Saturday, August 27, 2016

Great Scott!

I’ve gone “on location” for a write up a few times before, to favorite bars where the cocktail pairing was made by the house.  I brought the puzzle boxes along for the ride and set them up at the bar or on a table.  I’ve even toted a puzzle to the beaches of Hawaii (Perry McDaniel’s Hawaiian High Jinks) for a write up.  Last year I made a cocktail on location but still brought the box, at a Houston “puzzle party” based in the home of Robert Sandfield.  This time while on location things were a little different – I hadn’t planned it but there was a box that I just had to write about.  I wasn’t sure when or if I’d get another chance to see it, being one of the only two copies in existence.  At the recent Rochester Puzzle Picnic (RPP) hosted by Jeff Aurand, Brett Kuehner brought along his copy of the famous “Tinker Box” crafted and designed by Neil Hutchison and Robert Yarger.   The boxes were made as special gifts for the IPP 35 hosts last year.  I had the rare opportunity to explore and solve the box with its creator (Neil) hovering nearby, offering his brand of useful comments such as “would you, now?”, “is that what you thought?” or “that may or may not be necessary”.  Neil has a rather dry sense of humor.  It was actually an amazing pleasure to have him adding color commentary and historical insight as the box progressed, learning about stumbling blocks in the creative process and areas where he had to correct issues or rework sections.

Tinker Box by Neil Hutchison and Robert Yarger

The Tinker Box is a gorgeous piece of woodwork which requires 49 steps to reveal all three secret compartments.  The main structure is made from beautiful leopardwood and gives the box a striking patterned appearance.  It rests on hand carved legs which sprout claw like feet.  On top there are six cubic attachments along the edges of the box, which themselves are connected in various ways to links, gears and levers on the top.  One set of these appears to be connected via a long axis gear of some sort, with a complicated looking central cylinder.  There are columns and pins and shafts and levers in rich detail made from wenge and maple.  Along the front there appear to be various compartments.  

A complex set of shafts, gears, levers and connectors adorn the top

An important design concept held by the creators is that one should be able to discern the objective of a good puzzle from close observation, and go from there.  With that in mind, studying the Tinker Box does lead to a few ideas on how to get things started, and eventually you are on your way and may even discover what appears to be a tool which springs out at you, although there are no springs. Hmmm.  Don’t forget to observe this tool as well, just like everything else, or it may just remain a great head scratcher for you.  Hopefully you will be able to put the tool to better use.  At this point you might also fall prey to another clever (or devious) design detail by the creators which seems to go against your better judgement and instincts. “Does it, now?” says Neil, nodding and grinning.  Of course if you haven’t been paying attention, using the tool won’t seem to have helped at all.  At last, you are rewarded with an open compartment. “Congratulations,” says Neil. “That’s one.”  Sigh.  Two more await, and the second is a great reveal and very satisfying indeed.  In fact, there is a little scroll waiting for you there, on which there is a space to write your name and sign the “guestbook” as it were.  It’s a beautiful box, as you would expect from these artists, which spares no detail or mechanism.

Rob Roy circa 1894

Neil Hutchison originally hails from Scotland, so pairing up the Tinker Box with a cocktail naturally started there.  We have to head back to late seventeenth and early eighteenth century and meet Robert Roy MacGregor, a Scottish outlaw and folk hero known as the “Scottish Robin Hood” who took part in the Jacobite rising. His life was fictionalized in the “Highland Rogue” (1723) and later in Sir Walter Scott’s “Rob Roy” (1817).  More importantly, of course, was the creation of the famous cocktail in his honor, which occurred at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 1894 to celebrate a new operetta about his life.  A Rob Roy is simply a Scotch Manhattan, that quintessential classic of rye and sweet vermouth, and equally delicious.  Those of us who appreciate a fine single malt scotch would rather not use one in a cocktail, and therefore I prefer to use a blend when making a scotch cocktail.  Luckily Jeff, our consummate host, had the perfect bottle on hand (not to mention an incredible vermouth).  The cocktail was quite satisfying, or at least Neil pretended to like it. He told me something like, “a clean shirt’ll do ye”. That’s good, right?
All kidding aside I’d like to thank Jeff, Brett and Neil for access to the legendary Tinker Box.  It’s incredible to learn that just 6 years ago, Neil had never made a thing out of wood.  Thank goodness someone suggested he try. Cheers and “lang may yer lum reek”!

A couple of Highland Rogues

Rob Roy:
2 oz Blended Scotch
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Orange peel

Stir ingredients together over ice and strain into a favorite glass. Express the orange peel over the glass and drop inside.

For more about the Tinker Box:

For Neil Hutchison’s Blog:

For prior Boxes and Booze “on location” please see:

For more about last year’s Houston Puzzle Party see:

Can I get a hint, Neil?

1 comment:

  1. “lang may yer lum reek”!
    Now there's something I have not heard in a while! I went to university in Edinburgh and trained in SE Scotland as a junior doctor. I well recognise the "dry" Scottish humour as the present Mrs S is an Edinburgh lass! It also explains where the Whack! Ouch! comes from! One day I hope to play with that marvelous box myself!