Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Blog Awakens ...

I decided to combine my two recent pass times, making craft cocktails and collecting puzzle boxes.  There are certainly plenty of blogs about cocktails, some from professionals who make a living at it, and I doubt I would add great insight into the spirit world with a stand-alone booze blog.  There are also already a number of excellent puzzle blogs, from enthusiastic collectors who have been at it for a long time.  But no one has combined these two worlds yet, and it seems to me that will be very entertaining.  I can assure you, at the end of a busy week, it is extremely enjoyable to stir or shake up a well balanced cocktail, pour it into a beautiful glass, and imbibe it slowly while considering a puzzling work of art which refuses to reveal its secrets to you.  There are plenty of metaphors to be had at the expense of booze and boxes, and fear not, we will open them all.

For this inaugural post I have chosen to discuss the “Egg” by Wil Strijbos.  It seems to be the perfect puzzle to start this blog, although it’s not actually a box.  At least it’s not a burr.  We would have to start with the cocktails first if we ever discuss a burr.  The Egg is a take apart puzzle, but with no space inside, and not at all boxy.  Really nothing like a box, but the symbolism of beginning is too perfect.  It’s merely a two piece puzzle, shaped like an egg, with the goal of separating the halves.  Very simple, yet very complex.  The Egg is so satisfying because it exemplifies a few ideal attributes of a great mechanical puzzle.  It looks fantastic, like a piece of art, large and smooth with a stunning pink brushed aluminum exterior.  It feels fantastic, smooth and firm with a fluid movement and weighty heft.  As a puzzle it immediately delivers, in the way I appreciate, because it yields a little right away, but then stops.  It makes you smile, as you realize this will not be so easy, and that you are in for a journey of discovery.  It gives some clues, some clicks and stops and starts, encouraging you to keep going.  And it makes you commit with its simple request to be taken apart into two pieces, nothing fancy, but nothing doing, either.  Of course, this is all in the beginning, well before you want to chuck it out the window and hope it smashes a lot of things on its way down.  This puzzle is really hard, and the designer does not provide you with the solution.  Which is devious and dastardly of him and brilliant as well.

The Egg by Wil Strijbos

And which makes me want to reach for a drink.  What to pair with this crafty little puzzle?  Obviously, a craft cocktail with egg in it.  If that sounds less than delicious, you might need to put down the vodka tonic and pull up a chair.  Eggs or egg whites have been used in cocktails since at least the mid 1800’s.  The egg white in particular adds a rich texture and a pleasing “mouthfeel” to the drink, as well as an elegant foamy froth over the surface, which can’t be achieved in other ways.  If I haven’t gotten your attention now with “mouthfeel” and foamy froth, you might be hopeless.  There are so many great cocktails with egg white as an ingredient, it was hard to pick just one.  First I thought about the Clover Club, which is a pre-prohibition classic dating to the late 1800’s and named for the Philadelphia men’s club which met in the Bellevue-Stratford hotel.  It’s a combination of gin, lemon juice, raspberry syrup and egg white.  It’s simple, refreshingly tart and lightly sweet, and has a light pink color due to the raspberry syrup, which makes it a nice match up for the Egg puzzle (also pink).  It’s easy to make and might put you in a better mood once you start to get frustrated with the puzzle.  There are some high quality small batch syrups on the market (for example, small hand foods pictured here), but the best is to make your own, which is super easy and makes the kitchen smell great. 

The Clover Club Cocktail
While the Clover Club is a great cocktail, which I highly recommend you try making at home, I felt it wasn't complicated enough for this particular puzzle, which appears simple enough but is deviously difficult.  Therefore, the cocktail that I have paired with this puzzle is the “Sueno”, created by Raul Ystorza at his Los Angeles mezcal bar, Las Perlas.  The Sueno strikes a lovely balance between smoky, spiced, herbal and sweet.  It  combines a lightly smoky blanco mezcal with meyer lemon juice, five-spice honey syrup (cardamom, start anise, fennel, clove and cinnamon), balsamic vinegar syrup, a fresh strawberry, basil leaves, rosemary needles, and of course, a fresh egg white.  There is a lot of prep involved here.  The balsamic vinegar syrup does not, in my opinion, make the kitchen smell great.  The five spice honey syrup is also tricky, and hot honey does some serious damage to your fingers.

5 spice honey syrup in the making - watch your fingers ...
This is a very complicated drink.  But when you try it, it tastes smooth and sultry and alluring and fills your mouth with a delicious intensity which begs for another sip.  You would be hard pressed to imagine what is actually going on inside that glass, but you suspect it’s a lot.  Reminds me of a puzzle I know.

The Sueno Cocktail ... tastes like a good dream
The Egg was a pivotal puzzle for me.  During the two month period that I was trying to solve it, occasionally picking it up and spinning it around, I had my doubts.  I was convinced I would soon reach out and ask a fellow puzzler to provide the solution.  I couldn't decide if I would be able to simply not know how it worked.  I was truly ready to give up when I did finally solve it.  It was as if the puzzle was rewarding me for my perseverance, or for my analytic mind, or for making such brilliant cocktails.  I’m definitely projecting onto this aluminum egg, but I don’t think it minds.  I studied the opened egg for a while, put it back together and could then open it up in a few seconds again, having now understood the internal mechanism completely.   Soooo satisfying.  Moments like that call for a pre-made cocktail: a fine bourbon with a single ice cube.  Which is not really a cocktail.  But the Egg is not really a box, and I thought we discussed this already.  And because life should not let us feel so self satisfied, it was entirely fitting that when I handed the puzzle over to my 9 year old son, he handed the two separated halves back to me with a shrug in a minute or so.    “I probably got lucky,” he said.  I’ll drink to that.

For recipes see: