Saturday, April 30, 2016

Anniversary Over-Easy

It’s the one-year anniversary of Boxes and Booze.  I thought about what puzzle and potion combination I should commemorate this special (for me!) occasion with for a while.  Perhaps a very special puzzle, or an extremely complicated one, matched with an equally complex cocktail full of incredible ingredients and specially made syrups.  I’ve certainly done that before!  But I decided to go back to the beginning, as it were, and commemorate my little endeavor with a nod to my first post, one year ago.  It’s one of the better posts I’ve done, and definitely worth checking out if you haven’t read it.  I chose the theme of beginnings, appropriately enough, represented by the egg, and described the fiendishly frustrating Egg puzzle by Dutch puzzle designer Will Strijbos.  Ironically, for a blog called Boxes and Booze, the Egg puzzle is not actually a puzzle box, but a beautiful object of confusion nonetheless.  You might even say it’s a “Deviled Egg”.  I didn't want to box myself in from the start.  If you’re curious, it’s all in that first post.  Of course, to compliment the Egg puzzle, I made a few cocktails which included egg in the ingredients.  Actually just the egg white, which gives a cocktail a luscious texture and foaminess.  Fast forward 1 year on, and I present to you another egg – this time an actual puzzle box, too.

Egg by Akio Kamei

Akio Kamei is no stranger to this blog.  He is the current leader of the Karakuri Creation Group, a group of wood artisans keeping the art of Japanese puzzle box making alive and well in Hakone, Japan.  Kamei began crafting unusual designs and opening mechanisms into his puzzle boxes many years before he helped found the creation group.  Some of his earliest designs are famous for the way they incorporate logical opening movements which depend on what the puzzle is made to represent.  One of his earliest designs was a large wooden egg which hides a little chick inside, if only the logical puzzler can determine how to release it.   These original eggs are extremely rare and scarce, perhaps from careless cooks cracking them on the floor, who knows.  Kamei went on to update the opening mechanism later on, figuring out how to shrink it down and thus allowing the egg to shrink as well, and resemble an actual egg in size.  These “mini” eggs, originally created in 1999, are still readily available today.  They are a great little puzzle challenge which shouldn’t keep you scratching your own egghead for too long, unless you don’t “think” things through.  Compared to Strijbos’s egg they are child’s play.  I say that with all due humility, and if you have read my very first post about that devilish egg, you will know what I’m talking about.

How cute!

For the anniversary cocktail I thought we should go “all in”.  That is, use the whole egg, rather than just the egg white.  Eggs have been finding their way into cocktails, believe it or not, for centuries.  Various terms have been used to describe these concoctions but classically they are known as “flips” and “eggnogs”.  The flip began life in the 1690’s as a hot mixture of beer, rum and sugar, frothed up with a hot poker known as a "flip-dog" (as to why the hot poker was called a "flip-dog", one can only speculate - I don't think I would have wanted to be a dog back then).  Eventually, someone added a whole egg and turned it into a cold drink, improved by “flipping” the contents back and forth between pitchers to mix before serving.  Recipes for flips first appeared in “Professor” Jerry Thomas’s classic guide, "How to Mix Drinks; or, The Bon-Vivant’s Companion” in 1862.  Eggnog came along later, and adds cream to the mix.  But some flips now have cream too, so the distinction isn’t as clear anymore.  It’s all pretty delicious either way.  

The Flipped Life - go ahead, you deserve it!

I have created a drink celebrating the egg which I call the “Flipped Life” cocktail.  It has all the good stuff.  Sweet sherry, smoky scotch, a rich syrup made with demerara sugar, heavy cream, and, of course, a whole egg.  This is no spring sipper, but you deserve it anyway.  I’d like to toast everyone for putting up with my ramblings about cocktail history, and thank you all for reading, and hopefully, enjoying, my writing.  Cheers!

These two are eggsactly right for the occasion

The Flipped Life

1 oz Pedro Ximénez Sherry
1 oz Peat Monster Scotch (or other peat forward scotch)
½ oz demerara syrup (or rich simple syrup)
½ heavy cream
1 whole (pasteurized) egg
2-3 dashed Jerry Thomas Barrel Aged Bitters

Shake everything together vigorously for about 1 minute without ice.  Add ice and shake another 20 seconds to chill, then strain into a favorite glass.  Grate fresh nutmeg on top.

