Friday, February 14, 2020

Labor of Love

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt” - Charles Schulz

Trunk by Tatsuo Miyamoto

Here we go again, feeling all warm and fuzzy on Valentine’s Day here at Boxes and Booze. Over the past few years I’ve always featured a heart shaped box to mark the occasion. I’ve noticed they have all been from Japanese artists, including the inimitable Kamei, the wonderful Miyamoto, and the brilliant Juno. Perhaps I have a fondness for Japanese artists (guilty), or perhaps Japanese artists are particularly sentimental and produce more hearts in general. There is probably something to the latter speculation, at least for Miyamoto, who has created many, many designs which get to the heart of the matter.

A trip down memory lane

Tatsuo Miyamoto, who has been creating beautiful puzzles with the Karakuri Creation Group as a founding member for the past twenty years, poured his heart into his very first karakuri box, the Secret Heart, which helped us celebrate Valentine’s Day here a few years ago. Since then he has created eight additional boxes which feature a heart as part of their design in some fashion, including his Valentine’s Day Box, another Boxes and Booze alum, and the one we are celebrating with this year, “Trunk”. Created for the Karakuri exhibition themed “Story”, Trunk evokes a wistful sentiment of foolish love. It’s a perfectly crafted old fashioned suitcase complete with reinforced corners and a carved handle. A man’s fedora hat rests on the trunk as well, telling part of the story. Pink hearts, painted across one side, tell the rest. Miyamoto relates that the traveler is returning to his hometown, where his younger sister lives. If you are not from Japan, you may not be familiar with this particular story. The trunk references a well-loved movie series known affectionately as “Tora-san”, about a kind-hearted vagabond who returns home to find his sister. He is a complete fool, and very unlucky in love. He is constantly messing things up while remaining completely oblivious as to why. Miyamoto loves the series and wanted to tell the story with his work. It’s a story of coming home, and the unconditional love of family. It’s timeless, poetic, and heartfelt.

Tom Traubert's Blues

Keeping with tradition, I’m offering something rich and decadent for this Valentine’s Day toast. There’s no vintage provenance to this cocktail, as it’s one I created myself for a recent cocktail contest. I created a whole menu of drinks for that contest, ten in total, but this one was a bit of a mystery, an eleventh only available on the “secret menu” for those in the know who wanted something truly decadent in place of dessert.

A decadent after dinner delight

It features a combination of the elegant Italian amaro Cynar which pairs remarkably well with tequila, and sweet vermouth split with sweet PX sherry to amplify the sweet notes in the amaro. Hints of nuttiness and exotic chocolate notes are present from the bitters, and a final smoky note that mellows it all out can be found from a scotch rinse. I can’t explain how delicious this one is, a truly guilty pleasure. I’m also a sucker for Tom Waits, and this is one of the most romantic songs I know, now that we’re admitting to guilty pleasures. Here’s to romance. Cheers.

A pair of romantics

Tom Traubert’s Blues

Decadent rich sweet crème brulee, dark chocolate, compote, aromas of earth and smoke
1 ½ oz Anejo
1 oz Cynar
½ oz D’Sange sweet vermouth
½ oz Pedro Ximenez
Dash Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters
Dash Bitter Tears “Gypsy” Tamarind Cacao Bitters
Scotch Blend (such as Monkey Shoulder) rinsed glass

Stir ingredients together with ice and strain into the scotch rinsed glass. Chocolate square garnish.

For some more Valentine's Day nostalgia see:
Puzzled by Love
A Heart Shaped Box
That's Amore

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Whale of a Tale

“It is the easiest thing in the world for a man to look as if he had a great secret in him.” - Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Whale and Baby Whale by Osamu Kasho

If you’ve ever seen a photo of Japanese artist Osamu Kasho, you might find that hard to believe – his smiling, happy go lucky face belies his clever imagination for tricky secrets. But pick up one if his adorable puzzle boxes and you’ll know.

