Saturday, September 2, 2017

Puzzle Prescriptions (Apothecary Part I)

“True apothecary thy drugs art quick.” - William Shakespeare

I’d like to invite you to join me on a tour of a dozen special puzzle boxes over the next few weeks.  Fear not, this apothecary will not hasten your untimely death like Romeo and Juliet, but there may be true love to be found.  You can choose from any or all of the twelve unique, beautiful and rare creations which are all housed together inside the final masterpiece, a treasure trove of legendary status.  Collaborations between puzzle makers are not uncommon events but are rarely seen at this level and magnitude.  A new such collaboration, currently in the final stages of completion, which brings together fifteen artists from around the world and celebrates the stories of Lewis Carroll, provides a fitting opportunity to revisit and admire the work which inspired it.  The Apothecary Chest is the brainchild of Robert Yarger, who envisioned the design, orchestrated the collaborations, and ultimately executed the production.  We’ll get to that story in just a moment, but first let’s explore the individual “drawers” in this incredible chest. 

Topless Box by Eric Fuller

Getting down to puzzling business is hard work, at times – North Carolina puzzlesmith Eric Fuller might even suggest you take your shirt off.  At least, his Topless Box would suggest it.  I’ve actually written about the Topless Box before, and will direct you to that original rendition here while briefly summarizing.  One of the first puzzle boxes you can retrieve is Fuller’s creation, a lovely cube with contrasting quilted maple on the ends and dark sapele in the center.  Exploration reveals that the ends can be removed, no secret there, revealing bright, bold and beautiful red paduak details.  Ironically, this is one of the harder boxes in the chest and may take you some time to solve.  Like most of Fuller’s boxes, it relies on a unique and incredibly clever mechanism which is so elegantly executed.  To toast this delightful box I paired it with a modern classic cocktail apropos of both the puzzle and its maker, the “Naked and Famous”.  If you’ve never tried this drink, do yourself a favor.

Topless and Naked, a perfect pair

An apothecary should never be out of spirits. - Richard Brinsley Sheridan

I quite agree with the sentiment in this quote, and have therefore paired a unique cocktail with each of the fine findings inside this chest.  Next, we discover in our hands a rather unassuming looking box from a highly sought after puzzle maker from Oklahoma, Mark McCallum.  Mark is known for his precise assembly puzzles and his recreations of classics, using fine exotic woods.  Inside the drawer, which opens after a little trick is discovered, one is not disappointed and finds a lovely multifaceted polyhedron known as the “Thick and Thin Garnet”.  This is an elegant assembly puzzle made from six identical, irregular pieces.  Housed inside there is another, smaller garnet waiting.  The drawer is, in fact, two puzzles in one.  The box which holds the garnet is called “Dad’s Two Cents” and contains its own secret, with a rather unique feature not seen on any other puzzle box that I have encountered.  You’ll have to use your wits, and perhaps your garnet, to understand the meaning of the name, and discover a critical component of the metapuzzle.  It’s a shame that Mark McCallum doesn’t design more puzzle boxes, because this one is a “gem”.

Thick and Thin Garnet with Dad's Two Cents by Mark McCallum

I’ve mined the cocktail history books to unearth another garnet for this garnet.  The Garnet cocktail is found all the way back in the 2012 Mr. Boston’s Official Bartender’s Guide.  Not exactly ancient, but kind of perfect nonetheless.  The drink, which combines gin with orange liqueur, pomegranate and grapefruit, is light, refreshing, sweet, and shiny - just the thing for the start of something extraordinary.  Cheers!

The Garnet from Mr. Boston's

The Garnet from Mr. Boston’s Guide 2012

1 ½ oz Gin
¾ oz orange liqueur
¾ oz pomegranate juice
¾ oz grapefruit juice

Shake ingredients together over ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Flame an orange peel over the drink and garnish with a cocktail ring.  Enjoy while providing your companions with your two cents.

A couple of real gems

For more about the Topless Box:

For more about Robert Yarger:

For more about the Jabberwocky Chest:


  1. I wondered whether you were one of the winners of the apothecary auctions. Well done on that - I am just a little envious!


    1. Ahh no need to be jealous, Kevin. This chest is on loan, by a very generous friend.