Saturday, June 25, 2016

Blast Off - Part II

It’s time to do a little summer stargazing now.  Launching off from last week’s post where we boarded Kasho’s rocket ship and blasted into space with the X-15 “rocktail”, we now find ourselves floating amidst the stars and planets of the cosmos.  Our story picks up where we left off last time, enjoying the surprisingly light and refreshing X-15 cocktail named in honor of that innovative, ground breaking rocket plane.  I didn’t mention the entire story about the X-15 cocktail until now.  As you might imagine with a hypersonic rocket plane, things didn’t go entirely without a hitch.  Overall, with 199 test flights, there was only one disaster, and the X-15 is still considered to be one of the most successful aeronautic research programs in American history.  However, in 1967, Major Michael Adams was killed when the rocket tore apart during a reentry spin.  Whether right or wrong, in response Popo Galsini (the creator of the X-15 cocktail) decided to change the drink’s name at that time to the “Saturn” cocktail, by which name it is better known today.  So hold onto your X-15 as it turns into a Saturn cocktail and the vehicle becomes the destination.  If we rocket at light speed from Earth to our planetary target, the trip will take about 90 seconds.

The Planet with a Ring I (Saturn) by Hideaki Kawashima

June is one of the best times of the year to view Saturn with the naked eye.  Rising in the mid evening (that time between sunset and midnight), it is just nearby to Antares, recognizable as the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius.  Look up and left from Antares and you should see Saturn.  Also very close by, up and to the right, is Mars, which is likely to be the first and brightest object you notice, with its reddish hue.  

Two Saturns in orbit ...

I recently had the opportunity to see Saturn through a super powerful telescope, and it is an amazing site, floating in the inky blackness at its tilted angle, with its distinct rings.  Even at a billion miles away, it is iconic and the most recognizable planet after Earth.  Perhaps it is not surprising that Hideaki Kawashima chose to represent it in his “Planet with a Ring I (Saturn)” puzzle box, also part of the Karakuri Creation Group’s “Space” exhibition.  Crafted from magnolia, cherry, maple, walnut, and the striking zebrawood which gives it a distinctive striped pattern, the Saturn box poses the conundrum of how to open a box with a ring running around it.  

Zebrawood gives this planet a unique appearance

Kawashima is a master of interdependent motion and uses the ring in his signature style to aid or block you from access to either of the two hidden compartments.  He also uses your logical assumptions to fool and frustrate you.  The Saturn box is an excellent representation of his style and an evolution of his design sense.  There is also a little stand to display the puzzle box, which recreates the planetary angle we observe for Saturn from Earth – another nice touch.

The Planet with a Ring II by Hideaki Kawashima

Kawashima’s mind must have been racing at lightspeed, though, because he didn’t stop with the first Saturn box.  He took that concept and evolved it further, adding a new layer of complexity and a new “flavor”, like taking a classic cocktail, changing or adding a few ingredients, upping the ante, and making something similar but unique.  With cocktails, there is usually a great new name for the fancy version, such as “The Finer Points of Bad Behavior”.  With Kawashima’s second planet, we get “Planet with a Ring II”.  I’ll just let the puzzle box speak for itself, though - it doesn’t need a fancy name.  Kawashima has really outdone himself with the Planet II box, taking the idea of a box with a ring even further than with the first box.  

Beautiful purpleheart runs rings around this puzzle

He has tried to add a bit more of a spherical feel to the box structure by placing raised octagonal faces on each of the six sides of the cube.  This serves more than the aesthetic, because the ring is now free floating and not attached to the central box as in Planet I.  The octagonal faces and cubic corners trap the ring in place.  The ring itself is beautifully made from maple wood layers sandwiching a purpleheart wood core, and is intertwined about the walnut box such that it cannot be removed.  Planet II is actually two puzzles in one, with the first challenge of figuring out how to free the ring from the box followed by an elegant finale of how to open the box itself.  I found that getting the ring back to its proper starting position to be an even greater challenge.  This may well be one of Kawashima’s masterpieces.

Step one complete ...

Which brings us back to the Finer Points of Bad Behavior, a modern recreation of the classic Saturn cocktail with some fancy upgrades created by Gregg Jackson and Thor Messer from Merchant in Madison, Wisconsin.  Recall that the Saturn (aka X-15) is a combination of gin, orgeat (an almond syrup), passion fruit syrup, falernum (an almond, ginger and lime syrup) and lemon juice (see the last post for the recipe).  In the Finer Points, the gin is supercharged by using “navy strength” (higher proof) gin, and Jamaican rum and agricole rhum are added (why rhum and not rum? I’ll have to explain that some other time).   The passion fruit syrup becomes a honey-passionfruit puree, and the orgeat which is typically almond based becomes a homemade pistachio version.  

The Finer Points of Bad Behavior ... how can you resist a drink with that name?

Why would anyone want to go to all that trouble?  Kawashima knows.  The Finer Points is really, really good.  It truly compliments the drink that inspired it, while adding flavorful complexity and making it a uniquely delicious experience.  I learned how to make pistachio orgeat, too, so can now lend you my experiential wisdom, which is to not bother – don’t do it!  There is at least one cocktail guru out there who agrees, it’s just not worth trying to make your own “nut milk” syrup, but I didn’t listen.  I guess that just makes me a nut.  It was pretty tasty in the end, but milking nuts is best left to the experts.  I’ll just leave it at that and not go there anymore.  

Not to put too Fine a Point on it ... but Bad Behavior is so good

Instead I’ll make a toast:

Come climb aboard this wooden rocket ship
And join me on this jaunt to outer space
I promise you a pleasant puzzling trip
Astride the fastest jet of human race
Let’s speed onward to objects far from sight
Our way is straight despite ol’ Saturn’s tilt
Yet ‘ere we reach the planet and alight
We’ll orbit round what Kawashima built
To those who travel far beyond the sky
Who fail to notice what is out of reach
While going faster, further, farther, high
Above the limit of impossible they breach
I raise my glass to those with minds evolved
To see life’s puzzles waiting to be solved.


Good heavens ... these are celestial!

For more information about Hideaki Kawashima:

For the recipe to “The Finer Points of Bad Behavior”:

For “Blast Off – Part I” please see:

For prior Kawashima puzzle boxes please see:
Perfect Duets
Down for the Count

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Blast Off - Part I

It’s summertime.  The days are getting longer and the nights are full of dreams.  There’s something magical about looking up at the stars on a warm evening that stirs the imagination.  Let’s take a trip into outer space together.  We’ll board a rocket ship and head out to the planets, propelled by some tropical rocket fuel and our wits.  The journey to the cosmos is a long one, so we won’t get there all at once, we’ll have to take our time.  Buckle up!

Rocket by Osamu Kasho

The concept of outer space inspires all sorts of things, including puzzle boxes.  The Karakuri Creation Group embraced this with their “Space” themed exhibition.  One of their artisans, Osamu Kasho, created his “Rocket” puzzle box for that exhibition.  He describes having wanted to try making a rounded shaped box on a lathe, and he has succeeded very well.  The Rocket, like all of Kasho’s puzzle boxes, is a whimsical, toy-like object with smooth rounded curves and a playful design sense.  He enjoys breaking the mold with his boxes, most of which are not “boxy” at all.  The Rocket is a cartoon come to life, a child’s drawing space ship full of limitless possibilities.  It hides a clever puzzle with a few lovely touches barring your entry to the cockpit.  You might need to enlist a rocket scientist to help you figure this one out – but probably not.  Crafted with chanchin, maple, walnut and magnolia woods, Kasho has made a fine vessel for the imagination.

It's a supersonic smooth operator

A particular rocket holds a special place for us at the boxes and booze household as well.  Early in his career, my father helped to develop the X-15 rocket plane, the fastest manned aircraft in history.  The X-15 was essentially a cockpit bolted onto a rocket, with wings attached.  Maybe my father would suggest it was a bit more complex than that, but you get the idea.  The rocket would be carried under the wing of another plane and dropped into the atmosphere, so all of its fuel could be used for speed acceleration rather than takeoff.  The pilots would literally be falling to earth as they tried to get the engine started, and then, BAM!  It earned its fame on Oct 3, 1967, when fighter pilot Pete Knight flew the rocket at 4,520 mph (Mach 6.72).  The data gathered from the X-15 test flights helped propel us into manned spaceflight.  An X-15 now hangs in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, where we proudly stop for family photographs when visiting.

The X-15 Cocktail by J. "Popo" Galsini

As if that wasn’t cool enough, a bartender named J. “Popo” Galsini created a cocktail in honor of the rocket plane during its heyday.  You know your rocket is seriously cool when it’s got its own cocktail.  Galsini worked at a popular “tiki” bar in Huntington Beach, California, called the “Kona Kai” where engineers who helped designed the rocket would hang out (although according to my father, Laguna beach was even cooler).  The “X-15” cocktail is light on its feet thanks to a gin base, rather than the more typical rum found in tiki drinks.  It has an incredible blend of tropical flavors from a combination of passion fruit, almond, lime and ginger flavored syrups, but remains surprisingly light and refreshing.  It’s a perfect poolside summer sipper and just might accelerate you into happy space.  Start your count-down now and let these rockets blast you into the summer stratosphere.  I’ll see you on the other side of the atmosphere, on the way to the planets … to be continued.  Cheers!

