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?

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