For more information about Akio Kamei:

For the previous “egg” themed post, please see the very first Boxes and Booze:

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Navigating the Northshore

Boxes and Booze has been rambling on for almost a year now – next week will be the anniversary post.  It seems fitting that I find my way to that milestone with the help of a “navigator”.  Although in this case, I may not have chosen wisely, since, as the creator of this puzzle box points out, “directions are pointless”.  Thomas Cummings has been making puzzle boxes for his family and friends in his Georgia workshop for years.  Some recipients of his handiwork have apparently deserved particularly devious designs, and Thomas seems to relish the opportunity to inflict his puzzle passion on the willing.  He offers his creations through his “Eden Workx” shop, where he explains his fascination with secret spaces, hidden panels and hiding places.  

The Navigator's Box by Thomas Cummings

His “Navigator’s Box” is a 4 inch square cube shaped box made from reclaimed wood, brass, aluminum and bamboo.  It’s stained and finished with French polish with a patina to give it an aged appearance, which looks quite nice.  The distinguishing feature is a compass “rose” on the top – on my box it’s a purple seven pointed star.  There is also a wooden tab sticking out of what appears to be the front of the box, clearly locking things in place.  A bit of exploration reveals that this star may be “key” in solving the puzzle and opening the box.  It seems to twist and turn here and there, without apparent rhyme or reason.  There are multiple pathways and solutions to take, which makes things both easier and more confusing if you get lost.  Cummings has also built in cul-de-sacs and back-tracks to befuddle the weary traveler.  I could try to explain this better, but directions are pointless.  The Navigator’s Box is a great looking little puzzle box which is not simple but not too challenging, and seems to change pathways each time you open it, making it fun to open over and over again.

This compass rose needs re-calibration ...

I’ve paired it up with the “Northshore” cocktail by Jason Asher, head mixologist at Young’s Market in Scotsdale, Arizona and the innovative pop up “Counter Intuitive”.  He created this modern riff on the classic tiki genre at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic in 2011 as part of Kara Newman’s seminar, “Whisky is the New Black”.  It’s a cool name for a booze seminar so I just had to share.  The Northshore uses a blended scotch whisky, which technically means there is at least one component of single malt scotch in the batch, and that all the scotch in it comes from Scotland.  For the scotch aficionado, the thought of mixing a single malt into a cocktail is often anathema, but using a blend allows the purist to save face and try something truly interesting.  

The Northshore cocktail by Jason Asher

The excellent smokiness of the "Peat Monster" scotch blend from Compass Box whisky shines through perfectly and is balanced nicely by the sweet fruit flavors.  You could use another peaty, smoky scotch blend as well but the smokiness is important in this cocktail.  The drink is rich, layered and utterly delicious.  It’s a pleasure to get lost in while enjoying it – I won’t explain exactly how, since “directions are pointless”.  You’ll have to find out for yourself.  Cheers!

No directions needed ... to enjoy this pair

Northshore cocktail by Jason Asher:

¾ oz Compass Box Peat Monster (or other smoky profile scotch blend)
½ oz hibiscus liqueur (such as Hum)
¾ oz orgeat (almond syrup, such as Monin)
½ oz fresh squeezed lime juice (such as fresh squeezed lime juice)
Lemon strip

Shake everything over ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with the lemon peel.

For more information about Thomas Cummings and Eden Workx:

For more information about mixologist Jason Asher:

For a prior “navigational” puzzle box please see:

For prior “tiki” themed cocktails please see:

Saturday, April 16, 2016

How to Hale a Billionaire

How? does one describe the results of a seasoned puzzler teaming up with an expert craftsman to produce a new puzzle box?  Exactly.  The How? Box is a collaborative effort hatched in the deviously puzzling mind of Englishman Peter Hajek.  He designed the box and locking / opening mechanism, and gathered components for the box from Ivo Splichal and Jiri Mejtsky, who each crafted certain components.  All of that was then sent to Jakub Dvorak and his team at the new Pelikan workshop in the Czech Republic.  Pelikan has a long history of crafting high quality collectable wood puzzles, and Jakub’s new reboot is living up to the old reputation.  He and his team then brought the How? Box to life in two limited versions, one in light oak and other, seen here, in dark oak, with palisander and maple wood details.  

The How? Box by Peter Hajek and Jakub Dvorak

The box itself is very beautiful, expertly crafted with fine details, decorative splines and an impressive looking lock plate but no key.  Which is a bit odd, since there is clearly a very prominent keyhole.  Perhaps they forgot to send it?  Of course not, and you didn’t really think so either.  At least it gives you some direction for How? to begin with this puzzle, although you really shouldn’t trust Peter too much.  As far as hints go, it’s all you get, and there are a few tricks up his sleeve before you can safely say you have the “know How?” to open this delightful box.  Each time you think you have figured something out, you will be met with another layer.  And hiding beneath the genteel, charmingly warm wooden exterior lies an impenetrable lock you just have to see to believe.  Of course, you will have to open the box, first.  

How? in the world ... ?

Peter Hajek explains that he spent a long time looking for just the right lock for this box. He discovered it in Russia, as a door lock which could be adjusted to fit his purpose.  After many difficulties in trying to order it, he finally succeeded with the help of his friend Anatoli Kalinin. It was well worth the effort – the lock keeping this puzzle box securely shut is incredible.  It looks like it belongs on a billionaire’s bank vault.  You have no idea from the beautiful exterior that such a massive mechanical marvel is blocking your path to open the box.  There’s no way you are getting in here without figuring out “How?”!  This puzzle box is easily one of my favorites. It has a perfect combination of elegant design, beautiful craftsmanship, and clever secrets which make you smile without keeping you guessing for too long.   And look what was inside mine when I managed to open it – another lock! So many locks in this box!

A Hales Lock #1

This padlock is the creation of Shane Hales, another Englishman of many talents.  He spends most of his time running his construction company in London, but he is also a master carpenter and joiner, a locksmith, and an ingenious puzzle designer.   His extremely limited series of shape based puzzles (the block, the circle, the parallelogram and the pentagon) all reside with a few collectors as his personal gift to them.   He has recently begun giving life to another passion of his, the “puzzle lock”.  Puzzle locks have been around for centuries and can be found in many cultures, often with a distinct regional style.  With a nod to Marcel Gillen’s modified puzzle locks, Shane has created his own design by modifying an existing padlock.  The “Hale’s Lock #1” is an impressive little puzzle which presents the deceivingly straightforward challenge of unlocking the padlock.  Shane has even provided you with an obvious key, unlike Peter Hajek – no need to wonder How? In this case!  Unfortunately you can’t actually use the key since it’s shackled to the lock.  So that’s not very helpful.  There are some strange things going on with this little lock, and a few discoveries to be made, and besides all that you still need to figure out how to unlock it!  Should you be so clever as to tackle this shackle, you will marvel at the brain in Shane.  Whew, all this rhyming, and all the locks in this box make me need something on the rocks!

The Billionaire Cocktail from Employees Only

The massive bank vault-esque lock protecting the How? Box deserves a rather “rich” cocktail, wouldn’t you say?  The “Millionaire Cocktail” is a Prohibition era classic with multiple personalities.  There are quite a few different versions of this drink, all with the same name, and all extremely different.  But all clearly intended to make the sophisticated sipper of the day feel like a lot of money.  The Millionaire No. 1, from Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), combined sloe gin, apricot brandy, lime, rum and grenadine.  That, along with solving the Hale’s Lock #1, might make you, too, feel like number one.  The masters of mixology at New York’s landmark Employee’s Only bar have taken their choice of the Millionaire (this time, bourbon, Grand Marnier, Ricard pastis, grenadine and lemon juice, from 1938) and given it their modern update.  Their “Billionaire Cocktail” ups the ante with a richer, high proof bourbon and a special house made Absinthe bitters.  This aint no dime store whiskey sour, folks.  It’s a modern classic that will leave you wondering How? you never had one before, How? soon you might have another, and How? you got so lucky to enjoy such marvelous puzzles.  Special thanks to Shane Hales, I raise my glass to you.  Cheers!

The Billion dollar question - How?

The Billionaire Cocktail (adapted from “Speakeasy” by Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric)
2 oz high proof bourbon (I used Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve)
1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
½ oz simple syrup
½ oz grenadine (craft or homemade preferable)
¼ oz Absinthe Bitters (homemade version from Employees Only is easy to make)
Lemon wheel garnish
Shake together over ice and strain into your favorite glass.  Top with lemon wheel and count your fortunes.

For more information about the How? Box and the New Pelikan Workshop:

For a prior Peter Hajek puzzle box please see:

For more information about Hale’s Puzzles:

For more information about Employees Only:

To see a (warning: slight spoiler) photo of the lock inside the How? Box visit the solutions page here:

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Button-down Delight

It’s time to break out the decoder ring again.  The stealth spy operatives over at Cryptic Woodworks are at it again, incorporating hidden clues, codes and riddles into the very workings of the puzzle box.  Like the not so mysteriously named “Mysterious Wood Puzzle Box with Locked Drawer” which we have featured in the past, this box includes codes and clues which are incorporated right into the design.  Unlike that prior box, this one has a much shorter and more ominous name: “The Button”.  Its designer, Stephen Kirk, who hails from the spy capital of the world (Quakertown, Pennsylvania) has a fascination with codes, ciphers and apparently espionage.  

The Button by Stephen Kirk

“The Button” recalls the days of encrypted transmissions and cold war secrets when all that stood between enemy nations was the mere press of a button.  Everything you need lies waiting right in front of you, if only you can solve the clues.  Made from reclaimed walnut, maple, and birch plywood, The Button presents plutonium grade puzzling as you endeavor to achieve the primary objective of simply pressing the button.  Once pressed, the box reveals two drawers which spring open to allow access to top secret documents, like launch codes, or cocktail recipes if you’re really lucky.  Stephen Kirk’s puzzles are expertly crafted by hand and feature high quality details and finishes.  The codes and clues are an excellent challenge and might even puzzle Alan Turing himself.

The Three Dots and a Dash adapted by Paul McGee

This cryptic conundrum deserves a top secret tipple to sip while pondering.  Back in 1933, “Don the Beachcomber” (code name for Earnest Gantt) opened the first “Tiki Bar” in Los Angeles, which incorporated Polynesian themes and tropical style cocktails.  It was wildly popular and spawned a whole new class of cocktails.  We have discussed his and his competitor “Trader Vic”’s bars and how they each claim to have invented the famous “Mai Tai”.  They were brilliant at marketing their drinks and the tiki theme, so it’s no surprise that “Don” devised something special to celebrate the Allies victory in Europe at the end of World War II.  Returning soldiers and civilians alike were treated to the “Three Dots and a Dash” cocktail, a delicious combination of rums, lime and orange juices, honey syrup, allspice liqueur and a tropical syrup called falernum.  

That garnish is a tasty Morsel ...

Stephen Kirk will tell you that three dots followed by a dash is Morse Code for the letter “V”, which in this case stood for “Victory”.  Pictures from that era reveal how popular the “V” hand sign was at the time, which has evolved into what we call the “peace” sign now.  Tiki cocktails have made a big comeback in recent times, thanks to the craft cocktail movement in general, spawning well know bars like Chicago’s “Three Dots and a Dash” whose namesake cocktail is featured here.  In fact, this year’s “Cocktail Bar of the Year” was “Lost Lake”, another Chicago tiki bar.  The Three Dots and a Dash cocktail is a great tiki classic, offering a taste of rum which is not too sweet and not too strong, with some spice and exotic flavors which are perfectly balanced.  It’s one secret I couldn't keep to myself.  If you should be victorious in your efforts to unlock this box, you should celebrate with something equally victorious.  So go press whatever button you need to make or order one of these for yourself, and happy puzzling.  Cheers!

Nothing cryptic about how incredible these two are!

Three Dots and Dash by Paul McGee, adapted from Don the Beachcomber circa 1945:

1 ounce Duquesne Aged Rhum Agricole (I used Demerara Rum)
1 ounce Eldorado 5 Year Rum (I used Flor de Cana 7)
1/2 ounce Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
1/2 ounce Honey syrup
1/2 ounce Falernum
1/4 ounce Allspice Dram
1 ounce Fresh lime juice
3 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake everything over ice and strain into a glass filled with crushed ice.  Amp up the garnish for this one!

For more information about Stephen Kirk:

For a prior tiki themed Boxes and Booze please see:

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Feeling Foolish?

Ahhh, April 1st.  Known in these parts as April Fool’s Day.  There’s something irresistible about trying to fool someone.  And plenty of us enjoy being fooled as well.  It’s part of the enjoyment of a great puzzle box, to be sure, as well as any number of other puzzle types.  The tradition goes back for centuries, with various accounts of when it all started.  The Romans celebrated “Hilaria” at this time of year by dressing up in costumes, which you have to admit is hilarious.  Mother nature plays tricks on us with the weather right about now, so it’s likely the Pagans were already laughing at the Romans in their own way.  Many accounts suggest that when the modern day Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian calendar in 1582 France, those who did not get the message and continued celebrating the new year on April 1 were made into laughingstock and called “poisson d’ avril” (April “fish”, the original April fools?).    

What's this twisty cube doing at Boxes and Booze?

We all like a good laugh, and perhaps a bit of schadenfreude too, so it’s no wonder the holiday has stood the test of time.  I’m sure I didn’t fool anyone with the temporary change of name from “Boxes and Booze” to “Twisties and Tonics” on April 1, but perhaps it got Kevin Sadler excited.  He loves a good twisty puzzle, and a good tonic with gin, for that matter.  I’ll admit I’m no stranger to the Rubik’s cube, and have also included some “not exactly a box” puzzles on these pages in the past (see here, here and even the very first post ever, here).  But I’ll stick with my puzzle boxes, despite this post’s initial appearances.  The twisty Rubik’s cube-esque puzzle presented here today is actually a puzzle box, so don’t be fooled.  Well, it’s actually both a twisty cube puzzle AND a puzzle box, designed by the prolific and brilliant Dutch scientist and puzzle inventor Oskar van Deventer.  

Oskar's Treasure Chest by Oskar van Deventer - solved!

Oskar has invented hundreds of puzzles and games and even holds a Guinness World Record for his 17x17x17 cube, which is a mind boggling thing to imagine.  His designs have been mass produced by different companies the world over, and it’s likely you have tried one at some point whether you know it or not.  “Oskar’s Treasure Chest” looks and functions just like the more famous 3x3 twisty cube puzzle we all know and love, but with an added surprise bonus.  Once solved, the top of the puzzle actually opens, like a lid, to reveal a secret compartment inside!  I used to be quite proficient at solving these, and even relearned the steps recently with my children.  I recruited my son to help me solve this one for the pictures (it’s his puzzle, after all!).

And opened! It's a puzzle box!

Continuing the theme brings us to a delicious drink.  Everyone knows how much I love a good vodka cocktail, right?  Especially a bright candy colored one made with sweet syrupy green apple schnapps – Apple Martini, anyone?  Yum!  Wait for it … April Fools!  And if you love that sort of thing, I applaud you and raise my own glass as well.  But if you’ve been a visitor here before you may have noted the distinct absence of vodka based drinks, and certainly no candy coated indulgences – the only martini you’ll find is the historical classic (check it out here).  I’m not against vodka at all, I just tend toward the other spirits.  So what’s going on here?  

Apple Martini, anyone?

This clever concoction was created by Contemporary Cocktails cofounder Aisha Sharpe to fool you into thinking it’s an apple martini, when in reality the bright green color belies a complex modern craft cocktail.  In fact, this is one incredible cocktail, mixing smooth tequila with herbal Chartreuse, fresh basil, sweet ruby red grapefruit and tart lime.  It’s incredibly delicious.  I’d love to be fooled by it all over again soon.  If you have the chance, try it on some unsuspecting friend – someone you like, because it’s so good – or just try it for yourself.    Here’s to being foolish, and having a great time at it.  Cheers!

The April Fool's Martini by Aisha Sharpe - not what you expected!

April Fool’s Martini by Aisha Sharpe:

1.5 oz Blanco Tequila
1/2 oz Green Chartreuse
5 Basil leaves
1 oz Ruby red grapefruit juice
3/4 oz Lime juice
3/4 oz Simple syrup (one part sugar, one part water)
Garnish: Thin apple slice or maraschino cherry
Glass: Martini

Muddle the basil lightly with the simple syrup (I muddled a bit vigorously which leads to a murkier color), then add the rest and shake over ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and add a slice of apple to complete the charade.

Don't be fooled - these are an incredible pair!

For more about Oskar van Deventer:

For a proper martini, and other variations, please see:
The Little Things
Resistance is Futile
A Little Hanky Panky

For prior Boxes and Booze featuring “non-boxes”(!) please see:
A Blog Awakens ...
All That Glitters

London Calling