These two will rocket a smile to your face 

X-15 Cocktail by J. “Popo” Galsini circa 1967
½ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz passion fruit syrup
¼ oz falernum
¼ oz orgeat syrup
1¼ oz gin
8 oz (1 cup) crushed ice
Blend all ingredients together until smooth and pour into a favorite glass.  Orchid and tiny umbrella garnish if you want to go interstellar.

For more about Osamu Kasho:

For a prior look to the stars please see:

For more “tiki” themed cocktails please see:

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Down for the Count

It’s that time of year you’ve all been waiting for again, marking down your calendars in impatient anticipation.  June 6 – 12, 2016 marks this year’s international Negroni week, a worldwide charitable event hosted at over 6,000 bars celebrating one of the most famous cocktails of all time.  Last year I wrote about the Negroni and its classic combination of three spirits in equal parts: gin, vermouth and Campari, which merge into a perfectly balanced, boozy and bitter “adult” libation.  I paired it with a puzzle box based on another concept of “three” – the Triskele box by Hideaki Kawashima of the Karakuri Creation Group.  This year we need to delve a bit deeper into the Negroni  lore.  Like many great classics, its origin is well established, debatable, ascribed to one man, possibly someone else, generally known, hotly contested, and in the end, probably false.  

The Three Cornered Deadlock by Hideaki Kawashima

The story(ies) go something like this.  Sometime around 1919, Count Camillo Luigi Manfredo Maria de Negroni asked for something stronger than his usual “Americano”, a vermouth and Campari sprtiz, at the Caffe Casoni in Florence, Italy.   He had developed a taste for gin during his adventures in the American “Wild West”.  The bartender swapped the spritz for gin and the Negroni was born.  Except that the current day descendants of the noble Negroni family insist this Count never existed.  They promote that the truth, in fact, is that their ancestor, Count Pascal Olivier de Negroni invented the drink while in Senegal, West Africa, in 1860.  But Count Camillo did exist, and records show he did indeed live in America for a time as suggested.  He was also born on May 25, just a few year before my own birth on that same day (give or take a century), so I’m fond of him.  But in the end, it’s hard to know who really invented the first version of any of our classics.  The Negroni doesn’t appear in print until well after many of its supposed variations – so which really came first?  At least we have two “counts” of who really made it famous. 

Three connected parts locked in a dance

I like continuing themes, so it’s fitting that this year I have another perfectly balanced, “three-part” puzzle box to pair with the Negroni, and it’s also by Hideaki Kawashima again.  Kawashima makes intricately designed puzzles which often have components that interplay with one another, so that one section becomes blocked while the other is opened.  The internal mechanics of his boxes are incredible and he has said of some of his creations that they may be more interesting on the inside than out.  His Triskele, which I discussed last year, is a marvel of poetry in motion and very hard to solve if you have never experienced its mechanism before.  This year I present his “Three Cornered Deadlock”, an unusual creation which merges three equal cubes together in a coordinated dance (like a Negroni! Sorry, that was obvious).  The box is beautifully crafted in magnolia, cherry, walnut and maple woods.  Unlike his “Duet” box (another fantastic creation composed of two joined cubes that we have discussed in the past), which requires a coordinated interplay between the two connected boxes in order for each to open (how romantic), the Deadlock doesn’t play well with others.  Each of the three conjoined boxes can open, but once you have committed to one, the others are “deadlocked”.  You have to retrace your steps to the beginning in order to open another.  In total it requires 37 moves to open all three compartments in sequence.

The Frozen Negroni by Jeff Morgenthaler

While there are plenty of delicious Negroni variations to try, which are often created by simply substituting one or more of the basic ingredients while keeping the proportions equal, I’m sticking to a classic version this year – gin, sweet vermouth and Campari.  Although not quite – there is a slight twist to this one, which makes it the perfect summer time Negroni and one of the most delicious versions I have tried.  Invented by Jeff Morgenthaler, a cocktail virtuoso, author and bar manager of Portland’s James Beard nominated Clyde Common, the “Frozen Negroni”, like so many of his creations, takes something good and makes it even better.  Like any Negroni, with a few basic ingredients and simple proportions, this one is super easy to make so you don’t have any excuse not to try it yourself.  And it’s still Negroni week, so you’re practically obligated.  You can thank me later.  Good things come in threes – Cheers, Cheers, Cheers!!!

Good things come in threes ...

Jeff Morgenthaler’s Frozen Negroni:
1 oz Campari
1 oz gin
1 oz sweet vermouth
3/4 oz simple syrup
2 oz fresh squeezed orange juice
6 oz crushed ice
Blend until smooth and pour into a favorite glass. Garnish with orange slices.

For more information about Hideaki Kawashima:

For a well researched article about the origin of the Negroni:

For the official International Negroni Week page:

For last year’s Negroni Week Boxes and Booze, please see:

For Hideaki Kawashima’s Duet box please see:

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Bank Shots

If you make a deposit in this bank vault, don’t plan on making a withdrawal any time soon.  Its creator has installed a maximum security system.  Tom Lensch is a retired civil engineer who worked for the Dayton Power and Light Company for much of his life.  He is also a talented wood worker, puzzle crafter and puzzle designer.  He mentions on his website, “Wood Frustrations”, that he began crafting wooden puzzles after purchasing Jerry Slocum’s famous book (Puzzles Old and New (and how to make them)”  in 1989.  Through collaborations with other designers over the years, he has gone on to create many highly regarded and high quality pieces. Tom is known for his craftsmanship and his pieces are considered among the finest.  He is still making new puzzles in his workshop in Dayton, Ohio.  

Open Side Bank by Tom Lensch

Almost all of his creations over the years have been interlocking puzzles, but his credits also include a puzzle box of his own design.  His “Open Side Bank” is a beautiful puzzle box which he made in two versions, one with purple heart and mahogany and the other in pure mahogany.  It features a two part design, with a lid which removes easily to reveal a coin slot in the base section.  The only other feature is a tiny brass dot which adorns the lid and base and which adds a nice touch.  The box has a glossy finish and a smooth and satisfying feeling in the hand.  Getting it open is an incredible challenge – this is a very difficult box based on a fairly simple concept.  Without understanding the internal mechanism, it can be nary impossible save for blind luck.  Another nice touch is the set of photographs provided along with the solution, which show the insides in various stages of construction, and allow you to truly appreciate his creation.  Like all of his puzzles, the craftsmanship is second to none and very elegant.

Removing the lid is not the challenge ...

Pairing Tom’s puzzle box with a cocktail also provided a pleasant puzzle for me, and allowed me to feature one of my favorites from a local Houston bar as well.  Chris Frankel’s bar Spare Key is a local gem and has received many awards and accolades for his innovative creations and projects, such as his “Unlock the States” menu with a cocktail for every state in the US and a passport you can get stamped on your travels.  I wrote about Spare Key before, with its alluring “hidden” nature (it sits above a popular restaurant but has no signage save a neon key hanging on the side of the building).  We went on location there a few months back and Chris created a special cocktail to compliment Randall Gatewood’s “Keeper’s Key Safe” box.  

The Millennium Bridge by Chris Frankel

One of his other fantastic creations is the “Millennium Bridge”, and it turns out to be a great pairing for Tom Lensch’s Open Side Bank.  Why this is a great pairing is the pleasant puzzle I mentioned earlier.  I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun and explain it – it’s not very hard to figure out while you sip on one of these delicious drinks.  Chris shared the recipe with me and I mixed one up here at B+B headquarters.  The Millennium Bridge uses an unusual liqueur known as rakia, which is a traditional type of fruit brandy originating in the Balkans.  This particular rakia is made by the Dorćol Distilling Company, a boutique craft distillery based in San Antonio, Texas.  Their Kinsman Apricot Rakia is a gold medal winning spirit which embodies the essence of perfect, ripe apricots in a balanced American brandy.  It’s smooth and delicious and makes a fantastic base for this cocktail.  Added to that is a citrusy Italian amaro like Amaro Montenegro or Amaro Nonino.  Amaros are traditional Italian bitter digestives meant to taken after a meal. In a cocktail they can add layers of flavor, balance and complexity.  It works incredibly well in the Millennium Bridge.  So whether you’re in London, Houston, Dayton, or elsewhere in the world, if you’re feeling puzzled, this bridge may take you where you need to go.  Cheers!

A perfect pair ... but why?

Special thanks to Chris Frankel for the Millennium Bridge recipe:

1 ½ oz Kinsman Rakia
½ oz Amaro Montenegro (or can substitute Amaro Nonino)
¾ oz fresh lime juice
½ oz rich simple syrup (2:1 sugar:water)
Handful of mint leaves

Shake together with ice, double strain to remove mint bits into a cocktail glass and garnish with a whole mint leaf.

For more information about Tom Lensch:

For more about Spare Key:

For the previous Boxes and Booze featuring Spare Key please see:
Key Secrets

For more “amaro” cocktails please see:
Story Time
Hanky Panky
A Perplexing Pairing