Saturday, December 29, 2018

A Warm Welcome

Happy New Year!  I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to follow along with me each week here on Boxes and Booze.  This year has been full of wonderfully puzzling works of art and fantastic cocktails. Looking back to New Year's past, we have celebrated many different countries as they ring in the new year. We traveled to Japan and joined their tradition of eating soba noodles a few years back.  We headed north to Canada to pay father time a visit.  And we stayed right here in America to join a favorite artist on his origin story.  This year let’s head back to Japan and bring in the new year with a traditional symbol of welcoming, the pineapple.

Pineapple Secret by Hiroshi Iwahara

Pineapples, most often associated with the tropics, actually originated in South America.  They were introduced to European society by Christopher Columbus as a gift to King Ferdinand, his benefactor.  The rare and perishable fruit became coveted by the noble classes.  A famous painting of King Charles II circa 1675 attributed to the British School, 17th century depicting the king accepting a pineapple launched its popularity as a status symbol of wealth and prosperity.  The English name we use today also originated in Europe, where pine cones had the same name and the resemblance stuck. However in most of the world the fruit is known as ananas (excellent fruit), from the Brazilian Tupi Indians.  James Dole is credited with bringing the fruit to the masses via his plantations and canning facilities in Hawaii, where natural pollination from hummingbirds is abundant and the fruit thrives.

Intricate carvings and twisted challenge

In America, during the early colonial days, New England sea captains back from travels in the tropics would spear a pineapple on a post in front of their house to let friends and neighbors know they had returned home safe.  It was a sign of invitation to visit, share the spoils and listen to the tales.  The pineapple began to appear on innkeeper signs, furniture and architectural details as a symbol of friendship and hospitality.  I feel incredibly lucky to have one of these amazing fruits to share with you all as well.  Hiroshi Iwahara’s Pineapple Secret is one of the most strikingly beautiful pieces he has created and is an incredible achievement from this master of the Karakuri Creation Group.  The body consists of an 18 plate polyhedron which has square plates intermixed with triangles to create a globe.  The detailed carving and wood contrasts create the pineapple texture, and the delicate carved crown on top adds the final flourish.  Iwahara created two versions of this puzzle, one yellow, with uniform plates, and one black, with a twist to the plates.  Each is quite complex, requiring over 30 moves to solve, with multiple occurrences of blocked movement, overlaps and switchbacks.  The black version is slightly trickier thanks to that twisted twist.  It’s quite a challenge to solve, which only adds to its status as one of the best Karakuri boxes, in my humble opinion.  I display it on my shelf as a warm welcome to all who would like to visit and experience it. 

Sherry Colada by Caitlin Laman

An end of year toast is clearly in order as well now, and obviously must include pineapple! The classic pineapple cocktail, without a doubt, is the Pina Colada.  Like any true and proper classic cocktail, the origins are murky and disputed.  Some say the drink was invented by the pirate Roberto Cofresi, a Robin Hood like criminal and hero from Puerto Rico in the early nineteenth century.  Others give credit to Ramon Monchito Marrero, a bartender at the Caribe Hilton Puerto Rico in 1954 (shortly after the invention of Coco Lopez, a critical ingredient in the modern version of the drink).  Then there is Don Ramos Portas Mingot in 1963 at Barrachina, another restaurant in Puerto Rico.  One thing is certainly clear, the drink is from Puerto Rico, and it became the country’s national drink in 1978.

Amontillado sherry gives this classic a new spin

I’m offering this modern twist to the classic (in a nod this pineapple's twist) from award winning mixologist Caitlin Laman of Chicago’s Ace Hotel.  She brings the drink back in time by swapping most of the typical rum for sherry, which was wildly popular in the days of Dickens and has had a resurgence again as of late.  It adds a robust nuttiness to the drink and turns something too familiar into something fresh and new again.  Let’s approach the new year like this, with fresh new ideas which open our eyes to new perspectives and let us see things in new ways.  Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and welcoming new year.  Cheers!

A welcome pair indeed

Sherry Colada by Caitlin Laman

1 ½ oz Amontillado sherry
½ oz aged rum
1 oz coconut syrup
½ oz fresh pineapple juice
¼ oz fresh lime juice

Shake ingredients together with ice and double strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with citrus zest.

