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:

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