Playing with the little squirt

Kasho, whose work I admire and have written about many times before, must enjoy the ocean, because a number of his pieces have featured a nautical theme, including a little boat, a pelican, and these two happy whales. The first whale was produced as part of the Karakuri Creation Group exhibition themed “Two”. Kasho relates that he wanted to make something eye-catching. It’s a nicely sized box shaped like a cartoon whale with the hint of a smile, a tiny tail and a spouting blow-hole. The piece is crafted from Walnut and Dogwood, “two” contrasting colored woods which perfectly highlight the whale’s features. Like all of Kasho’s work, the solution is not immediately obvious, and will put a smile on your face. It’s hard not to smile, since the whale will be smiling as well once you’ve solved it. Kasho likes to integrate dynamic details like this into his puzzles, like the sleepy lion who wakes up as you progress. 

“for there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men ” - Herman Melville, Moby Dick

So cute I'm blubbering

The whale was so cute that Kasho revisited it a few years later for his annual end-of-year Karakuri Club membership gift. The Whale has had a Baby Whale! The little one is modeled after its parent in all aspects, including the two woods, but in a tiny form. Of course, the mechanism is completely different, and perhaps even cleverer. Kasho wanted this box to show how the internal structure works, so he made it possible to peak inside and understand how the parts link. The pair – officially a pod, or a herd, or a gam? – look great together and one can’t help but wonder what other oceanic delights might surface in the coming years from Kasho. He relates that he loves the look of these whales, and I wouldn't be surprised to see another one of his whales, one day.

“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I'll go to it laughing.” - Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Mexicali Maverick

I’ve got a stellar surfside sipper here to toast these majestic creatures while sitting in the sand. The cocktail is a classic highball, traditionally a spirit like whiskey topped off with soda water. Highballs are immensely popular in Japan, where the whiskey is delicious. This version takes notes from a rum based classic cocktail called the Dark and Stormy, a drink with rum, lime and ginger beer which I featured long ago with another apropos Karakuri puzzle.

“It is not down on any map; true places never are.” - Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

California dreamin'

We’ll stick to whiskey for the whales, and not just any whiskey. Cali Distillery, based in Los Angeles California, has been creating unique expressions of the brown spirit for the past few years. What started as a home kitchen project by a school teacher making unusual fruit and spice liqueurs for her friends evolved into a full-fledged award winning whiskey distillery. At the heart of each of their creations is California – their flagship whiskey, “Cali – a California Twist on American Sipping Whiskey” – is a truly unique spirit that captures the essence of California in a magical way.  Their newest product is called “Mavericks Doublewood”. It’s an homage to the largest surf break on the Cali coast, and to the free spirited surfers who ride those waves. The name Maverick actually brings this whiskey home to Texas, where I live. Samuel Maverick was a Texas rancher who refused to brand his cattle herd, and the term became synonymous with the free spirited non-conformist in the crowd. Cali Mavericks is aged first in charred new American Oak barrels, followed by time spent in toasted French Oak. The result is, from Cali’s own description: “Rich with coffee, caramel and cocoa aromas, this is what Whiskey tastes like on the coast.”

“As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.” - Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Hang ten with this highball

The drink also captures a Baja surfer sensibility with use of aguapanela, a common drink found in Mexico and South America but less well known stateside. It is made from panela (or piloncillo in Mexico), a dried brick of evaporated cane sugar juice and usually served with fresh lime. Topped off with ginger beer and a dash of hibiscus bitters, this is one tasty way to enjoy some coastal California whiskey. Here’s to the sun, the sand and the surf. Cheers!

Having a whale of a time

Mexicali Mavericks

2 oz Mavericks Doublewood Whiskey
1 oz aguapanela
½ oz lime
Dash of hibiscus bitters
4 oz ginger beer

Build ingredients in an ice filled glass and stir. Citrus peel surfboard or a lime twist.

For more from Osamu Kasho see:
Blast Off!
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Special thanks to Osamu Kasho for these Baby Whale production photos:


Saturday, February 1, 2020

Some Enchanted Evening

“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!” - William Butler Yeats

Dark Fairy Door by Tracy Clemons

I’m not surprised that the idea of a Fairy Door caught the fancy of more than one artist in the wide world. After all, those of us who are willing to admit that we are fascinated by puzzle boxes clearly embrace our inner child, and the artists who create these marvels tap into that world every day. American artist Tracy Clemons relates seeing the original Fairy Door puzzle by Greek artist Mike Toulouzas at a puzzle gathering in Rochester (it was technically a “picnic”) in 2016, and was immediately inspired. A few years later she noticed Canadian artist Kelly Snache had put his own spin on the idea, with his “Puddleduck Pastures” box, itself a direct homage to Toulouzas’s creation. Clemons, who loves puzzles with locks and keys, couldn’t resist anymore and set out to make her own version of the fairy door puzzle, and the results are sensational.

Tracy must know a thing or two about fairies, because she captures their dark and mischievous side perfectly in her creation, the “Dark Fairy Door”. Her puzzle is big and heavy, the size of a small chest, and features a uniquely styled door on each side. Because there are knobs and other details surrounding each of the four remaining sides of the puzzle, these doors become the default top and bottom. It’s not clear which door is the actual entrance – at least not until the puzzle begins. Tracy created eight of these puzzles in total (so far) and gave each a unique style for the door and overall theme. They are all quite beautiful, rendered in colorful exotic hardwoods including her signature mahogany, as well as poplar, walnut, oak, paduak and others. She has rendered whimsical little details all around with a hot wood burning tool.

Beautiful external details are unique to each box

Exploring this mysterious double door delight starts to reveal a few things that can move. There are twisty knobs all around, and the sound of things shifting or rattling deep inside. Like many of Tracy’s boxes, there are puzzles within puzzles here, a special key, and a surprise ending. Which door is the correct door to open? The answer is neither, and both. No surprises there really. One of the doors seems to open eventually, almost, but not quite. Apparently many people attempted to force this one, not remembering that nothing is ever stuck or misaligned in a Clemons puzzle. If the door is not opening all the way, the puzzle has not been solved yet. The other door hides a puzzle, a set of twenty pentominos, which pose a true challenge for reassembly and hide a secret beneath them. If the outer doors can be successfully navigated, by way of many sequential moves involving every aspect of the box and a special key, the true heart of the puzzle will be found hiding inside – a final puzzle box containing a magical coin ring. Tracy grew up seeing her father create similar rings out of silver coins, and thought they would make a perfect fairy treasure. But how can the box be opened? And for what purpose are all of the many items and pieces found with it?  Tracy has created something truly interesting and special for the finale here. The true fairy door is the one that cannot been seen – to solve the endgame and unlock the treasure, the final door must be constructed accurately and precisely with the pieces discovered inside. Only when it is complete, and properly unlocked and opened, can the treasure ring be claimed. This requires a fair bit of magic! The Dark Fairy Door is absolutely wonderful, one of Tracy’s best creations ever, and an easy favorite.

Enchanted Forest

To toast this magical journey requires something equally enchanting. Fairies have been associated with the bitter liqueur absinthe since the Belle Epoche, a period we have visited on numerous occasions in the past. The Bohemians were enamored of the drink, which they called “La Fee Verte”, the Green Fairy. Famed English mixologist Dick Bradsell acknowledged the history of the drink when he created his “Green Fairy” cocktail, using absinthe as the base spirit in a classic sour. This was the drink we used to toast another in this Fairy Door series of puzzles. It’s a delicious way to enjoy absinthe in a cocktail.

A mysterious, complex and beguiling potion

But getting lost in the forest is what the Dark Fairy Door is all about, and I’ve wandered off the path for this toast. To the classic Green Fairy cocktail I’ve added the lightly bitter and refreshing aperitif Lillet, some gin, and a touch of sweetness with honey and the bergamot liqueur Italicus. It’s truly decadent, mysterious and enchanting. Be careful or it might make you lose your way as well. Cheers!

