Saturday, January 19, 2019

Hidden Gem

Sometimes a good puzzle is the best gift in the world.  I’m sure not everyone feels this way but there are plenty of us who do.  My friend Robert Sandfield certainly understands this.  Back in 2003 he created the Dovetail Jewel Box, which he exchanged to his fellow puzzlists as his gift in Chicago that year.  It’s a puzzle box, my favorite kind of puzzle.  And it's so damn puzzling!  When he dreamed up the idea, Robert set out to create something devious that his friends would nonetheless enjoy and recognize in the sense of an “inside joke”, so to speak, and to pack it completely full of pranks. As many know, there are a number of standard or classic ways to solve a puzzle box.  This leads an experienced “solver” to try out various routine methods.  Robert set out to fool these people, to create a box full of ideas, and to lead his victims (still his friends, mind you) on a wild goose chase, such that no matter how often something seemed sure to work, alas, it didn’t.

Dovetail Jewel Box by Robert Sandfield and Perry McDaniel

What does this all have to do with rubbing a dead fish on the trail to fool the blood hounds? (A great non-sequitur, no?) Apparently, this was what English journalist William Cobbett claimed he would do with cured salted herring to throw the hunting dogs off the scent – as a joke, I presume, back in 1805.  It was the first reference to a “red herring”, a ploy well loved by Robert Sandfield and his brother Norman in their puzzles.  Perry McDaniel, who crafted the beautiful Jewel Boxes, replete with contrasting woods, a slightly odd brass key, a prominent escutcheon (Robert claims to have learned this word thanks to this box), a decorative button on top and a telltale dovetail on the front, relates that he felt sure the box would fool no one, and would be opened quickly by all.  It was presented in a black bag with the notable (and unique to the Sandfield puzzle series) absence of a label.  In fact the label is there, but is debossed (another word Robert claims to have learned from this experience) – a subtlety that Robert claims was only ever mentioned by Margot Slocum.

It might cause you to become unhinged

Nonetheless, and despite any reservations, Perry performed his usual magic in producing the set of stunning boxes with his impeccable precision and flair.  Perry recounts later understanding that Robert was absolutely correct, as he watched Robert’s nephew systematically work his way through every single red herring on the box with no luck. Robert relates that the original idea started simply, borrowing something he saw on a Frank Chamber’s box (22A-1), but using it as a decoy.  That’s where any similarity ends, as Robert added numerous additional red herrings specifically for puzzlers to appreciate.  Fittingly, Robert recalls coming up with all of the tricks in the box, but credits Perry with the actual real locking mechanism.  After the puzzle exchange in Chicago, Robert notes he was struck by something his grand-niece observed as she attempted the puzzle.  This led to yet another misdirection.  Robert actually added two additional features to the Jewel Box after the original exchange puzzles were handed out, which are only found on the remaining boxes he had left over.  These delights are all to be found in the instruction booklet, which Robert also felt should entertain his friends. It’s quite humorous, and takes the solver through no fewer than ten steps … which are irrelevant … before revealing the correct solution.  The Dovetail Jewel Box is truly a puzzle jewel of a puzzle box, one that pays homage to so many great puzzle boxes that came before it.

The Jewel Box Cocktail

To toast this marvelous jewel of a box I’ve created a jewel of a drink.  This one is perfect for “Dry January”, a public health campaign started by the British non-profit group Alcohol Concern in 2013.  The “event” has gained traction each year, so why not join in here as well.  I’ve featured plenty of non-alcoholic drinks before actually, which I call “unlocked cocktails” and tend to pair with puzzle locks.  It’s always nice to have something really interesting to offer friends who don’t drink at all.  This one features “golden milk”, a delicious treat made from homemade coconut milk, turmeric and honey.  Who knew cocktails could be so healthy!  The coconut milk is incredibly simple to make by blending coconut flakes with water and then straining.  Store bought coconut milk will do just as nicely.  Add turmeric and honey to taste.  To this delicious "base spirit" we add fresh lime juice, a little turbinado sugar, and a splash of blood orange soda. It would also be delicious with ginger soda if that's your preference. Enjoy one of these whenever you need to keep your wits about you, such as if someone presents you with this puzzle box.  Here’s to finding plenty of hidden jewels this year.  Cheers!

Proof you don't need any for a great drink

The Jewel Box

2 oz golden milk (coconut milk, turmeric, honey)
1 oz fresh lime
1 tbs turbinado
Blood orange soda

Shake the coconut milk, lime and turbinado together with ice and strain into a favorite glass filled with ice. Top with the soda and stir.  Cheers!

