Saturday, April 29, 2017

Fruits of Labor

Many of the creations which have graced these pages over the past two years are the works of dedicated, professional puzzle makers.  A few, on the other hand, have been the product of passionate and often highly skilled hobbyists, who make a few copies in their spare time when not doing their day jobs.  The quality woodwork of some of these “hobbyists” is simply astounding.  One elusive fellow whose work I had not had the pleasure of experiencing before is Stephen Chin, the mild mannered dentist from Australia.  He is prolific in his side hobby, and while he only produces a few copies of each new creation, he has invented dozens of designs over the years.  He is particularly well known for his skill with the lathe, with which he creates beautifully turned tops, eggs, and spheres.  He is also known for his quirky and devilish sense of humor.  For example, he once designed a puzzle called “Ze house of mouse ze duong” – or simple, “Mouse House” which is a little house with a mouse (or rat) inside.  You have to stick your finger into the mouse’s house to open the puzzle and release the mouse, but when you do, the mouse bites you!  Quite literally – he has placed a trap inside.  If that wasn’t bad enough, he has installed a tiny electronic speaker inside which then activates and proceeds to laugh at you.  Somehow, Stephen still manages to retain all of his friends.  He even encourages others along this – wait for it – “psycho-path”.  Just see my review of Shane Hale’s “Viper” puzzle, which was inspired by Mouse House, for such an example.

1 Pinko Ringo by Stephen Chin

As luck would have it, I recently got to enjoy a few of Stephen Chin’s amazing pieces through a friend who is extremely generous with lending out his precious puzzles.  One of these was a rare and radiant apple with very few copies in existence.  As the saying goes, an apple a day keeps the dentist away.  Stephen Chin’s “1 Pinko Ringo” (don’t ask me how he comes up with these names), is a lovely wooden apple with an unusual flavor.  It’s based on the designer Wayne Daniel’s original icosahedron puzzles, in which a perfect twenty sided polyhedron shape is composed of ten identical pieces, half of which are mirror images of the other half.  As he likes to do, Chin converted that original design into a spherical shape – in this case, an apple.  Spin the apple around a few times and watch out!  All ten pieces come flying apart and land in a jumble – oh no!  Thankfully, due to the shape of the apple motif, and the colorful exotic woods used in the puzzle, it is not as difficult as it seems to decipher which pieces go with which others.   The really hard part is determining how to coordinate all ten pieces back into place so it all holds together again.  Figure that out and you’ll be the teacher’s pet.  This is a wonderfully elegant, beautifully crafted puzzle which showcases this master “hobbyist’s” remarkable skill.

Ze Orange by Stephen Chin

Ah, but isn’t this a blog about puzzle boxes? Now we’ve been over that and I’m allowed to digress from time to time.  But since you mentioned it, here’s Stephen Chin’s “Ze Orange”, a double compartment puzzle box full of masterful turns (see what I did there?).  This time the fruits of his labor have yielded an orange, complete with a silver stem.  It’s a lovely piece of art and would be perfectly satisfying as an exceptionally skillful bit of wood turning, complete with textured skin.  But orange you more curious than that?  There are many layers, and once you have peeled them back (I can’t help myself) you discover two compartments inside, which contain equally lovely examples of his lathe skills.  As he often does, Stephen has left a few handwritten notes inside this copy, indicating the orange includes wood from his cypress tree.  There are objects to be found as well, which turn this puzzle into one of discovery, and it’s unlikely these little treasures are simply there by accident … Everything has its purpose and is extremely well thought out, right down to the final tinny electronic chorus.  This puzzle provides some freshly squeezed fun and is good to the last drop.

The Royal Smile circa 1930

Here’s a fitting toast to my colleague across the world, who has made me smile with his marvelously whimsical creations (and to my friend who was so generous to share them).  I imagine that the name of this old classic cocktail, “The Royal Smile”, will resonate with Stephen Chin both professionally and personally.  Based on another old classic, the “Jack Rose”, which I have featured previously, the Royal Smile adds gin to the delicious mix of apple brandy, lemon juice and grenadine.  These drinks were popular in the era surrounding Prohibition, and the earliest recipe for the Royal Smile is found in the Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock, 1930.  Here I’ve substituted the lemon juice for orange juice, so the cocktail has an apple and an orange, just this once.  Either way, it will make you smile.  Drink a few and you might very well start to hear odd electronic noises emanating from your glass, too.  Cheers!
Sure to make you smile

The Royal Smile circa 1930

* The Juice of ¼ Lemon (or substitute fresh squeezed orange)
* ¼ Grenadine
* ½ Applejack or Calvados
* ¼ Dry Gin

Shake well with ice, strain into cocktail glass, and smile!

Comparing Apples to Oranges here ...

For the Jack Rose cocktail see:

For Shane Hale’s “Viper” puzzle see:

Hmmm ... Ze Koala appears to be mocking you ... Can you make his eyes light up?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Pyramid Scheme

Here at Boxes and Booze we seldom get boxed in, and certainly not into a corner.  Take a standard cube, for example, with its six faces, eight vertices and twelve edges.  If we cut off all the corners, we have an entirely different object – a cube octahedron or a vector equilibrium, to name a few names.  The inherent “cube-ness” of the object remains, though, depending on how you slice it, and the six “sides” that make up this cube take on their own interesting polyhedral shapes.  So it’s not much of a stretch (is it?) to consider a perfect pentagonal  dodecahedron which is named “Pyramid”.  What I mean is, consider the dodecahedron – a polyhedron with twelve perfect pentagonal faces (and twenty vertices and thirty edges).  It would be possible, depending on how you sliced it, to reveal the inherent “cube-ness” in such an object.  Just imagine an actual cube sitting perfectly inside the docdecahedron.  Now separate each piece of the dodecahedron along the planes of the cube faces.  Slide one of the sections off entirely and you will be holding a pyramid.

Pyramid Box by Hideaki Kawashima

The Pyramid Box by Hideaki Kawashima represents a full circle of craft, creation, invention, reflection, and recreation by this Karakuri Creation Group artist.  His very first puzzle box for the group was the “Regular dodecahedron box”, consisting of six turning sides built in the shape of a dodecahedron, with a minimum of six moves required to open.  It took over 8 years and over thirty puzzle box designs for him to develop the skills and insight to finally create the box he had originally envisioned.  Pyramid box is that achievement, an homage to his first box and a realization of his vision.  The mechanism for Pyramid is identical to his POD box, which takes its name from the design on its surface plates.  This was so that no hint was given from the name itself.  That concept is taken even further in the Pyramid version, which does away with any visual clues on the puzzle itself as well.  Pyramid is elegant, brilliant, extremely challenging and so easy to get lost in as you navigate the many moves needed for it to open.  It is a masterwork of design, a worthy compliment to this artist’s achievements, and a fitting tribute to his beginnings.  You might say it’s his apex.  His capstone.  His pinnacle.  Or the top of his pyramid.

Twelve pentagons ... or six pyramids?

 From Kawashima’s golden pyramid we head back in time to the second half of the nineteenth century, when gold discovered in San Francisco created a mad rush to the west coast in search of more.   Panning was hard, dirty and dangerous work, which called for a well-earned beverage at the end of a hot day (or at the beginning, too, I’m sure).  Everyone headed to the legendary Bank Exchange bar, situated where the Transamerica pyramid building now stands, for its world renowned Pisco Punch.  Pisco, a type of funky clear brandy, had been brought up from South America by Peruvian and Chilean prospectors, and found glory in the tightly held, secret recipe for the punch made famous at the Bank Exchange.  The bar’s owners took the recipe to their graves, but the bar manager eventually revealed it, and the California Historical Society published it in 1973.   

Pyramid Punch by Simon Difford

In Rudyard Kipling's 1889 epic From Sea to Sea, he immortalized Pisco Punch as being "compounded of the shavings of cherub's wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset and the fragments of lost epics by dead masters".  Indeed.  The spirits writer Simon Difford, who started the very first spirits trade journal, “CLASS” in the late 1990’s, created this variation of the classic in 2006, which he called “Pyramid Punch” in reference to the site of the former Bank Exchange bar where Pisco Punch was born.  Here’s to striking gold, celebrating the present with a nod to the past, and finding the peaks on the pyramid of life.  Cheers!

These pyramids pack a punch

Pyramid Punch by Simon Difford

2 oz pisco (BarSol Mosto Verde Italia)
1 oz elderflower liqueur (St. Germain)
2 oz fresh pressed pineapple juice
½ oz fresh grapefruit juice
2 cloves

Muddle cloves in a mixing tin. Shake together with all other ingredients and ice to chill, strain into a tall glass.  Pineapple garnish.  Enjoy with a mouth guard if you can’t take a punch.

For more about Hideaki Kawashima see:

Saturday, April 15, 2017

What's Knot to Love?

This is not a typical box and booze review.  I should actually say that this is knot.  First of all, I’m going to take us back in history to the ancient Greeks and the time of Alexander the Great.  Second of all, I’m going to cut through all that nonsense with a mighty stroke of the pen.  Just go with it, it will all make sense in a moment.

Gordian Knot by Robert Yarger and Rick Jenkins

The legend of the Gordian Knot dates back to ancient Macedonia, when a prophecy telling of a man driving an oxcart into the capital city of Phrygia came true and Gordia became king.  His son, Midas (a touchy fellow), offered the famed oxcart to the god Zeus in gratitude and secured it in the town square with an intricate, complicated knot which could never be untied.  The rope was made from Cornel bark of the Cornelian cherry tree, a flowering species of dogwood which produces little red fruits.  In 333 B.C., Alexander of Macedonia, the great conqueror of ancient Greece, entered the city of Gordium and learned of the prophesy that whoever could unravel the knot was destined to rule all of Asia.  Truth be told, he could not untie it, but he had better idea.  The “Alexandrian Solution” ensued, whereby he cleaved the great knot in two with a swift stroke of his sword.

Beautiful interwoven strands of exotic wood

Fast forward two thousand plus years and we have the “Yarger Solution”, which definitely frowns upon the use of any sharp object to untie this knot.  The Gordian Knot is Number 22 in the Stickman puzzlebox series, and like its legendary ancestor, has cords of wood which wrap around the box in an intricately interwoven pattern.  The inspiration for this box came from the idea of making a sliding tile puzzle which literally wrapped itself all around the sides of a box and was not merely limited to a single flat surface.  Add to that the interlocking nature of these 130 intertwined pieces, crafted from leftover bits of exotic wood from prior puzzle boxes, and you have the visually stunning and deceptively difficult Gordian Knot puzzlebox.  There are a minimum of 36 steps to discover along the way, including a few pieces which are released completely from the box as it untangles itself.  Most moves are quite difficult to determine and may be found on another side of the box entirely from the move prior.  Some moves are incredibly well disguised due to the shape of the piece, or the solver’s (misguided) expectations. Eventually, if you are as wise as Alexander, a keyhole will be revealed.  Ah, but where is the key? It’s likely that you have it already, waiting to be reconfigured from the pieces you have removed off of the box.  The finale of this box, which is a true joy to solve up to this point already, is absolutely outstanding. The Gordian Knot is one of the most satisfying puzzle boxes I have experienced and is easily one of my all time favorites from Robert Yarger.

The Alexandrian Solution

For such a special box I have an equally special toast which also hearkens back to ancient days.  The cornelian cherry tree, whose bark was used to make the original Gordian Knot, produces little red berries as mentioned.  The flavor of this fruit has been described as a cross between cranberry and sour cherry.  Of course, there is a long history of using this fruit in the making of various regional liqueurs and spirits in parts of the Middle East and Europe.  For example, “kornelkirsch” is found in the Austrian and German Alps.  Since it’s not readily available in the US, I created my own cornel berry kirsch by infusing cranberry liqueur with sour amarena cherries.  Mmmmmm. Not content with just the delicious liqueur, I created a variation of a classic cocktail called “The Last Word”.  The history of this pre-prohibition era drink places it as early as 1916, where it was featured for 35 cents as the most expensive cocktail on the menu at the Detroit Athletic Club.  The Last Word is a perfectly balanced cocktail using equal portions of gin, green Chartreuse,  maraschino liqueur and lime juice.  There are literally hundreds of variations using this basic template, although not all are as perfect.  I love the combination of smoky mezcal with cherries, so in my version, “The Alexandrian Solution”, mezcal meets cornel kirsch and the rest is history.  Cheers!

It's the Last Word in Macedonian Cocktails ...

The Alexandrian Solution

¾ oz mezcal
¾ oz sour cherry infused cranberry liqueur
¾ oz green Chartreuse
¾ oz fresh lime juice

Shake together over ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Commence dispensing with complex problems brilliantly.

Complexity knotwithstanding, these solutions are elegant

For more about Robert Yarger:

For prior Stickman puzzles see:

Saturday, April 8, 2017

What Has Life Tortoise?

It’s sakura (cherry blossom) season and the lovely pink blossoms are resplendent across Japan and in Washington DC here in the US.  The blossoms call to mind the beauty and magic in the world, as does this charming puzzle box from Yoh Kakuda of the Karakuri Creation Group.  Kakuda is known for creating whimsical and nostalgic pieces which take the form of animals and evoke an emotional sentimentality.  “POH” is a giant tortoise with a prominent shell and a bemused expression.  Kakuda has created a few versions of POH, including this one with a striking yosegi checkered pattern on the shell created by yosegi artist Yuta Shimizu.  The details are lovely, including the colorful checkered shell and the green hued wood used for POH’s body.  There’s a lot more to POH than meets the eye.  There are a few nice tricks which are required to open the shell, but the story of Poh is the most interesting of all.

POH by Yoh Kakuda

The Japanese novelist Shinji Ishii published his first book, Once Upon a Swing, in 2000.  In that novel, there is another story, written by one of the main characters when he was four years old. This story in a story is called “Typhoon”, and is about a fisherman who braves a storm, only to survive and live alone after his entire village is wiped out.  It’s fatalistic and alarming, and surreal as part of the larger story.  It’s hard to believe it was written by a four year old child, but this is a fictional story, after all.  Amazingly, it actually was written, exactly as published, by Shinji Ishii when he was four years old.  He has been writing this way since he could write.  His style has been described as “Gabriel García Márquez and a splash [of] John Irving and Roald Dahl under the direction of Tim Burton”.1

What lessons have you learned, Poh?

In addition to the fable-like quality and emotional sweep of his novels, Ishii tries to remove time from his stories, so that someone living hundreds of years from now, or hundreds of years in the past, could understand and enjoy them equally.  “The Story of Po” (Po No Hanashi) was published in 2005 and is set in an unnamed town in an unnamed land.  One day, one of the “eel-women” who work along the river bank collecting eels from the river, notices something lumpy in the water.  She pulls it out and realizes it is connected to her by a cord – she has just given birth to it!  Doves take flight shouting “Peauuuuux! Peauuuuux!” and all the eel-women name the baby “Poh”.  The story follows Poh on his life journey.  He initially learns lessons of guilt, atonement, right and wrong in the little village, and is then swept down the river by a flood.  He lands in a fishing village and befriends a kind man named “Doggone Old” who cares for a sick grandchild and has a dog named “Child”.  Here, Poh learns the meaning of life.  The novel traces the life themes of love and loss, and of correcting the mistakes we make along the way.

Doggone Old Fashioned

Hopefully this brief glimpse into the world of Shinji Ishii and the Story of Po has given you new insight into this lovely, evocative piece by Yoh Kakuda, and into the stories which inspire Kakuda’s charming works of art.  To continue the theme I’ve paired POH with a special Japanese themed twist on the classic Old Fashioned cocktail.  The Old Fashioned is essentially the original cocktail, an American invention from the early 1800’s. The first description appeared in an 1806 newspaper describing a “cocktail” as a combination of spirits, bitters, water and sugar.  It was finally referred to as the “Old Fashioned” in 1881 at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky.  Nowadays, a proper “classic” Old Fashioned has bourbon, ice, and a bitters soaked sugar cube, just like the original.  

Doggone it, this is delicious

For the “Doggone Old Fashioned”, this special Japanese themed version named after another character from the Story of Po, I’ve used an exquisite Japanese whisky, the Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve.  The Yamazaki was named best whisky in the world in 2015. For the sugar I created a special Umeshu Plum Wine syrup which is incredibly delicious.  The bitters are replaced with cherry blossom oil essence, aromatized across the top of the glass. One sip and you’ll be transported directly to Tokyo.  Here’s to the timeless beauty of life and all its lessons.  Kampai!

A timeless pair

Doggone Old Fashioned

2 oz Yamazaki whisky
¼ oz umeshu plum wine syrup
Cherry blossom essence

In a mixing glass, stir the whiskey and syrup with ice. Strain into an old fashioned glass with a large cube. Spray the cherry blossom oil over the drink or add a few drops directly.  Enjoy while contemplating the meaning of life.

Special thanks to Hideaki Kawashima who helped me track down the Story of Poh.

For more about Yoh Kakuda:
For prior puzzles by Yoh Kakuda:

For prior variation of the Old Fashioned:

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Roll with it

Happy April, everyone! I can’t believe it has been a year already since I foolishly dabbled in the twisty arts and mentioned I was changing the name of this blog to “Twisties and Tonics”.  That was a fun pairing, Oskar’s Treasure chest (puzzle box hiding inside a Rubik’s Cube) with an “apple martini” which was actually nothing of the sort.  I’m all through with fooling around now. This year’s pairing of potion and puzzle is strictly professional.  Promise.

Roll Box by Fumio Tsuburai

I’d actually like to talk about an original Karakuri Creation Group craftsman with a long history in the group, whose work I have never featured before.  Fumio Tsuburai has been crafting his unusual boxes since the start of the group back in 2000 and has 35 pieces in his portfolio.  He mentions that he has worked in electronics, machinery and painting as well as woodcraft, and brings those skills to his creations.  He also tries to balance his ability to incorporate “high tech” in his puzzles with the understanding that “low tech” may be more calming to the soul.  

Lovely contrasting wood details

This balance can be seen in one of his earlier puzzles, the “Roll Box”.  At first glance, it appears to be a handsomely made chest with a wooden-hinged lid, locked shut at the front.  There is a prominent bar on the front decorated in a contrasting, directional wood pattern which seems to be telling you something.  Indeed this is a sliding bar with a little keyhole.  Next you quickly realize that something is rolling around inside the box – a ball of some sort - and now the name of the box makes sense.  There is a calm, almost meditative sense which overtakes you as you gently roll the ball back and forth.  Of course, none of this rolling seems to make the lid open.  Don't let that frustrate you - I say just roll with it.

Meditate on the soothing sounds of the Roll Box

I’d also like to roll back in history for the potion to pair with this puzzle.  The weather is getting warmer, especially in Houston, and one of the all-time classic beat the heat cocktails is the Gin Rickey.  Often thought of as the official drink of Washington DC, the Rickey recalls a time in American politics when disputes and deals were settled at the bar, and no issue was so partisan it couldn’t be resolved over a few friendly drinks and a handshake.  To cool things off both figuratively and literally, a base spirit such as bourbon or gin was often diluted in an ice cold tall glass filled with seltzer – a classic “highball”. 

The Gin Rickey c. 1883

“Colonel” Joe Rickey was a well known lobbyist and campaign strategist in the late 1800’s.  His favorite watering hole and the place to politic was Shoomaker’s bar next to the National Theater.  It was there at “Shoo’s” that Rickey invented his famous drink, in 1883, with rye whiskey, lime juice and soda, although soon after the drink became more famous with gin.  Rickey even went on to buy Shoomaker's bar in the 1890s, which has since been demolished.  The drink stands the test of time as a refreshing, cool gin and tonic alternative for those sweltering days in the swamp. Perhaps Washington should order a few now – seems everyone could use a drink.  Here’s to the Rickey, rolling up our sleeves, and having a good old fashioned sense of humor. Cheers!

"Dry Rye" gin captures the original flavors quite well

Gin Rickey circa 1883

2 oz London Dry gin (I used St. George’s Dry Rye gin to capture the spirit of the original as well)
¾ oz fresh lime
Soda water

Combine the gin and lime juice in an ice filled highball glass.  Add the soda water and stir. Garnish with a wedge of lime and let the good times roll.

Rickey Roll ... cheers! 

For more information about Fumio Tsuburai:

For last year's Twisties and Tonics amusement see:
Feeling Foolish

For a peek at the creation of this citrus peel garnish see:
Boxes and Booze Unboxed: The "Shoomaker"