Sunday, July 12, 2015

London Calling

Today I am thinking fondly of our friends across the pond for a double dose of British themed entertainment.  One of the greatest sequential discovery puzzles of all time, and certainly one of my personal favorites, is the Big Ben puzzle.  This beautiful piece of woodworking sculpture, created for the 2014 International Puzzle Party held in London, was designed by John Moores, Junichi Yananose & Brian Young (Mr. Puzzle!) and crafted by Brian Young.  If you are at all a fan of London the sculpture of the clock tower itself would be worth owning due to its beautiful construction and lovely attention to detail.  These could easily sell out at any gift shop in Westminster.  Handcrafted from Papua New Guinean Rosewood, Western Australian Jarrah and Queensland Silver Ash, with brass elements, they are truly works of art.  But of course this sculpture is so much more.  Initial exploration of the puzzle reveals a very solid structure, very little wiggling of the 4 clock faces, and a bit of rattling deep inside somewhere.  The ostensible challenge here is to find and liberate “Big Ben”, which is of course the great bell at the top of the clock tower.  In this case it’s more of an itty bitty bell, but no less satisfying once you find it.  There are a few tricks to solve at the start of the puzzle, and eventually you will find yourself navigating the cobbled streets of London, metaphorically speaking.  The puzzle can be classified in a few different ways, including a ‘take apart’ puzzle, a ‘progressive movement’ puzzle, and a ‘sequential discovery’ puzzle.  This is in fact why it is such a great puzzle, so much fun to solve and so satisfying.  Along the way you will discover “Queen Elizabeth’s Crown” as well, as an incentive to soldier on.  The puzzle keeps going, which is particularly thrilling, since it’s so much fun.  Just when you think you may have solved it, it presents a few more challenges which need to be solved.  I mentioned that I think this may be the greatest sequential discovery puzzle of all time (so far!) because of the brilliant design and mechanisms which incorporate each element of the puzzle into the solution.  Most of these types of puzzles (“sequential discovery”) involve using a part of the puzzle which has been removed previously in order to open up a different part.  Like finding a screwdriver which fits that screw you noticed on the bottom.  This puzzle takes it to a whole new level.  Without giving too much away, you will have to be very creative with elements found in the puzzle and not overlook any ideas.  It’s remarkably well thought out.  Add to that how stunning it looks, even as it comes apart, for a truly impressive, fun and satisfying puzzle.

The Big Ben Puzzle by John Moores and Brian Young

To compliment this uniquely special puzzle called for a very special drink as well.  Something particularly British, naturally, but perhaps with a progressive movement or sequential discovery element as well?  How in the world would we accomplish that with a cocktail?  It turns out that summer time is perfect for distinctly British cocktails and for our purpose at hand.  One of the most widely beloved of all British cocktail contributions is of course the gin and tonic (or its more pretentious reincarnation in recent cocktail bars as the “tonic and gin”).  This storied concoction has its origins in Imperial Britain, when in the early to mid 19th century quinine powder harvested from cinchona bark was being utilized to prevent malaria for citizens and soldiers stationed in India.  The bitter medicine was made more palatable by mixing it in sweetened soda water, and the invention of “tonic water” really took off when Schwepps launched their product in 1870.  It was only natural that British soldiers starting mixing their daily gin rations with their daily medical ration – quite efficient, really.  Another distinctly British summer drink is the Pimm’s Cup.  Pimm’s liqueur was also created by an Englishman around 1840 as a medicinal tonic.  The original version, “cup #1”, is also a gin based spirit.  The classic British Pimm’s cup is a mixture of Pimm’s liqueur with sparkling lemonade and lots of summer fruits and berries.  US versions often swap the lemonade for ginger ale, but you get the idea.  It’s a drink which can be as simple or complex as you like it, with these basic ingredients.  The gin and tonic and the Pimm’s cup are extremely complimentary drinks, so I created a special cocktail which starts out as one and turns into the other.  The “Big Ben” cocktail begins as a somewhat fruity gin and tonic, due to a nice ripe muddled strawberry at the bottom of the glass.  Otherwise it’s as simple as it can get, using good quality gin and your favorite tonic.  A bit of muddled cucumber doesn’t hurt either.

Pimm's and Lemonade Ice!

The ice is very unusual, however.  For this drink, you will need a little preparation, by freezing a few special ice cubes ahead of time.  For my version, I froze some ginger lemonade ice (just add some fresh ginger muddled into lemonade) and some Pimm’s lemonade ice.  Most alcohol won’t freeze very well on its own so it’s easier to dilute it a bit with something, such as more lemonade in this case.  If you would rather your gin and tonic not have strawberry to begin with, you could make strawberry lemonade ice as well.  The variations are up to you.  Add a few of these special cubes to your G+T, sit back in the summer sun, and as the ice melts, the drink becomes a Pimm’s cup.  This progressive move / sequential discovery cocktail solves itself, so you can focus on other things, like the Big Ben puzzle, or a nap in the sun.  Bottoms up!

Big Ben Cocktail - A gin and tonic which becomes a Pimm's Cup once melted.

Big Ben Cocktail:

2 oz British Gin
Good quality tonic water
large ripe strawberries
Lemon ginger ice
Pimm's ice (depending on the size of your ice tray, add either 1 or 2 oz of Pimm's with lemonade for each cube.  Each drink should have ice equaling 2 oz Pimm's)

Muddle a strawberry in the bottom of a glass. Combine the gin and tonic and a squeeze of lime.  Add the special ice cubes and garnish with more fruit and mint.  Add sunshine and more tonic as the ice melts.

It's time for some Big Bens

For more about the Big Ben puzzle:


  1. The Big Ben cocktail is great!!

  2. You're right that the Big Ben is a great puzzle but I don't think it's the greatest sequential discovery puzzle ever made. For that crown you would need to look at the Opening Bat or the Katie Koala (also from Brian) - I've still not finished the latter.

    Now for the drink...... THAT is something I'm going to have to try. I lurve a G&T and I lurve a Pims and lemonade - I think you might have just improved them!


    1. Just send your Katie Koala my way if you are done with her ... :-)

    2. Nice try Steve! I haven't actually solved it completely yet!
      If you are ever in the region you are more than welcome to spend a day with me and my toys!


    3. Glad to know I'm not alone with my unsolved Katie. She may be cute and innocent looking, but she's down-right dastardly on the inside!

  3. When I read your reviews of puzzles and cocktails, I find myself wanting to get a drink!!!

  4. I like sequential discovery puzzles and one of my personal favourites is actually the Danlock Model B....