Saturday, August 11, 2018

Party Time


Surprise!  Perhaps it comes as no such thing that I am featuring this particular puzzle in this week’s post.  Predictably I do seem to enjoy highlighting this craftsman’s creations around this time of year.  His Big Ben, from a few years back, is still one of my all-time favorites.  I even made a special cocktail to toast it with and celebrate its prize procuring status.  Last year we joined him on a virtual tour of the Louvre to find an itty-bitty purloined painting, and before that, made a long distance phone call (for help picking the lock on his diabolical telephone box).

Birthday Surprise by Brian Young

This year we join Brian Young (aka Mr. Puzzle) and his wife Sue for a merry surprise, as only he can deliver.  The “Birthday Surprise” is a very limited edition, sequential discovery puzzle box which holds a surprising reward, should you be clever enough to find it, perfectly protected inside.  Like most of his prime puzzles, it is crafted from indigenous Queensland woods (Blackbean, Silver Ash and Blackbutt) which are arranged as identical adjoined halves and decorated with contrasting stripes of dark brown and white.  On the top piece there is a laser etching of a festive tiered birthday cake, and it is all held firmly together by four imposing brass bolts.  Which twist and turn in your grip pleasantly but do not loosen.  There is perceptible, perhaps, something going on, which becomes apparent with these bolts, but not the helpful something of unscrewing. 

Baffling bolts of brass

The story of the Birthday Surprise begins with a different puzzle, the “Three Wise Bolts”, which Brian initially imagined over three years ago (after watching an engineering video on the internet, the ultimate source for private puzzling inspiration).  He took that idea and developed it into a workable, fantastically clever puzzle.  Around that time he was approached to contribute to the mysterious “Jabberwocky” international puzzle project, a themed chest of incredibly profound proportion filled with contributions from fifteen artists around the world who remained tight-lipped about the proceedings.  He modified his three bolt design into a cube with four bolts to satisfy the Jabberwocky size and shape requirements, and gave each half of the cube the hallmark striped shirts and brown pants of Tweedledum & Tweedledee, his theme for the project.  Those original cubes bear a laser etching of their namesakes on the top and bottom, and have yet to see light of day in the completed Jabberwocky chest, which remains a mysterious beast only occasionally spotted in the wilds of England, possibly drinking from a teacup.  Picture perfect in every way, Tweedledum & Tweedledee luckily slipped into the 2017 International Puzzle Design Competition and garnered a Top Ten Vote honor.

Tweedletea and Tweedlerum

Enough time has rippled past that Brian decided to complete and release the remaining stock of T&T puzzles, albeit with a flipped theme, to keep the original Jabberwocky puzzles undiluted and unique.  The striped layers of the puzzle reminded him of a layered birthday cake, and the “surprise” inside just seemed to jump out at him after that - use your imagination, please (perhaps use his).  The surprise serves as an excellent incentive to get those damn bolts off.  It is otherwise an identical puzzle production to Tweedledum & Tweedledee, which is to say a wonderfully fun puzzle, with a few nice moments of discovery and understanding, and an incredibly satisfying “aha” moment at the end.  Brian claims that the first few bolts should not be a hardship, promising that the real challenge lies with the last one.  So of course it did not take me a week to get the first bolt off.  Off course not.  This perfect puzzle is also a likely indicator of how legendary the Jabberwocky chest is going to be, and acts as a little teaser to keep the myth (and myth maker) going.

Chai tea and rum - sipping never had it so good

As with the award winning Big Ben before it, I’ve created a special cocktail to toast the Birthday Surprise, with a nod to the original.  The “Tweedletea & Tweedlerum” is a simple and effective riff on the classic daiquiri, one of my favorite drinks.  A (good) daiquiri is equipped with the perfect combination of rum, lime and sugar, shaken with ice profusely, poured.  Nothing more, nothing less.  It was favored by inspired past personalities such as Hemingway and it instilled pregame pluck in Jack and Jaqueline Kennedy on election night as the ballots were tallied.  In this version, the rum is split between a solid white using Plantation Silver (a blend of Caribbean rums with Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad in the mix, and perfect for daiquiris) and a flavorful amber using Denizen’s Merchant Reserve, a funky blend of pot still aged rums from Jamaica and Martinique.  These two halves of the whole create a wonderful balance.  The sugar comes from a Chai spiced tea syrup, which is delicious as well.  But any rum and tea syrup combination will work, if you find yourself in need of recreating this drink and making a toast yourself.  Here’s to inventive puzzling pairs, beguiling bolts, wonderful wood, auspicious Aussies and great gatherings.  Cheers!

A pleasant potion and puzzle partnership pairing

Tweedletea and Tweedlerum

1 oz white rum (such as Plantation 3 Star)
1 oz dark rum (such as Denizen’s Merchant Reserve)
1 oz fresh lime
½ oz tea syrup

Shake together with ice and strain into a favorite glass (or tea cup).  Garnish with a little lime wheel fellow.  Imbibe pleasurably.

Previously from Brian Young:

Prior intoxicatingly pleasant potions:

p.s. In case it slipped past you, there is an informal puzzle penned into the page's prose.   I posit very few can pinpoint all of the permutations properly.  Three Wise Bolts to the premier proof of perfect perceptiveness. Hints provided upon request.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

T - Party


It's high time for a journey, don't you think?  Perhaps a little mystery trip, to an undisclosed destination, to meet some puzzling people.  It sounds like fun, right?  It seems apropos to have a little road trip theme for this week’s offering.  Let’s hop in the car, boat, train, plane or rocket ship, and set off, shall we? 

T-Cupe by Rocky Chiarro

We’ve been on many trips together before, such as the sailing trip we took to Southern destinations to see the Stickman Cross Box and Gatewood’s Double Cross Box, and the outer space journey we took aboard the fastest manned rocket in history (the X-15) to see the ringed planets, but we’ve never ridden in an elegant all brass automobile.  Rocco Chiarro, best known as “Rocky”, is well known for his home made puzzles of solid brass which he hand mills in his Colorado workshop.  His cleverly named interlocking puzzles, take apart bolts, and key puzzles each provide a new and unique challenge.   Rocky has spent a lifetime with his hobby, getting his puzzle making start as a machinist in the Navy.  He relates that his first puzzle ever was an eight piece interlocking block which he created simply to practice his skills while stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1950.  It didn't stay together - it took another thirty years for him to create a version with a central locking pin.  It was around that time that he chanced upon an add in a woodworking magazine for "Puzzles Wanted".  He answered it on a whim, sending his design to none other than Jerry Slocum, who loved it.  That was when his hobby became his second act, and his "retirement" turned into his "Brass Puzzles by Rocky" which are prized by collectors around the world.

Don't be cranky

He has made a few secret opening “boxes” as well over the years, including this impressive replica of a Model T.  Rocky relates that one day, while standing around the pool table with his buddies, sharing stories of old cars, the idea came up and they requested he make a car puzzle.  With Rocky, he first envisions what the puzzle should be, and the solution.  Only then will he decide on the mechanics of how it should be done.  Once he knows these crucial details, he will start to make the puzzle.  For this car puzzle project, he reminisced back to when he was fifteen years old, and had his first driver’s license.  It was 1945, during the end of the second World War.  He recalled Ford Model A’s and Model T’s, and decided he would make a replica of the 1923 Model T Coupe.  Rocky also copyrights the names he gives all of his puzzles.  He chose “T-Cupe” for this one, for obvious reasons, and so as not to infringe on the original by altering the spelling slightly.  The T-Cupe is a marvelous creation, with tiny details and many moving parts.  The opening sequence is delightful and clever, and won’t leave you kicking the tires for too long.  It’s one stylish ride.

Model T from Backbar, Detroit

To launch the start of this journey we will toast with the Model T as well, the signature Manhattan variation at Backbar in Detroit Michigan.  The drink pays homage to the bar’s history, housed inside the region’s first Ford dealership built in 1921.  It’s a classic cocktail for a classic automobile, made all the more special because of Detroit’s claim to American automobile history.  The additional touches of Chartreuse and allspice add just the right twist to make this into something intriguingly new while remaining satisfyingly familiar.  It’s a great way to start a journey.  Safe travels and, in the cheerful words of Rocky Chiarro, “Be Good Have Fun, Always Puzzling” - Cheers!

 
A true classic

Model T – Backbar, Detroit

1 ¾ oz Bourbon blend (orig w Jim Bean Black)
¾ oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
½ oz Yellow Chartreuse

Stir with ice and strain into a favorite glass which has been spritzed with clove-infused rum (or simply swirl some allspice liqueur or bitters in the glass). Garnish with a bourbon cherry or a lime wedge automobile.  Cheers!


I hate to T's you ... its just auto-matic 

For more about Rocco Chiarro see:
Brass Puzzles by Rocky

For prior Manhattan variations see:
Perfect Duets
Heartbeat
Wolves at the Door

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Cabinet of Wonders


And now for something a little different than usual, and more than a little unique.  This might take some time, so sit back and enjoy it.  Typically my references to “boxes” and “booze” relate to a secret opening box which is paired with a cocktail.  Occasionally, the puzzle box also has some drink related theme to it, (such as Kamei’s Whiskey Bottle, or Kakuda’s SpringNight) making it an ultimate boxes and booze box.  And some bottles of booze (usually of the fancier variety) actually come inside a wooden box, making them a box of booze.  If we scale that idea up exponentially, we might consider the entire liquor cabinet to be a giant box of booze. 

it's such an ... escutcheon

A few months ago, if you happened to be visiting headquarters and the spirit moved you, you would find yourself steered toward a beautiful old armoire style cabinet which was painted black and had decorative white flowers and a see through mesh which revealed a few choice bottles.  You would probably not notice, as you marveled at the heavy contents, that it all rested on two delicately turned tapered feet. Over the years and many, many moves, these feet had each broken off, and eventually refused to stay glued on anymore.  The cabinet was literally resting (dare I say “teetering”?) on these precarious pegs, which fit flush so that it was not at all obvious they were not truly connected.  Of course, the obvious thing to do would be to fill such a cabinet full to bursting with heavy bottles of alcohol and fragile crystal stemware.  Especially if one couldn’t be bothered to recall the state of affairs of the construction of said cabinet. 

One for old times sake

Such a nice cabinet.  A few months ago, you would have seen it.  Up until the day it came crashing down, sending scores of crystal glasses, vases, shelving and bottles smashing down onto the hardwood floors and sending my poor wife into shock.  I came home, imagining a biblical flood of booze running through my dining room, but was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the bottles had survived, although all of the glassware was gone.  After the epic cleanup I made a brandy smash to commemorate the occasion.  That was it for the old cabinet – we had one last laugh watching a man who volunteered to take it away hoist it handily onto the top of his little car.

Brandy smash

If you visit now, you will find an even larger, very, very sturdy oak cabinet, filled entirely with bottles.  The (remaining) glassware has been moved elsewhere.  It’s a very handsome cabinet, which rests squarely on the floor (no feet this time), although it had one minor flaw.  No lock.  A lock might seem counterproductive, depending on your point of view, but with teenagers about, it’s at least a deterrent and the responsible thing to do.  I had to install a lock.  So of course, the rational approach was to make this project as complicated as possible.  Short of a true puzzle liquor cabinet, with a secret opening door and hidden internal compartments for the dusty bottles (a guy can dream, can’t he?), the next best thing would be to install a trick lock.  Obviously.  I contacted my certified master locksmith, an English fellow named Shane Hales, and described the problem.  Over the course of a few weeks of back and forth, he had come up with an idea, and a little while later I was in possession of a custom Haleslock cabinet lock. 

Haleslock Cabinet Lock 1

Shane had found an antique Chubb cabinet lock complete with a set of keys.  Chubb is a rather famous English lock maker and I’m sure Shane is fond of these old locks.  The story goes that in 1817, counterfeit keys were used to break into the Portsmouth Dockyards, and in response the British government issued a competition, the ground breaking idea to design a lock which could only be opened with its own key! It seems hard to believe this was not always the case.  Jeremiah Chubb won the competition (for 100 Guineas) and patented his “Detector Lock” in 1818, notable for being impossible to pick and only opening with its dedicated key.  It would also “detect” any attempt at being picked by raising an alert lever should this occur and locking it into place.  

