Saturday, September 24, 2016

More(tis) Dovetail At-ten(on)-tion

We’re back in Texas again after a few weeks of setting sail via the Southern Cross and the high seas.  It’s good to be on dry land again!  You might think things are cooling off a bit as fall quickly approaches, but it’s still hot here in Texas!  Let’s ignore the weather and explore some local “cool” anyway.  Last year around this time, following on the heels of the International Puzzle Party, Houstonians Robert Sandfield and Kathleen Malcolmson hosted their annual fall party, where I created the “Puzzle Box No. 2” cocktail and wrote about Malcolmson’s beautiful Japanese style box of the same name.  Also known as the “16 move puzzle box”, it features gorgeous contrasting waves of wood and a tricky locking pin device added to the more traditional sliding panel movements.  Robert Sandfield and his brother Norman are also well known for their “dovetail” puzzle designs which feature “impossible” dovetail joints at all edges, making the construction appear all but impossible.  To create these wooden illusions requires woodworking master precision, and luckily the Sandfields have been able to collaborate with Kathleen Malcolmson and Perry McDaniel, two incredible Texan woodworking artists, over the years. 

ReBanded Dovetail by Robert Sandfield and Kathleen Malcolmson

As another tribute to my puzzling neighbors and just in time for this year's gathering, I present a few more of their beautiful creations.  The Sandfield’s ReBanded Dovetail was their IPP 32 exchange puzzle in 2012.  Designed by Robert and Kathleen and crafted by Kathleen from light baltic birch plywood, walnut and lacewood, these little boxes feature a double dovetail on the ends and are wrapped tightly with double bands of shimmering lacewood.  They are a follow-up to the original Banded Dovetail box exchanged at IPP 29.  Robert felt that the original version, which Kathleen ironically mentions was harder to make, was a little easier to solve than he wanted (which reportedly meant that some people were able to solve it too quickly!).  

Lovely lacewood lends luster

So of course he designed this version, which has a completely new mechanism and adds a few extra steps.  Like the original, there is a coin hidden inside to discover.  I’m taking a bit of puzzle box liberty to call this a “box” but it does have a storage compartment inside for the coin, which counts in my book.  The ReBanded Dovetail is an expertly crafted little beauty and really fun to explore.  Like all of Robert’s designs, it disguises its secrets well, plays with your assumptions and makes you discover each step in turn.

A triple layer-cake ... but how!?!

The Three-Layer-Double-Dovetail (TLDD) was Robert Sandfield’s exchange puzzle in 2014.  This small box was a collaboration by all three friends – Sandfield, McDaniel and Malcolmson.  It exemplifies the impossible dovetail concept – all four sides have a dovetail joint (how is that possible?!?).  The TLDD takes things a bit further by contrasting lovely dark Honduran Mohagony with light Primavera wood to create a triple layered effect.  When the box is opened you can inspect that middle layer, and truly marvel at Kathleen’s remarkable craftsmanship.  There’s even a gift waiting for you in the tiny space inside – Robert doesn’t like people to leave empty handed.  It’s another wonderful work of art from this group of talented Texans!

Last year’s “Puzzle Box No 2” cocktail made mention of another drink called the “Dovetail”, but mostly owed its existence to the New York Sour, a favorite classic.  With all these impossible dovetailed details on display this year, I thought we should revisit the Dovetail cocktail for its own merit.  A modern drink created at the Bradstreet Craftshouse in Minneapolis, the Dovetail combines orange liqueur (originally with Grand Marnier), grapefruit and lemon juices, and orange bitters.  Grapefruit are coming into season here in Texas as well, where the Rio Star are the reddest, sweetest variety in the world, so it dovetails nicely.  

The Dovetail adapted from Bradstreet Craftshouse

I’m more partial to a less sweet cocktail, so used Pierre Ferrand’s Dry Curacao (rather than the sweeter Grand Marnier), a modern recreation of the “old style” of French curacao found in the 19th century and made in the “ancient method”.  This involves using a base spirit of grape brandy, and a subtle technique known as mise en value (“enhancing”) in which unnoticed background flavors are used to bring out the main flavor (in this case, orange).  These mystery ingredients, such as sun-dried walnut skins, grilled almonds, and prunes, are aged in cognac before being added to the mix to create the orange “essence”.  The flavor is just right and fantastic when trying to experience how classic old cocktails might have tasted in their hey-day. Perhaps I like this orange liqueur even more due to the description of this process by Alexandre Gabriel, the owner of Pierre Ferrand: "You don't taste the puzzle, but the orange in its whole."  Here’s a Texas toast to these delightful dovetails. Cheers ya’ll!

These delights dovetail nicely!

Dovetail (adapted from Bradstreet Craftshouse):

2 oz orange liqueur (such as Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao)
1 1/2 oz fresh ruby red grapefruit juice
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
3 generous dashes of orange bitters
grapefruit twist garnish

Shake ingredients together over ice and staring into a favorite glass.  Express grapefruit and garnish.

For Kathleen Malcolmson's 16-move puzzle box see:

For another talented Texan see:

For more cocktails with orange curacao see;

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Get Groggy and Talk Like a Pirate!

The Booze

The Box

Aaaaargh!  No, I didn’t just stub my peg leg, ye fools, it’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day again!  This silly celebration sets sail on September 19 each year so it’s time to engage in more ribaldry and weigh anchor on another fine adventure.  Ye may recall my prittle-prattle last year when we took to the high seas and plundered Miyamoto’s Pirate Chest while getting squiffy with a Dark and Stormy cocktail.  Well buckle yer bootstraps cause this year we’ll feather yer nest with another fine fancy to pair and ponder.  

The Pirate's Wallet by Robert Yarger - it'll run a rig on ye!

What perfect puzzle awaits our picaroon pirates today?  Why, it's the aptly named “Pirate’s Wallet”, created by none other than that Admiral of the Black, Robert Yaaaaarrrger.  Crafted from ambrosia maple, the Pirate’s Wallet is an impressive looking solid wood chest replete with functional wooden hinges and latch straps made of yellowheart and redheart woods.  But enough of that flummery.  In front is a wooden padlock which keeps things well secured, and there’s even a wooden key provided.  Aye, but that would be far too easy for our cunning privateers, even when they’re loaded to the gunwalls.  On this particular pirate chest, the lock is actually … the key.  That ol’ sly boots Cap’n Yarger be ever the poet.  Ye have to pick this lock apart, if ye dare, and the pieces ye discover will be used as keys to unlock the rest of the chest – if ye can figure out how.  This chest be full of quirks and quillets to turn ye into a ragamuffin so yer fit to be frummagemmed.  There are two secret chambers awaiting ye inside, and nothing is as it seems.  The box will bamboozle the jackanape after its booty.  If ye’re clever enough to tackle the thirty-three tasks set by puzzle master Yarger, ye’ll end up flush in the pocket.  Or ye might stay spiflicated till ye find that ultimate pirate puzzle - the eternity box.

Blasted key gives no quarter! Where's me cutlass? Aaaarrrgh!

 Now don’t be looking like death’s head upon a mop stick, me hearties, there’s rum to be had!  But don’t ye be drinking it all at once – who knows when we’ll have the chance to steal some more?  We’ll just stretch it out for the long journey – a little trick we learned from those scallywags in the Navy.  We’ll add some lovely limes to keep away the scurvy, a little brown sugar (pirates can be sweet, too, ye know), and dilute it up with water (hope it’s fresh, but bah, the rum should kill off anything nasty) so’s to make it go farther.  

Grog! circa 1655-1740

What’s that ye say?  Why it’s Grog, of course! And a rum fine nip of Nelson’s folly it is, too.  Just mix up these four fellows, as the old rhyme says: one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak.  Now, being the rum bluffer I am, I used some extra fine rum just for ye, dark and aged well, so don’t hang the jib unless ye want a dowse on the chops.  They say this pirate potion was actually conceived of by British Vice Admiral Edward Vernon in the 1700’s, reputed to wear a coat of grogram cloth and known as “Old Grog”, but I say that tale’s all higgledy piggledy.  He must have been a pirate.  We’ll sort this scuttlebutt out one of these odd-come-shortlys, but let’s not waste more time – there’s Grog in yer hand (or hook) so sluice yer gobs, guzzle guts!  Splice the main brace and get plundering!  Bottoms Up!

This rum treasure chest keeps ye puzzling till yer groggy!


1-2 oz dark rum (dependin’ on the gen’rosity of yer Capn’)
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz demerara syrup or brown sugar
4 oz water (fresh, if ye can wrest it from the bilge rats)

Shake over ice and pour it down yer bung hole (or a tankard filled with crushed ice will do)

Careful or ye'll bung yer eye like this rum roger!

For more about Cap'n Yaaaarrrger see:

For last year's pirate day prittle-prattle avail yerself here:

For the official "Talk Like A Pirate Day" site go here:

For all ye struggling with this blasted "Pirate Speak" here is a glossary of terms to enlighten' ye:
Boxes and Booze Unboxed: Pirate Glossary

Now, be nice, blast ye, and leave a comment, or I'll see yer scragged!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Double Crossed

Last week we set sail to southern destinations while listening to some Crosby, Stills and Nash, exploring the incredible Cross Box by Robert Yarger, and enjoying the classic Southern Cross cocktail by “The Only” William, a famous bartender of the day in turn of the (20th) century New York City.  We’ll continue our journey south, following our starry guide in the southern hemisphere, the “Southern Cross”.  Leaving Oklahoma and the Stickman Cross Box, we make our way down to Texas (don’t mess with us) where we find another master of wooden puzzle madness named Randal Gatewood.  He ups the ante with not one but two crosses, in his “Double Crossed” Puzzle Box.  

The Double Crossed Puzzle Box by Randal Gatewood

This beautiful box is crafted from Argentine Walnut and Palo Blanco Acacia woods and features bow tie splined corners, an internal aromatic cedar liner and an amazing all wood double action hinge inside which raises the lid in a fascinating manner.  On top of the box there is a prominent cross outlined in contrasting wood.  Exploration reveals that each of the twelve sections of the cross can move, although most appear to be locked in place initially.  The name of the box is a play on words, since this cross will make you cross as it double crosses you.  As you slide pieces about (if you can even get the first piece to move at all), you will likely find that your progress has suddenly been erased by this devious device.  At times you will need to hold things in place to prevent this from happening, and towards the endgame there is a move requiring you to hold back not one, not two, but three separate pieces at once in order to make the next move.  It’s like a game of puzzle box twister.  You are finally rewarded with an interior as beautiful as the exterior, and can marvel at the meticulously crafted wooden hinge and wonder how all those internal springs and set-backs can be made entirely out of wood.

This one will double cross you, and give you hell. (sorry, couldn't resist)

Continuing the theme, we can up the ante on “The Only” William Schmidt’s Southern Cross cocktail as well.  We’ll swap out the base spirit of white rum for something quite a bit bolder and funkier, some Smith and Cross Jamaican rum.  This distinctive rum, which has a dark caramel color from molasses, is made from some very unique pot stills and dates back to 1788.  It is presented at “Navy Strength”, which is 57% alcohol by volume (114 Proof).  Navy strength was the minimum percentage of alcohol needed to still be able to ignite gunpowder if it were to be soaked in the spirit (sailors of old could never be too careful).  It’s also how we got the term “proof” – as in, this rum ration better not be diluted – let’s soak it in gunpowder, ignite it, and see the proof.  It became the standard concentration for rum in the British Royal Navy, back when daily rum was good for soldiers.

The Double Cross, adapted from William Schmidt

Jamaican rum is also often fermented with wild yeast, which can add an odd, strong flavor (let’s just call it “funky”).  Now we’ve got Smith and Cross in our Southern Cross – it’s a double cross.  In case you missed it.  If that wasn’t enough (it was, truly) I’ve swapped out the classic brandy for an intense apricot “rakia” brandy, of which I’m particularly fond.  So double cross your fingers and hope you get to try one of the Southern Cross versions for yourself someday soon.  I’m sailing on into the sunset now, my destination a puzzle, but I’ll see you here next time on our next journey, and leave you with another soulful sailor’s song, this time from Van Morrison: “Hark, now hear the sailors cry, smell the sea, and feel the sky, let your soul and spirit fly, into the mystic.”  Cheers!

Don't be cross if you're seeing double ...

The Double Cross (adapted from William Schmidt circa 1891):

1 ½ oz Smith and Cross Jamaican rum
½ oz apricot brandy
1 oz fresh lime juice
½ oz demerera syrup
1 barspoonful orange curacao

Shake ingredients over ice and strain into a glass filled with crushed ice.

For a prior puzzle box by Randal Gatewood please see:

For the original Southern Cross cocktail:

For other rum cocktails see:

A Plethora of Pineapples

Nota Bene: Sadly, our friend Randal Gatewood died earlier this year after a battle with cancer.  He will be missed.  Please read a few words about his life and sign his guest book here:
Randal Gatewood Obituary

The "Gatewood" cocktail, created in his honor by Houston's Chris Frankel and seen here with one of his puzzle boxes.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Setting Sail

The last time I wrote about a traveling theme I was waxing fantastic about a journey to the stars, discussing Kasho’s rocket ship and Kawashima’s planets, and enjoying a few incredible cocktails along the journey.  This time we’re off on a nautical themed jaunt as we set sail.  Still, we look to the stars for some guidance.  The Southern Cross (the constellation “Crux”) has been used to navigate the seas in the southern hemisphere for centuries, much like its friend the “North Star” in the other half of the world.  Our pals “down under” will need no explanations – the Southern Cross is featured on the flags of many southern nations including Australia and New Zealand. So let’s, in the immortal words of Steven Stills, get “out of town on a boat goin' to Southern islands” and find some boxes and booze.

Stickman No. 12 Puzzle Box ("Cross Box") by Robert Yarger

Our first stop is by way of Oklahoma, magically, where the wonderful woodworker Robert Yarger has “tinkered” to create another incredible design known as the “Cross Box”.  Officially the “Stickman No. 12 Puzzle Box” got its nickname from the barrier on top which holds the blocks inside, but it could have just as easily been called the “block box”, for example.  The puzzle is a beautiful carved cage, made of candy apple red bloodwood with intricately inlaid details of purpleheart, beli and maple, which rests upon clawed feet.  It houses a set of 17 walnut wooden blocks which are adorned with grooves and pegs.  These form a three-dimensional sliding maze inside the cage.  The base of the cage hides a secret drawer which can only be opened by navigating a special block into the correct position, with a clue provided by the inlay on the box. 

One of the barriers which keeps all the blocks inside, and lends the nickname

Like most of Robert’s boxes, this is a meta-puzzle, requiring you to solve a puzzle in order to solve the puzzle box itself.  And of course it’s not so simple, nor is there only one objective.  Once the first secret drawer is opened, it locks in place, requiring you to solve the three dimensional block maze in a different way to ultimately find the second compartment and be able to close the drawer again.  The blocks, with their grooves and pegs, and the cage, with its barriers, form a brilliant and difficult puzzle which requires thinking many moves ahead if you hope to unlock its secrets.  It’s also a stunning sculptural work of art.

While navigating this perplexing puzzle lets sip on something seaworthy as well.  Perhaps a combination of lime juice (we are at sea, after all, and don’t want scurvy), sugar, rum, brandy, curacao and mineral water?  The “Southern Cross” cocktail is attributed to William Schmidt, who published “The Flowing Bowl: What and When to Drink, Full Instructions How To Prepare, Mix and Serve Beverages” in 1891 under his moniker “The Only William”.  That was before people called themselves by one name – now he would probably just call himself “William” and he would be friends with “Beyonce”.  He was, after all, a celebrity bartender of the day, often featured in the New York papers, and known for his magnanimous personality and inspired cocktail creations.  As you might expect, photos confirm he sported one impressive moustache. 

The Southern Cross by William Schmidt circa 1891

He valued courtesy, politeness and quality in his profession, and was quoted saying that these elements improved the flavor of his drinks, which he called his “liquid pictures”.  He was an artist behind the bar, and I’ll happily toast his memory with this tasty combination of rum and lime while enjoying the modern day artistry of Robert Yarger, who also embodies these fine characteristics and more.  Robert is an artist and a gentleman, and his incredible work might be considered his “wooden stories”.  Now I’ll set sail again and leave you with Steven Stills once more: “I have been around the world, Lookin' for that woman girl, Who knows love can endure, And you know it will” … Cheers!

Glad to cross paths with this pair

The Southern Cross by “The Only” William Schmidt circa 1891:

“Juice of 1 lime” (I used 1 oz)
“A dash of mineral water”                                                   
“a spoonful of sugar” (I used ½ oz simple syrup)
“2/3 of St. Croix rum” (I used 1 ½ oz Plantation white rum)
“1/3 of brandy” (I used ½ oz)
“1 dash of curacao” (I used a barspoonful)

The original recipe calls for stirring and pouring into a “sour” glass but a more modern approach is to shake this with ice well and strain into a favorite glass filled with crushed ice.

For more information about Robert Yarger:

For a prior fantastic journey please see:

For other rum based creations see: