Saturday, October 15, 2016

Complimentary Condimentaries

The deviously puzzling Sandfield brothers, Robert and Norman, designed their Salt and Pepper Shakers to exchange at IPP 22 held in Antwerp in 2002.  Like so many of their puzzle designs, the salt and pepper shakers feature impossible dovetails on each end.  They were expertly crafted from oak and walnut by their friend and long-time Sandfield collaborator Perry McDaniel, whose precision expertise is easily seen in this pair of what I have dubbed, “complimentary condimentaries”.  The brothers Sandfield are well known for their “puzzler’s puzzles”, which second guess what many “puzzle experts” would normally try in their attempts to find the solution.  They lay traps which have absolutely nothing to do with solving the puzzles, and thoroughly enjoy when people fall into them.  The salt and pepper shakers were just such a trap which they set for well “seasoned” puzzlers during the exchange. As the story goes, they each went round, exchanging their puzzles separately, to give the illusion that they were independent.  At least they made sure that everyone who got one puzzle, also got the other.  But many fell into the trap, and never realized that in order to open either the salt or the pepper shaker, you need both together. 

Salt and Pepper Shakers by Norman and Robert Sandfield

The shakers are often considered to be one of their greatest designs. They are a “sequential discovery” type puzzle, with the added wrinkle of being interdependent, so that an item or “tool” discovered in one shaker may very well be needed for a step on the other shaker.  They are also perfectly elegant in the way that nothing is wasted in the design, everything has an exact purpose and use, and there is at least one rather beautiful, unique movement which is unforgettable and brilliantly executed.  When every last discovery and compartment is revealed, you do indeed find a bit of salt and some pepper secreted away in two tiny compartments (they are technically puzzle boxes, according to my very broad definition) – but I wouldn’t use these as your go-to table side seasonings.  Unless you like to let your food get cold!

For the "seasoned" puzzler ...

I’ve been playing around with salt and pepper in cocktails as well, so this provided a nice excuse to make a few more.  Salt and pepper in cocktails is nothing new – you are probably familiar with a salted rim on your margarita, or fresh black pepper in your bloody mary.  But these ingredients have been finding their way into all sorts of cocktails as more prominent players over the last few years.  A true cocktail, dating back to the origins of the concept, should always be properly “seasoned”. What distinguished the cocktail of yore from otherwise ordinary booze was the combination of the spirit with sugar and “bitters”, those medicinal elixirs made of bits of bark, spices and seasonings.  Bitters are literally referred to as the “salt and pepper” of cocktails, even though they are usually far more complex.  

Passing Cars by Yours Truly

Let’s keep it simple (not really) and focus on just the salt and the pepper, shall we?
For the salt cocktail, I present one of my own creations, the “Passing Cars”.  This savory and satisfying solution is created with a base of gin created in the “old style”.  Ransom distillery teamed up with cocktail historian David Wondrich to recreate the type of gin found in the mid 1800’s, pre-prohibition cocktail heyday.  Standout features of this gin are a maltiness due to a base wort of malted barley and the infusion of botanicals in corn spirits, which is then aged in barrels – sounds a bit like bourbon, no? This unusual gin is then combined with lemon juice, Cynar (an artichoke(!) based Italian Amaro) and parsley syrup and finished off with, of course, a salt water solution. 

For the pepper cocktail, I borrowed a smoky, peaty and peppery scotch creation from New York’s Up and Up bar.  Inspired by the “Rob Roy” (previously featured here), creator Matt Piacentini describes how his “Peat’s Dragon” flaunts a “super concentrated” black pepper tincture amid a mix of Cutty Sark Prohibition and Talisker 10-year-old scotches, Lillet Blanc, Dolin dry vermouth and Grand Marnier.

Peat's Dragon by Matt Piacentini

So next time you reach for the salt and pepper shaker, it just might be for your cocktail! And don’t blame me if you find this all very puzzling – I blame the Sandfields.  Here’s to savoring the well-seasoned diversions in all our lives.  Cheers!

"Cocktail - Shakers"

Peat’s Dragon adapted from Matt Piacentini (The Up&Up, NYC)

1 oz Cutty Sark Prohibition whisky (I used High West Campfire Whiskey)
½ oz Talisker 10-year whisky (I used Compass Box Peat Monster)
½ oz Lillet Blanc (I used Cocchi Americano)
½ oz Dolin dry vermouth (I used Noilly Prat)
½ oz Grand Marnier (I used Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao)
¼ oz black peppercorn tincture

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite glass.

*Black pepper tincture: Steep 4 oz of black peppercorns, then add in a blender with 1 liter of Everclear. Strain through a cheesecloth, and cut with equal parts water.

Passing Cars:

1 ½ oz Ransom Old Tom Gin
1 oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz Cynar
½ oz parsley syrup*
Few dashes of salt water solution

Shake ingredients together over ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a sprig of parsley.

*Parsley syrup: Bring 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to gentle boil.  Remove from heat and add a few bunches of parsley.  Steep for 5 minutes then strain out parsley before bottling.

For more Sandfield creations see:


  1. I just lurve this puzzle duo! One of my all time favourites!