Saturday, March 26, 2016

You Don't Know Apple, Jack

The weather is lovely in Houston right now.  It won’t last but the beginning of spring is one of the nicest times here.  Houston is a very “green” city and has a number of large parks, a few nature preserves, and countless tree lined avenues.  The budding trees remind me of a particular puzzle box by Karakuri Creation Group artist Hiroshi Iwahara.  His designs have incredibly intricate and unusual internal mechanisms.  He has created boxes which only open according to the binary numerical system, boxes which “remember” whatever sequence is input, like a computer, and boxes which open in multiple ways, often with a more obvious solution and a second, more challenging solution needed to enter a second compartment.  He is known for creating both the “super” cubi, a cubed box requiring 324 moves to open, and the “king” cubi, which takes 1536 moves to open!  

The Box with a Tree by Hiroshi Iwahara

Another one of Iwahara’s famous creations is his “Box with a Tree” which won an “Honorable Mention” prize in the 2006 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition.  This unassuming little box appears to be a rather plain wooden box, originally crafted in walnut, with a small silhouette of a tree in the lower corner.  The typical exploration quickly reveals that two side panels slide about, but with no apparent intention or purpose.  There are only 4 “official” moves needed to open this box, but figuring them out is an amazing challenge.  My copy of the “Box with a Tree” is a beautiful newer version decorated with akaasa style yosegi marquetry along the sides and a much more prominent etching of an apple tree on the top.  There are also a number of bigger hints on this version, in case the tree is not enough to get you thinking.  A small apple rests at the foot of the tree, and this equation floats nearby: F=G(Mm/r).  Even with this type of excessive “hinting”, if you can still call it that, the solution is still quite elusive.  You might consider taking this one outside to work on while resting in the shade of a nice tree, in case inspiration strikes.

A tree, an apple, an equation ... hmmmm

While you are at it, why not sip on something tasty as well.  The scientific formula, and famous apple, which figure into this clever puzzle box are a century older than the spirit we will use in our cocktail, but the seeds were being planted at the time.  William Laird came from Scotland to Pennsylvania in 1698 and began what would become the oldest commercial distillery in the US, Laird and Company, founded in 1780 by his grandson Robert.  Their apple based spirit, known as applejack, runs through the course of early American history.  George Washington made his own based on the Laird recipe in 1763, and the Laird family supplied applejack to the troops in the American Revolution.  Abraham Lincoln served it at his saloon in 1833 for the same price as a night’s lodging (12 cents).  William Harrison was famous for passing it out at his rallies leading up to his presidential election (not a bad platform).  Applejack was originally a pure unblended apple spirit, and this version is still available as apple “brandy”. Laird’s 12-year aged apple brandy rivals a fine cognac.  Modern applejack, by law, is now a blend of 35% apple brandy with 65% grain spirit, aged for four years in old bourbon barrels.  

The Jack Rose, circa 1910

With such a long history, there is no doubt that applejack was mixed into cocktails long before anyone wrote down the recipe, so tracing the origins of the “Jack Rose” gets a bit murky but there are plenty of stories.  Like a whiskey sour, the Jack Rose uses applejack and citrus (originally lime, now lemon) and is sweetened with grenadine rather than simple sugar.  Grenadine, from the French word for pomegranate “grenade”, is best made fresh from either Pom juice or even fresh squeezed fruit, but can be store bought.  The syrupy sweet store versions will be vastly different and change the drink, however.  Sometime around the turn of the 20th century this combination of apple”jack” and pink grenadine was likely dubbed the “Jack Rose” cocktail, and recipes emerged in 1908.  A more exciting story involves a gangster of the era also known as Jack Rose (among other names) for whom the drink may have been named.  The drink remains a classic due to its simplicity, balance, and taste – it’s delicious.  So mix up some history and ponder something “new ton-ight”.  Cheers!

This apple's not far from the tree!

The Jack Rose (adapted from Jim Meehan’s PDT Cocktail Book):
2 oz Laird's Applejack
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
3/4 oz homemade grenadine
Shake over ice and strain into a favorite glass.

For more about Hiroshi Iwahara:

For a whiskey sour please see:

For prior Boxes and Booze featuring the work of Hiroshi Iwahara please see:
I'll Tell You a Secret
High Standards

Saturday, March 19, 2016


Happy Spring!  March 19-20th is the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere this year, depending on your time zone in the world.  But wait, you say, spring starts on March 21st each year.  True, very true, almost… how puzzling.  But before we go into all that, the sound of birds chirping, the sight of the early bloom, the tickle of a warmer breeze, stir up something fresh and optimistic inside our sleeping selves.   I think it must be the excitement of discovering a new puzzle box, don’t you?  I’m not sure that’s what puzzle box master Akio Kamei had in mind when he created his “Spring Box”, but maybe.  Or maybe I am taking some linguistic license with the name.  Blame the coming of Spring.  

Spring Box by Akio Kamei

The Spring Box is a cube of walnut wood with large holes on all six sides through which you can see another cube of red rose wood.  The internal cube floats in place, held by the opposing forces of six large springs.   The boxes contrast in a visually striking way, and the novel design is a very interesting kinetic sculptural piece of art on its own.  The box inside moves gently this way and that as you push from one opening to the next, testing the opposing forces of the springs, compressing one spring and then another, and coming back to rest in the central floating position when you release it.  There doesn’t appear to be anything more to do than appreciate the physics on display.  But this is a puzzle box, of course.  Kamei is known for his unique and unusual mechanisms, which can range from simple to extremely challenging.  The Spring Box is an incredible example of his creativity and proves to be a very challenging box to open.  Luckily the box is so fascinating you can enjoy it without even opening it.  The experience is enhanced by the open nature of the outer box, which allows you to see the floating box inside from all angles.  Despite this there doesn’t appear to be any way to open the box inside the box.  It’s Spring, though, and we are filled with renewed hope and new life, so it’s the perfect time to get this box to spring open.

A box in a box

While we are endeavoring to do so, and enjoying the weather, we should have something light, refreshing, and delightful as a daisy to usher in the start of spring.   Which this year, as mentioned, starts almost 2 days earlier than normal.  It may not have passed by you unnoticed that we had a leap year this year.  Everyone knows this occurs every 4 years (technically, every year divisible by 4), in order to readjust for the imperfect count of 365 days per year in our Gregorian calendar.  It takes our Earth approximately 365.242189 days to orbit the sun completely.  Adding a day every 4 years actually over compensates very slightly, and this is adjusted for in years divisible by 100 (such as 1700, 1800, 1900, etc.) by skipping the leap year that year.  This in turn actually undercompensates very, very slightly, which is then adjusted for in years divisible by 100 and 400.  Don’t blame me, I didn’t make this system up.  The first time since the inception of this calendar that this third rule actually happened was in the year 2000, when the leap year was kept instead of skipped.  This effected the seasonal equinoxes by pushing them earlier than ever.  Since this year is also a leap year we have Spring almost two full days ealier, making it the earliest Spring since 1896.  

The Daisy circa 1876

So let’s hearken back to that bygone era and herald in the season with another harbinger of Spring, the daisy.  In this case, the “Daisy” cocktail, described back in Jerry Thomas’ 1876 guide, is quite similar to a “fizz” and consists of a base spirit, such as gin, mixed with citrus and sweetness, with a bit of fizziness by way of soda water.  Back then they likely used Holland gin, known as genever, which has a distinct maltiness due to the maltwine content.  Eventually the Daisy came to include a bit of grenadine for sweetness.  Some Daisies used different base spirits, such as tequila (ever heard of a margarita?).  Some skip the fizz.  But they are all simple and light, and garnished with lots of fruits of the season.   And this year we can enjoy them for a few extra days, so what are you waiting for?  That’s the only puzzling thing around here.  Time to spring into action.  Cheers!

Welcoming spring

For a delicious Daisy try:

For more about Akio Kamei:

For prior Boxes and Booze featuring Akio Kamei’s work please see:

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Feeling Lucky

Who couldn’t do with a little luck?  I’m certainly not taking any chances as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, so this puzzle and potion pairing is just in case some of the “Luck O’ The Irish” happens my way.  The patron saint of Ireland is famous for having driven the “snakes” out of Ireland, and sending them all to Ontario, I guess.  More likely, this was metaphorical, as Patrick introduced Christianity to Ireland and drove out the pagan Celtic religion.  Those poor Pagans – they were just getting over the same treatment on Valentine’s Day.  Patrick reportedly used the shamrock, Ireland’s indigenous 3-leaf clover, to illustrate and explain the concept of the trinity.  I won’t presume to meddle with such a perfect example.  I’ll just use it with a puzzle box, and leave the religion to St. Patrick.  

A Chance Encounter by Tatsuo Miyamoto

This perfectly Patrick’s Day worthy puzzle box is one of Japanese master craftsman Tatsuo Miyamoto’s most famous works.  His “A Chance Meeting” is truly elegant.  It features a lovely little heart (made of purpleheart wood, of course) set into an oak box decorated with colorful bands of wood inlay.  A little quick exploration reveals that the heart is actually set into a lid, which is easily removed.  Beneath the lid waits a perfect 3-leaf clover, also made from hearts of purpleheart.  Depending on your puzzle acumen, it might take a little while to figure this one out.  You probably hope for some “luck” in opening the box, and it’s likely that you will soon have your wish granted. This is a fun puzzle box with a wonderful design and mechanism.

Feeling Lucky?

To compliment it, and in keeping with St. Paddy’s Day, we have the “Clover Club” cocktail.  In Ireland, and the USA by way of Ireland, there is a “Lent Holiday” on St. Patrick’s Day which allows Catholics who are observing Lent to celebrate the saint in good spirits.  Alcohol, which is typically given up during Lent, is allowed for the day, so talking about cocktails is perfectly appropriate.  If you are looking for some green beer, this may not be your drink.  In fact, the Clover Club is pink.  This has led to some stereotypes of what kind of drink it is and who might be drinking it.  For that kind of thinking we need a little rhyme: Let’s not be so judgmental of pink – the Clover Club is a gentleman’s drink.  

The Clover Club

Originating around the turn of the century in pre-prohibition era America, the Clover Club was the signature drink of a well healed group of Philadelphia lawyers, bankers, writers and “captains of industry”.  They would gather in the social club of the same name inside the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel.  Combine gin with lemon juice, a splash of raspberry syrup and some egg white for texture and you have a strong, tart and slightly sweet variation of the gin sour to be enjoyed by “distinguished patron[s] of the oak-paneled lounge”.  The earliest mention of the Clover Club cocktail was in 1896, and the earliest recipe is found in a 1917 edition of “The Ideal Bartender” by Thomas Bullock.  The cocktail has some Irish provenance as well besides its namesake, making it the ideal new drink for St. Patrick’s Day.  William Butler Yeats was a fan and reportedly drank three of them in a row with his dinner once while visiting America.  Perhaps it was on St. Patrick’s Day, too.  I say, pink is the new green.  Cheers!

A chance encounter of lucky clovers - lucky me!

The Clover Club, from The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book (1935):

2 oz dry gin (Plymouth or London Dry, preferably)
 ½ oz fresh lemon juice (half a lemon)
2 tsp raspberry syrup
 ¾ tsp superfine sugar
1 egg white (pasteurized eggs can be used for safety)

Shake all ingredients together vigorously without ice, then add ice and shake to chill. Strain into a favorite glass.  A sprig of mint on top to garnish makes it a “Clover Leaf” cocktail.

For more about Tatsuo Miyamoto:

For a previous mention of the Clover Club (in the very first Boxes and Booze post!) please see:

Saturday, March 5, 2016

A Little Hanky Panky

You’ll have to excuse me for a moment.  It’s rather urgent, and there’s really nothing I can do about it at this point.  It’s just a fact of life, after all.  I know there are plenty of you out there who will understand.  Someone who I know for sure will understand is Tracy Wood Clemons, who created the “A Man’s Got To Go!” box.  Tracy seems to know a lot about this problem.  I actually know a bit myself, professionally speaking, but that’s another story.  I can at least comment, professionally speaking, that both men and women have “got to go” sometimes.  Tracy seems to know this too, but you have to solve her puzzle box to fully appreciate what I mean by that.  Based in Rochester, New York, which has a climate almost the same as Houston, Texas (home of boxes and booze), Tracy creates her unique style of furniture and puzzle boxes.  

A Man's Got To Go! by Tracy Wood Clemons

Her “A Man’s Got To Go!” box is a charming little traveling trunk with handles on each side, decorative trim, and an impressive wooden puzzle lock keeping things secure on your journey of discovery.  Once past the lock the trunk opens to reveal another puzzle which must be solved in order to get to the contents inside the trunk – typical of Tracy’s style.  In fact there is more than meets the eye here, and more than one secret compartment, too.  

Beautiful details hide some clever secrets

The secrets are very well hidden and surprising.  But once you do discover your way into the main compartment, you are greeted by a jumble of wooden objects of all shapes and sizes.  This is another puzzle, which, once assembled, reveals the source of the puzzle’s title.  The puzzle box is a clever homage to a figurine made by Tracy’s father many years ago.  The history of this as well as some photographs are also secretly stored in the trunk.  Tracy has updated the design and added her own special touches and humor.  This puzzle box may actually be rated “R” so you have been warned if you take a peek at the solutions page linked to at the end of this post, which reveal the finished puzzles and old photographs.  As if you aren’t heading there already now…

Opening the lid has hardly gotten you anywhere...

To celebrate this naughty and nice puzzle box we need something equal to the task, with roots in the past but with a modern refresh – the “Hanky-Panky”.  At the turn of the century, The American Bar in the Savoy hotel was a famous place to get a drink in London.  The English actor Sir Charles Hawtry would often ask the bar manager, Ada Coleman, for something with “a bit of punch in it”.  She is credited with inventing for him a version of the sweet martini with the addition of Fernet Branca, a bracing Italian amaro introduced in 1845 and famous ever since for its intense bitterness.  Made from a secret recipe of 27 herbs and plants, Fernet Branca is a popular digestive and not for the faint of heart when taken neat, but it’s found in many mixed cocktails.  For example, it’s extremely popular in Argentina mixed with Coca-Cola.  

The Hanky Panky by Ada Coleman circa 1900

Getting back to the American Bar, sometime around 1900, Coleman served Hawtry her new concoction.  He famously exclaimed, “By Jove! That is the real Hanky-Panky!”  A modern refresh to this classic cocktail adds a bit a fresh orange juice, which helps balance the bitter Fernet and improves the original.  So whether you want the real “Hanky-Panky” or you’re more modern, go get mixed up in some hanky-panky yourself, or just mix one up - and get puzzling.  Cheers!

A little hanky panky going on here ...

For more on Tracy Wood Clemons, please see:

For the original Hanky Panky cocktail recipe:
(For a more modern take, add ¼ oz fresh orange juice as well, as seen here)

For the solutions page to “A Man’s Got To Go!” please see: