Saturday, November 18, 2017

Doing a Good Ternary

I lived in New York at one point in my life.  Everyone had a triple lock on their apartment.  There was the regular lock, for the key, but inside there was also the deadbolt, and the chain.  Some people had even more elaborate affairs.  If you wanted entry, you had to navigate all those locks.  It would have been even more puzzling if the key only opened the lock every so often.  There would have to be a repeatable pattern, for sure, but it wouldn’t be obvious and turning the key wouldn’t always have the expected outcome.  I’m pretty sure if Robert Yarger had designed it, that’s how it would work.

Stickman No. 8 Puzzle Box (3-Lock Box) by Robert Yarger
The Stickman No. 8 Puzzle Box is known as the “3-Lock Box”, and you probably get the idea.  Sliding certain panels seldom seem to have the same effect each time they are moved.  Initially one or two panels might move a bit, but after some experimentation (trying the same thing you just tried, which normally has everyone quoting Einstein’s theory of insanity at you, but in this case has you pointing out this box to those hecklers) suddenly another panel just might move.  Whoops, now it won’t move anymore.  There are multiple layers of security going on here, with at least three “locks” which need to be opened, which in turn each require multiple repeated moves (perhaps three?) to achieve.  Keeping in mind that all the movements are integrated together, so that a single moving panel may be functioning in multiple ways at once, and you have a brilliantly confusing puzzle on your hands.  Miss one step in sequence and you pay the price of repeating multiple steps over again.  If that wasn’t enough, there is a logical but very clever hidden move required at one point which will keep the best of thieves locked out of the secret drawer.  

The mechanism inside the box is based on a ternary calculating machine which Rob had crafted with no specific purpose in mind, until its use in this box materialized in his brain.  It sat in his “maybe later” drawer for over a year, and even other puzzle makers could find no use for it, which is just as well, since he ultimately came up with this incredible puzzle.  The box is strikingly beautiful, covered in glossy Wenge with bold ribbons of Purpleheart and Maple wrapping it up like a present.
This is truly one of the more unusual puzzle boxes due to the changing nature of what appears to be the same exact move each time.  

Rob has added a challenge to the solver, in the instruction manual, which also makes the box unique in his series.   Because one false step can send the solver back to the beginning for certain moves, there are levels to the efficiency of movement possible, and it remains quite a challenge to determine how to open it from the starting locked position in the least possible number of moves, even after you know how.  The solver is awarded a certain “status” (e.g. novice, expert) depending on how efficiently this can be accomplished.

Wrapped up like a beautiful present

Something about a triple-locked box must be especially compelling to human nature.  Around the same time that Robert Yarger’s 3-Lock Box was being produced, Eric Fuller was also producing his own Triple Lock Box.  Eric pointed out that although Rob claimed the name for his box came from a popular Jimmi Hendrix song (as well as the mechanism), the song was actually by Sammy Hagar.  Rob insisted it was Hendrix, and to this day still retains that description of the puzzle on his website. Even though Eric was right!

One more nice touch here is a little known back door into the box.  Once the box is solved and its mechanism understood well enough, it can be manipulated in a certain way to allow the lid to slide completely free so the fascinating internal mechanism can be admired.

A toast to this trifecta of puzzle box locks comes in the form of a classic cocktail triple play as well.  The storied Negroni is one of my favorites, in all its forms and flavors, as evidenced by its many appearances on these pages.  It may be the cocktail that I have featured more than any other.  I suppose it’s appropriate to be using one to toast another Stickman box, whose work I have probably featured more than any other.  The original Negroni, to refresh your memory, is a combination of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, and was likely invented in the early 1900’s in Florence, although maybe not.  For the full semi-factual and fun filled story you can read my prior history of the drink when you need to procrastinate about something.  

This drink is on lock-down

For the 3-Lock Box I was feeling like a fall Negroni was in order, both because the cooling weather calls for fall spirits and because the rich dark woods on the box feel appropriate for the season.  I’ve therefore swapped out the gin for a fall favorite – Laird’s Apple Brandy, from America’s oldest distiller.  Aged and complex, it can be substituted for bourbon or cognac wherever those may be called for – and wherever else too!  Instead of Campari, I used a different amaro which is lighter, with more citrus and spice.  I’d like to make a disclaimer here, that unlike solving the 3-Lock Box, enjoying this drink does not require imbibing three of them in a row.  Although if you do, please leave a comment, as we’d all love to hear what you have to say at that point.  Here’s three cheers to the things in life that keep us guessing, and that aren’t always what they seem, or at least not all the time.  Cheers, cheers, cheers!

Autumnal Equilocks - a fall flavored Negroni

Autumnal Equilocks

1 oz Laird’s Apple Brandy
1 oz Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
1 oz Amaro Montenegro
Stir ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with 3 locks.

A pair of triples

For more about Robert Yarger:

For prior Negroni variations see:

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