Fair well, pair well

Enchanted Forest

1 ½ oz gin
1 oz Lillet
1 oz absinthe
1 oz lemon
¼ oz Italicus
¼ oz Tupelo honey

Shake together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Enchanted citrus peel garnish using ruby red grapefruit, pomelo, meyer lemon, lime and blood oranges can be substituted for a simple lemon twist if you must.

For more from Tracy Clemons:
Side Notes
A Little Hanky Panky
Writer's Block
Bag of Tricks

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Small Talk

"Most people would succeed in small things if they were not troubled with great ambitions." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Nope Box by Eric Fuller

Sometimes I’ve got a great big puzzle box to talk about, like the Apothecary Chest, the Turing Chest, or the Secretum Cista Chest - items that take a long time to explore and explain. Other times, it’s nice to be content with something smaller. For example, this quick little cube from Eric Fuller, the prolific puzzlesmith from North Carolina with a penchant for perplexity. I’ve written about many of his brilliant and beautiful puzzle boxes before, and luckily there always seems to be another one, on the shelf or on the horizon.

Think you understand it? ...

I should admit that while the “Nope Box” may be small, my suggestion that it’s a “quick little cube” is a little ingenuous. Fuller is a master at packing plenty of puzzle into a little package (such as the incredible small button box) and the Nope Box is another great example. It’s number three in his recent “small box series”, which includes four baby boxes so far. These are pocket friendly puzzles that don’t skimp on complexity of craftsmanship, and provide reasonable access to some of his finest work due to their smaller price tag as well. They are great to pass around for conversation pieces while the drinks are being prepared. The Nope Box knows how you are going to solve it, or attempt to do so, and provides a great set of discoveries that make you think you are onto something, when in fact, you are nope. It’s a perfect little puzzle.

Intimate Spaces

I created a little tribute to a cozy little bar recently, and thought the drink was also a fitting toast to this tiny little treasure, too. The basic drink template is the Manhattan, that classic cocktail invented some time around 1880 at New York City’s Manhattan Club. This is one classic whose name makes an ounce or two of sense. The original recipe, chronicled in the club’s 1916 edition of its official history, calls for equal parts rye whiskey and sweet vermouth, with a few dashes of orange bitters. The original was thus a mellower and softer version of what you will usually find today, made with two parts rye to one part vermouth, and I stick to the original proportions in this particular creation, although you might not recognize it as such since I’m using aged tequila rather than rye.

Byrrh - it's cold outside! This should warm you up.

In place of traditional vermouth, I’m using the French aromatized wine Byrrh, a specialized aperitif from Thuir, France created by the Violet brothers in 1876. They blended regional Roussillon with local plants, herbs and quinine to create a tonic that they named “Byrrh”, apparently from code letters they found on cloth from their haberdashery shop. “Byrrh Grand Quinquina” has a recognizable historic label and the wine can be seen adorning decades of beautiful old poster art. It’s delicious on its own with fruit and strong cheese, and works well in cocktails of all kinds. I’ve added a touch of rhubarb liqueur to the drink for a pinch of complex sweetness that also turns the drink into a hybrid Manhattan / Old Fashioned. It’s perfect for enjoying a few small moments with something, or someone, unassuming and surprising. Cheers!

This pair is rather intimate

Intimate Spaces

1 ½ oz anejo tequila
1 ½ oz Byrrh Grand Quinquina
¼ oz rhubarb liqueur
Dash of lime bitters

Stir ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Lemon twist.

For more from Eric Fuller:
Candid Cam-era
The Small Things
Third Times a Charm
Cubic Dissection

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Here Comes the Boom

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” – Bhagavad-Gita

La Boomba! by Stephen Chin

This quote from the ancient Hindu text is often associated with Robert Oppenheimer, who proclaimed it upon witnessing the first detonation of a nuclear weapon and seeing what his handiwork had brought upon the earth. Which is an ominous segue to a favorite puzzle maker, artist and friend, the devious dentist from Down Under, Stephen Chin. Ominous, but fitting, for better or worse. Chin has unleashed another terror on the world, his endearingly explosive ticking time bomb, “La Boomba”!

