants. A little honey never hurts either, and if you are in the mood, you can heat this drink up and enjoy it like a toddy as well. Here’s to the storytellers, and the stories they tell. Let me know your stories too – leave a little comment about something entertaining that happened to you recently. We could all use more stories right now. Cheers!

A pair of bear necessities

Bear Market

1 oz bourbon
½ oz honey syrup (1:1 honey : water)
½ oz sweet vermouth
½ oz lemon
3 oz hibiscus tea

Shake ingredients with ice if serving cold and strain into a favorite glass. For a Toddy, mix ingredients together in a cup and add a little hot water.


For more from Yoh Kakuda:
Pleasant Porters
Renegade Rabbits
Accidental Tourist
https://karakuri.gr.jp/en/craftsman/kakuda/

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Going the Distance


 “Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.” - Henry David Thoreau

Skunk Attack! by Yoh Kakuda

I often plan ahead and have a few ideas in the works about what I’d like to feature each week here on my blog. But inspiration strikes when you least expect and it’s good to let the ideas flow. There just happens to be a global crisis going on right now which is pretty hard to ignore, and very few of us are “immune” to it. Hopefully we’ve all been practicing the fine art of staying away from one another as much as possible. I’ve let the changes influence a few of my offerings here, starting with the Escalating Box, and continuing with this and next week’s posts, at least. I don’t think this trend will last forever; I’m just trying to keep my “spirits” up, and I hope the only thing I infect you with is my enjoyment of boxes and booze.

Warning! Things are about to get tricky ...

“What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself” – Abraham Lincoln

With all that in mind, we turn to one of my favorite Karakuri Creation Group artists, Yoh Kakuda, whose work is always full of stories, told in evocative ways. Kakuda’s creations most often take the form of an animal, like a cat, or a frog, or a dog. Occasionally, an actual person makes an appearance too, contemplating something evocative, such as the moon. So what kind of animal might be appropriate for these trying times, when everyone is asked to stay inside, and keep their distance? Why, a skunk, of course. The humble skunk is the hero of the day, an instant reminder to stay away. Skunks can do a little trick with their peri-anal glands that gives any sneeze a run for its money. If you get too close and forget to maintain a polite social distance, our fearless friend will lift his tail and aim a precise anal spray of foul toxins at you from ten feet away. It’s an enviable skill that would do wonders in the supermarket line. Kakuda relates that the poor skunk is misunderstood by most. It can take an entire month for one to regenerate those potent secretions, so they only use them as the very last resort, when truly threatened. Then they must hide away, defenseless, for a month, a thought that appealed to Kakuda’s sense of melancholy. Kakuda’s skunk is truly charming and amusing, beautifully rendered in contrasting Wenge and Magnolia wood. He protects his treasures (undoubtedly some toilet paper these days) in a cherry wood box he is standing on, and beware to anyone who gets too close. This sly fellow kept me guessing for longer than I expected, and a lot longer than I could hold my breath.

Social Distancing

“One sees qualities at a distance and defects at close range.” - Victor Hugo

To toast this feisty fellow I created a cocktail that is perfectly apropos for the period and one that our malodorous mate would appreciate. Drinking cocktails and spirits in general is traditionally a social affair. Indeed there is a stigma to drinking alone. But that is just what we must do now, while we raise our collective glasses in tribute to one another from our isolation. This potion should encourage everyone to enjoy drinking alone. It lends itself to that pursuit. Indeed, no one will want to be around you after you imbibe even one of these, and you’ll probably want two, because they are so tasty.

Good for everyone but vampires

"It is easy to be brave from a safe distance.” - Aesop

“Savory” cocktails are nothing new, mind you. Some prefer them greatly over the sweeter variety. Tasty tipples you will possibly have tried include the “Dirty” Martini, with its dose of satisfying olive juice, or the Bloody Mary, full of robust tomato juice and an umami hit of Worchester. Here I present a rum based drink, a daiquiri for the day, which features an incredibly delicious “gastrique” of roasted garlic. Gastriques are technically made by deglazing the savory bits from a pan with vinegar, but can refer to a shrub-like syrup which goes lighter on the vinegar than a typical shrub. It’s incredibly easy to make and you can cook with it too after you finish making the drink. I’ve split the white rum with some deep, rich Blackstrap as well, to add more bold flavors that hold up against the garlic. The cocktail is sensational, and you’ll have no fear of the neighbors wanting to drop in for a sip. Here’s to keeping our distance, together. Cheers!

This pair is keeping their distance

Social Distancing

1 ½  oz white rum
½ oz Blackstrap rum
¾ oz lime
¾ oz roasted garlic gastrique*

*Roasted garlic gastrique: puree 4 cloves roasted garlic, ½ cup Demerera syrup (1:1 sugar : water) and 1 tsp Balsamic vinegar, strain out any remaining solids

Shake together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Lime wedge garnish (w/ facemask)

For more from Yoh Kakuda:
What has life Tortoise?
Shell Game
Wizard of Awes

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Zip It!


First you forget names, then you forget faces. Next you forget to pull your zipper up and finally, you forget to pull it down. – George Burns

Zipp Chack by Yasuaki Kikuchi

We’re zipping along here at Boxes and Booze, getting ready for the start of Spring. It’s time to unzip the winter coats and get some warm sun on our faces (just as long as we DON'T TOUCH FACE …). The zipper is one of those brilliant inventions that made life a little easier, the kind of thing you don’t realize will make an impact until you see it. The inventor of the sewing machine, Elias Howe, received a patent in 1851 for something he named the “automatic, continuous clothing closure”. It was a start. In the early 1890’s Whitcomb Judson improved the device, renamed it the “clasp locker”, and debut it at the 1893 World’s Fair. He even started the Universal Fastener Company to produce it, but it didn’t sell. A worker there named Gideon Sundback took the design further, and created the modern day zipper in 1913. He received the patent for his “separable fastener” in 1917, and B.F. Goodrich used it on a pair of rubber boots they developed, finally calling it the “zipper”.

"chack" means zipper in Japanese

Fast forward one hundred years to 2017, when Japanese artist Yasuaki Kikuchi thought it would make a great design for a puzzle box. For his innovative end-of-year puzzle offering with the Karakuri Creation Group, Kikuchi came up with an eye catching design. His original idea was actually for a snowman, skiing down the slopes. At each corner, he would swing his skis around, on down to the end of the run. But when he completed the prototype, the big bold grooves running down the face of the box didn’t look like snow to him – they looked like a zipper! Using beautifully contrasting Dogwood and Magnolia woods, he transformed the wooden box into a pop art conversation piece. He added the prominent Chanchin wood zipper pull and slider to make it obvious what is going on here and complete the motif. Zip it up and down and there is a perfect tactile feel to the mechanism. Soon it becomes fairly obvious what can be done, but deducing the right sequence is not so simple. This is one zipper that might stay stuck for a while. Kikuchi’s designs are always surprising and out of the ordinary, and it’s always a treat to see what he unzips from his bag of tricks.

The Piano Has Been Drinking

I’ve paired the zipper with something you might find yourself zipping – sorry, sipping – at the end of a romantic evening in a sultry bar or in your own cozy den. The inspiration for the drink took its original cues from a Vietnamese iced coffee, but this nightcap leaves out the condensed milk. What it keeps is the rich coffee, ginger, and cinnamon. The former is by way of Café Amaro, a robust, bittersweet amaro that infuses single origin coffee with botanicals of Juniper Berries, Cardamom, Orange Peel, Star Anise, Spearmint Leaves, Gentian, and Vanilla Beans. The latter is with a pre-batched mix of ginger liqueur and Amaro Angostura. Pre-batching such mixtures that are only needed in small quantities is an industry trick known as the “biz” (as in, use a little of the ginger/amaro business).

A little of this, a little of that ...

The base for this nightcap employs a mix of reposado tequila and blanco mezcal. The spirits anchor the strong amaro flavors and lend a subtle smokiness to the evocative scene. Dry Oloroso sherry balances things out and a few dashes of chocolate bitters makes it all sensational. The cocktail is full of flavor stories and it reminds me of an old Tom Waits song which is the perfect thing to play while enjoying this drink. I made the garnish to reference the song, but it reminded me of a zipper, too. Here’s to the storytellers – cheers!

zip sip

The Piano Has Been Drinking

1 oz reposado tequila
½ oz blanco mezcal
1 oz Café Amaro
½ oz Oloroso sherry
½ oz Ango / Ginger biz*
Dash of Xocolatl Mole Bitters

Stir ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Lemon twist.
*pre-batch 1:1 Amaro di Angostura and Ginger liqueur

For more from Yasuaki Kikuchi:
Connecting the Dots
Know L
Kickstart
https://karakuri.gr.jp/craftsman/kikuchi/

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Panic Attack

Desperate times call for desperate measures. I had a perfectly good offering for you all this week, polished and ready to go, but it will have to wait. I’ve weighed the evidence, consulted with the experts, and made a difficult decision – I’m going to have to cancel this week’s originally planned post.

Don’t Panic! – Douglas Adams

Escalating Box by Eric Fuller

In light of the escalating global pandemic I instead strongly advise everyone to stay home with this apropos puzzle box from the doctor of devious designs, the original Raleigh renegade, Eric Fuller. His puzzle boxes never disappoint and always fail to open rapidly, so I wouldn’t suggest that you store your face mask in one. His recent “Escalating Box” was the result of some crowd sourcing he did on social media. Eric has so many tricky ideas that he had originally planned this one as two distinct puzzle boxes. He is also extremely methodical and calculating about cost containment and accessibility for his work. He won’t make something that doesn’t make financial sense or would price out of range for most of his customers. It occurred to him that he could combine both mechanisms for the individual boxes into one, more complex box, but that would increase costs significantly. So he sent the choice out for public comment, and the response was an overwhelming acceptance of higher cost for more puzzling box. Which is all relative with Eric’s creations, since he prices all of his work ridiculously low and has the highest quality to cost value ratio of any puzzle maker.

Things are escalating rapidly

The box is beautifully crafted from quilted maple and features various exotic wood choices on the lid. It’s a perfect size to hold and feels luxurious to the touch. Eric’s wood craft has always been precise and of extremely high quality but his recent higher end work has taken on new dimensions of expertise. This box could easily be mistaken for one from Kagen Sound, for example, who often finishes his pieces like fine musical instruments. There are a few little holes, a bit of metal showing, and not very much movement available. Some exploration will suggest what the first steps will likely require, and figuring out how to achieve them is a fun process. The box progresses in this way, moving from the first set of locking steps into the next, and there is yet one more surprise awaiting. In combining the two original mechanisms, their interplay makes the solution more difficult, and Eric has even thrown in a third locking mechanism at the end as a little extra not so fast, there you go and thank you very much. It’s a wonderfully fun escalation and just what the doctor ordered to distract you in these distracting days.

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” — Mark Twain

This drink is DTF

I’ve also got the antidote for what ails you right here, a perfect potion creation with which to face the escalation. This one comes from New Orleans celebrated bartender T. Cole Newton, who has spent time behind the stick at the venerable Commander’s Palace, Coquette, Loa, Troubador and his own bar, Twelve Mile Limit. He created his version of a “Touch of Evil” while at Coquette. I say “his version” as there are a number of different recipes for a drink with this name. I’m never surprised when a great name is used over and again for different drinks by different sources. It’s almost impossible to copyright a drink, and names only stick when something becomes so popular it finds its way onto other bar menus. Now seems like the perfect time for A Touch of Evil to go … viral.

“In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.” – Albert Camus

Now that's a spicy meatball

Cole’s drink brings the heat with jalapeno infused tequila and brings the sweet with vanilla liqueur and orgeat syrup. I’ve swapped out the vanilla for Italicus, a bergamot orange liqueur, and the orgeat for Amaretto.  For the jalapeno tequila I’m using Soltado, an anejo tequila infused with serrano pepper and cinnamon. It’s out of this world delicious and packs a punch. Hot pepper infusions are easy to do at home as well, just don’t let the peppers sit for too long – taste test every few hours until it’s hot enough for your preference. Cole also only rinses the glass with Campari, but I love what it brings to the drink so increased the amount slightly and added it straight into the mix. The results are sensational, a flavorful and complex margarita with some serious heat that sneaks up on you. You’re going to want to share this one, but don’t! Here’s to keeping your distance, washing your hands, and staying home – it’s time everyone became a home bartender. Be safe and be smart. Cheers! 

I'd quarantine with this pair

DTF (Don’t Touch Face) adapted from T. Cole Newton

1 oz hot pepper-infused tequila (Soltado)
½ oz Amaretto
½ oz Italicus
¾ oz lime
½ oz simple syrup
¼ oz Campari

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Don't forget to give your garnish a face mask.

“This is not a time to keep the facts from the people-to keep them complacent. To sound the alarm is not to panic but to seek action from an aroused public. For, as the poet Dante once said: 'The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a time of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” -
John F. Kennedy

For more from Eric Fuller:

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Mercury Rising


All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. – Galileo Galilei

Celestial Box by Robert Yarger

With Spring right around the corner we should see the mercury rising soon. But if you look to the night sky, you might think Mercury is going backwards. A few times a year this optical illusion of “retrograde” motion occurs for some of the planets as their orbit around the sun takes over our own. It’s a celestial phenomenon associated astrologically with chaos and negativity, which is really quite a shame, because we all know that having to go backward for a bit before being able to go forward makes for one fine puzzle mechanism.

“It is a beautiful and delightful sight to behold the body of the moon” - Galileo Galilei

This box promises the moon and the stars

Speaking of making fine puzzles, here’s another beautiful box from American puzzle master Robert Yarger. The Stickman No. 26 Puzzlebox, aka the Celestial Box, was handsomely crafted from either Cedar, Sapele or Redheart woods and features moving “star” gears in accent woods on top and crescent moons that slide in and out on the sides. The complicated box requires a coordinated sequence of at least 36 steps to reveal the secret chamber, wherein reside the secrets of the universe. Rob says it is unlikely he will ever use cedar for a box again, as breathing the dust it creates is not as nice as the final product. He also notes an interesting challenge he faced in the making of the gears for this puzzle. Typically one would center a block on an axle and mill down the gears around the axle. But these gears don’t have a hole all the way through the center. He made the gears first, then positioned an indented groove in the center, a very difficult process sensitive to being even a thousandth of an inch off. The minor variations created friction points for which he then created a very clever way of finding using wax. Tricky solutions for tricky problems – that could be his motto. The box is nicely proportioned to fit in the hands and is fun to explore, with surprising and changing movements that lock and block your steps, necessitating some retrograde motion at times. It’s just the trick for these chaotic astrological days. Don’t give up, and everything will work itself out again in the end.

Stargazing with Galileo by Lindsay Jones

A box like this makes me want to do a little stargazing. Won’t you come with me? Let’s head to a remote northeastern town on the cold banks of Nova Scotia, where I hear the stars appear en masse. Lindsay Jones, an award winning and celebrated spirits personality, who was Halifax’s Bartender of the Year in 2018, is at the helm of this journey. Her “Stargazing with Galileo” is a delicious coffee, bourbon and amaro treat to peak the senses and stir the imagination.

I'm having coffee with friends

The brown-buttered coffee is particularly inspiring and delicious. “Fat washing” liquids with any sort of fat will impart a rich flavor and texture to the end product, and butter is a common source. It is usually achieved by liquefying the fat over heat and infusing it with the target liquid, which is usually a spirit, such as bourbon, chilling overnight, and straining out the fat solids the next day. In this case, browned butter is infused into strong dark coffee. The result is, as you might expect, a richer, buttery coffee, with a flavor that shines through even with the addition of the other spirits in the cocktail. Try it for yourself and don’t be surprised if you end up a little star struck. Cheers!

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use – Galileo Galilei, 1615

A pair of star crossed lovers

Stargazing with Galileo by Lindsay Jones

1 ½ oz bourbon
1 oz brown-buttered coffee
½ oz Campari
¼ oz Fernet-Branca
¼ oz simple syrup

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite glass.


For more from Robert Yarger:
Socratic Method
Apothecary Chest
To the Lighthouse
http://www.stickmanpuzzlebox.com/

Saturday, February 29, 2020

All A Board


Join me this week on another diversion from boxes into the baffling world of burrs as we return to “Burrs and Booze”, an exercise in confusion. Luckily this journey is not unprecedented, having been undertaken for the first time with the brilliant Brass Monkey burrs. In that entertaining and silly review I very briefly explained the concept and history of the classic six piece burr puzzle, and once is enough, so go back and read it again if needed.

"SDBBB" by Juno

Thus without further ado I present a variation on the classic six piece burr puzzle, the six piece board burr, in which the notched sticks are replaced with grooved boards that fit together in a similarly puzzling manner. Now that we have thoroughly exhausted the discussion of board burrs (honestly, what else is there to say without getting … bored) lets discuss something else entirely. Things are moving fast here so it’s best to get on board.

Six piece board burr? Not so much ...

This particular “six piece” board burr, which is actually nothing of the sort, is handsomely crafted from American Rock Maple and Utile “plywood”. Junichi Yananose (Juno) makes is own special composites of beautiful hardwood in contrasting colors which are fused together and thus technically plywood, which is what he calls it, but unlike any typical plywood. Juno also makes incredibly special puzzles, and likes to challenge expectations. He is adept at making innovative and challenging classic board burr puzzles, which look practically identical to this one, but this is not a board burr in the classic sense, it only looks like one. This is his “SDBBB”, the Sequential Discovery Board Burr Box, a puzzle which disassembles in surprising and unexpected ways that require clever use of little tools which are discovered as the puzzle comes apart. It’s incredibly fun and approachable, and features aspects and mechanisms which are completely novel. Juno is a master at pushing the envelope, and uses CNC technology to achieve many of his complex ideas. The SDBBB is also one of the few “ideal” Boxes and Booze boxes, because it incorporates both of these elements. When the puzzle is finally, fully solved, a small storage space is discovered (the “box”) where a tiny glass of wine is waiting to help celebrate the victory. It’s a perfect ending to a perfect puzzle.

Killer Bs

Here's a toast to this brilliantly surprising box. You might wonder what kind of drink would pair with a puzzle named “SDBBB”, and you’d be right. It’s not the kind of name that easily lends itself to a cocktail pairing. I wondered too, until I realized that it was trying to tell me all along – I needed to find Some Drink with a Big Bunch of Bs. It turns out that I had just the thing, a “killer” drink full of Bs.

A bevy of boozy Bs

This is a bold drink, well suited for a bold puzzle. It’s a complicated Old Fashioned and Manhattan mash up, that splits the base spirit between bourbon and blanco tequila. The sweetness is provided by bananas, and there’s a hint of mystery and balance added from Bitter Bianco, a fabulous amaro. Black and Blue bitters (which taste of berries) tie it all together for a blast. Here’s to things that seem like one thing, but are really another - Cheers!

Would you like two B friends?

Killer Bs

1 ¼ oz Blanco (tequila)
1 ¼ oz Bourbin
½ oz Banana de Bresil
¼ oz Bitter Bianco
Dash of Black and Blue Bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite beaker. Garnish with a Bee.


For more from Juno:
Four Goodness Sake
After a While
Jury Grand Prix
https://www.pluredro.com/shop/

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Door to Door


“How now, spirit! whither wander you?” – William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Sooner or later, we all knew where the forest path would lead – all the way to Greece. The fairy door puzzle concept is so compelling and magical that it inspired the creative process in a number of artists. Kelly Snache’s Puddleduck Pastures was a playful journey around a cute lopsided house full of hidden surprises and well kept secrets. That fairy door is locked by at least four separate mechanism in classic Soul Tree Creation style, and features a charming mini interior once the door is open. More recently the original concept, and Puddleduck Pastures too, inspired Tracy Clemons to bring her own vision to life, in the massive and complex Dark Fairy Door. Her puzzle features three doors in all, with two guarding the initial box, which is artfully adorned with lovely details, and a hidden third door locked inside. This last must be built from materials that are discovered, and used to help open a final puzzle box with a locked treasure. What amazing things one can find in the forest!

The Fairy's Door by Mike Toulouzas

We are here to celebrate the original fairy door this time, finally, the one that inspired the rest. Mike Toulouzas is a highly talented woodworker from Greece whose hobby has earned him tremendous accolades in the puzzle world. He was truly inspired when he came up with the idea for his third puzzle box design, the Fairy’s Door. Mike has a fondness for designs that mimic something from the real world. He shared that on his way to work each day he passes many beautiful houses in the mountains made from stones and wood. There was one particular stone arch on this journey that caught his fancy one day, and next to it, a wooden door that was equally inspiring. He combined the two elements from his real life into something he could only find in his fantasies. His Fairy Door is an impressive piece of art, approximately 22 x 25 cm in size. It is beautifully rendered from Oak, Sugar Maple, Mahogany-Kotibe, and Katalox woods. The whole piece looks like a large tome of magic, with a scroll hinge down the right hand side and the prominent door on front, framed by hand carved stones. The details are exquisite, from the textured planks of the door, to the lovely carved hinges, to the tiny turned knob. It’s a magnificent piece of art to display, and Mike accommodates this nicely by including a companion display stand which hides inside – a wonderful detail he added later to the production versions.

There's magic to be found here

Mike is also a clever puzzle creator. Just look to his Flatliner packing puzzle, so named for the catatonic state it will put you in as you fail to solve it. The Fairy Door does not rely on its pretty looks alone, and does not disappoint as a puzzle. Opening the front door is only half the puzzle, as it turns out, and tools are discovered on the journey which will be needed to help find the way. There is a brilliant misdirection waiting, and even a final flourish with an actual magic wand. When it’s time to retrace the steps and put everything back together for the next brave soul who wanders off the forest path, you find there is a final puzzle to solve. As if that weren’t quite enough, Mike includes a charming illustrated booklet with the puzzle, which tells the epic tale and provides the solution, all set in verse.

Mike relates that he had the overall idea in his head from the beginning, but improved everything as he went along. Initially, for example, he only imagined the opening of the door aspect, but as he created it, he realized it would be a wonderful puzzle box and added the entire back section. Mike’s door is an instant favorite, and notably won the “Puzzler’s Award”, the crowd favorite, at the 34th International Puzzle Design Competition in 2014. Mike was in attendance at that award ceremony, and had been hearing people say that they thought his puzzle was very nice. But as the awards and honorable mentions were being announced, his was not among the winners. Finally he decided he had not won anything. He was thus so overwhelmed when the coveted Puzzler’s Award was declared in his name, that he literally began to cry as he came to accept his trophy.  Mike has created a limited set of his remarkable puzzle, produced slowly and patiently over the last six years, a few at a time, and a lucky few have gotten to share in the magic.

The Fairy's Door Cocktail

Like the prior Fairy Doors, we must turn to the Green Fairy for a worthy potion to offer the forest spirits. For this toast I turned to an old favorite, the Old Cuban, an elevated version of the classic daiquiri invented by famed mixologist Audrey Saunders. That modern classic combines aged rum, lime, mint, and sugar, all topped off with champagne. It’s incredibly delicious. I took these cues and built a version including absinthe (the Green Fairy) and whiskey. The absinthe adds a complex and mysterious element that’s perfect for the fairies.

A magical potion

There’s also a final touch to the drink which references the origins of this puzzle box. In place of the champagne, I used a special bottle from Greece. Paleokerisio is a unique semi-sparkling, semi-dry orange wine made from indigenous white Debina and red Vlahiko grape varieties. The wine is a revival of the traditional semi-sparkling wine of Ioannina and brings a deliciously magical finale to the toast. Here’s to original inspirations, magical moments, beautiful creations and losing oneself to the lights. Στην υγειά σας!

an a-door-able pair

Fairy’s Door (adapted from Audrey Saunders)

1 ½ oz whiskey
½ oz absinthe
¾ oz lime
1 oz simple syrup
8 mint leaves
1-2 oz sparkling wine

Shake ingredients except wine together with ice, strain into a favorite glass, and top with the sparkles. Garnish with a citrus fairy’s door*.

* this fairy must be a bartender – there’s a barspoon and shaker door handle, a jigger knocker, a cocktail coup bell and some Hawthorne strainer hinges!

For more from Mike Toulouzas see:
Deluxe Edition
Puzzlevision