Saturday, October 17, 2020

Championship Round

The Champion by Eric Stevens

I’m unlocking a new edition of “Locks and Libations” this week to feature another fantastic creation from magician and inventor Eric Stevens. You will recall just a few weeks ago I presented his “Tumbler” box, the first puzzle box I have ever seen that is made completely from playing cards. Now let’s look at another one of his unusual, innovative and original ideas – a puzzle lock made entirely from playing cards. Stevens explains the evolution of these puzzles: “Since playing card puzzles don't exist (and have never existed, at least according to my research thus far), I had no frame of reference for anything, so every mechanism and methodology had to be devised from scratch. I watched as many puzzle solving videos as I could to see how others went about crafting their creations with the aforementioned mediums of wood and metal, and did my best to adapt what I had been inspired to build in a useable form with what I had. Most of what I have made, however, has been relatively original. My process changes depending on the puzzle. Sometimes I will sketch out my concept first and then change it after I have built the prototype, while other times I will build the puzzle and then sketch what I am happy with.”

Flush with details and extras

The Champion, so named in order to give a sense of accomplishment to anyone who masters its secrets, will surprise you. This is a real puzzle lock, make no mistake, which requires at least six distinct steps of discovery and execution in order to release the shackle and solve the puzzle. Granted, it is made from playing cards, so must be handled gently, but Stevens has reinforced it well. Each Champion is thirty cards thick, in places, giving it a more solid feel than you might expect. It turns out, there are a lot of secrets one can hide inside playing cards, and some aspects seem almost like a magic trick, which is not so surprising considering the maker. Stevens spares no detail to enhance the experience, and includes a built in holder for the shackle once released, an acrylic stand to display the lock, and an elegant gift box full of supporting material and the sealed solution. He will even customize the lock with special playing cards, like these purple “Monarchs” which are fit for a king. Solving this lock will give you a royal flush.

Monarch by Douglas Ankhar

Let’s toast this special Champion with something appropriately royal, the Monarch cocktail, an elegant martini of the modern era. The cocktail was created by London mixologist Douglas Ankrah, who is notorious for another one of his inventions – the “Pornstar Martini”. A modern classic that is either loved or hated, his salacious cocktail was created for the opening menu of Townhouse, an influential London bar of the early two-thousands during the new cocktail renaissance. He thought up the drink, which contains passion fruit and vanilla vodka, and is served with a side of champagne, in an instant, as he recalls, and it has been provoking reactions ever since.

A sovereign sip

On that same opening menu he presented something quite a bit more reserved and refined. The Monarch is a gin martini, as true martinis should be, although it also veers dramatically away from the classic. The addition of lemon juice really places this cocktail outside the martini realm entirely, but at that time all gin or vodka drinks were called martinis. St. Germain, a liqueur made from delicate white elderflowers, was all the rage at the time as well, and remains a lovely nuanced way to sweeten a drink. Finally mint adds a nice touch and additional element to elevate the drink. This cocktail is sure to please just about anyone, but today we serve it to the Champion. Cheers!

This pair is one of a kind

Monarch by Douglas Ankhar c. 2003

2 oz gin

½ oz St. Germain

½ oz fresh lemon

¼ oz sugar syrup

7 mint leaves

2 dashes peach bitters

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Lemon peel garnish.


For more about Eric Stevens:

I'll Tumble for You

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Terrapin Station

What a long strange trip it's been. - Grateful Dead, Truckin'

Have pants, will party

Sometimes you get invited to the party, but you just can’t find your pants. So begins the premise for one of the most surprising (and good) puzzles of what has been one of the most surprising (and bad) years in recent memory. This puzzle is so good it will make you forget about 2020, for a little while. It’s a trip worth taking.

Well I ain't often right, but I've never been wrong. - Grateful Dead, Scarlet Begonias

Turtle Trip by Gerard Hudson

“Turtle Trip”, a 3D printed puzzle box, emerged from the incredibly creative mind of Gerard Hudson. The New Orleans local is no stranger to a party and understands the importance of proper pants. Incredibly, Hudson only started 3D printing about two years ago with an introductory printer. He quickly gained skills making life essentials like a bicycle holder and belt holster for ... corn dogs. He used the newfound free time during the pandemic to get better at 3D modeling and turned his sights on puzzle boxes, thanks to the influence of a friend who introduced him to the hobby and traveled with him to Hakone, Japan, where they watched yosegi being made. A testament to Hudson’s newfound skill, and some insight into why his creation is so incredible, is the fact that one of his recent projects was to model and print a perfect copy of the Angel Box, with permission from Wil Strijbos, for friends in the puzzle community to experience.

Talk about your plenty, talk about your ills, one man gathers what another man spills. - Grateful Dead, St. Stephen

You'll need to think outside the bog ...

The puzzle presents itself as a brightly colored, 3D printed cube with a closed portal of sorts on top. There is a festive riot of features on each side ranging from our protagonist, napping on a favorite log, to an assortment of magic strawberries, a trippy field of bubbles, and the puzzle’s name emblazoned in distinctive script. On the bottom we discover something else that’s completely trippy – a clear trap door that appears to be holding a pair of items that are rather unusual for a puzzle box: batteries. Hmmm … is this a toy? Can it be taken seriously? For some puzzle box purists, plastics, and certainly batteries, are not included. But let’s not be so hasty. It takes a certain highbrow hypocrisy to avoid the fact that collectible puzzle boxes, and puzzles in general, are merely fancy toys. Turtle Trip redefines what is possible with 3D printed puzzles, and with incorporating electronics into puzzle boxes. It sets a new standard with a high bar for this type of puzzle and will change the mind of many purists who consider wood or metal to be the only options for high quality. Which is not to say it wouldn’t look nice in metal or wood …

Since it costs a lot to win and even more to lose, you and me are bound to spend some time wondering what to choose. - Grateful Dead, Deal

Turtle Trip started in Hudson’s mind with the central locking mechanism, which is a truly unique application, and grew outward from there. He has a degree in electrical engineering and works for a major telecom. His knowledge of electrical circuits can clearly be seen in his puzzle, at least once it has been solved. He wanted the box to tell a story, like an escape room type experience, and the theme of the turtle developed from a practical joke. While he was in Japan, his girlfriend bought hundreds of small plastic turtles and hid them around his house. He has since been finding turtles for almost a year. It reminds me of another similar joke known to a few puzzlers … it’s on the tip of my tongue but I can’t quite recall ... it’s depressing that I can’t think of it but never mind, let’s press on. Hudson thought up the general concept, created the puzzles, and produces them, a friend drafted the storyline and another the puzzle's logo, and his girlfriend even sews the tiny turtle pants. This party is a team effort!

The trouble with you is the trouble with me, got two good eyes, but you still don't see. - Grateful Dead, Casey Jones

An invitation to the party

Turtle Trip is a terrific sequential discovery puzzle box, full of wonderful challenges and surprises. The storage capacity is extremely limited, but it only has to hide a pair of tiny turtle pants, after all, so still counts as a box in my book. Hudson sets the stage for this long, strange trip with an introduction that accompanies the puzzle and explains your goal: help Turtle get to the party, wearing his favorite party pants. The journey takes many twists and turns, and you may get lost along the way. Perhaps there is a clue or two in the intro to interpret, if it wasn’t all so psychedelic. There are so many tools that Turtle finds along the way, and so many steps. The description suggests there are fifteen, but depending on how one counts these, I might suggest it’s closer to twenty-five. The point is, don’t be in a hurry. Slow and steady wins the race with this little guy. There’s a lot here that he has to navigate, in highly creative and surprising ways. And finding the pants in the end will prove properly mind-altering and awe inspiring. It should go without saying – you’ll feel like partying!

I may be going to hell in a bucket, baby, but at least I'm enjoying the ride. - Grateful Dead, Hell In A Bucket

The Old Fashioned Turtle

Let’s have a toast to Turtle with one of the tastier tipples that has tickled my tonsils this season. Many will be familiar with the Old Fashioned, that original cocktail of whiskey, water, sweet and bitter. It returns again and again, because it never left. It’s slow and steady. Classically made with bourbon or rye and a bitters soaked sugar cube, the Old Fashioned is ripe for reinterpretation and revision. In other words, lets muddle it.

Daddy made whiskey and he made it well, cost two dollars and burned like hell. - Grateful Dead, Brown Eyed Girl

If a turtle doesn't have a shell, is it homeless or naked? - George Carlin

Many will also be familiar with the turtle candy – that irresistible clump of chocolate covered caramel and pecans that’s sort of shaped like a turtle. Here’s the adult version, which I say ingenuously since I love candy too. But if we deconstruct the candy, we can find some common cocktail correlates. First of all the base spirit should be a nicely sweet bourbon – it’s not exactly corn syrup, but not too far off, either. For the nuts, we have orgeat, a delicious nut syrup (traditionally from almonds, but a pecan version is just perfect here) typically found in tiki cocktails. For chocolate, there are many, many options, but I chose to keep it subtle by using chocolate bitters, which also balance and ground the drink. Finally, I went for the ultimate flavor boost by making a salted caramel syrup. I must say, this one is delicious. It’s an Old Fashioned toast to this technological terrapin treat. Cheers!

Ain't no time to hate, barely time to wait. - Grateful Dead, Uncle John's Band

Trip and sip

The Old Fashioned Turtle

2 oz bourbon

1/3 oz pecan orgeat

1/3 oz salted caramel syrup

2 dashes chocolate bitters

Stir ingredients over ice and strain into a favorite glass. Enjoy with or without pants.

N.B. Keep an eye on Gerard Hudson’s Etsy page for upcoming details on how to order Turtle Trip

And check out his corn dog-centric instagram account @corndogcountry – it’s definitely corny

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Bank Teller

 “arbitrage - the simultaneous buying and selling of securities, currency, or commodities in different markets or in derivative forms in order to take advantage of differing prices for the same asset” -

Arbitrage Box by Ryan Hughbanks

Also a 2012 crime drama starring Richard Gere, "Arbitrage" is now a puzzle box, too. Hot off the heels of his debut creation, the Sideswiper Box, comes a new item from Hughbanks Puzzleboxes that is sure to raise interest rates. The Sideswiper is a small chest of wonderful secrets and colorful discoveries. It is large and complex, and takes a long time for Ryan Hughbanks to make. They will be a limited edition, he needs to price them accordingly, and he will stop making more eventually. Fortunately, Ryan has a lot of clever and creative ideas, and while he has plans for other large, complex limited-edition boxes, he also wants to offer more reasonable options that allow his work to be enjoyed by a wide audience. It’s an admirable objective that he is already putting into practice.

Punch in your PIN and make a deposit

Arbitrage is a handsome box, much smaller than the Sideswiper, yet still substantial at 6 x 6 inches square. Ryan feels it has the perfect dimensions for holding it comfortably in your lap. The distinctive stripes on top remind me of an Oreo cookie or an ice cream sandwich – don’t blame me if you get a craving while trying to solve this one. Ryan has placed a few well disguised tricks here reminiscent of something you might find in a Japanese Karakuri Creation Group type puzzle box. It won’t keep you guessing for too long, but you won’t discover the solution immediately either. It’s a nice balance of elements and has plenty of space inside to place a special item. Ryan will continue to offer these boxes indefinitely, as long as he keeps getting orders, although I don’t know if they are at an adjustable or fixed rate, so make your deposit today!

Bank Exchange by Zachary Taylor

I’m celebrating the Arbitrage Box with this refreshing highball from San Francisco bartender Zachary Taylor. Taylor ironically shares his name with the twelfth President of the United States, who eschewed alcohol and yet still managed to die of stomach disease. Taylor the bartender created modern interpretations of the classics and new inventions at the helm of the now defunct Dirty Water, named after the term for pre-prohibition era moonshine.

Pisco and pineapple, a perfect pair

The drink features pisco, the Peruvian national spirit which is a clear grape derived brandy. It lends an unusual flavor to any familiar drink and works very well in a highball with ginger beer, in place of something more typical like rum. Fresh sage leaves provide an herbal nuance and pineapple brings the tropical vibe. Try one the next time you engage in a little arbitrage – cheers!


Performing a little arbitrage on the Bank Exchange

Bank Exchange by Zachary Taylor

1½ oz. pisco
¾ oz. pineapple syrup
½ oz. fresh lime juice
3-4 sage leaves, torn
Ginger beer

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a tall glass with ice. Top with ginger beer.

For more from Ryan Hughbanks see:

Bank On It

To order the Arbitrage Box:

Hughbanks Puzzleboxes

Monday, September 28, 2020

Nick Knack

I'm "mixing it up" here at Boxes and Booze this week, with a surprise "Special Edition" of "Packing and Potions" in honor of that legend of logic, the duke of dissection, the grand poobah of puzzles, his royal highness of hi-jinks, yes, the one and only, Nick Baxter. Many of you are well familiar with Dr. Volker Latussek, the brilliant award winning and prolific puzzle designer who recently invented the "Euklid" and Euklid for Kids" set of seemingly simple yet deviously difficult packing puzzles. Euklid defeated many great puzzlers who couldn't manage to get all of the pieces packed neatly inside the box, so in response the good doctor came up with a "for Kids" version, with just three pieces. How hard could that be? Nick Baxter, head of the World Puzzle Federation US Puzzle Team, among other aliases, doesn't need the easy version - he discovered no fewer than twenty-two solutions to Euklid, the original. So again, Dr. Latussek provided a response: Euklid for Nick, which has just a single solution.

Euklid for Nick by Dr. Volker Latussek

Nick Baxter wrote about it: "For the last ten years, Dr. Volker Latussek and I have been good friends and I've enjoyed every one of his wonderful entries for the Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition (Tower of London and Casino both winning the jury's Grand Prize). But recently something unexpected happened: there should have been just one solution for Euklid, but I found 22, and there could be more! Then apparently Dr L. lost a wager that I was not even aware of, and was forced to name his next design after his new-found nemesis. I can confirm that this time he got it right!

Euklid for Nick is actually for everyone, even kids—anyone looking for a challenging and rewarding puzzle solving experience. And I feel the new puzzle combines the best attributes of its two predecessors. Euklid had seven blocks of various sizes, making it awkward for us to keep track of our failures. On the other hand, Euklid for Kids teased us with only three pieces that didn't cooperate. This time we're again presented with seven blocks, but only two different sizes. They are still not terribly cooperative, but at least we get a more generous opening for the box. But of course, there is plenty of room for rotations!

Euklid and Euklid for Kids by Dr. Volker Latussek

If the Euklid story is a trilogy, this is a fitting finale. I have mixed emotions having my name associated with this design, as I really had nothing to do with it, except perhaps reminding Dr. L of the virtues of a puzzle with a unique solution! And this one is unique in many ways. If you enjoyed any bit of the previous two, you will not be disappointed with the latest Euklid episode."

Nick can be so picky

Let's toast this tribute puzzle with a fitting tipple. This classic can be traced back to some time in the nineteen-thirties, when cocktail culture had left America due to Prohibition and landed overseas. Harry Craddock, a seminal figure in cocktail history, was an icon at the Savoy Hotel in London. He was also the President of the United Kingdom Bartender's Guild, which published, in 1937, a compendium of current approved and "authorized" cocktails of the day. There is mention within those yellowed pages of a Sidney J. Read, whose biography is mostly lost to history, save for the classic cocktails he invented, including the one we are toasting with now.

A little Dram o' Drambuie

I've extolled the virtues of a proper whiskey sour before, merely standing on the shoulders of men like Read. His version features Drambuie, that storied blend of honeyed whiskey from Scotland. Drambuie, from the Gaelic "An Dram Buidheach" (The Drink that Satisfies), originated in the mid eighteenth century as the personal beverage of Prince Charles Edward Stuart - Bonnie Prince Charlie would drink a dram a day for strength and vitality, they say. Which just might be what's required if you attempt Euklid for Nick - Cheers!

Which would you nick? I mean, pick ... err, nevermind

Old Nick by Sidney J. Read c. 1930's

1 1/2 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz Drambuie
1/2 oz fresh lemon
1/2 oz fresh orange
2 dashes orange bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a Nick and Nora glass. Garnish appropriately.

To purchase Euklid for Nick visit:

Saturday, September 26, 2020

I’ll Tumble for You

I’m flush with excitement about introducing this new designer to the world of puzzles and puzzle boxes. He’s got a pair, no, three of a kind of special puzzle design he invented during the quarantine downtime that are quite magical. Get them all and you’ll have a full house of clever items. Ok, let me get straight to the point here – these puzzles are aces.

