Saturday, August 26, 2017

Pooh Corner

The Japanese zodiac is divided into a twelve year cycle, with repeating blocks of years represented by a different animal.  It is said that you pick up a few characteristics from the animal year you were born during.  If you find yourself to be a bit stubborn, short-tempered, selfish, and mean, perhaps you were born in the year of the tiger.  On the other hand, tigers are also known to be sensitive, courageous, and thoughtful, with a great capacity for sympathy, especially to those they love.  So cheer up!

Sweet Tooth Tiger (Tiger of Carboholic) by Shiro Tajima

Perhaps this puzzle box, from Japanese artist Shiro Tajima, might help.  Tajima has crafted a series of the signs of the zodiac, and this one, the “Sweet Tooth Tiger”, was released for the Year of the Tiger in 2010.  Such a silly, sweet tiger reminds me more of Tigger from Winnie the Pooh than Shere Khan from the Jungle Book.  This tiger is all smiles, crafted from Japanese Raisin Tree and Walnut, with Dogwood and Rengas details.  I’d be smiling too if I had such a nice lollipop.  On the other hand, I don’t think this tiger will smile at all if you withhold his sweet treat, so you’d better take care not to lose it.  A clever, whimsical and fun box, the Tiger is another fine achievement from Tajima.

What do Tiggers like?

Sticking with the Winnie the Pooh theme, I’ve invited Eeyore to the party as well.  You may not realize, but Eeyore’s name is intended to be onomatopoeic.  When spoken with the appropriate English accent (presumably the kind favored by A. A. Milne, for example), the “r” is less “r” and more “aw”, such that “Eeyore” sounds quite like “hee-haw”, just the sound that an old gray donkey might be fond of making.  Of course all my English friends are probably reading dumbfounded at the idiocy of their American friend, having to explain something so obvious.  

Eeyore's Requiem by Toby Maloney

If Eeyore grew up and wanted an after dinner drink, I imagine he would drink amaro.  Amaro, you recall, is that class of bitter aperitif or digestive drink made from botanicals and herbs and favored by old Italian grandfathers and old gray donkeys alike.  Amari have become quite popular and are being produced all over the world now.  Author Brad Parsons has written an entire cocktail book devoted to them, and this particular cocktail suits our theme quite well.  In “Eeyore’s Requiem”, Chicago bartender Toby Maloney combines no fewer than three separate Amari in a negroni-esque tribute to our favorite droll and depressing character, and the result might just lift your spirits.  Here’s to the surprising sweetness in life hiding inside the unlikeliest of characters, like a puzzle waiting to be solved.  Cheers!

Help me if you can, I've got to get back to the House on Pooh Corner by one ...

Eeyore’s Requiem by Toby Maloney

1 ½ oz Campari
½ oz Gin
¼ oz Cynar
¼ oz Fernet Branca
1 oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth
15 drops Orange bitters
3 Orange twists

Stir ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with Eeyore’s Tail, which you may find is serving as a bell pull over at Owl’s place.  Cheers!

For more about Shiro Tajima see:

Friday, August 18, 2017

Butterfly Feelings

Now for something pleasant.  And painful.  From the international man of mystery and mayhem, the Dutch devil of devious delights – that’s right, Wil Strijbos, the brilliant puzzle designer from the Netherlands – comes more mischievous merriment.  Last summer I wrote about one of my favorite puzzle boxes, the long awaited PachinkoBox from Strijbos.  That box is immensely clever, satisfying and fun to solve.  But the year prior to that I fumbled through his Butterfly Box (aka “Pleasure and Pain” Box).  I say that I fumbled, not to appear self effacing, but to admit that I fell right into his trap.  The one he set on purpose for everyone who attempts to solve this box.  I don’t want to explain exactly what happened (some of you will know quite well anyway) as this may give quite a bit away about the solution.  That would be a shame, as it would violate Wil’s request not to give any hints or solutions to his puzzles, especially the ones like the Butterfly Box.  It would also be a shame since I now want anyone else who tries this puzzle to suffer like I did.  Wil should name his next puzzle box “Schadenfreude”.  I suppose enough time has passed that I can now happily write about this wonderful puzzle.

Butterfly Box by Wil Strijbos

Most of what you need to know about this puzzle “box” (technically a box since it has space inside, although that is not the main goal) is apparent from examining it.  A large metal block with an anodized green front plate is adorned with a very large, very heavy solid brass padlock affixed to a bolt on top.  A cuff which is locked in place is also present, with the word “LOCK” inscribed, but it is upside down.  Your task is to unlock the padlock, right the cuff, and lock up everything with the puzzle back to the starting position.  On the back of the metal block “box” there is an etching which to me looks like a butterfly – perhaps the reason behind the name.  But what of the puzzle’s nickname – the "Pleasure and Pain" box?  The whole affair is certainly a pleasure to look at and handle, being extremely well built and unusual in appearance.  Fiddling about with it produces some expected and some unexpected results, and you may very well find the means to unlock the padlock.  Quite pleasurable.  Nevermind the pleasant looking fellow who may strangely appear out of nowhere and send an odd pleasantry.  A little additional dexterity and maneuvering and perhaps you will even have reset it all back to the start as instructed.  Pleasure all around.  Perhaps a month might even go by, while you politely wonder what all the fuss was about.  But at some point, doubt will creep in, prompted by the paranoia induced by other puzzlers in pain.  Or even by Wil Strijbos himself, wondering whether congratulations are truly in order.  That will be the moment when you revisit the puzzle, and realize you are a fool.  Or at least, Wil’s fool.  That was no pleasantry from the mysterious pleasant fellow – it was a plaintiff cry!  A painful process indeed ensues, and it will literally be many weeks before you can finally say you have succeeded in mastering this masterpiece.  And that’s all I’ll say, so that you, too may suffer the pleasures someday.

Simple pleasures await inside this box.  So why do I have butterflies in my stomach?

To toast this marvelous, menacing box, I’ve devised a tasty tipple sure to catch your fancy.  Since Wil “caught” me in his trap I raise my glass to him with the “Butterfly Catcher” cocktail.  Created by Adele Stratton of San Diego’s fabulous secret bar, Noble Experiment, the “Fly Catcher” is a perfect summer drink which highlights the bright sweet flavor of watermelon and balances it with smoky mezcal and bitter Campari, all sweetened with a touch of almond syrup.  The drink is absolutely delicious.  I infused the mezcal in mine with dried Butterfly Pea plant leaves, for a number of reasons.  First of all, this allowed me to call it the Butterfly Catcher, which was useful for obvious reasons.  Next, Butterfly plant leaves lend a brilliant blue or indigo color to things, which makes the drink look lovely.  If you mix the drink without the acid component (such as the lime juice in this drink), then add it slowly later, you can watch the drink change colors from bright blue to purple, which is a nice cocktail magic trick.  Additionally, the Butterfly Pea plant has been used in ancient Asian medicine for its reported antistress, antianxiety, antidepressant, tranquilizing and sedative properties – which may be very helpful after trying to solve this puzzle.  Finally, the Butterfly Pea plant is from a particular plant genus which I suspect Wil Strijbos would enjoy.  Those of you who know your taxonomy will understand.  Wishing you all the pleasures, with no pain, that life has to offer – cheers!

Butterfly Catcher adapted from Adele Stratton

Butterfly Catcher – adapted from Adele Stratton

1 ½ oz mezcal infused with Butterfly Pea leaf
1 ½ oz watermelon juice
¾ oz fresh lime juice
¾ oz Campari
½ oz orgeat
Pinch of salt

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass filled with crushed ice.  Don’t be fooled – this will ease your pain.

This pair will give you butterflies

For more from Wil Strijbos:

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Boxes and Books

“We live for books.” – Umberto Eco

Happy National Book Lover’s Day, everyone.  Technically this event is celebrated on August 9th each year, but I’m a slow reader.  I’d be remiss to miss this lovely holiday, as reading and the love of books is so important to the Boxes and Booze household.  There are many great puzzle boxes which are book themed, and so many storied drinks throughout literature, that it’s easy to provide a pairing.  Check out some past offerings for Book Lover’s and Read a Book Days from Akio Kamei and Jesse Born if you need something else to read, too.

Secret Book Box by Hideaki Kawashima

This year I present the stunning “Secret Book Box” from the Karakuri Creation Group artist Hideaki Kawashima. Produced for their “Story” themed exhibition, the box does not reflect a particular individual story but rather encompasses the enchantment that great stories weave together for our enjoyment and discovery.  The box, crafted from magnolia, cherry, walnut, chanchin, and maple woods, forms the shape of three interlocked books of different colors.  The pages are made from black and white yosegi created by master Ninomiya, which adds such beauty and provenance to the work. 

Like the intricate plot twists woven into great stories ...

There are many, many stories to discover in these pages.  Master Kawashima has outdone himself with another masterpiece.  The puzzle is rewarding, requiring approximately thirty six moves to reveal all of its secret chambers, which a numerous.  Opening the box and its many compartments is an enjoyable process of discovery, like reading a good book.  Similar to book chapters, there are different phases to this puzzle as well, and the finale is wonderful.  If you aren’t paying careful attention, you might even miss the ending, but you’ll be left with a feeling that all the plot twists haven’t been fully resolved.  Keep reading, and the satisfying dénouement makes this box one to treasure and gives it a place of pride on the bookshelf. 

Beautiful page yosegi from Ninomiya

“Some like to believe it's the book that chooses the person.”  ― Carlos Ruiz Zafón  

This quote by the “The Shadow of the Wind” author rather reminds me of another well-known adage, if you happen to know a fellow named Olivander: “The wand chooses the wizard.”  One of the most beloved set of books in our family is the Harry Potter series.  Clearly we are not alone, as this series has broken all sorts of international publishing records over the last decade.  To toast the Secret Book Box and celebrate Book Lover’s Day I’ve made a few tasty tipples one might find at fine establishments like the Three Broomsticks and the Hog’s Head in Hogsmeade.  First of all we have Butterbeer, that delicious delight full of foamy goodness that all muggles deserve to taste.  There are numerous recipes floating about for this treat, and it can get quite elaborate.  My son (the ultimate Harry Potter fanatic) and I were quite satisfied with a simple version.  We went with the cold style (Butterbeer can also be served hot, for a warm winter treat) and turned butterscotch soda slushy by putting it in our ice cream maker.  Adding butterscotch syrup to vanilla cream soda also works well if you don’t have butterscotch soda.  The foam is the best part – we made butterscotch whipped cream by whisking heavy cream, sugar, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and butterscotch syrup together. This heavenly mix gets heaped upon the slushy drink and the result is hard to put down.  This is good enough, but of course I went even farther by adding a touch of rum to mine – Butterbeer is speculated to be mildly alcoholic in the books, after all.

A few potions from the wizarding world

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” – Cicero

And for the adult wizards among us who hanker for something a bit stronger than Butterbeer, I poured a bracing glass of Firewhisky, the potion of preference for merry magicians.  Pick your favorite whisky (or whiskey if you’re Stateside) and add a dose of spicy cinnamon syrup.  The drink (as I’ve created it, at least) is like a cinnamon Old fashioned, with a serious kick.  Not to be confused with a Sirius Black, which is not a drink at all.  Many thanks to J.K. Rowling for these delightful drinks.  Here’s to the magic in boxes and books, so enjoyable to open.  Cheers!

What magic awaits in your favorite book?

 “I cannot live without books;” – Thomas Jefferson

2 oz fine bourbon or whisky
½ oz serrano pepper infused cinnamon syrup
Stir ingredients over ice to chill and dilute, then strain into a favorite glass. Sip and let yourself fall under its spell.

For more about Hideaki Kawashima:

For prior book themed puzzle boxes see:

Friday, August 4, 2017

Louvre Is In The Air

Ahhh, Paris, the City of Light.  I’m sending out a toast to my friends in France this week, to celebrate that luminous city and some intriguingly perplexing people who happen to be there.  One of those people, let’s just call him “Mr. Puzzle”, has produced, in perfect proportion, a tiny replica of a palace which is also the world’s largest museum.  We circle to the first arrondissement and marvel at I. Pei’s Pyramid to begin our cultural immersion.  Presently, perhaps, we head straight to the most famous of art works housed therein, DaVinci’s Mona Lisa (is her smile impish? perturbed? pleased?) … only to find that it cannot be found.  What sorcery is this? Go ask Brian.

The Louvre by Brian Young

Brain Young, that is, aka Mr. Puzzle, the brilliant, baffling and inimitable puzzle producer from Queensland.  His shop is well stocked in the finest puzzles the world has to offer, many of which are designed and crafted by his own hands using exotic Australian hardwoods.  His limited editions often reflect a specific location or famous landmark, such as his award winning Big Ben sequential discovery puzzle.  His newest offering, another sequential discovery puzzle, is “The Louvre”, a mini model of the famous museum crafted from indigenous prized Papua New Guinean Rosewood.  A nice engraving of the museum façade adorns the puzzle’s front surface, which is studded with metal ornamentation.  There is a hole on top, purportedly for a flag pole, and you are given a few instructions.  You must search the Louvre, recover the lost masterpiece, and raise the French flag high in victory, to solve the intended puzzle properly.  Since the painting is hidden inside, protectively placed, this is technically a puzzle box.  Anyway I’ve made plenty of exceptions for Brian Young's work in the past, it’s much too much fun to pass up.  The Louvre has three separate locks to deduce – did you think security would be lax here? – including a novel mechanism Brian invented previously (part of the infamous SMS Telephone Box, one of the most difficult puzzle boxes ever invented).  I wrote about that one last year, after months had gone by without a single person in the world having solved it. The lock from that box which is recreated here is almost identical, pardoning polarity, but easier to navigate, thanks to the ability to see a bit of what is going on at that point.  How kind of Brian, he must have felt guilty about the SMS torture box – err, telephone box.  The Louvre is truly enjoyable.  Like a leisurely stroll through the famous museum, it is enlightening, rewarding and satisfying.

Mercifully, this puzzle makes you feel like saying merci

Continuing with the French theme, I politely present the unofficial cocktail of intoxicated Parisian puzzlists.  This ideal pairing packs a historic punch – it’s named after a deadly World War I machine gun, after all.  And it contains gin, naturally, the favored ingredient of many of my inebriated puzzle pals.  While there’s evidence of the drink’s existence in the mid 1800’s (Dickens mentions it tangentially in personal papers from an 1867 trip to Boston), it didn’t become the famous “French 75” until dubbed so at the New York Bar in Paris, popularized during the American Prohibition era.  Made with gin, lemon, sugar and champagne, the deliciously deceptive drink is particularly potent.  In the words of the British novelist Alec Waugh (brother to the more famous Evelyn Waugh), it’s “the most powerful drink in the world.”

Pineapple in Paris (perhaps a French 37?)

Not content with this most classic of cocktails, I purposefully pondered a slight modification - I just couldn’t leave it as is.  Puzzle people are among the most warm, welcoming and hospitable on the planet, and what better symbol of those virtues than the pineapple?  No? Trust me, look it up.  So for the official unofficial cocktail of imbibing Parisian puzzlers I substituted pineapple cider for the champagne.  The delightful result is an incredibly pleasing, playful variation on the classic.  I certainly encourage all interested potion purists to order the Soixante Quinze while in Paris and toast the day.  However, if luck might have it, and you find yourself in possession of pineapple cider (in pineapple possession, that is to say), give this one a try.  Cheers, mes amis.

You'll fall in Louvre with this pair

Pineapple in Paris

1 oz gin
1 oz simple syrup
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
3 oz pineapple cider (use champagne for the classic French 75)

Shake all ingredients but the bubbles over ice and strain into a flute. Add bubbles on top and garnish with a twist.  Or the Mona Lisa made out of citrus peels.  à votre santé!

In parting, perhaps you noticed an interesting pattern pervasive on these ingeniously penned pages.  How often does it appear?

For more about Brain Young, aka Mr. Puzzle: