Saturday, September 26, 2015

Secrets and Ciphers

Nestled in the dangerous shadows deep inside one of America’s secret spy enclaves, Quakertown, Pennsylvania, lives Stephen Kirk, who describes himself as a former “technology guy” in the corporate world who specialized in “data visualization / analytics”.  He started Cryptic Woodworks as a realization of his furniture making skills combined with his interests in secret codes, puzzles, and hidden mechanisms.  His “Mysterious Wood Puzzle Box with Locked Drawer” may not have the world’s most puzzling name, but it is delightfully mysterious.  

The "Mysterious Wood Puzzle Box with Locked Drawer" by Stephen Kirk

His intentions are to draw you into a code solving experience which is completely contained within the puzzle box.  There are cryptic symbols scattered all over this box, burned into the wood in decorative patterns.  The box features a prominent rotating dial on top and has four more dials on the sides.  It is hand made from cherry wood, with walnut, poplar and birch accents and details, and is a stunning, beautifully crafted piece of art with high quality finishes.  The encoded puzzle is fun to solve and really does make you interact with the box in a way unique to other puzzle boxes.

Cryptic symbols adorn the dial on top and around the box

To compliment this cryptic cask, let us contemplate the “Baconian Cipher” cocktail from Chicago’s Yusho.  Francis Bacon is considered to be the father of the “scientific method” of empiric observation and experimentation.  He made many great contributions to the arts and sciences, including one of my favorite codes, the Baconian Cipher.  Unlike a true cipher, this method involves hiding a message within a message, rather than using pure encryption.  It relies on a binary coding of two alternating elements, based on the five letter groupings devised by Bacon to correspond to the letters in the alphabet, shown below.  A common example uses different type faces in the text, such as plain and italic.  The prior sentence is an example which uses regular and bold text to conceal a message – can you decipher it? Some examples are more subtle, and harder to spot.  The code can even be translated onto everyday objects, such that you could potentially hide a message in plain sight.

a     AAAAA               g     AABBA               n     ABBAA               t      BAABA
b     AAAAB               h     AABBB               o     ABBAB               u-v   BAABB
c     AAABA               i-j    ABAAA               p     ABBBA               w     BABAA
d     AAABB               k     ABAAB               q     ABBBB               x      BABAB
e     AABAA               l      ABABA                r     BAAAA               y      BABBA
f      AABAB               m    ABABB               s     BAAAB               z      BABBB

The Baconian Cipher cocktail combines some rather specific ingredients including anejo tequila, a rich sweet vermouth called Cocchi di Torino, and an aperitif based off of a recipe from the 1860’s which originated in Turin, Italy, called Gran Classico, along with a drop of tamarind bitters.

The Baconian Cipher cocktail from Yusho Chicago

Although the drink is spectacular, layered, and delicious, it would be truly puzzling to find all those ingredients in your cabinet (although not so puzzling to find them in mine!).  Luckily, this type of combination – a base spirit, a vermouth, and an aperitif – is based on the classic negroni (gin, Campari, vermouth), which you can always happily substitute.  Try some other great negroni variations here and here as well.  I’ll raise my glass to this mysterious puzzle box maker and wonder what cryptic woodwork he will come up with next.  Cheers!

The Baconian cocktail sits nestled on a shelf amidst some of its friends.  There is something puzzling going on here ... deciphering it could be quite rewarding for someone.

For more information on Cryptic Woodworks:

For the Baconian Cipher recipe:


  1. Now that box is actually a piece of furniture which means that I could definitely add one of those to my collection! I have lots of furniture and could always do with more!


  2. Maybe you need somewhere to place your keys, or your phone, or anything. This would be perfect!

  3. First I'll have to try one of those cocktails, or maybe two. Then later, when it's safe to operate machinery, I'll get back into my next project. Thanks for the review!