Saturday, November 10, 2018


“The brain is a muscle that can move the world.” – Stephen King, Firestarter

Shane Hales has been busy.  He started his own locksmithing company this past year, Haleslocks LTD, and if you are fortunate enough to live within a five mile radius or so of him, you should probably avail yourself of his services.  I can’t imagine anyone better to secure your home and valuables.  At the same time, somehow, he has continued to pursue his puzzling hobby as well.  Over the years Shane has created a number of devious and mysterious wooden puzzles, and more recently, a series of puzzle locks.  He loves to restore old and vintage locks, and knows the fascinating history of his craft.  It’s no wonder he comes up with such intriguing and clever mechanisms.

HalesLock 5 "Firestarter" by Shane Hales

HalesLock 5 also has a special name, the “Fire Starter”.  This is no accident, for a few reasons.  One of them, according to Shane, can be blamed on Allard Walker, who introduced Shane's HalesLock 4 to the world by saying that "Shane had made a HalesLock 1, 2, and 3, so this new one must be called ...."  Shane was determined his next would have a proper name.  I imagined the Fire Starter would be made from ferrocerium, an iron metal alloy known for producing showers of hot sparks used to ignite a fire.  (I didn’t really, but that would have been cool.) In reality it’s just as cool, an unusual cylindrical “TOTEM” lock from the Italian company Viro.  It seems appropriate to have made a puzzle lock from one of these, since the very name of the company, Vi.Ro., is itself a puzzling acronym of the founder’s name, Vincenzo Rossetti.  

The central idea for the Fire Starter came to Shane in a moment of cosmic inspiration, like the apple falling on Newton's head.  The cylindrical lock literally rolled off of his workbench one day and smashed him on the foot.  Eureka!  Apparently, Shane enjoys pain.  The lock fits nicely in the hand and is made from solid tempered steel with a nickel plating finish.  There is another cool feature, a rotating “burglar-resistant” anti-drill plate which only allows access to the keyhole at certain rotations.  Unlike prior Hales Locks, which merely beg to be unlocked, there is more to this one.  There are actually two sections to this lock, and each must be opened to fully solve the puzzle, release the trapped ring, and find Shane’s signature.  He’s tricky, which we love, but he’s also a really nice guy, which we also love.  He has provided some hints for solving, if you are paying attention and can interpret them.  Firestarter is immensely satisfying because it progresses in stages, giving up one secret at a time and revealing more as it develops.  In fact, this is a sequential discovery puzzle lock.  I’m not alone in saying it’s the best Hales Lock yet.

It will start a fire in your brain

Now for something smooth and sophisticated to sip on.  We want to keep our wits about us with this one, so we’ll rely on an industry secret, the bartender’s late night last call, a “low ABV” cocktail.  Low ABV, or “alcohol by volume”, refers to a cocktail with low alcohol content.  It’s a perfect idea when you’ve had enough already, want to keep things mellow, or have a particularly tricky puzzle to solve. To achieve this the drink usually foregoes the typical base spirit, such as bourbon or gin, which often start out at 40% ABV (80 proof) and can be even higher.  Instead, such drinks rely on lower proof spirits like fortified wines, Amaris, and liqueurs, which clock in at 16-20% ABV. 

Sure Fire by Michael McCollum

This toast comes from one of the more storied bars in modern times, in a roundabout way.  It starts in a tiny, hidden bar tucked away in the East Village of New York City which opened on January 1, 2000.  The bar, Milk and Honey, and it’s celebrated owner Sasha Petraske, had twenty seats, an obscure reservations only system, and launched a cocktail renaissance around the world.  In 2012 the bar changed hands and became Attaboy, run by Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy from Milk and Honey.  Attaboy has had it’s own share of fame, and now has a second location in Nashville, Tennessee, where our story concludes.  There are no menus at these bars, a style the Attaboy folks retained from the original Milk and Honey.  Ask for a low ABV cocktail with amaro, and you might just receive, as I did at Attaboy Nashville, the Sure Fire, which includes the incredibly satisfying combination of Nardini, a chocolatey, citrusy Italian amaro, Punt E Mes (a bittersweet vermouth), and amontillado sherry.  
Low ABV, high flavor and satisfaction