For more about Hiroshi Iwahara:

For prior pineapple posts:

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Know L

“Those who can imagine anything, can create the impossible.”  ― Alan Turing

It’s Christmas in Karakuri Land! It should come as no surprise to hear that I’m a huge fan of the Karakuri Creation Group of puzzle box artists in Japan.  The group routinely and frequently produces the most beautifully crafted pieces, and the varieties appear endless.  It’s always wonderful to discover that a new craftsman or woman has joined the group, ensuring its longevity and continued presence.  New designers often surprise us as well with ideas which stretch the imagination in different ways. This time of year everyone who participates as a member of the group is receiving the annual “Christmas presents”, their surprise creations which are eagerly awaited all year long.

Code Name "L" by Yasuaki Kikuchi

Artist Yasuaki Kikuchi burst on the scene with a real kickstart when he released his first offering, the Kickake  box, a novel and dynamic creation.  He has already produced some very interesting and visually appealing work, and has now raised the bar even further.  With his Code Name “L” box, he sets the stage for a possible alphabet series, and only time will tell what he spells.  I’m predicting the word “incredible”.  Code Name “L” is an extremely creative box which will keep you guessing until you experience the wonderfully satisfying AHA moment.  Unassuming in outward appearance, the walnut box is a standard cube with a few distinguishing marks and the obvious name inspiration, four “L” shaped characters which are featured prominently on each side.  The solution is elegant and inspired, and very satisfying.  This is one not to be missed – you really need to know “L”.

L-egent design  

I’ve created a seasonal Christmas cocktail to toast this new wonder from Kikuchi. It starts in the storied restorative town of Carlsbad, in the Czech Republic, famed for its healing spa waters. In 1807, Jan Becher began marketing a special herbal liqueur created with twenty local ingredients and based on a special recipe he acquired from his friend, the English physician Dr. Christian Frobrig.  Becher’s “English Bitter”, purported to cure stomach illness, became wildly popular, and has stood the test of time.  Unique and delicious, it has slowly gained popularity around the world over the past two hundred years.  It’s particularly lovely this time of year, as the dominant flavors of cinnamon, clove, allspice, ginger and cardamom are the classic spices of the season.  It’s been called “Christmas in a glass”, so what better base spirit to celebrate with could there be? 

Jolly good flavors of the season

To the Becherovka I’ve added fresh lime juice – my favorite cocktail citrus – for just the right amount of tartness.  Rounding out the holiday flavors, I’ve brought cranberry to the party as well, with Leopold Brother’s phenomenal New England Cranberry Liqueur.  This family owned distillery in Colorado prides itself on fresh natural and locally sources ingredients, like the two varieties of New England cranberries found in this award winning spirit. Finally a touch more sweetness with cinnamon syrup, a secret ingredient which turns any drink into a holiday drink.  It’s a wonderfully festive cocktail, a fantastic way to discover the beguiling Becherovka, and a sure crowd pleaser.  Here’s to the spirit of the season.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, all.

Have you been naughty or nice?

Czeching it Twice

2 oz Becherovka
1 oz fresh lime
½ oz Leopold Bros. New England Cranberry Liqueur
¼ oz cinnamon syrup
2 dashes Scrappy’s Cardamom Bitters

Shake together with ice and strain into a festive glass.  Garnish with a jolly old lemon wheel.  Ho ho ho!

Joyeux Noel from Boxes and Booze 

For more about Yasuaki Kikuchi:

For last year’s Christmas cocktail:

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Mayan Mysteries

We're taking an exotic journey to the tombs of the ancient Maya for this installment.  Benno Baatsen is a puzzle box designer from the Netherlands who has been creating devious and complex mechanisms since he first began making puzzle boxes out of Legos when he was nine years old.  His first wooden box came soon after, when he was ten, and managed to fool all of his friends.  His handmade designs have only gotten more complex since then.  He recently started a website and has made most of his building plans available for a nominal fee, with the intention of encouraging everyone to learn to build their own puzzle box.  He loves puzzle boxes so much he truly wants to share his ideas with the world.  He also recently teamed up with Zoyo Toys in China who have produced a few of his designs for resale.  Mr. Puzzle in Australia has stocked these (Companion Box, Dice Box and Answer Box), and found and fixed many problems with them.  If you aren’t inclined to make your own, these are delightful boxes to have.  Mr. Puzzle has field tested and improved them all, and you literally won’t find a better price anywhere.  They are too inexpensive to pass up.

The Mayan Box by Benno Baatsen

Benno has also started to make a few of his designs himself for resale.  These are created from Poplar wood using a laser cutter he has access to at his University.  This arrangement also limits the types of wood and material he can use in his puzzles.  Despite this he has created an incredible new artifact, the Mayan Box.  Benno is a fan of the Tomb Raider video games and took his inspiration for this box from those stylings and secrets, making it look as much as possible like a Mayan grave tomb one would find with Lara Croft.  The details of the box are incredibly intricate and finely etched all around, with Mayan influence mixed with his own creativity.  Because the Tomb Raider games are themselves so heavily filled with puzzles, he wanted the box to be similarly full, and quite difficult to solve.  It requires approximately forty-two distinct moves to open.  He has filled it with multiple overlapping mechanisms of different types and an incredible number of moving parts.  There’s even a hidden maze, and a final additional secret compartment.  This box has it all, and is incredibly fun to solve.  Go buy one from him and help him save up for his own laser cutter – I suspect there are a lot more ideas in his clever brain waiting to be revealed.
Finely etched hieroglyphs and details adorn the box
To toast this secret surprise and its talented maker I stuck to the Tomb Raider theme of plundering tombs and crypts with an apropos classic, the Corpse Reviver.  The Corpse Reviver is actually a collection of cocktails dating back to the turn of the twentieth century and made famous by Harry Craddock in his uber cool Savoy Cocktail book from 1930 where he features versions “1” and “2”.  The drinks were originally meant as restorative “hair of the dog” remedies, to be taken early after a tough night.  Asking a bartender for a “Corpse Reviver” was like asking for a generic hangover cure, like a strong cup of coffee, but with something a bit stronger than that.  It’s no surprise there are a few different variations that survived.  Craddock’s No. 2, the most famous version of all, came with his commentary that “Four of these taken in quick succession will unrevive the corpse again.” 

Corpse Reviver No. 1 in the wild ...

I’ve actually featured the Corpse Reviver No. 2 before, along with a delightfully horrifying box from a wonderful craftsman who is sadly no longer with us now.  Follow the link for more on that one and a look back at Phil Tomlinson’s Always Empty Box.  I think it’s time to revisit the original, No. 1.  This Corpse Reviver also came with a message from Harry Craddock, who explained it was “To be taken before 11 a.m., or whenever steam and energy are needed.”  I’ll add a disclaimer that drinking at all, let alone a drink this strong, is not really the best idea for getting you through the day.  But history calls, and we must answer!  The Corpse Reviver No. 1 is a bracing mix of cognac, apple brandy, and sweet vermouth.  To that I’ve added a bit of Becherovka, the delicious herbal liqueur from Carlsbad in the Czech Republic.  Some describe this mysterious mix made from twenty herbs and botanicals as “Christmas in a glass”, so it adds a seasonal spin to this classic.  Finally I added a dash of Bittermen’s Hellfire Bitters, for added kick.  I’m sure Lara Croft would approve.  Here’s to Mayan tombs, hidden treasures, reanimated corpses and resurrected recipes.  Cheers!

If this doesn't revive you nothing will

Corpse Reviver No. 1 c. 1930
(Tomb Raider edition)

1 oz cognac
½ oz apple brandy
½ oz sweet vermouth
½ oz Becherovka
2 dashes Bittermen’s Hellfire Bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into an undead chalice. Imbibe if you are out of extra lives…

Thrilling adventure awaits with this pair

For more about Benno Baatsen:

For the Corpse Reviver No. 2:

Saturday, December 8, 2018

What's in Your Wallet?

The allure of a secret is something I’ve written about a few times before.  The complex psychology of a secret is one of the many things that draws people to puzzle boxes with hidden compartments and camouflaged mechanism.  I love being able to pass these puzzles on to unsuspecting passersby, nonchalantly, as if all were ordinary.  It helps to have something handy, some personal effect, perhaps with a functional capacity.  A business card holder, for example, would be perfect.   I keep Peter Wiltshire’s “Open for Business” box on my desk at work, ready for unsuspecting solicitors.  I carry cards around in Eric Fuller’s Cartesian Wallet (designed by Akio Yamamoto), which unfolds to a single piece of leather and is delightfully deceptive.  And now I have a new wallet with which to befuddle and befriend.

Saifu Box by Jesse Born

Jesse Born is full of interesting ideas and he has produced another beautiful piece of work.  He understands the attraction of an item which can be carried and used day to day, with a secret. He wanted to create a card holder, for business or credit cards, that was small enough to actually fit in your pocket.  He also had a rather unusual idea for how it would open.  Jesse is obsessed with perfection and created fifteen separate prototypes for what would become the “Saifu Box”, a nod to the Japanese heritage of yosegi marquetry which adorns some of Jesse’s work.  The name says it all – Saifu means “wallet” or “purse” in Japanese.  There’s another meaning, too.  Jesse honed his skills and shrunk the components of the box down to make it about the size of an iphone, and pocket ready.

Just slide it open ...

Jesse uses beautiful exotic woods in his creations.  The Saifu Boxes are each made with a combination of Wenge, Purpleheart and Brazilian Cherry.  They are all different, using various combinations of the woods on the different components as well as the internal compartment.  There are also four movable keys on the front, which are covered with Jesse’s yosegi or come in brass.  The box is elegant and handsome.  It feels good in the hand.  And it’s impossible to open if you don’t know the secret.  It’s not so easy even if you DO know the secret!  It takes some practice to get it right, like any well acquired skill.  In some ways it’s rather fitting that this is the case, but I won’t tell you why.  You’ll have to experience it for yourself.  It’s very satisfying when it opens and provides an incredible flourish to the act of presenting a card to someone. 

Dead Man's Wallet by Darrin Ylisto

Reaching into my wallet, I found this recipe for a drink.  There’s a story here which I’ll share.  It’s a bit rude and insensitive, but has a redeeming quality.  The recipe comes from Darrin Ylisto, a well known bartender from New Orleans who can be found shaking it up at the famed Sylvain bar in the French Quarter.  Ylisto has a story of his own – he obtained his law degree from Tulane and was unhappily practicing law until Hurricane Katrina hit, wiping out the city in 2005.  He took the opportunity to start over and is now happily doling out sage advice to his customers at Sylvain. 

Port and cinnamon are perfect for the season

He relates the tale of an old man who left his wallet behind at the bar one night.  Looking for an ID in order to contact the man, Ylisto was shocked to see exactly how old the man was.  He announced, “He’ll probably be dead by the time we get this back to him”, then immediately felt bad about saying it.  To make amends to the karma gods, he created this drink in the man’s honor.  It’s a pleasing mix of rye and ruby port, a great combination for the winter months, with lemon and cinnamon syrup, which turns anything into a winter holiday drink.  I don’t know if the old man ever got his wallet back, or if he made it to his hundredth birthday after all, but I know you’ll enjoy this drink.  Here’s to good health, long life, warm spirits and merry companions.  Cheers!

Don't forget your wallet(s)

Dead Man’s Wallet by Darrin Ylisto

1 ½ oz rye
¾ oz ruby port
½ oz lemon
1/3 oz cinnamon syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. 

For more about Jesse Born:

N.B.: The Saifu Box is still currently available as of this writing and can be acquired here:

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

I’ll never get tired of the whimsical, adorable creations of Japanese artist Osamu Kasho.  As he admits in his brief bio on the Karakuri Creation Group site, he embraces and cherishes playfulness in his work.  He also enjoys making and playing musical instruments such as the kalimbo, and he plays in a band. 

Sleep Lion by Osamu Kasho

His playfulness is on full display in his “Sleep Lion”, one of his best achievements yet.  The box is fashioned as a lion’s head, replete with magnificent mane and a large snout.  Like all of his animal creations, this lion looks like he came from a children’s book rather than the African veldt.  Kasho must have tired him out, too, because the lion appears to be sleeping, with very droopy eyelids.  The box is dynamic, and as you might have guessed, as you solve it, the lion might just wake up!  Watch out!  But don’t worry, he’s very friendly.  He’s tricky too, with a double dose of mischief.  Once you solve the initial opening sequence, there is a second sequence to find which allows you entry to the deeper chamber.  The box is beautifully crafted, lovely to hold, and looks adorable.  With two distinct aha moments hidden inside, this is one lion you’re going to want to tame.

It's n out-and-out delight

Since our objective here is to wake this lion, perhaps there is a cocktail which might help us along the way.  Twisting the lion’s tail might do the trick (if this lion had a tail …), and in fact there is a classic cocktail which is meant to do just that.  In the early twentieth century, the expression “twisting the lion’s tail” referred to a general American desire to provoke the British, whose royal coat of arms bears a lion on the crest.  World War II saw the ultimate joining of forces and solidified the friendship between the two nations for good.  But in-between the World Wars, the feeling remained, as evidenced by a Prohibition era cocktail called the “Lion’s Tail” published in the Café Royal Cocktail Book.  This rare tome was compiled by William J. Tarling in 1937 London, and the drink is ascribed to either him or an unnamed American expat.

Lion's Tail c. 1937

What’s unusual about this drink is that although it is bourbon based, it is otherwise distinctly from the tiki canon, thanks to the signature ingredient, Allspice Dram.  Also called pimento dram or allspice liqueur, this cinnamon, clove and nutmeg flavored spirit was a mainstay in the tiki bars of the fifties but disappeared off American shelves in the eighties when it was no longer being imported.  Like many lost and obscure ingredients, it has been revived and is easy to find.  Making it fun to poke, prod and otherwise provoke the sleeping lion, once again.  Cheers!

Bring out the lion tamer in you

Sleeping Lion (adapted from the original c. 1937)

2 oz bourbon
½ allspice dram
½ oz lime
½ oz cranberry liqueur
1 dash Angostura bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  It’s best garnished with a citrus wheel – I ain’t lion.

It's a jungle out there

For more about Osamu Kasho:
Wolves at the Door
Blast Off -Part I
Time for Tequila

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Endeavors to Preserve

I’ve been meaning to write about this box for quite a while but haven’t gotten around to it until now, it seems.  I don’t know why I have been resisting it … it’s not as though I have been idle, or sluggish.  Whatever the reason, something has now forced me to share it with you.

IRMO box by Eric Fuller

If you are lucky, you have seen this gorgeous box in the wild for yourself.  Perfectly sized to fit comfortably in the hand, the IRMO box by North Carolina craftsman and free spirit Eric Fuller utilizes a unique locking mechanism which he invented in a moment of true inspiration.  The box is beautifully crafted from red paduak wood and has maple accents.  There are a few subtle movements of the panels, what appears to be a lid, and a distinctive circular script reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings inscribed on the bottom panel. Perhaps a clue?  Speak, friend, and enter … 

So mysterious ...

The production value of this box is incredible, from the beautiful wood choices, to the evocative elvin script, to the hidden mechanism which is also a thing of beauty and a work of art on its own.  Fuller has artistically encased the workings in acrylic to allow you to marvel at it once solved, but photos would give it away.  The clue might have you trying some odd things.  For example, I once reached out to a friend and fellow puzzler who I know had solved this one already.  He’s a bloke who enjoys being puzzled, apparently.  I mentioned that I had been literally running around with it, trying to solve it.  He offered the brilliant insight that he, on the other hand, preferred to sit while solving his copy.  It was good advice.  The IRMO box won a first prize at the 28th International Puzzle Design Competition.

Newton's Special c. 1930

For no particular reason I decided to pair this marvelous mystery box with a classic cocktail found in the original Savoy Cocktail Book, which has been called the “coolest book in the world”.  It was penned by famed bartender Harry Cradock, who developed his cocktail skills in America.  He returned to his London home in the 1930’s during Prohibition and set up shop as head barman of the swanky style emporium, The American Bar at The Savoy Hotel.  His cocktail book was his one and only compendium of all things Art Deco and the amazing drinks of the day, many of which he was credited for inventing.  The American Bar remains the oldest running bar in London today and continues to garner acclaim, being recently named “Best Bar in the World”, again.  One cool cocktail from the original cool cocktail bar for this award winningly cool cryptic container, coming right up.  Cheers!

Try apple brandy this time of year for an "Especially Newton's Special"

Newton’s Special from the Savoy Cocktail Book c. 1930

1 ½ oz Brandy
½ oz Cointreau
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Lime twist.

You won't have to force yourself to enjoy this pair

For more about Eric Fuller see:
Candid Cam-era
Separation Anxiety
The Small Things

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Pure Genie-us

The Book of One Thousand and One Teeth, or, the Tales of the Australian Nights …

Genie Bottle by Stephen Chin

Sometimes, it’s rather useful to have a genie lamp handy.  It may not actually produce any genies, or grant wishes, but you never know.  Stephen Chin, the master of the lathe, worked some impressive magic with his “Ze Genie Bottle”, which he produced for the 2017 International Puzzle Party.  From a six inch length of three by three wood he created each genie bottle, plus an impossible trapped ring stand, four napkin rings which can be joined into two oloids, and a bottle stopper tippee top whistle.  He is passionate about wood conservation and hates wood waste.  It’s startling to learn just how much wood is wasted from the lathe process, so all these little extra efforts at conservation are remarkable.  Plus, each puzzle comes with bonus gifts!

This genie is summoned by a whistle

Ze Genie Bottle is a beautifully turned object.  The stem appears to be separate from the body, which has a nice little gem on the front.  I wonder why?  Probably just decorative.  Mine is really shiny from rubbing it so much.  I’m still trying to get the genie to come out – Stephen promised me it makes breakfast.  If you persevere, a sweet little treasure might actually appear, and this would seem to be the endgame.  For those highly observant overachievers, however, Stephen has left another clue which may lead you to discover how to completely disassemble the puzzle as well.   Deep inside there are a few grooves and slots (known as “rebates” in the lingo) which were made possible through the sacrifice of four dental drills.  There are some sad teeth out there mourning the loss. It’s a classic Chin puzzle, elegant, beautifully made and fun.  He promises one day to make the deluxe version, with flashing lights, and a levitating Lego genie who really does make breakfast.

Gin Genie by Wayne Collins

I discovered the perfect tipple with which to toast this marvelous puzzle in the Difford’s guide, that classic compendium of all drinks new and old.  It comes from Wayne Collins, the celebrated bartender from London’s East End who has won Bartender of the Year four times in a row at Tales of the Cocktail.  He’s famous for his larger than life personality and storytelling.  

Sloe gin is wonderful this time of year

His Gin Genie cocktail, which was named after the David Bowie song “Jean Genie” (very clever), won Drinks International’s cocktail challenge in 2001.  It’s the perfect combination of gins, lemon and mint.  Anything with sloe gin is a winner this time of year and it adds a pleasant pop of color for the fall.  Now, if I can just get my Genie Bottle to make me one of these.  Cheers!

A magical pair

Gin Genie by Wayne Collins

1 ½ oz London Dry gin
1 oz sloe gin
1 oz fresh lemon
½ oz simple syrup
8 mint leaves

Muddle the mint gently then shake the ingredients together with ice.  Strain into a favorite glass, close your eyes, and make three wishes.

For more from Stephen Chin:
Fruits of Labor
The Fraulein's Fall

Saturday, November 10, 2018


“The brain is a muscle that can move the world.” – Stephen King, Firestarter

Shane Hales has been busy.  He started his own locksmithing company this past year, Haleslocks LTD, and if you are fortunate enough to live within a five mile radius or so of him, you should probably avail yourself of his services.  I can’t imagine anyone better to secure your home and valuables.  At the same time, somehow, he has continued to pursue his puzzling hobby as well.  Over the years Shane has created a number of devious and mysterious wooden puzzles, and more recently, a series of puzzle locks.  He loves to restore old and vintage locks, and knows the fascinating history of his craft.  It’s no wonder he comes up with such intriguing and clever mechanisms.

HalesLock 5 "Firestarter" by Shane Hales

HalesLock 5 also has a special name, the “Fire Starter”.  This is no accident, for a few reasons.  One of them, according to Shane, can be blamed on Allard Walker, who introduced Shane's HalesLock 4 to the world by saying that "Shane had made a HalesLock 1, 2, and 3, so this new one must be called ...."  Shane was determined his next would have a proper name.  I imagined the Fire Starter would be made from ferrocerium, an iron metal alloy known for producing showers of hot sparks used to ignite a fire.  (I didn’t really, but that would have been cool.) In reality it’s just as cool, an unusual cylindrical “TOTEM” lock from the Italian company Viro.  It seems appropriate to have made a puzzle lock from one of these, since the very name of the company, Vi.Ro., is itself a puzzling acronym of the founder’s name, Vincenzo Rossetti.  

The central idea for the Fire Starter came to Shane in a moment of cosmic inspiration, like the apple falling on Newton's head.  The cylindrical lock literally rolled off of his workbench one day and smashed him on the foot.  Eureka!  Apparently, Shane enjoys pain.  The lock fits nicely in the hand and is made from solid tempered steel with a nickel plating finish.  There is another cool feature, a rotating “burglar-resistant” anti-drill plate which only allows access to the keyhole at certain rotations.  Unlike prior Hales Locks, which merely beg to be unlocked, there is more to this one.  There are actually two sections to this lock, and each must be opened to fully solve the puzzle, release the trapped ring, and find Shane’s signature.  He’s tricky, which we love, but he’s also a really nice guy, which we also love.  He has provided some hints for solving, if you are paying attention and can interpret them.  Firestarter is immensely satisfying because it progresses in stages, giving up one secret at a time and revealing more as it develops.  In fact, this is a sequential discovery puzzle lock.  I’m not alone in saying it’s the best Hales Lock yet.

It will start a fire in your brain

Now for something smooth and sophisticated to sip on.  We want to keep our wits about us with this one, so we’ll rely on an industry secret, the bartender’s late night last call, a “low ABV” cocktail.  Low ABV, or “alcohol by volume”, refers to a cocktail with low alcohol content.  It’s a perfect idea when you’ve had enough already, want to keep things mellow, or have a particularly tricky puzzle to solve. To achieve this the drink usually foregoes the typical base spirit, such as bourbon or gin, which often start out at 40% ABV (80 proof) and can be even higher.  Instead, such drinks rely on lower proof spirits like fortified wines, Amaris, and liqueurs, which clock in at 16-20% ABV. 

Sure Fire by Michael McCollum

This toast comes from one of the more storied bars in modern times, in a roundabout way.  It starts in a tiny, hidden bar tucked away in the East Village of New York City which opened on January 1, 2000.  The bar, Milk and Honey, and it’s celebrated owner Sasha Petraske, had twenty seats, an obscure reservations only system, and launched a cocktail renaissance around the world.  In 2012 the bar changed hands and became Attaboy, run by Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy from Milk and Honey.  Attaboy has had it’s own share of fame, and now has a second location in Nashville, Tennessee, where our story concludes.  There are no menus at these bars, a style the Attaboy folks retained from the original Milk and Honey.  Ask for a low ABV cocktail with amaro, and you might just receive, as I did at Attaboy Nashville, the Sure Fire, which includes the incredibly satisfying combination of Nardini, a chocolatey, citrusy Italian amaro, Punt E Mes (a bittersweet vermouth), and amontillado sherry.  
Low ABV, high flavor and satisfaction

I couldn’t find the elusive Nardini so adapted with the similarly flavored Averna and tweaked the chocolate notes with a little Tempis Fugit Crème de Cacao.  I used Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, another subtle modification.  Sherry is another fortified wine which was historically relegated to the cheap seats but has taken on a new life lately with lots of interest in the cocktail scene.   There are many, many varieties.  Amontillado is more robust and aged longer than the typically drier fino style, but is not a sweet style like Pedro Ximenez.   It works perfectly in this drink.  Here’s to slow burning fires of creativity and the imagination.  Cheers!

This pair is sure to spark your interest

Sure Fire by Michael McCollum

1 oz Amaro Nardini (or sub ¾ oz Averna and ¼ oz Crème de Cacao)
1 oz Punt E Mes vermouth
1 oz Amontillado sherry

Stir ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Garnish with an orange peel flame and enjoy … slowly.

For more about Shane Hales:
HalesLocks LTD
Hales Puzzles
Locks and Libations
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Saturday, November 3, 2018

Of Mice and Men and Mazes

“Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.” – John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

Maybe.  Times like these make me wonder.  What’s the point of writing about puzzle boxes and cocktails in a world gone mad.  It seems pretty useless and unimportant.  But I guess it’s just what I do to keep my sanity.  Something I look forward to, and know others enjoy as well.   Our hobbies help us navigate the maze. 

Of Mice and Mazes by Thomas Beutner

Dr. Thomas Beutner is an aerospace engineer who has worked with the Navy and the Department of Defense for many years.  Simultaneously, he has been a woodworker for twenty five years, honing and refining his skills, and bringing his intelligent and clever ideas to life.  One idea that has stuck him as very satisfying is the idea of a puzzle inside a puzzle box.  A metapuzzle, if you will.  I doubt he would need to argue the merits and appeal of this concept to most of us who enjoy this sort of thing, and he is perfectly suited to engineering this type of design, so to speak.  Past efforts include his “Puzzle in a Puzzle Box” and “Pyramid in a Box”, both of which are ball stacking puzzles contained within puzzle boxes themselves.  Beutner adds that these puzzles may have been more complicated and difficult than many care for, but the idea of the puzzle in a puzzle box stuck with him.  

Another puzzle waits inside

As fate would have it, he came across a rather unusual deck of cards.  Each card face has a clever maze drawn into the details of the numbers and suits.  Even more interestingly, the entire deck is also a metapuzzle, with one card leading to another, starting with one Joker and ending fifty three cards later with the other.  What a perfectly puzzling item to place inside a puzzle box!  Beutner hit on the theme of a mouse trapped in a maze and created something rather unique.  His “Of Mice and Mazes” is a delightful puzzle box, “easier” to solve according to him than his others, but that is always a relative concept.  He is clearly a puzzler’s puzzler.  He has added a number of elements to this box which are purely meant to confuse and distract, and they certainly work well.  He comments that he has watched well-seasoned puzzlers struggle to find the first move on this box, while those with no experience get it immediately.  Perhaps that is a hint, but no matter – we are all victims of our own cleverness.  He says he learns something about his hobby from each new puzzle he makes.  The tolerances for this box were demanding, for example, and required new precision.  The locking mechanism is also unique, not seen before on any prior box.  It’s truly marvelous and works perfectly with the box as a whole concept.  I would go so far as to say he has created a new classic.

The White Mouse by Benoit Provost

Here’s another new classic with which to toast this metapuzzle, and another mouse adept at navigating the maze.  Nancy Wake was a secret agent, French resistance fighter, and special forces operative for the Allied defenses in World War II.  She was so adept at thwarting the Nazi efforts and evading capture that she became known by the Gestapo as the “White Mouse”.  In one of her most daring escapades, after parachuting into occupied France, she helped lead a group of 7,000 soldiers against an army of 22,000 German soldiers to victory.  She received innumerable honors and awards of distinction after the war from around the world, becoming the Allies most highly decorated servicewoman and hero.

An heroic drink

In her later years she settled in London and took up residence at the Stafford Hotel in St. James Place, a former British and American forces club during the war.  She was known to enjoy her regular gin and tonic first thing every morning, sitting at her reserved bar stool at the hotel’s elegant American Bar.  In honor of her death in 2011, at the ripe age of 98, Benoit Provost, the bar’s manager, created a signature drink, which has become the most popular item on the menu.  The “White Mouse” cocktail features saffron infused gin, lemon, honey-rosemary syrup and champagne.  It’s elusive, deliciously complex, inspiring, and devastatingly effective.  Here’s to the brave heroes who fight during dark days and inspire us to find our way out of the maze.

An amazing pair of mice

The White Mouse by Benoit Provost

1 oz saffron infused gin
½ oz fresh lemon
½ oz rosemary honey syrup

Shake gin, lemon and syrup together with ice and strain into a festive glass.  Top with champagne and garnish with twist.