The Tumbler by Eric Stevens

Eric Stevens is a professional magician and designer who lives in Las Vegas and has worked in the industry in some fashion for twenty years. He has developed and invented numerous illusions and has authored over seven books on magic as well. His most recent project involves playing cards, the basic tool of any self-respecting magician. But this time, the cards are actually the building material for his tricks. He has created a set of puzzles – two puzzle boxes and a puzzle lock – out of playing cards. Stevens has a magician’s mind and understands misdirection and how to play with assumptions. He also understands puzzles, and what makes them fun. He applies that knowledge well and has produced something truly unique.

Play your cards right and it just might open for you

Stevens relates the evolution of the idea: “I wanted to create something special and unique for my friends to do during quarantine, and since I don't have metal or woodworking skills (or access to that material) I tried to think about what I DID have lots of around the house, and the answer came to me rather quickly - PLAYING CARDS!” He invented and improvised as he went, since he was essentially creating something in a medium that had not been done before, to find what worked and what could be done with cards. As it turns out, it’s a lot! 

Peeking allowed ...

I’m particularly fond of The Tumbler, the smaller of the two puzzle boxes. It’s a perfect little gift box with a clever secret that is not obvious and will keep you guessing for a bit. There are two clear “windows” on top that allow you to peek inside. Eric takes care with the little details, adding design elements and flourishes for aesthetic effect and often incorporating the specific features of the playing cards as well. The puzzles look great with standard Bicycle cards but can also be custom made using fancier cards. Keep in mind that this is a puzzle box made from actual playing cards, and must be handled gently – it’s fragile! Anything that should happen does so easily and with no force. Stevens also packages his puzzles in elegant gift boxes with lots of documentation, a hint card, and a solution. It’s all very impressive and an incredible value for the price.

The NegrOld Fashioned

The Tumbler box could really be toasted with just about any cocktail, as long as it’s served in a glass … tumbler. The word has many meanings and one of them is a container for liquid – a glass. Some suggest that in the seventeenth century there were drinking vessels with rounded bottoms known as tumblers, for obvious reasons. That just seems like a terrible design to me. Let’s select an appropriate glass for this toast to the Tumbler – perhaps, an Old Fashioned glass. In this case, the tumbler is named after the cocktail that typically goes into it. And why buck convention? An Old Fashioned it is, coming right up.

Higher proof rye stands up well to the bittersweet syrup

I’ve written about the history of the Old Fashioned before, many times. Most consider it to be the original cocktail, with its combination of spirit, sugar, water and bitters, that developed naturally during the era of bespoke apothecary elixirs. The name of the drink certainly implies it has been around for a while. The term “cocktail” is another story altogether, and quite sordid and fun. But I digress. Here’s a truly unique Old fashioned I created to complement this truly unique puzzle box. It was recently “Negroni Week”, an annual global charitable event sponsored by the trade magazine Imbibe and Campari. I made a Negroni Old Fashioned by creating a syrup from a Negroni, and using it as the sweetener in an Old Fashioned. It’s incredibly delicious. I don’t know why no one has thought of this before but sometimes you have to look at what you’ve got on hand and simply create something wonderful that no one has thought to do before. I’m looking at you, Eric Stevens. Cheers!

An original pair

NegrOld Fashioned

2 oz rye whiskey

½ oz Negroni syrup

2 dashes aromatic bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite tumbler. Orange twist.

For the syrup: add an equal amount of sugar (about 6 tbs) to 1 ounce each gin, sweet vermouth and Campari together in a sauce pan and simmer to melt the sugar and thicken the liquid until syrupy.

Celebrate with a Negroni or variation, and make a donation to help the hospitality industry.


For more about Eric Stevens:

Friday, September 18, 2020

Maiden Voyage

Ahoy, mateys! Well shiver me timbers – it’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day … again! You might have thought the Magistrate would have apprehended the scallywags responsible for this ridiculous day by now, but there’s no bounty on their heads, and the jailer hasn’t been seen since visiting Crack Jenny’s Teacup. So, here we arrrrrrrre.

The Sea Chest by Jesse Born

Neverfear! I’ve just the thing for you, my boisterous Buccaneers, a treasure chest plundered by the Corsairs straight from Davey Jones Locker. How they came to acquire it, we shall never know, as dead men tell no tales. It’s the Sea Chest, after all, and it holds its secrets dear. Capn’ Jesse has pulled all the stops and fired his cannons broadside this time, to procure this epic box for his faithful crew. And a finer Capn’ has ne’er been Born. They say there’s treasure inside, but woe be the pirates who attempt to avail themselves of those riches. This coffer will run a rig on ye, till yer feeling right keelhauled.

Brass accents by Luke Marshall

The Capn’ dreamed of a mechanical pirate coffer made from Wenge, Bocote, Mahogany, Katalox, Holly, Cherry, and Copper. He epiphanized one fine morn of combining pistons into the chest, and packed it full to the gunwales with multiple locks, clues, and treasure. Then his first mate, that ole sly boots, added one more layer to thoroughly bamboozle anyone who attempted to pillage the pieces of eight. Capn’ likes his baubles shiny, so enlisted the help of the town Marshall, who crafted a copper compass to adorn it, and handles to hoist the chest high. The lid was a thing of beauty, carved by the guardian of the ocean deep, who roams from sea and sea. Capn’ Born was half minded to place a cannon deep inside, ready to blow any man down who dared enter, but the first mate talked some sense to him, assuring him the chest had plenty of quirks and quillets to spiflicate any rum bluffer and turn him higgledy-piggledy. Sure enough, thar be over thirty moves required, with sequential discoveries, a map, and the aforementioned treasure held fast from any but the savviest old salt.

A scene o' the high sea

Capn’ is a modern fellow, who still likes to plot his course by hand but employs a magic computing device to navigate the journeys now. He’s apt to trace the map many, many a time ere he weighs anchor. They say he crafted ten chests before he was satisfied that it would give no quarter. Yo ho! There’s some who seek perfection in this world, and aim to achieve it. Aye aye, Capn’, we can all appreciate a thing that’s shipshape. But blow me down! This chest is a thing of beauty, sure to make the fiercest pirate shed a diamond tear.

All hands on deck

The Sea Chest itself could easily be the motherload, a prize to make you flush in the pocket. Aye, but it’s just the first, me hearties. Just the first in the “Voyager Trilogy” from Capn’ Born. So grab yer spyglass and keep a lookout on the horizon for the next, the “SunDial” chest … there’s rumors about that Capn’ be parleying on the sequel with that other ‘ole seadog, Admiral Yaaaaarrrrger …

All aboard the Luxe Princess

Now blimey, I’ve known Capn’ Born since he was knee high to a ragamuffin, and I’ve only just savvy’d that he’s not likely to be found splicing the mainbrace like some carousers you might ken. So here’s a tasty tipple to tickle a sea capn’s fancy that’s no clap of thunder. It won’t make you squiffy, aye, there aint no nip o’ Nelson’s folly in it to be found. But don’t hang a jib, lads, like some death’s head on a mop! You’ll have ne’er a more delightful drink to sluice yer gobs with this side o’ the high seas.

Heave ho, I'm parched!

We’ll drop anchor off Galveston Island, home of notorious pirate Jean LaFitte, and batten down the hatches while we head ashore to mingle with the landlubbers. There’s bounty to be had for a few doubloons at Coltivare, where Capn’ Crowl-Keck runs a tight ship. She’ll suffer your prittle-prattle like a consummate host while her quick and nimble crew whip up yer heart’s desires, like this faux Grog that’ll make you sing a chanty. Now avast ye, and tip yer tankards to the Sea Chest – bottoms up!

Time to hoist the mizzen

Luxe Princess by Sarah Crowl-Keck, Coltivare, Houston

3 oz coconut water
1 oz fresh lime juice
½ oz orgeat
½ oz cherry syrup
3 dashes salt tincture
Handful of fresh mint leaves

Shake together with ice and strain into a favorite goblet filled with ice. Top with 1 oz sparkling water and garnish with mint, cherries, and powdered sugar dust on top

Salt tincture: Combine ½ oz of sea salt with 2 oz of water, and shake until salt is dissolved

For prior pirate prattle:

Getting Groggy


For more from Jesse Born:

Natural Born

Born This Way

Easy as Pie

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Turing the Wood

“The difference between a cow and a bean is a bean can begin an adventure!” - Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods

The Turing Box by Nicholas Phillips

The Turing Box has a wonderful tale to tell, one that may lead us astray from the forest path, but never fear, I am certain we will find our way back. The story starts with one that I have told before, the tale of the Turing Chest, by American master woodworker Nicholas Phillips. We are now in the play’s second act, so allow me to provide the Playbill synopsis of the first to catch everyone up.

“The harder to get, the better to have.” - Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods

Phillips, a PhD physicist and mathematician who spent much of his life working for NASA, is also a traditionally trained Japanese yosegi marquetry expert. He studied the technique with seventh generation master Ichiro Ishikawa in Japan, and now applies those lessons to his beautiful wooden chests and boxes. He has a puzzling mind, and has created a number of different puzzle chests over the years. The Turing Chest, a gorgeous Art Deco chest of six locked drawers, was so named for how it incorporates secret keys and locks that are hidden from view. One of the locked drawers in the chest is actually a stand alone puzzle box, which must be removed entirely and then solved to find the next key. For this puzzle box drawer, Phillips designed a truly novel mechanism to complement the traditional Japanese "secret box" style in a modern homage to the tradition. The original Turing Chest garnered much interest and eventually, Nicholas revisited the design for a second act, and made a new set of six chests. Little tweaks and improvements on the original were added, at the encouragement of the original’s owner, including a new and much more complex puzzle box drawer design.

“Sometimes the things you most wish for are not to be touched.” - Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods

Highly figured walnut shimmers like magic

From Phillips: “The puzzle box is an interpretation of the classic Japanese style "secret box". The box's top and bottom are Walnut, finished with Shellac and Lacquer. The sides […] are made of Quarter-sawn Paulownia and Jatoba. The Paulownia is one the classic woods used by Japanese woodworkers because of its workability and stability. The outside of the sides are then decorated with my own shop-made Yosegi. Two patterns were used: checkerboard diamond and the classic Seigaiha "waves" pattern. The Seigaiha pattern is made with Redheart, Cherry, and thermal-treated Poplar. The checkerboard uses the six woods Yellowheart, Redheart, Holly, Campher, and two types of Bubinga.”

“The prettier the flower, the farther from the path.” - Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods

Nicholas made one additional puzzle box drawer from the new edition, to sit beside the original chest. The “Turing Box”, in addition to being absolutely stunning to look at, is a delightful puzzle. It takes the novel concept from the first edition and multiplies the complexity by a factor of three. I have not seen any other puzzle box use this same principle. While the original was surprising, clever and amusing, the new version is also downright tricky and confusing! The box manages to retain the classic Japanese style while introducing something wonderfully unique.

“Every knot was once straight rope.” - Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods

Into the Woods by Rafa Garcia Febles

The toast for the Turing Box requires one final detour off the path by way of explanation. The second edition of six Turing Chests were all sold to private collectors. The last to go was purchased by none other than Stephen Sondheim, the American composer and lyricist. His musicals have garnered the highest acclaim, including an Academy Award, eight Tony’s, eight Grammy’s, a Pulitzer Prize and more. Phillip’s incredible work is certainly getting the recognition it well deserves.

“Nice is different than good.” - Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods

Stir with fir

One of my personal favorite Sondheim musicals is Into the Woods, if you haven’t deduced that by now. This cocktail was created by New York bartender Rafa Garcia Febles, who got his start at Nomad and Death and Company, and now helms the bar at The Rookery in Brooklyn. With the coming of cool weather around the corner, it’s a perfect drink to add to your list of things to try. Fir tree eau de vie is like liquid forest, and adding it to anything will instantly transport a drink (and its drinker) into the woods. You can make your own serviceable version, as I did, by infusing a botanical heavy gin with fir fronds for a few hours. Chartreuse multiplies the herbal flavors, Campari layers in a little bitterness, which is a must for any Sondheim reference, and vermouth provides just the right balance to the proceedings. It’s a good drink, not a nice drink. It will make you feel things that you hadn’t before. Here’s to the woods, may we all stray from the path for a while, and find our way back. Cheers!

“Slotted spoons don’t hold much soup.” – Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods

Excited and scared but perfectly paired

Into the Woods by Rafa GarcĂ­a Febles

¾ oz Eau de vie of Douglas Fir (or gin)
¾ oz Campari
¾ oz Green Chartreuse
¾ oz Dry vermouth

Stir ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Grapefruit peel garnish.
For more from Nicholas Phillips:
Fine Creations
The Turing Chest