I couldn’t find the elusive Nardini so adapted with the similarly flavored Averna and tweaked the chocolate notes with a little Tempis Fugit Crème de Cacao.  I used Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, another subtle modification.  Sherry is another fortified wine which was historically relegated to the cheap seats but has taken on a new life lately with lots of interest in the cocktail scene.   There are many, many varieties.  Amontillado is more robust and aged longer than the typically drier fino style, but is not a sweet style like Pedro Ximenez.   It works perfectly in this drink.  Here’s to slow burning fires of creativity and the imagination.  Cheers!

This pair is sure to spark your interest

Sure Fire by Michael McCollum

1 oz Amaro Nardini (or sub ¾ oz Averna and ¼ oz Crème de Cacao)
1 oz Punt E Mes vermouth
1 oz Amontillado sherry

Stir ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Garnish with an orange peel flame and enjoy … slowly.

For more about Shane Hales:
HalesLocks LTD
Hales Puzzles
Locks and Libations
Cabinet of Wonders

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Of Mice and Men and Mazes

“Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.” – John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

Maybe.  Times like these make me wonder.  What’s the point of writing about puzzle boxes and cocktails in a world gone mad.  It seems pretty useless and unimportant.  But I guess it’s just what I do to keep my sanity.  Something I look forward to, and know others enjoy as well.   Our hobbies help us navigate the maze. 

Of Mice and Mazes by Thomas Beutner

Dr. Thomas Beutner is an aerospace engineer who has worked with the Navy and the Department of Defense for many years.  Simultaneously, he has been a woodworker for twenty five years, honing and refining his skills, and bringing his intelligent and clever ideas to life.  One idea that has stuck him as very satisfying is the idea of a puzzle inside a puzzle box.  A metapuzzle, if you will.  I doubt he would need to argue the merits and appeal of this concept to most of us who enjoy this sort of thing, and he is perfectly suited to engineering this type of design, so to speak.  Past efforts include his “Puzzle in a Puzzle Box” and “Pyramid in a Box”, both of which are ball stacking puzzles contained within puzzle boxes themselves.  Beutner adds that these puzzles may have been more complicated and difficult than many care for, but the idea of the puzzle in a puzzle box stuck with him.  

Another puzzle waits inside

As fate would have it, he came across a rather unusual deck of cards.  Each card face has a clever maze drawn into the details of the numbers and suits.  Even more interestingly, the entire deck is also a metapuzzle, with one card leading to another, starting with one Joker and ending fifty three cards later with the other.  What a perfectly puzzling item to place inside a puzzle box!  Beutner hit on the theme of a mouse trapped in a maze and created something rather unique.  His “Of Mice and Mazes” is a delightful puzzle box, “easier” to solve according to him than his others, but that is always a relative concept.  He is clearly a puzzler’s puzzler.  He has added a number of elements to this box which are purely meant to confuse and distract, and they certainly work well.  He comments that he has watched well-seasoned puzzlers struggle to find the first move on this box, while those with no experience get it immediately.  Perhaps that is a hint, but no matter – we are all victims of our own cleverness.  He says he learns something about his hobby from each new puzzle he makes.  The tolerances for this box were demanding, for example, and required new precision.  The locking mechanism is also unique, not seen before on any prior box.  It’s truly marvelous and works perfectly with the box as a whole concept.  I would go so far as to say he has created a new classic.

The White Mouse by Benoit Provost

Here’s another new classic with which to toast this metapuzzle, and another mouse adept at navigating the maze.  Nancy Wake was a secret agent, French resistance fighter, and special forces operative for the Allied defenses in World War II.  She was so adept at thwarting the Nazi efforts and evading capture that she became known by the Gestapo as the “White Mouse”.  In one of her most daring escapades, after parachuting into occupied France, she helped lead a group of 7,000 soldiers against an army of 22,000 German soldiers to victory.  She received innumerable honors and awards of distinction after the war from around the world, becoming the Allies most highly decorated servicewoman and hero.

An heroic drink

In her later years she settled in London and took up residence at the Stafford Hotel in St. James Place, a former British and American forces club during the war.  She was known to enjoy her regular gin and tonic first thing every morning, sitting at her reserved bar stool at the hotel’s elegant American Bar.  In honor of her death in 2011, at the ripe age of 98, Benoit Provost, the bar’s manager, created a signature drink, which has become the most popular item on the menu.  The “White Mouse” cocktail features saffron infused gin, lemon, honey-rosemary syrup and champagne.  It’s elusive, deliciously complex, inspiring, and devastatingly effective.  Here’s to the brave heroes who fight during dark days and inspire us to find our way out of the maze.

An amazing pair of mice

The White Mouse by Benoit Provost

1 oz saffron infused gin
½ oz fresh lemon
½ oz rosemary honey syrup

Shake gin, lemon and syrup together with ice and strain into a festive glass.  Top with champagne and garnish with twist.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Boxes and Boos

It’s that time of year again, for every good ghoul and boy’s favorite spooktacular count dracular blog, Boxes and Boos.  Believe it or not, this year’s themed offering comes by way of our friend downunder, the dark prince of puzzles, maker of “fiendish” limited editions, yes that’s right Dr. Frankenstein – I mean, Mr. Puzzle himself, Brian Young. 

Houdini's Torture Cell by Brian Young

It may not be so obvious at first glance, but Brian’s “Houdinis Torture Cell” is a perfect Halloween puzzle.  One of his coveted limited edition puzzles, Houdini won a Jury First Prize in the 2012 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition.  According to Brian, “the puzzle celebrates Harry Houdini’s first public performance of The Torture Cell at the Circus Busch in Berlin on 12th September 1912.” The design is also based on a clever idea Brian incorporated originally in the Opening Bat puzzle, a much more complicated, multistep puzzle, where this particular mechanism is completely hidden and must be solved blindly.  Did I mention, fiendish?  This reminds me of one of the clever mechanisms found originally in the MSM Telephone Box, which is also completely hidden and must be solved blindly.  We find it again in the Louvre puzzle, where it is more visible and easier to understand.  Or perhaps I should say it is easier to put one’s finger on.  Which should be a figure of speech in this case.   Anyhow, the Houdini puzzle presents our hero, Harry Houdini, suspended upside down inside his famous Water Torture Cell.  Your job, as puzzle savior, is to free him.  While avoiding mention of his rather suggestive appearance.  Perhaps Brian thought Houdini’s real name was Richard.

Can you help Houdini, or are you Weisz averse?

So why is this a perfect Halloween puzzle?  You are thinking, perhaps, that the Houdini inside is hollow?  Making him a hollow weenie?  Wrong!  Stop laughing.  This is serious business.  In fact, on October 22, 1926, while performing a series of shows at the Princess Theater in Montreal, Houdini invited a few students from McGill University back to his dressing room.  He had met one at a lecture earlier that week, who was an artist.  Ostensibly, this fellow was going to sketch Houdini, who was reclining on a couch.  But one of the other “students” engaged Houdini in conversation about his boasts of strength and his ability to withstand punches to the stomach.  Without allowing him to prepare, the student delivered numerous severe blows to Houdini’s abdomen, finally stopping when Houdini held up his hand, clearly in pain. Some accounts suggest that this assailant was actually an amateur boxer.  Despite being unwell, Houdini went on with his show that night, and the next.  He could not finish the following performance and underwent emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix on Oct 24.  Few survived such an occurrence in those days.  Houdini returned to the operating room a few days later, but gave up fighting and died on Oct 31, 1926.   He was considered the greatest escape artist in history, and he inspires so many of us still.  So do a little magic in his honor on Halloween, and keep his memory alive.

The Dapper Dead

What shall we drink on this chilly October evening?  Ghouls, ghosts, and ghastly gentlemen alike all have one thing in common - they all love a stiff drink. "Stiff" as in, dead guy, get it?  Ok, ok, groans are good on Halloween, right? One thing we can all agree on is that Halloween is the perfect time for some liquid adult treats, and luckily I've got just the trick up my sleeve.  The classic Boulevardier cocktail, named after the very much alive bon vivants and stylish gentlemen who strolled the Parisian boulevards in the nineteen-twenties, was created by Erskin Gwynn, who wrote a magazine of that same name for American expats. 

Perfect for a stroll down the boulevard ... in the underworld

It’s quite likely that Harry Houdini and his wife Bess enjoyed this drink.  They loved Paris and had an apartment there.  Houdini was known to stage publicity stunts to promote his magic shows.  He once orchestrated such an advertisement along a street café in Paris, where he lined up seven bald men wearing berets.  As people strolled by, they would sequentially remove their hats, revealing the letters H-O-U-D-I-N-I inked on their heads.  I’ve created a delicious autumnal variation of the Boulevardier featuring applejack, one of the earliest spirits in America. George Washington's troops were given rations of the stuff - you might even say it's so old, it's revolutionary! Mixed with a sweet vermouth (such as the delightfully named “D’ Sange” from Momenpop) and some Campari, the resulting drink would look perfect in the hand of the most stylish of spooks, and tastes so good you'll need to fend off those fiends who want a sip. What the hell, just mix one up for them too.  Happy Halloween!

There's no escaping how good this pair is

The Dapper Dead

1 oz Laird’s Applejack
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 oz Campari
2 dashes Bittermen’s Hellfire Bitters

Stir ingredients over ice and strain into an eyeball glass.  I mean, a highball glass.  Garnish with a set of citrus peel fangs frozen inside a clear ice cube.  Cheers!

For more from Brian Young:

For prior Halloween hijinks see:
Trick and Treat
Wolves at the Door

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Traditions Old and New

When it comes to traditional puzzle boxes, the history books direct us to the Hakone mountain region south of Tokyo in Japan.  The thousand year old wood marquetry technique known as yosegi-zaiku is the region’s greatest claim to fame.  The secret opening boxes which feature the marquetry are a much more recent development, relatively speaking.  Much has changed with puzzle boxes in Hakone over the past two hundred years or so, but the allure of the “traditional” sliding panel, yosegi covered box remains. 

Traditional Box (Stickman No. 32) by Robert Yarger

The creations of puzzle box artist Robert Yarger are a far cry from the standard mechanics of traditional Japanese puzzle boxes.  I'm a huge fan of traditional Japanese boxes, which require exceptional skill and precision to make, and can be incredibly complex.  They are a dying art form.  The movements required to open them are, however, often routine and mostly repetitive, once you know how they work.  Progressive thinking and ingenious artistry championed by Akio Kamei and the Karakuri Creation Group in Hakone have saved the art form and advanced its boundaries.  In the same way, Robert Yarger has never settled for the routine.  His puzzle creations in wood are among the most complex, diverse and creative in the world, and his Stickman boxes came to life in parallel with the new school of developers in Japan.  Rob relates a story of his brother and himself having traditional Japanese puzzle boxes when they were kids, which were somehow lost over time.  The Stickman Puzzle Box Company began from Rob deciding to replace these old boxes with new ones of his own creation, the “Oak Wood Slide” boxes (Stickman No. 1).

Those original Stickman boxes were nothing like a traditional Japanese box, especially on the inside.  They contain a mechanism which links drawer compartments and automates movements.  Rob’s designs have only gotten more complex and interesting.  This introduction is simply to point out that when he finally released what he named his “Traditional” Box (Stickman No. 32), an homage to the puzzle box’s Japanese origins, he didn’t really settle for “traditional”.  It should come as no surprise that the inner workings of the box are anything but standard.  In fact the name is both a serious nod to the origins of this art form and an ironic spoof on that idea as well.  The box does have a very traditional look and feel to it, being approximately 5 “sun” in measurement, incorporating kannuki sliding key sections embedded within each end piece, and being covered in yosegi wood marquetry.  This last detail, the yosegi, is actually what inspired Rob to create the Traditional Box in the first place.  His apprentice Rick Jenkins had been interested in learning the technique, and they used it to finish the final Stickman No. 1 Oak Wood Slide box for a special touch.  Rob ended up learning the technique as well, and used it to tremendous effect on the Traditional Box. 

Beautiful yosegi creates a 3D effect

Rob relates a common pitfall for making yosegi which he learned the hard way.  Using the traditional Japanese hand planer requires the blocks of wood to have the grain patterns lined up in the right direction for "pull" planing - otherwise the planer hits a dead end snag.  He designed a number of beautiful patterns including the three dimensional geometric pattern seen on the top and bottom. It's incredibly unusual and really stands out, framing the more traditional “kikkou” pattern in the center.  Along the sides is a hexagonal yosegi pattern created by Jenkins.  Exploring the box reveals another surprise.  Unlike traditional boxes, on which the kannuki slider bar(s) move independently and usually just in the center of the end piece, the ends of the Traditional Box are divided into multiple kannuki bars which all move in unpredictable ways.  Sometimes they move independently, other times together.  Repeat movements don't always have the same result ... quite reminiscent of Rob's 3-Lock Box ....  There’s just a lot of movement which starts to happen, all around the box, and in unpredictable ways.  It can get confusing, and complicated!  Another surprise – there are four compartments in all to discover here, and the finale, getting the lid off completely, involves a truly unique mechanism unlike anything ever seen on a “traditional” box.  In total there are a minimum of 47 moves required to find all four compartments and remove the lid.  Ironically, Rob says that these boxes are set to the easiest solution, but a much harder (“insane”, according to Rob) configuration is also possible, which was too complicated to even try to describe in the solution booklets.  I really think that this version is hard enough! Keeping the tradition alive could not have been made better.

Bon Iver (Good Winter)

My own collection started when I was a boy, with a four move traditional Japanese puzzle box I got from my parents which is a little loose these days.  My prize possession back then was a more complicated box a got from them soon after that, having demonstrated a keen interest.  It still works perfectly.  I’ve had it in mind for a long time to pair that old traditional box with an old classic cocktail called the “Old Pal”.  The Old Pal traces its origins to 1927 and the friendship between Paris based sportswriter William “Sparrow” Robinson and Harry McElhone, the famed proprietor at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris.  Robinson liked to call every “My Old Pal”.  He loved the combination of rye, dry vermouth and Campari that Harry would fix for him, and the drink became legend.  Like a Negroni, with whiskey rather than gin, the Old Pal is also a great drink to modify by simply varying the ingredients from the same family of spirits.  Instead of whiskey, for example, we could use apple brandy, a wonderful spirit this time of year.

Apple, cedar and sapele make this the perfect fireside sipper

To toast the Stickman Traditional Box I thought it would be nice to take this idea and make it a bit more special.  It seemed in keeping with the unique nature of the box, which takes its starting origins and adds a whole lot more.  It’s also nice to be toasting Rob with what is essentially a fancy Old Pal.  For this version, which is a perfect fall and winter drink, as mentioned I substituted the whiskey for apple brandy from Laird’s, America’s oldest continuously operated distillery.  They provided the “spirit” ration to George Washington’s troops in the American Revolution.  Instead of regular vermouth, I used the delicious aromatized Italian wine called Barolo Chinato, which is similar to vermouth but full of rich and intense flavors of bitter orange and cinnamon spice.  Finally rather than Campari I used Meletti, another bitter Italian aperitivo which features orange and saffron notes.  Tying all these flavors together, I added a few dashes of charred cedar bitters, which evoke a wintry scene of forest and fireside, and lastly a few dashes of Rob’s own homemade Stickman Sapele Bitters.  These last are an amazing tincture made from actual sapele wood, which he uses often in his puzzle boxes.  He discovered the flavor quite by accident, when wood chips fell into his beer one day.  The taste is mellow and sweet, very different from an oak flavor one might expect from barrel aged wine or bourbon.  The sapele adds one more incredible layer to this delicious drink which has made it a favorite I’ll be enjoying over and again this season.  I agree that this may not be the most accessible list of ingredients for most people, but I argue that neither is a Stickman Box often found on many a shelf.  Here’s to good pals, old and new.  Cheers!

These old pals are quite special

Bon Iver (Good Winter)
1 oz apple brandy
1 oz Meletti
1 oz Barolo Chinato
3 dashes charred cedar bitters
3 dashes sapele bitters
 Stir with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Orange twist garnish and sapele stirring stave.

For more about Robert Yarger:
Favorite Things

Photos of yosegi blocks in preparation for the Traditional Box, courtesy of Robery Yarger:

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Great Pyramid

The ancient pyramids of Egypt hold an air of mystery and wonder and remain a fascinating marvel of engineering.  Modern day speculation posits that the near perfect precision of orientation along the cardinal points (north / south / east / west) of the great pyramids was achieved with the use of gnomons – long surveying rods placed in the ground to cast shadows.  At the fall equinox, the rod’s shadow will trace a perfect east – west line along the ground. 

Pharaoh's Secret by Perry McDaniel

Perry McDaniel, a favorite craftsman and fellow Texan, uses something a bit more modern to achieve his precision, but I suspect he could do it with shadows too.  He designed (along with Norman Sandfield) and created the Pharaoh’s Secret, a miniature pyramid made from walnut, mahogany and padauk woods.  Those familiar with the creations of the Sandfield brothers won’t be surprised to see that this pyramid is held together by perfect dovetails, impossibly positioned at opposing sides all around.  There’s definitely something deep inside this tomb, rattling around like an angry mummy waiting to unleash its curse upon the world.  Listen closely and you might hear it whispering the secrets of the ages.  I can just barely make it out … I think it’s saying … “foooooled youuuuuuu”. Hmphh.  Well, whatever the secret is, finding it is half the fun.  The other half is admiring the beautiful workmanship and clever design of another timeless piece from this team.

Ancient Egyptian Dovetail ...

I’m taking a bit of poetic puzzling license here with this toast, but I think it’s acceptable in this case.  The group of puzzlers who produced this fine pyramid are themselves at the pinnacle of playfulness.  I don’t think they will mind.  The Pharaoh’s Secret pyramid also resembles a volcano to me, with its red cap and dovetails like lava bubbling out and flowing down the sides of the mountain.  Since the goal here is to get inside, I logically thought that going “Under the Volcano” would be in order.

Under the Volcano by Kyle Davidson

There are a few Under the Volcano recipes floating about but this appears to be the original, from Kyle Davidson and sourced from the underground collection of rogue cocktails published in the pamphlet “Beta Cocktails”.  Presumably the drink takes its name from the 1947 novel by Malcolm Lowry set in Quauhnahuac, Mexico on the Day of the Dead, 1938.  It tells the tale of an alcoholic former British consul who experiences the most fateful day of his life.  It’s full of lyrical metaphors on the human condition and struggles against the forces of destruction.  Sounds like an amazing recipe for a cocktail.  This one is a sophisticated margarita which replaces the orange liqueur with something quite a bit more complex, the combination of Italain Cynar amaro and French Chartreuse.  The result is absolutely incredible, a medley of flavors to ponder and enjoy.  Perhaps it even contains the secret of the pyramids, who knows.  Cheers!

Not your average margarita ...

Under the Volcano by Kyle Davidson

2 oz Tesoro Añejo Tequila
3/4 oz Lime Juice
1/2 oz Cynar
1/4 oz Yellow Chartreuse
1/4 oz Agave Nectar 

Shake together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with something explosive.

Surprises appear amid this pair ...

For more from Sandfield and Company:
More Dovetail Attention
Complimentary Condimentaries
Fool Me Twice

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Doctor is In

Who doesn’t love a confusingly eccentric Time Lord who goes around saving the world?  Dr. Who (his real name is exceedingly hard to pronounce) originally premiered on November 23, 1963 starring English character actor William Hartnell, who would go on to be known as the First Doctor.  One of the many pieces of trivia from the show’s long franchise is how the original “time and relative dimensions in space” machine (TARDIS) in which the Doctor and his companions travel got its distinctive external appearance.  It was actually supposed to "blend in" to wherever and whenever it appeared, as a disguise – such as a column in ancient Rome, perhaps a pagoda in China, who knows.  But after constructing the famous blue police box for the first episode, the producers realized they did not have the budget for such extravagance.  It was much easier to claim that the time machine’s “chameleon circuit” was broken, and the police box remained forever after.  I personally grew up during the Tom Baker era, the Fourth Doctor, who brought an impish charm and charisma to the role as he dashed about the universe in his striped scarf while eating Jelly Babies. 

TARDIS Box by Richard Giaimo

To celebrate the release of the landmark “Season 11” which premieres around the world on October 7 (2018) I thought it apropos to feature a TARDIS puzzle box.  The new season is only season 11 if counting from the program’s revival in 2005, but the thirty-seventh season overall.  Dr. Who has spanned generations.  I should say, re-generations, since the lead role relies on the premise that the Doctor, an alien “Time Lord” from the planet Gallifrey, will take on a new body every so often as he travels through space and time.  It’s about time too that the Doctor visits the modern era.  For the first time ever, the new iteration of the Doctor will be played by a woman, Jodie Whittaker, who will now go on to be known as the Thirteenth Doctor.  James Bond, take note.

I can't list the box's dimensions, there are far too many ...

The TARDIS box is the unique creation of wood working hobbyist and musician Richard Giaimo from Cape Cod, who modeled it after the 1970’s Tom Baker era iteration.  Fashioned from birch and painted with watercolor blue, the box is decorated internally with printed graphics which recreate the internal time machine and control panel from that era.  On top there is a functioning blue light.  There are three or four internal compartments which are fairly easy to find, as well as two others which are more cleverly hidden away, including one extremely sneaky and well disguised compartment which is easy to overlook.  The box is styled as roguish folk art, a bit rough, full of surprises and incredibly charming, just like Tom Baker’s Dr. Who. 

Banana daiquiri by Dr. Who c. 1750?

Die hard Dr. Who fans will know about his proclivity towards bananas.  He loves them.  Bananas make an appearance now and again throughout the show’s history, like a long standing running joke.  In “The Girl in the Fireplace” (season 2, episode 4, 2005), the Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, travels back in time to Versailles where / when he apparently invents / invented the banana daiquiri.  Good thing he was carrying a banana at the time.  Of course, I had to make a banana daiquiri to toast the good Doctor and this TARDIS.  The daiquiri, as everyone now knows, is the simple and delicious combination of rum, lime and sugar.  This version (with said banana) from Caitlyn Jackson of Geraldine’s in Austin, Texas ups the ante with banana liqueur.  I threw in some extra banana as well, which I know is bananas, but I found it appealing.  You’re gonna love it – a bunch!  Here’s to the new Doctor Who, it’s about Time. Cheers!

What do you call a shoe made from a banana? A slipper ...

Banana Daiquiri adapted from Caitlyn Jackson

1 ½ oz aged rum
¾ oz fresh lime
½ oz Giffard Banana liqueur
¼ oz simple syrup
½ ripe banana

Muddle the banana in the bottom of a tin then shake all ingredients with ice.  Strain into a favorite glass filled with crushed ice.  Garnish with banana TARDIS.

