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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
For more “amaro” cocktails please see:Story Time
A Perplexing Pairing