Things that go Boom

I’m a huge fan of wood turned puzzles with hand chased threads, a tricky art form perfected in the nineteenth century. Very few artists are currently making hand threaded objects now, and even fewer are making puzzles with threaded elements. Chin is one of the very few, and one of the best. His puzzles often “turn” classic shapes and polyhedral dissections into spheres and eggs. He has even done this with puzzles which most said could not be made spherical, like another bomb I recall. But getting back to La Boomba, his explosive Eureka moment was actually eleven years ago, when he made a set of his “Newton’s Egg” puzzles. That clever little wooden egg employs friction and force according to certain physical laws. At the same time, he copied his design and made a single bomb, rather than an egg, which opened more simply and contained a little ticking time bomb madman inside. He had run out of wood - so, for the first time, used colored pencils to create the bomb. He named it, “La Bomba”.

How to Kill a Friend by Paul Shanrock

This cute little bomb kept ticking away in his brain. He went on to use colored pencils in many of his subsequent designs, and fast forwarding to last year, he revisited La Bomba again. A few more locking mechanism, some mechanical design tweaks, and fifty wasted dust piles later, he had another design competition entry: “La Boomba”! It’s an adorable, brightly colored bomb, with a shoelace wick and a telltale Chinnymoto jagged crack running the circumference. Careful exploration will reveal a few clues, perhaps a tool, and eventually the bomb may be defused. Except there’s that madman inside again, with an unmistakable tic tic tic …. BOOM! Ouch! My face! Does anyone know a good dentist?

Tik ... Tik ... Tik ....... Tiki!

Here’s a toast to the man, the myth, the maimer himself, with a cocktail from Seattle mixologist Paul Shanrock of the Stampede Cocktail Club. I thought it was rather appropriate. The drink is seriously smoky, like the aftermath of a big explosion, thanks to a hefty dose of mezcal. It’s a tropical drink, full of pineapple and lime, which bring all the tiki vibes to the party. There’s some dessert sherry as well, the ultra rich and delicious Pedro Ximenez, which is almost too decadent. But the big surprise is from Campari, the classic red bitter amaro, which adds a dose of balanced bitterness to the drink, and makes it amazing. Here’s to the things that go boom. Cheers!

This pair is getting bombed

How to Kill a Friend by Paul Shanrock

1 ½ oz mezcal
¾ oz Campari
½ PX sherry
¼ oz triple sec
1 ½ oz pineapple juice
½ oz lime juice
4 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass filled with crushed ice. Mint garnish or something more explosive.

For more from Stephen Chin:
Fruits of Labor
Things that Go Boom
Pure Genie-us

Saturday, January 11, 2020


“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa

Ripple out by Osamu Kasho

One of my favorite Karakuri Creation Group productions from last year was a surprising box from the artist Osamu Kasho, whose work I have featured a few times before. Kasho typically applies his whimsy and imagination to create adorable boxes that do not have a classic “box-like” appearance. Whether it is a vehicle, like a rocket ship or tricycle, or an animal, such as a wolf or a lion, his creations are usually playful and cute. They are also usually quite clever in execution, a feature that belies their toy-like appearance. I always look forward to seeing what he will come up with next.

Every detail has meaning

For last year’s Karakuri exhibition theme, “WA”, he created “Ripple out”. Wa translates in English roughly as “harmony”, referring more specifically to a harmonious, peaceful community. Physically, this concept can be represented in many ways, but the seamless unity of a circle is often the perfect symbol. Kasho’s creation deviates from his usual style, in that it is an actual box this time, with an obvious drawer to open. His handiwork can still be recognized in the undulating curves of wood carved into the top, and the perfectly turned little drawer knob. The pattern on top moves back and forth with satisfying clicks, and while the objective may seem clear, getting there is much harder than it looks.

Stunning glass art by Kristin Newton

Kasho collaborated on a special edition of Ripple out with glass artist Kristin Newton. Newton, who is originally from California and studied and apprenticed in glass art in Los Angeles, moved to Japan in 1980 for an exchange program and has mostly lived there ever since. She has taught at the Stained Glass Professional School in Tokyo, and subsequently worked at Mayfair Stained Glass Studio, which has since become Stained Glass Supply Japan. She is also a fan of the Karakuri Creation Group, and attended their last two conferences and their exhibition in Ginza, where she met Osamu Kasho. While talking about life as artists, she suggested it might be wonderful to create a glass and wood karakuri box one day. Kasho and his family went to visit her at her studio, where she showed him how to make glass. After a few ideas and experiments, they settled on the current design.
Newton's current work is focused on smaller fused glass objects of art, such as the unique individual pieces she created for the Ripple out. Kasho designed these versions with additional wood accents, and open bottomed drawers to fit each glass piece and allow the light to shine through, resulting in absolutely stunning displays once the drawers are opened. Newton created ten pieces in total for the project, of which five have now been sold. The collaboration is a contemporary cross pollination of art forms that pushes boundaries and is exactly in keeping with the ultimate mission of the Karakuri Creation Group, to revitalize this art form and keep it relevant in the modern era.

“Invention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple.” - Gene Wilder

Word Gets Around

I’ve created another variation on the classic Last Word cocktail to toast the beautiful Ripple out puzzle box. From the many versions I have offered here in the past, you may be familiar with the traditional formula of gin, lime, Green Chartreuse and maraschino liqueur. The cocktail was invented in the years before Prohibition at the Detroit Athletic Club, resurrected in 2005 at the Zig Zag Club in Seattle, and remains a popular template for creative riffs today.

Not your typical gin and juice

An interesting modification to the classic is the omission of the lime juice. Sother Teague, the well known mixologist and drinks pioneer who owns the bitter spirits mecca Amor y Amargo in New York City, created a drink based on this idea called “Oh My Word” which substitutes Amaro Montenegro (a citrus forward amaro) and lime bitters for the lime juice. I’ve created an homage to his drink with a slight modification, using the herbal alpine liqueur Genepy in place of the Chartreuse. It’s a lighter, more delicate, and sweeter version of the former, and a common apres-ski aperitif in the region where the flowering namesake herb grows. I’ve also switched the gin for tequila and mezcal for a completely different spin. Like a chaotic game of telephone, Last Word variations can twist and turn, sending ripples into the world, but always coming back full circle in the end. Cheers!

Ripple effects

Word Gets Around

¾ oz reposado tequila
¼ oz blanco mezcal
¾ oz Genepy des Alps
¾ oz Amaro Montenegro
½ oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
Dash of grapefruit bitters
Dash of lime bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Lemon twist.

For more from Osamu Kasho:
Wolves at the Door
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Blast Off
The Lion Sleeps Tonight

For more about Kristin Newton:

N.B. Special thanks to Kristin Newton for the information and insight into their collaboration, and for these wonderful additional photos.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Two’s Company

I’d like to start this year off with a favorite box. I feel like this should be an auspicious year, so why not improve the odds by starting with something auspicious. We will step back in time approximately eighteen years to the beginnings of what would become the Stickman Puzzlebox Company. The first Stickman box, the Oak Wood Slide Box, was not truly “No. 1” in the series until there was a second, naturally. I wrote about that one, another favorite, a few years ago as a nice year end tribute, so let’s focus on No. 2 now, a box that launched an empire. Ok, ok, a box that launched a bunch of other boxes, at any rate.

Stickman No. 2 Puzzlebox ("55-Move Box")

Back then Robert Yarger only had an old radial arm saw to work with, a dangerous and somewhat crude machine on which he created all of his work. He had to get pretty creative with it to produce such fine and complex looking works of mechanical art, which is a true testament to his skill and particular form of genius. On the other hand, he notes that there are certain design aspects, such as the carved feet found on his second puzzle box, that can only be created using this type of overhead table saw. Such saws were deemed too unsafe (especially how Rob uses them) and were discontinued from the market years ago. Which is why he has obviously purchased a few more second hand over the years to always have one in working order.

A handsomely surprising next act

His second puzzle box has a striking design, appearing like a handsome lidded chest raised up on four ornately carved legs and feet. Incidentally, those legs were an accident - Rob had mismatched the cuts for these corner pieces to the side pieces, resulting in them extending beyond the sides. He liked the look and rather than waste wood, he turned them into feet. Each box bears a decorative carved tree with leaves engraved on the top. This is, according to Rob, because a tree was the only artistic thing he could manage to draw. Somehow I doubt that but it’s funny. He drilled holes at odd angles and inserted dowels, which initially looked like something from a horror movie, until he trimmed, sanded and smoothed them down to form leaves (all with the radial arm saw!) There are a few cross bars present on the front, and once things start to move, prepare to be surprised by the unexpected. There is a nice symmetry to the movements, which total at least 55 in all before all four internal hidden compartments are revealed. Rob describes this as a rhythmic exercise which can be done very rapidly with practice, and difficult to repeat even if an uninitiated observer is watching closely. The boxes were made from very old oak and other wood he picked up from an estate sale, extra lumber the owner had kept from his years of working on the railroad. Rob notes how hard the wood was, almost too hard for his saw blade, which spit out smoke as he made the cuts. Some boxes still the bear burn marks he could not sand out. He relates a funny story about that time, when he lived in his father-in-laws farm house and used the den, with sheets hung on the doors to block the smoke, as his workshop. His father-in-law was not amused.

What started the Stickman Puzzle Box numbered series was a stroke of innocent logic by his young son, who wandered into his workshop one day to see all the colorful wooden boxes with feet. They reminded him of his favorite Pokemon characters, and he began to give the boxes individual names. Thinking it would be an opportune way to find a creative name for his new box, Rob asked his son to name the box design itself. Thus, No. 2 was born. Second box, No. 2, very logical after all. Rob was amused by the irony of his son’s name choice, exactly opposite to what he had expected. But his son had stumbled upon the essence of collecting – after all, you’ve “got to catch them all” - as in Pokemon, as in Stickman Boxes. It proved a smart marketing ploy for Rob’s fledgling business and has served him well, especially on the secondary market, where he still reaps the publicity and accolades if not the financial rewards. It’s amusing to note that at that time, it took Rob over two years to sell out of his second puzzle, and he even had many of his No. 1 remaining.

Brooklyn Bridge

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a cocktail competition, having placed in the “finals” for the prestigious “home bartender of the year” award. I created many cocktails for the challenge, and paired up some of them with puzzle boxes too, as I am apt to do. More often than not for this blog I will take an old (or new) classic from the history books (or interwebs) to pair with a box, especially if something perfect already exists. But I don’t hesitate to make something new if need or mood move me to it. One of my favorite personal cocktail creations, the “Bon Iver”, was created to pair up with another Stickman, the “Traditional Box”. It’s still one of my favorite pairings of all time. So toasting this favorite Stickman box, the No. 2, with an original was an easy decision. The drink is one of my favorites from the cocktail competition, and the garnish I created for it was also the most complex. Somehow I found that all very fitting as a backdrop to this toast.

Fresh squeezed citrus, juice not included

The competition had a few broad requirements. Specifically, the drink had to include tequila, it had to include some bitter amaro, and it could not have any juice at all. The cocktail I created is a deconstructed Paloma, a classic Mexican cocktail made from tequila and grapefruit soda. I used a balance of light and strongly bitter citrus aperitifs with a sweet grapefruit vermouth to recreate the drink according to the rules. Since the bar that hosted the competition is located in Brooklyn, I envisioned the drink as a bridge from New York to Mexico. It’s a deliciously complex cocktail and an ideal toast for another historic Stickman Box. Cheers!

A Winning Pair

Brooklyn Bridge

2 oz Altos Reposado
¾ oz Mommenpop D’Pampe (or other grapefruit forward vermouth)
½ oz Cocchi Americano
¼ oz Bittermen’s Amere Nouvelle
1 dash Scrappy’s Lime Bitters
1 dash salt tincture

Stir ingredients together with ice and strain into a glass. Single cube, lemon twist.

For more from Stickman:
Traditions Old and New
Favorite Things
Construction Zone