A pair of crown jewels

For more "unlocked cocktails":
Bon Voyage

*Extra special thank you to Robert Sandfield for the extraordinary gift

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Fit for a King

Most gods throw dice, but Fate plays chess, and you don't find out til too late that he's been playing with two queens all along. - Terry Pratchett

Checkmate Box by Robert Yarger

The game of chess has been around for a long time, with early references from India as early as the 6th century when it was called “Chaturanga”.  Differences over time are most noticeable in the playing pieces, which once included elephants, chariots and visiers.  Tracing the etymology of the words reveal these are now the bishops, rooks and queens, for example.  More subtle are the changes in rules over the centuries, which drastically changed the strategy and complexity of the games.  Mastering the game is a lifelong pursuit and even profession. I’ll stick to the basic enjoyment of the novice, and of the abundant puzzles derived from the game.  It’s always fun to discover a chess game hidden somewhere, such as in a poem, a painting, a Shakespeare play or a Lewis Carol novel.  Naturally, a chess themed puzzle box would hold immense interest.

This is no ordinary chess themed box.  The Stickman No. 14 Puzzle Box, aka the Checkmate Box, represents the evolutionary development of a modern day renaissance artist in his chosen medium.  Robert Yarger’s 14th production series work, considered by some to be his finest achievement, was created a mere five years into his journey as a crafter of intricate wooden objects with hidden internal mechanisms and secret openings.  Like the artisans of old who brought mechanical objects to life via intricate internal gears, levers, springs and other devices, Rob built some magic into this chess board using only wood and magnets. The Checkmate Box is an automaton like object on which chess pieces play out a game against one another, moving by themselves as if by magic as the stage is turned.  Either side might succeed with a checkmate, which is the only way to gain access to either of the two secret drawers. You are provided with a full set of playing pieces, yet the board is not full size. Which pieces should be played on the 5x5 board? How should the game play out to achieve a victory for either side?  How do you make the pieces move to the correct positions? Rob has built many, many challenges into the piece, ranging from nearly impossible to moderately difficult (if you are a genius).  He provides clues and a number of potential starting points to allow you to tailor the solving experience to your particular level of pain tolerance. 

Beautiful relief carvings decorate the side panels

The Checkmate Box is also one of the most beautiful objects created by Robert Yarger. Crafted from solid mahogany, holly and leopard woods, it features intricately carved relief panels and pedestal feet. Rob actually won an award for this work from the company which manufactures the carving machine he employed. The internal core mechanism which drives the chess piece motion was a typically complex novelty which Rob invented, put on the shelf, and periodically added to over time, until at last he thought up a good use for it.  It creates three different types of mechanical motion, which are harnessed in different ways to produce the movement of the chess pieces on the top of the board. Watching the pieces slide and dance is mesmerizing.  Understanding that there is a master plan at work here, wherein maneuvering the pieces to a checkmate simultaneously unlocks a secret drawer, is astonishing. Rob also envisioned a coup de grace, where the defeated king piece falls over at the end, but this final flourish was not included due to practicalities of finishing the project and moving on. He was able to include that flourish in a future box, so don't despair. One can easily imagine this box under display in a museum, in the age of enlightenment when similar marvels were created by the likes of Da Vinci.

For telling time after dark

An ideal toast to this masterpiece of mechanics might be one which references another masterpiece, perhaps by a Renaissance master named Rembrandt.  Officially named “Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banning Cocq” (also known as “The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch”) and completed in 1642 by Rembrandt van Rijn, the more commonly known “Night Watch” is one of the most famous paintings of the Dutch Golden Age.  You can see this colossal painting for yourself at the famous Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and marvel at the almost life-sized people, the use of light and shadow, and the groundbreaking (for its time) use of motion and action.  Referencing this painting to toast the Stickman Checkmate Box would clearly be ideal for a number of reasons. There is the aforementioned comparison to a Renaissance piece, by another master of his art, as the starting point. The name of this painting in particular, “Night Watch”, is also a play on words for a game of chess.  I shouldn’t have needed to spell that out, but I didn’t want you to miss it.  Finally, the two central characters in the painting are strikingly contrasted in black and white, like the two opposing sides in a chess game.  Not included in this fine list but secretly relevant to my own sense of humor is the fact that this painting is named after Captain Cocq. I wonder if his soldiers dared call him that to his face.

Night Watch by Jessica Gonzalez

Which brings us to the Night Watch cocktail by New York’s Jessica Gonzalez, an award winning mixologist who gained fame at Death and Company where she created this delicious and satisfying night cap.  She recounts that while many of her colleagues enjoy naming drinks they create after songs or movies, she prefers works of art. Her drink starts with a base of Old Tom gin, an old style of gin which bridges the gap between the original Dutch genever (the forerunner of modern gin, with a heavily malted composition) and dry London style gin.  This gives the drink a mellower gin flavor which lets the other components shine through.  These include the delicious East India Solera sherry and the potent Cruzan Black Strap rum.  Flavors of molasses, raisin, juniper and spice mingle for a very special sip.  The addition of some Stickman Bitters would be absolutely perfect in this drink, if you happen to have any handy.  If not, Angostura will do just fine.  Here’s to clever castling, precise promotion, and enigmatic en passant. Checkmate – cheers!

Nighty Knight

Night Watch by Jessica Gonzalez

1 ½ oz Ransom Old Tom gin
½ oz Cruzan Black Strap rum
¾ oz Lustau East India Solera sherry
1 tsp simple syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Garnish with a knight watch.

For more about Robert Yarger see:

Bonus Offering! As an incredibly special added treat this week, we have some thoughts on this magnificent object from the creator himself, Robert Yarger. Rather than editorialize and place these comments into the main offering as I often do, it seemed opportune to present them exactly as they are: 

"I once pursued a career in electrical engineering, but electricity always saw me as the path of least resistance, so I went another direction.  The original concept behind this puzzle was to produce a fully mechanical version of an electrical transistor.  That is what the mechanism of this puzzle really is at its core. 

This makes it sound a lot more complex than it really is.  There is a certain mechanical component inside that produces a different result based upon the resting positions of other mechanics, much as a transistor produces a different output based upon more than one input source.  The solver is oblivious to this action, but mechanically this is cool.   (As a side note, several of my other puzzles also have at their core some mechanical representation of electrical or software components, and the puzzle later evolves around them.)

Later, this mechanism was modified into a puzzle by adding the chessboard and game pieces above it.  This was the hardest, and yet most satisfying part of its design process.  I enjoy being pressed into rigid parameters, and figuring ways around them.  For me, designing puzzles provides the same satisfaction as others get from solving puzzles.  The fun part is trying to “solve” how to make a puzzle work. 

The difficulty of designing its chess move aspects came from the insane coordination of mechanically reproducing how individual pieces actually move on the board, while also being confined by configurations that would produce a checkmate for both sides.  On top of that, some configurations I came up with just would not work, because magnets maneuvered too close to each other will disrupt other ones. 

Some configurations I tried, (but had to finally pass on) would cause chess pieces that were maneuvered too close to snap together.  I think the current configuration of the puzzle was my 5th attempt to find a game board set up that worked best.

Later though, I turned this same annoying detriment into an asset for the Knight Vs. Dragon puzzle.  That puzzle also has pieces manipulated mechanically by magnets below, but I used this magnetic interference aspect in the endgame to cause the knight to lunge towards the dragon and knock it over with the last solution move.  I would not have considered this cool feature if I had not already learned about it from my work on the checkmate.

Originally I was intimidated by how complex this mechanism was, and so I left a back door into the puzzle through its base for repairs.  Ironically, the mechanism was actually solidly built, and the only repair required on these puzzles has been the fixing of this back door, when the base plate falls off. 

The puzzle uses holly as one of its woods.  It is my favorite wood to work with, but since the checkmate, I have never been able to find substantial quantities to use on any other project.  Originally, the top board was supposed to be holly and ebony, but I could not find large enough supplies of ebony at the time.  The irony now is that I can find ebony, but not holly.

Along with the Lighthouse, the checkmate puzzlebox is the most sought after and requested puzzle by collectors." 

B&B: An extra special thanks to Rob for the wonderful insight into his puzzle!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Over the Moon

The moon has held sway over life on Earth for all time.  I won’t get metaphysical or spiritual (I’m hardly qualified for any of that, although it doesn’t stop most people) about it all, but the physical properties of the moon’s gravitational pull have effected Earth and its inhabitants since the planets were formed. We romanticize the moon and let it fill our imaginations with wonder and mystery. 

