Saturday, December 30, 2017

Favorite Things

The beginning of a new year is always cause for reflection.  Here at Boxes and Booze I’m thinking about this dual hobby of mine, which I have oddly enough managed to combine.  I’ve made many friends from both sides of this coin and for that I am truly amazed and thankful.  It’s become a reliable outlet for me to explore my creative side and I’m so glad there are a few folks out there who enjoy seeing what I’m up to.

Yosegi Oak Wood Slide Box (Stickman Puzzle Box No. 1)

“A puzzlebox is a complex container that challenges the mind, redirects perceptions, and whose solution eludes those seeking to discover its secret chamber.” – Robert Yarger

For this New Year’s post I’m offering another kind of beginning, from the puzzle box perspective at least.  Last year we traveled north to Canada where I explored the theme of time and a unique puzzle built inside the case of an antique clock.  The year before we celebrated in Japanese style with soba buckwheat noodles.  That was rather apropos as the origin as well as the rebirth of the puzzle box was in Japan.  This year we will celebrate in the US, tracing the origin story of one of our most celebrated artists and the start of something special.

When Robert Yarger and his brother were boys, they each received a traditional Japanese puzzle box one Christmas.  Over the years the boxes were lost, and eventually Robert decided to make a few such boxes of his own to replace them, giving the results to his brother, family and friends.  These would become the first Stickman puzzle boxes.  Luckily, a number of the boxes were also sold to collectors who recognized that there was something special going on inside these plain, rustic boxes, and who requested new designs.  One of my favorite stories about this time is how frightening it was for Robert to use the old radial arm saw he had at the time, which would launch projectiles across his shop, scream and smoke like a banshee, and make him practically pee in his pants as he turned it on.  It’s a testament to his skill that he could create such incredible objects (including all components of the first 3 Stickman boxes) with the most rudimentary of tools.

The original run of “Oak Wood Slide” boxes (what would become The Stickman No. 1 Puzzle Box) were fashioned from scrap wood Robert had about his shop and as such were rustic in appearance and varied in shape and size.  Details like beveled edges and decorative grooves were all created with the radial saw.  Even then, the boxes featured more than meets the eye and the spark of Stickman genius can be seen.  There are three separate compartments to be discovered, and an internal locking system which causes one drawer to open as another is being closed.  The effect is rather metaphorical, and unintentionally prophetic for this artist’s work.  Robert is eternally in pursuit of the horizon.  He always creates something new, something not seen or done before, and when he does pay homage to past designers or designs, he adds his own brand of new magic to it.  When he completes a project, he rarely revisits the same idea again, unless there was some element to it which he left unexplored.

Beautiful yosegi made from poplar and wenge

He also hates to revisit past puzzles, even if all of the original run were never finished, as has happened with some of his designs.  Fortunately, he loves to encourage and mentor new artists.  Rick Jenkins has been Robert’s most recent apprentice and has developed and acquired the skills found in all of the Stickman series.  With his help, many of the original puzzles which had never been finished are now complete, including the final run of Stickman No. 1 boxes.  As a fitting tribute to the origins of his puzzle company and passion, Robert and Rick finished the final box, number 100, in beautiful yosegi veneer.  Rick learned the technique for this on his own, essentially teaching it to Rob in the process, who offered advice and technique suggestions along the way.  This experience actually prompted Robert to develop the “Traditional” box (Stickman No. 32), a design he might not have attempted otherwise.  The “Yosegi” Oak Wood Slide Box is unique in the No. 1 series, wrapped in a stunning checkered and striped pattern which gives the box a distinctive appearance and prominently shows off Rick’s impressive skills.  The box heralds another beginning, and we look forward to seeing what Rick Jenkins will create on his own as this new drawer begins to open. 

Boxes and Booze

To ring in the New Year along with this portentous puzzle I’ve mixed up A Few of My Favorite Things, just like the box does.  The aptly named drink features the special Italian aperitif known as Barolo Chinato which comes from the Piedmont region in north western Italy.  Barolo is a prized wine made from the Nebbiolo grape, with a following and provenance which needs no alternate use.  Yet generations of distillers have used it as a base in which to steep cinchona bark, spices, sugar and herbs to produce unique and delicious vintages of something incredibly special.  It’s like applying the addition of complex puzzles to an incredibly skilled and beautiful piece of woodwork which could easily stand on its own to create something richer and more layered.  

My Favorite Things by Paul Manzelli

Mixologist Paul Manzelli, head bartender at Bergamot in Massachusetts, combined a few of his favorite things into this cocktail, which includes Barolo Chinato along with rye whiskey and the Italian Amari Aperol and Cynar.  The chinato brings wonderful balance to this combination of the lightly bitter grapefruit Aperol and the surprisingly sweet artichoke Cynar.  Manzelli clearly loves Italian aperitifs and digestifs.  And who can blame him.  This cocktail might become one of your favorite things too. 

Here’s a toast to woodwork and whiskey and warm winter laughter, puzzles and potions and praise to the crafter, boxes and booze and what family brings, yes, these are a few of my favorite things.  

Cheers and Happy New Year!

A few of my favorite things ...

My Favorite Things by Paul Manzelli

1 ½ oz rye whiskey
½ oz Aperol
½ oz Cynar
½ oz Barolo Chinato
1 dash orange bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with an orange twist or a Stickman logo.

For more about Robert Yarger see:

For more about Rick Jenkins see:

For prior New Year’s themed cocktails see:

Time Passages


  1. It's good to look back at how things began for us and the craftsmen we follow!

    Happy New Year my friend.


  2. Paul is still the head bartender at Bergamot so not "formerly."