Sunday, May 24, 2015

Fairytales and Treasures

Inspiration comes in many ways.  In this case, it was from a song, “One Tin Soldier”.  The song was first recorded in 1969, sung by the Canadian group The Original Caste and subsequently covered by a number of different artists.  It’s an anti-war song about a group of peaceful folks on a mountain stronghold, rumored to hold a great treasure locked away.  They are attacked and killed by their violent neighbors in the valley below, who want the treasure for themselves.  Of course what is locked away on the mountain is only a simple message of peace.   Kelly Snache, a wood craftsman from Ontario Canada, is a peaceful mountain folk kind of guy.  He is well known for creating new clever puzzles out of old wooden boxes, using very unusual and unexpected mechanisms.  As he tells it, he had in his workshop collection a particularly small little wooden box, a tiny chest without much room inside.  Typically he will take an empty box, with plenty of room inside, and create all sorts of hidden internal mechanisms which keep the box locked up tight, with the challenge being to then figure out how to open the box.  This usual style was clearly out of the question for the tiny chest he had, which didn't have any significant room inside.  Listening to the song, One Tin Soldier, one day (yes, there was a point to introducing that song), he thought he would reverse his usual modus operandi, and build the locking mechanisms outside of the box.  He would create a mountain stronghold to house the secret treasure.  The result is an incredible work of art and one of the most incredible puzzle “boxes” I have seen, “The Lost Treasure of One Tin Soldier”.

The Lost Treasure of One Tin Soldier
Because everything was built externally, the beautiful woodwork and craftsmanship are fully on display.  He has created an entire structure, with a pedestal on the bottom, and a surrounding cage on top, in which the little antique chest is trapped.  The structure is composed of many different exotic hardwoods which give it a gorgeous appearance, including Red Cedar, Curly Maple, Bird's Eye Maple, Wenge, Purpleheart, Walnut, Aromatic Cedar, Oak, Cocobolo, Splated Maple, and Cherry.  Surrounding the pedestal are various knobs and peepholes which will be integral to solving the puzzle. 

You can see the beautiful exotic hardwoods along with Kel "Snake's" logo
Inside the pedestal is where the magic really happens.  Turning the box over, you can see layers of different wooden mechanisms, with everything packed in snugly and no hints as to how anything comes apart.  The interplay of the various hardwoods is stunning and mesmerizing.  It seems clear though, that you will need to work your way through these layers in order to eventually release the cage which holds the chest onto the pedestal.  A bit of exploration gets things started, with a few pieces releasing.  You will actually need to use these pieces many times to proceed, like any good sequential discovery puzzle.  After that, things come to a grinding halt.  Getting the first real piece out of the way requires a lot of thought and a bit of dexterity.  It’s a remarkably tricky mechanism.

I see a key!  Too bad it won't help yet ...
Things don’t get any easier after that, either. There are many deviously tricky steps to figure out along the way that had me stumped one after the other.  There were two specific steps which seemed impossible, as if there was no way things could come apart further.  Thinking about what would have to happen if it was not actually impossible ultimately led to both solutions, yielding incredibly satisfying aha moments.  The puzzle provides so many great challenges, fiendishly clever mechanisms, and layers in addition to being a gorgeously crafted piece of woodwork that it is easily one of my all-time favorites.
At last! The Treasure revealed.
In total, you will have to work your way through 35 separate movements to finally release the lost treasure, freeing approximately 24 separate pieces which come apart along the way.

Incredibly complex set of components
Pairing this incredible puzzle with a drink called for something very special, as you might imagine.  I recently discovered a wonderful drink called “A Fairytale of New York”, which like the puzzle has its origins in Canada.  The name alone makes you want one, right?  Also like the puzzle, this cocktail was inspired by a song of the same name, by the British punk rock band The Pogues, and one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time in the UK.  The song was named after a novel (of the same name) by the Irish American novelist J.P. Donleavy, who was born in New York.  So as with most enduring fairytales, this one has been passed around the globe a bit as it matures.  The Fairytale of New York cocktail is rather old fashioned – it’s a variation on that classic drink.  The base spirit is a good Canadian whisky, which provides a nice mellow foundation.  Add to that some “winter warmth syrup”, an incredibly delicious potion made with apples, pears, cinnamon, cloves and walnuts, with a hint of orange and a few dashes of bitters, and you have the fairytale in a glass created by bartender Dave Mitton from Toronto.  The drink evokes the winter holidays by a cozy fireplace, but the good feelings can be enjoyed any time of year.  As a final nod to the Canadian craftsman who created the Lost Treasure box, I amped up the Canada in the winter warmth syrup by substituting the sugar with rich amber maple syrup.  It adds another whole layer of depth and flavor to this incredibly delicious drink.  If you've never tried whisky or bourbon before, this would be a great place to start.  And you can use the extra syrup on your waffles and ice cream. 

The Fairytale in Ontario cocktail - so delicious
The Fairytale in Ontario Recipe:
2 oz Canadian Whisky
¾ oz “Canadian Winter Syrup”
2 inch Orange peel
2 dashes walnut bitters (use Angostura as a substitute if needed)
Muddle the orange, bitters and syrup then add the whisky and stir with an ice cube.  Mmmmm.

Canadian Winter Syrup:
"Canadian" Winter Warmth Syrup is decadent

1 ½ cups water
1 cup Grade B maple syrup
½ apple, ½ pear peeled and cubed
3 cinnamon stick
A few cloves, nutmeg, and walnuts if you have them
Simmer the ingredients for about 20 - 30 minutes,
strain and refrigerate.

For Kelly Snache’s website:    or search “Soul Tree Creations”  


  1. Now that is a sequential discovery puzzle! I don't collect boxes but I do go for sequential discovery puzzles! One day I hope to add a Snake puzzle to my hoard.


  2. Now I know who pay the super high price for this puzzle :-)

    PS: you like cocktails, do you know Bol's?