Walking with the Moon by Yoh Kakuda
I’m facing the new year with this sense of wonder, walking with the moon, if you will.  Yoh Kakuda captures the sentiment beautifully in this piece, which is closer in style to his automaton work where the movement is the beginning and the end.  Kakuda has added a secret opening drawer as well, which is always a nice touch.  Kakuda relates a tale of watching the moon intently as a child, transfixed as it followed their car all the way home.  Similarly, the man depicted here is so absorbed by the moon he does not realize he has passed by his destination already.  It would be nice to be so present in the moments of life that all else fades away, now and then.

Very few Kakudas are missing a cute animal of some sort

For a moon cocktail to pair with this theme we turn to Thomas Waugh, the down to earth cocktail guru from California who made his fame at New York’s Death and Company.  He has gone on to open numerous bar programs in the city and lends his signature style to all of his drinks. He likes to remake classics outside the mold and transport the drinker to someplace new.  His “Moon Cocktail” is slightly reminiscent of the classic “tuxedo”, with gin and sherry, but is truly something else, with the addition of honey syrup and peach liqueur.  It’s nutty, sweet and complex enough to hold your attention transfixed. I’ve altered it very slightly with the substitution of rhubarb for peach, a seasonally delicious flavor this time of year. Here’s to a year full of moments that transfix and transport us.  Cheers.

Moon cocktail by Thomas Waugh

New Moon Cocktail adapted from Thomas Waugh

2 oz Gin
¾ oz Lustau Amontillado Sherry
¼ oz Honey Syrup
¼ oz rhubarb liqueur (Giffard)

I'm mooning over this pair

For more from Yoh Kakuda see:

What has life tortoise?
Shell game
Wizard of Awes

Saturday, December 29, 2018

A Warm Welcome

Happy New Year!  I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to follow along with me each week here on Boxes and Booze.  This year has been full of wonderfully puzzling works of art and fantastic cocktails. Looking back to New Year's past, we have celebrated many different countries as they ring in the new year. We traveled to Japan and joined their tradition of eating soba noodles a few years back.  We headed north to Canada to pay father time a visit.  And we stayed right here in America to join a favorite artist on his origin story.  This year let’s head back to Japan and bring in the new year with a traditional symbol of welcoming, the pineapple.

Pineapple Secret by Hiroshi Iwahara

Pineapples, most often associated with the tropics, actually originated in South America.  They were introduced to European society by Christopher Columbus as a gift to King Ferdinand, his benefactor.  The rare and perishable fruit became coveted by the noble classes.  A famous painting of King Charles II circa 1675 attributed to the British School, 17th century depicting the king accepting a pineapple launched its popularity as a status symbol of wealth and prosperity.  The English name we use today also originated in Europe, where pine cones had the same name and the resemblance stuck. However in most of the world the fruit is known as ananas (excellent fruit), from the Brazilian Tupi Indians.  James Dole is credited with bringing the fruit to the masses via his plantations and canning facilities in Hawaii, where natural pollination from hummingbirds is abundant and the fruit thrives.

Intricate carvings and twisted challenge

In America, during the early colonial days, New England sea captains back from travels in the tropics would spear a pineapple on a post in front of their house to let friends and neighbors know they had returned home safe.  It was a sign of invitation to visit, share the spoils and listen to the tales.  The pineapple began to appear on innkeeper signs, furniture and architectural details as a symbol of friendship and hospitality.  I feel incredibly lucky to have one of these amazing fruits to share with you all as well.  Hiroshi Iwahara’s Pineapple Secret is one of the most strikingly beautiful pieces he has created and is an incredible achievement from this master of the Karakuri Creation Group.  The body consists of an 18 plate polyhedron which has square plates intermixed with triangles to create a globe.  The detailed carving and wood contrasts create the pineapple texture, and the delicate carved crown on top adds the final flourish.  Iwahara created two versions of this puzzle, one yellow, with uniform plates, and one black, with a twist to the plates.  Each is quite complex, requiring over 30 moves to solve, with multiple occurrences of blocked movement, overlaps and switchbacks.  The black version is slightly trickier thanks to that twisted twist.  It’s quite a challenge to solve, which only adds to its status as one of the best Karakuri boxes, in my humble opinion.  I display it on my shelf as a warm welcome to all who would like to visit and experience it. 

Sherry Colada by Caitlin Laman

An end of year toast is clearly in order as well now, and obviously must include pineapple! The classic pineapple cocktail, without a doubt, is the Pina Colada.  Like any true and proper classic cocktail, the origins are murky and disputed.  Some say the drink was invented by the pirate Roberto Cofresi, a Robin Hood like criminal and hero from Puerto Rico in the early nineteenth century.  Others give credit to Ramon Monchito Marrero, a bartender at the Caribe Hilton Puerto Rico in 1954 (shortly after the invention of Coco Lopez, a critical ingredient in the modern version of the drink).  Then there is Don Ramos Portas Mingot in 1963 at Barrachina, another restaurant in Puerto Rico.  One thing is certainly clear, the drink is from Puerto Rico, and it became the country’s national drink in 1978.

Amontillado sherry gives this classic a new spin

I’m offering this modern twist to the classic (in a nod this pineapple's twist) from award winning mixologist Caitlin Laman of Chicago’s Ace Hotel.  She brings the drink back in time by swapping most of the typical rum for sherry, which was wildly popular in the days of Dickens and has had a resurgence again as of late.  It adds a robust nuttiness to the drink and turns something too familiar into something fresh and new again.  Let’s approach the new year like this, with fresh new ideas which open our eyes to new perspectives and let us see things in new ways.  Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and welcoming new year.  Cheers!

A welcome pair indeed

Sherry Colada by Caitlin Laman

1 ½ oz Amontillado sherry
½ oz aged rum
1 oz coconut syrup
½ oz fresh pineapple juice
¼ oz fresh lime juice

Shake ingredients together with ice and double strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with citrus zest.

For more about Hiroshi Iwahara:

For prior pineapple posts:

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Know L

“Those who can imagine anything, can create the impossible.”  ― Alan Turing

It’s Christmas in Karakuri Land! It should come as no surprise to hear that I’m a huge fan of the Karakuri Creation Group of puzzle box artists in Japan.  The group routinely and frequently produces the most beautifully crafted pieces, and the varieties appear endless.  It’s always wonderful to discover that a new craftsman or woman has joined the group, ensuring its longevity and continued presence.  New designers often surprise us as well with ideas which stretch the imagination in different ways. This time of year everyone who participates as a member of the group is receiving the annual “Christmas presents”, their surprise creations which are eagerly awaited all year long.

Code Name "L" by Yasuaki Kikuchi

Artist Yasuaki Kikuchi burst on the scene with a real kickstart when he released his first offering, the Kickake  box, a novel and dynamic creation.  He has already produced some very interesting and visually appealing work, and has now raised the bar even further.  With his Code Name “L” box, he sets the stage for a possible alphabet series, and only time will tell what he spells.  I’m predicting the word “incredible”.  Code Name “L” is an extremely creative box which will keep you guessing until you experience the wonderfully satisfying AHA moment.  Unassuming in outward appearance, the walnut box is a standard cube with a few distinguishing marks and the obvious name inspiration, four “L” shaped characters which are featured prominently on each side.  The solution is elegant and inspired, and very satisfying.  This is one not to be missed – you really need to know “L”.

L-egent design  

I’ve created a seasonal Christmas cocktail to toast this new wonder from Kikuchi. It starts in the storied restorative town of Carlsbad, in the Czech Republic, famed for its healing spa waters. In 1807, Jan Becher began marketing a special herbal liqueur created with twenty local ingredients and based on a special recipe he acquired from his friend, the English physician Dr. Christian Frobrig.  Becher’s “English Bitter”, purported to cure stomach illness, became wildly popular, and has stood the test of time.  Unique and delicious, it has slowly gained popularity around the world over the past two hundred years.  It’s particularly lovely this time of year, as the dominant flavors of cinnamon, clove, allspice, ginger and cardamom are the classic spices of the season.  It’s been called “Christmas in a glass”, so what better base spirit to celebrate with could there be? 

Jolly good flavors of the season

To the Becherovka I’ve added fresh lime juice – my favorite cocktail citrus – for just the right amount of tartness.  Rounding out the holiday flavors, I’ve brought cranberry to the party as well, with Leopold Brother’s phenomenal New England Cranberry Liqueur.  This family owned distillery in Colorado prides itself on fresh natural and locally sources ingredients, like the two varieties of New England cranberries found in this award winning spirit. Finally a touch more sweetness with cinnamon syrup, a secret ingredient which turns any drink into a holiday drink.  It’s a wonderfully festive cocktail, a fantastic way to discover the beguiling Becherovka, and a sure crowd pleaser.  Here’s to the spirit of the season.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, all.

Have you been naughty or nice?

Czeching it Twice

2 oz Becherovka
1 oz fresh lime
½ oz Leopold Bros. New England Cranberry Liqueur
¼ oz cinnamon syrup
2 dashes Scrappy’s Cardamom Bitters

Shake together with ice and strain into a festive glass.  Garnish with a jolly old lemon wheel.  Ho ho ho!

Joyeux Noel from Boxes and Booze 

For more about Yasuaki Kikuchi:

For last year’s Christmas cocktail:

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Mayan Mysteries

We're taking an exotic journey to the tombs of the ancient Maya for this installment.  Benno Baatsen is a puzzle box designer from the Netherlands who has been creating devious and complex mechanisms since he first began making puzzle boxes out of Legos when he was nine years old.  His first wooden box came soon after, when he was ten, and managed to fool all of his friends.  His handmade designs have only gotten more complex since then.  He recently started a website and has made most of his building plans available for a nominal fee, with the intention of encouraging everyone to learn to build their own puzzle box.  He loves puzzle boxes so much he truly wants to share his ideas with the world.  He also recently teamed up with Zoyo Toys in China who have produced a few of his designs for resale.  Mr. Puzzle in Australia has stocked these (Companion Box, Dice Box and Answer Box), and found and fixed many problems with them.  If you aren’t inclined to make your own, these are delightful boxes to have.  Mr. Puzzle has field tested and improved them all, and you literally won’t find a better price anywhere.  They are too inexpensive to pass up.

The Mayan Box by Benno Baatsen

Benno has also started to make a few of his designs himself for resale.  These are created from Poplar wood using a laser cutter he has access to at his University.  This arrangement also limits the types of wood and material he can use in his puzzles.  Despite this he has created an incredible new artifact, the Mayan Box.  Benno is a fan of the Tomb Raider video games and took his inspiration for this box from those stylings and secrets, making it look as much as possible like a Mayan grave tomb one would find with Lara Croft.  The details of the box are incredibly intricate and finely etched all around, with Mayan influence mixed with his own creativity.  Because the Tomb Raider games are themselves so heavily filled with puzzles, he wanted the box to be similarly full, and quite difficult to solve.  It requires approximately forty-two distinct moves to open.  He has filled it with multiple overlapping mechanisms of different types and an incredible number of moving parts.  There’s even a hidden maze, and a final additional secret compartment.  This box has it all, and is incredibly fun to solve.  Go buy one from him and help him save up for his own laser cutter – I suspect there are a lot more ideas in his clever brain waiting to be revealed.
Finely etched hieroglyphs and details adorn the box
To toast this secret surprise and its talented maker I stuck to the Tomb Raider theme of plundering tombs and crypts with an apropos classic, the Corpse Reviver.  The Corpse Reviver is actually a collection of cocktails dating back to the turn of the twentieth century and made famous by Harry Craddock in his uber cool Savoy Cocktail book from 1930 where he features versions “1” and “2”.  The drinks were originally meant as restorative “hair of the dog” remedies, to be taken early after a tough night.  Asking a bartender for a “Corpse Reviver” was like asking for a generic hangover cure, like a strong cup of coffee, but with something a bit stronger than that.  It’s no surprise there are a few different variations that survived.  Craddock’s No. 2, the most famous version of all, came with his commentary that “Four of these taken in quick succession will unrevive the corpse again.” 

Corpse Reviver No. 1 in the wild ...

I’ve actually featured the Corpse Reviver No. 2 before, along with a delightfully horrifying box from a wonderful craftsman who is sadly no longer with us now.  Follow the link for more on that one and a look back at Phil Tomlinson’s Always Empty Box.  I think it’s time to revisit the original, No. 1.  This Corpse Reviver also came with a message from Harry Craddock, who explained it was “To be taken before 11 a.m., or whenever steam and energy are needed.”  I’ll add a disclaimer that drinking at all, let alone a drink this strong, is not really the best idea for getting you through the day.  But history calls, and we must answer!  The Corpse Reviver No. 1 is a bracing mix of cognac, apple brandy, and sweet vermouth.  To that I’ve added a bit of Becherovka, the delicious herbal liqueur from Carlsbad in the Czech Republic.  Some describe this mysterious mix made from twenty herbs and botanicals as “Christmas in a glass”, so it adds a seasonal spin to this classic.  Finally I added a dash of Bittermen’s Hellfire Bitters, for added kick.  I’m sure Lara Croft would approve.  Here’s to Mayan tombs, hidden treasures, reanimated corpses and resurrected recipes.  Cheers!

If this doesn't revive you nothing will

Corpse Reviver No. 1 c. 1930
(Tomb Raider edition)

1 oz cognac
½ oz apple brandy
½ oz sweet vermouth
½ oz Becherovka
2 dashes Bittermen’s Hellfire Bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into an undead chalice. Imbibe if you are out of extra lives…

Thrilling adventure awaits with this pair

For more about Benno Baatsen:

For the Corpse Reviver No. 2:

Saturday, December 8, 2018

What's in Your Wallet?

The allure of a secret is something I’ve written about a few times before.  The complex psychology of a secret is one of the many things that draws people to puzzle boxes with hidden compartments and camouflaged mechanism.  I love being able to pass these puzzles on to unsuspecting passersby, nonchalantly, as if all were ordinary.  It helps to have something handy, some personal effect, perhaps with a functional capacity.  A business card holder, for example, would be perfect.   I keep Peter Wiltshire’s “Open for Business” box on my desk at work, ready for unsuspecting solicitors.  I carry cards around in Eric Fuller’s Cartesian Wallet (designed by Akio Yamamoto), which unfolds to a single piece of leather and is delightfully deceptive.  And now I have a new wallet with which to befuddle and befriend.

Saifu Box by Jesse Born

Jesse Born is full of interesting ideas and he has produced another beautiful piece of work.  He understands the attraction of an item which can be carried and used day to day, with a secret. He wanted to create a card holder, for business or credit cards, that was small enough to actually fit in your pocket.  He also had a rather unusual idea for how it would open.  Jesse is obsessed with perfection and created fifteen separate prototypes for what would become the “Saifu Box”, a nod to the Japanese heritage of yosegi marquetry which adorns some of Jesse’s work.  The name says it all – Saifu means “wallet” or “purse” in Japanese.  There’s another meaning, too.  Jesse honed his skills and shrunk the components of the box down to make it about the size of an iphone, and pocket ready.

Just slide it open ...

Jesse uses beautiful exotic woods in his creations.  The Saifu Boxes are each made with a combination of Wenge, Purpleheart and Brazilian Cherry.  They are all different, using various combinations of the woods on the different components as well as the internal compartment.  There are also four movable keys on the front, which are covered with Jesse’s yosegi or come in brass.  The box is elegant and handsome.  It feels good in the hand.  And it’s impossible to open if you don’t know the secret.  It’s not so easy even if you DO know the secret!  It takes some practice to get it right, like any well acquired skill.  In some ways it’s rather fitting that this is the case, but I won’t tell you why.  You’ll have to experience it for yourself.  It’s very satisfying when it opens and provides an incredible flourish to the act of presenting a card to someone. 

Dead Man's Wallet by Darrin Ylisto

Reaching into my wallet, I found this recipe for a drink.  There’s a story here which I’ll share.  It’s a bit rude and insensitive, but has a redeeming quality.  The recipe comes from Darrin Ylisto, a well known bartender from New Orleans who can be found shaking it up at the famed Sylvain bar in the French Quarter.  Ylisto has a story of his own – he obtained his law degree from Tulane and was unhappily practicing law until Hurricane Katrina hit, wiping out the city in 2005.  He took the opportunity to start over and is now happily doling out sage advice to his customers at Sylvain. 

Port and cinnamon are perfect for the season

He relates the tale of an old man who left his wallet behind at the bar one night.  Looking for an ID in order to contact the man, Ylisto was shocked to see exactly how old the man was.  He announced, “He’ll probably be dead by the time we get this back to him”, then immediately felt bad about saying it.  To make amends to the karma gods, he created this drink in the man’s honor.  It’s a pleasing mix of rye and ruby port, a great combination for the winter months, with lemon and cinnamon syrup, which turns anything into a winter holiday drink.  I don’t know if the old man ever got his wallet back, or if he made it to his hundredth birthday after all, but I know you’ll enjoy this drink.  Here’s to good health, long life, warm spirits and merry companions.  Cheers!

Don't forget your wallet(s)

Dead Man’s Wallet by Darrin Ylisto

1 ½ oz rye
¾ oz ruby port
½ oz lemon
1/3 oz cinnamon syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. 

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N.B.: The Saifu Box is still currently available as of this writing and can be acquired here: