Saturday, November 28, 2015

Relatively Speaking

Let’s take a moment, relatively speaking, to ponder the physical concepts proposed 100 years ago which reshaped our understanding of the universe.  Einstein first presented his theory of general relativity on November 25, 1915, in front of the Prussian Academy of Science, which makes this Thanksgiving season one with some serious gravity.  General relativity upped the ante from “special relativity”, which he introduced 10 years earlier, by adding acceleration to the mix.  One of the many insights his theories provide is that there is no “fixed frame” of reference, meaning that everything in the universe is moving relative to everything else.  As a result, both time and space can appear differently depending on your point of view, and how fast you are moving.  One of the most fascinating aspects to this phenomenon, for me, has always been time dilation, which refers to how time appears to pass more slowly for a fast moving observer than for a (relatively) slower moving observer.  

Brothers by Kanae Saito

I always love the example of the two young brothers who are approximately the same age.  One jets off on a rocket ship which travels near the speed of light for a year before he returns home.  He is one year older, but his brother back on earth is now an old man, because time has passed differently for each due to the rate of speed they were moving relative to one another.  To commemorate and celebrate the anniversary of this cosmic conundrum I present the “Brothers” by Kanae Saito of the Karakuri Creation Group.  This whimsical puzzle box pair is one of my all time favorite karakuri box works.  The two brothers are adorable with their silly expressions, dapper duds and flapping arms.  The older, who obviously stayed behind on earth, sports a seriously respectable moustache.  His younger brother, who hasn’t aged much after his year in space, has an impish “I just defied space-time” grin.  But even after all those light year(s) apart, they are still inseparable.  Saito says they are “thick as thieves”.  Like the ambidextrous hexduos, these two will need to work together to reveal their hidden secrets.  The “Brothers” are a lot of fun to explore, right here on Earth. 

Saito's hanko (signature) wins the cutest award

I would think that a particularly special new cocktail should be in order for the 100th anniversary of general relativity as well, wouldn't you?  I've taken a cue from the astrophysicist Katherine Freese, who describes the ingredients in her book “The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter.”  According to Dr. Freese, the cosmic cocktail is made with 3 parts dark matter and ½ part helium and hydrogen.  I’m taking a bit of mixological license here in assuming that actual dark matter doesn't taste very good.  It’s also impossible to measure precisely – terrible for true craft cocktails.  Therefore, representing the “dark matter” here will be a special bourbon infused with browned butter, some Madeira, and some apple cider.  Add to that the half part “helium and hydrogen” – represented here by Hum liqueur – and you've got the space-time continuum calming “Theory of Relativity” cocktail.  

Theory of Relativity cocktail - 3 parts dark matter plus a half part HeH 

The drink is delicious as is, but if you find yourself sitting patiently by the fireside, waiting for your long lost sibling to return from his interstellar pub crawl, you just might want to add some hot water to this cocktail in a big mug, and enjoy it as the “Toddy of Relativity”, which is arguably an even better version, if I do say so, relatively speaking.  The cocktail may appear to be longer or shorter, depending on how fast you may be moving.  It may also appear to be heavier.  If you place it behind a massive galaxy, you might be able to see two of it due to gravitational lensing.  It should taste the same, however, although we really don’t know much about dark matter, so I can’t be sure.  At any rate (of speed), here’s hoping we all experience some time dilation on this Thanksgiving weekend as we enjoy family, friends, food and fun.  Cheers!

The Brothers sharing a Hot Toddy of Relativity

The Theory of Relativity:
1 oz brown butter infused bourbon (or regular bourbon, of course)
1 oz madeira
1 oz apple cider
½ oz Hum liqeuer (the drink still tastes good without this …)
 2 dashes of Angostura bitters

For the Toddy:
Add above to a mug and top with 3 oz hot water.  Stir in 3/4 oz maple or demerara syrup.

For more about Einstein’s Theory:

For The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter by Katherine Freese:

For more about Kanae Saito:


  1. Yep! Puzzle blogs need more maths in them - you need an equation or two to make the post complete!

    That cocktail sounds delicious - your drinks cabinet must be absolutely vast to hold all of those different drinks. I am slightly jealous! Actually I'm a lot jealous!


  2. I must say, I quite enjoyed this post. It has three of my favorite things: puzzle boxes, drinks and science. I wish there were the resources that exist today back when I was in school. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the VSauces, Veritasium, PBS Spacetime and many other great sources of info have opened my eyes to a new world of cool. Now, how should I build a puzzle box based on relativity? Perhaps something about cosmology?

    Steve Kirk
    Cryptic Woodworks