Time flies like an arrow
Fruit flies like a banana

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Moment of ZN

I’ve been meditating on this offering for a while now, thinking about this box, with its ancient zen-like spirit.  Started as a branch of Chinese Buddhism called “Chan” (which derives from Sanskrit for “meditative state”) over one thousand years ago, Zen Buddhism emerged after the migration of this religion to Japan.  The teachings of Zen are complex and focused on enlightenment, like all Buddhism, but contain the central theme of accepting reality just as it is.  Zen must be practiced in real life - it can't be truly understood through words on the page.

Box of ZN by Randal Gatewood

Randal Gatewood must have loved the ideas contained in these centuries old teachings.  Zen, and Taoism, which Zen is strongly influenced by, appear to have factored into a number of his works.  His Yin-Yang Master box has the central symbol of Taoism prominently displayed on top, and his “Box of ZN”, at least to my interpretation, appears to be similarly themed.  A calm and meditative approach is not a bad way to experience a puzzle box, after all.  No point in getting frustrated, that won’t get you anywhere.  Enjoy the beauty, observe the motion, the interactions, and go with the flow.  Don’t keep trying the same move over and over, you’ll get nowhere.  Let it take you on a journey and before you know it, something unexpected might occur.  It’s like a Zen koan, those wonderfully insightful stories with deeper meaning.

N-e idea how to open Z box?

I’ll tell you my favorite koan.  There are many variations, but here is one:  Two monks, an old master and his young apprentice, were walking in the country side.  They came upon a river bank where they observed quite a spectacle.  A wealthy woman was shouting at her servant, who struggled in the middle of the river with all her luggage piled on his shoulders.  She demanded he hurry up and fetch her across as well.  The old master shrugged, picked up the woman, and carried her across the river where he set her down, with no thanks, and continued on his way.  The young apprenticed hurried to catch up with his master, and spent the next hour fuming but saying nothing.  Another hour, and another, went by in silence.  Finally he could take it no more and exclaimed to his master, “Why did you help that awful woman?”  His master replied, “Young apprentice, I set that woman down hours ago.  Why are you still carrying her?”

Moment of Zen by Will Talbot

The Box of ZN is easily my favorite of Gatewood’s creations.  It has a very interesting shape, like a little chest with flared sides and two sturdy handles, and is made from exotic Bubinga and Keruing woods.  The top features a zig-zagging pattern of wood slats which is echoed in design on the sides.  Depending on how you look at it, or how the slats may move, perhaps, you might imagine the letters “Z” or “N” at various times.  Which is probably how the box got its name.  That’s a very zen way to name something, don’t you think?  The mechanism is extremely satisfying, with well-hidden but logical moves, a dynamic experience, and 27 total steps required to open the box.  There’s no banging, force, or invisible mechanics involved.  It’s a very peaceful, meditative flow, and the end is illuminating.

Take some sage advice and try this one

Such an experience calls for a moment of zen.  Yes, the box provides such moments, as described, but I’m talking about the cocktail.  Set amidst the backdrop of one of Manhattan’s swankier spots, the roof top hotspot bar at the Standard Highline Hotel, the Top of the Standard Bar (aka the Boom Boom Room) would seem the last place on Earth to find a moment of zen.  Of course, it’s just the kind of place where you could really use one.  Perhaps that’s why bartender Will Talbot created it, but for whatever reason, we can all enjoy it now.  This is a solid bourbon whiskey cocktail, which is certainly a good place to start when looking for some zen.  It adds a nice zing of lime, and an unexpected whirlwind of flavor from yellow Chartreuse, which might derail the serenity.  But it’s balanced with an incredibly soothing syrup made from jasmine tea, which mellows and balances the flavors and brings the calm.  A little sage adds depth and wisdom, and the result is a truly delicious cocktail.  The original is served with a fried sage leaf garnish as well, which is pretty neat, but I found my moment of garnish zen in a different way.  Cheers! 

Enlightenment awaits

Moment of Zen by Will Talbot

2 oz whiskey
½ oz fresh lime
½ oz yellow Chartreuse
½ oz jasmine tea syrup
6-8 sage leaves

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a fried sage leaf or citrus twists.

For more from Randal Gatewood see:

And now you have come to ZN.