Vintage Chubb

The cabinet lock which Shane modified for my liquor cabinet is thankfully not one of these old treasures, which would be a shame to modify.  It’s more modern, produced after 1937 when the company stopped stamping serial numbers on the locks, but still vintage, and he has turned it into a modern treasure.  It’s a brass mortise cabinet lock with a dedicated notched key, and as you might have deduced, turning the key in the lock does not produce the desired effect of unlocking the bolt.  There are a few rather clever tricks he has introduced to keep out thirsty bandits, made even more obscure once the lock was embedded inside the cabinet door.

More than just his signature has been added ...

Installing the lock into the cabinet required finding a carpenter with the routing skills and interest in making it work.  But ultimately the Haleslock Cabinet Lock came to life and is now a unique part of the Boxes and Booze repository (aka liquor cabinet).  Should any liquor liquidators or beverage bandits be so brash as to purloin the proper key, it will appear that this old lock is broken, stuck, and simply won’t give up the goods.  Just in case you are worrying that said progeny (I mean, burglars) are as clever as ol’ Dad, and given enough time might simply solve the baffling bolt, fear not.  There is also a hidden electromagnetic lock I installed which requires a radiofrequency keycard.  Obviously.

The Locksmith

Shane admits that he will drink most anything, but given a choice it might steer toward a nice whiskey.  I’ve made him a truly special drink for the occasion, which features another surprising and unique element worthy of his one of a kind cabinet lock.  The drink is a variation of the Old Fashioned, in homage to the vintage lock.  This one uses a fine single malt Scotch, although a nice bourbon will work just as well, and an Earl Grey tea syrup for a little sweetness.  Shane is an Englishman, after all.  But the bitters, an essential component of any great Old fashioned, are what really make this particular drink special.  

Stickman Bitters No.1

Stickman Bitters, No.1, the real star of this drink, were created by none other than the Renaissance man himself, Robert Yarger.  Rob dabbles in all things homemade, including distilling his own gin.  He has an extensive garden full of aromatics, botanicals and herbs, a workshop full of wood, a rudimentary chemistry set up and he’s a bit of a mad scientist.  It’s the perfect combination for making bitters.  

A good old fashioned drink

Bitters have been a staple in cocktails since the cocktail was invented, and in fact likely led to the invention of cocktails.  They were originally developed by pharmacists in the 1800’s as cure-alls and elixirs to calm a queasy belly, made with proprietary formulas of herbs, flowers, fruit peels, roots and plant bark infused in alcohol and usually including a bitter flavoring agent.  Patrons would have a dose as is, or more likely mixed with water.  Perhaps they were so bitter that some sugar would be added, and what the heck, a dram of proper booze as well for good measure. Viola, a cocktail was born.  This is, pure and simple, the recipe for an Old Fashioned.  I’ve discussed bitters many times before, such as with the Stickman ApothecaryChest, and also with the absurd and obscene true origin tale of the term “cocktail”.

Nothing puzzling about it - these bitters are incredible

For Stickman Bitters No. 1, Rob blended the many tinctures he had created from his garden (and woodshop) until he hit on the perfect balance, merging the complimentary top, middle and base flavors in the final bitters together.  His own blend of Stickman gin, which itself contains about twelve different botanical, spice and plant ingredients, serves as the complex backdrop for the bitters, into which he infused flavors from about fourteen further spices, roots, plants, flowers, fruits and even wood.  The amazingly complex proprietary secret formula is locked away inside one of his most challenging puzzle boxes, one that can only be opened from the inside.  Okay, I made that last part up but you have to create mythology around these kind of things, right?  The final product is a potent, spiced, citrusy experience with layers of interesting flavors that evolve on the palate.   These bitters are fantastic in an Old Fashioned and add an incredibly special highlight to this toast.  Here’s to making things more complicated than they could have been, more interesting than they would have been, and as perfect as they should have been.  Thank you Shane and Rob – Cheers!

A toast to the craftsmen

The Locksmith

2 oz whiskey
¼ oz Earl Grey tea syrup (or simply soak a turbinado sugar cube with the tea)
2 dashes Stickman Bitters No. 1 (or substitute Angostura aromatic bitters if you have run out of SB)

Stir together over ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a citrus peel.

For more about Shane Hales:

For more about Robert Yarger:
http://www.stickmanpuzzlebox.com/
Favorite Things
Doing a Good Ternary

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Four Goodness Sake


A few weeks ago I featured a new puzzle box design from a brilliant craftsman who lives “downunder” by way of Japan – Juno Yananose.  I started the piece out with a little color commentary on my style of writing in general, which is essentially always complimentary.  I realized too late that the obvious conclusion would be that I didn’t really think Juno’s puzzle was superior but I’m just nice anyway.  A good friend pointed out to me that it sounded that way.  The reality is that I was simply responding to a conversation I had recently, just prior to writing that particular piece, about how many collectors heap unnecessary praise on creations which may not really be so amazing.  Keep in mind this was the perspective from a few of the craftspeople in the conversation, who I insisted were being too modest about their amazing work.  My perspective is one of admiration, and that is what I was trying to get across in that past post.  It had nothing to do with the actual puzzle I was featuring that week, Juno’s Ixia Box, which I honestly think is an amazing and clever design. 
Juno, here’s more praise in your direction, with no ambiguous language.  

Quartet Box by Juno Yananose

The follow up puzzle to the Ixia Flower Box also utilizes the cutoffs from other productions that Juno hated to waste.  He created little flowers on the Ixia box with them, and he created outright gears for the Quartet Box.  The four gears, crafted from eight species of exotic wood, align perfectly on top of the box and turn all together as might be expected. But that will be the only aspect of this puzzle which will behave as expected.  The remaining box, made from Burmese Teak, Jarrah, and Koto, will slowly start to move in the most unexpected and delightful ways.  There’s really no other box quite like it, and it took years from inception to execution according to Juno, due to the need for a precision CNC router to ensure it would have the proper motion.  Like his other boxes, Juno has added a few layers to this one, and there is even a sequential discovery element required for the finale, which is again, brilliant and satisfying.  Quartet Box is arguably Juno’s best and most beautiful so far, and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

This quartet of finely wrought gears will have your head spinning

The Australian gears were spinning when I paired a potion to toast the Quartet Box.  I immediately thought of the classic four equal parts cocktail, the Last Word.  It’s a cocktail that begs to be played with and modified – there are literally hundreds of variations out there.  The original dates back to 1920’s at the Detroit Athletic Club, where a local bartender created and named it after a popular vaudeville comedian famous for his long show ending monologues.  It was resurrected in 2005 when Seattle based bartender Murray Stenson put it on the menu, and it became an instant hit, all over again.  I’ve created many variations on these pages in the past, and here’s one more, and it won’t be the last … word. 

The Pavlova cocktail

The original calls for equal parts of gin, lime juice, green Chartreuse and Maraschino liqueur.  It’s a sophisticated sipper and worth a try if you have not.  For this Aussie variation I’ve taken a few of the flavors from the famous Australian dessert, the Pavlova, and mixed them into the glass.  The Pavlova also has its roots back in the 1920’s, when it was created in honor of the famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, during her tour of Australia and New Zealand.  The dessert is a light and delicious meringue cake topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit such as passionfruit, kiwi and berries.  For the cocktail, I’ve exchanged the cherry liqueur for a passionfruit syrup, switched lime for lemon juice, switched to yellow Chartreuse, and finally added some egg white for the meringue.  Shake one up if you’re down – under – or if you’re anywhere, actually, and want something delicious to drink.  It’s the last word in Aussie cocktails.  Cheers!

It looks good enough to eat!

The Pavlova

¾ oz gin
¾ oz lemon
¾ oz yellow Charteuse
¾ oz passionfruit syrup
½ oz egg white

Shake together without ice to froth then briefly with ice to chill.  Double strain into a favorite glass and garnish with fresh fruit.  Or Vegemite, I suppose.

A pair of Australian imports

For more about Juno Yananose:

For prior Last Word variations:
To the Lighthouse - Part II
What's Knot to Love?

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Pilgrim's Progress


Meanwhile, back at Boxes and Booze Headquarters … we’re sliding this beauty on over to Dad for some puzzle time.  Thomas Cummings is at it again with a new design based on an old classic.  Cumming’s clever creations to date have featured many varying styles of puzzle incorporated into the lid of each detailed box.  He uses different locking mechanisms and misdirection, and often throws a curve or two into the mix as well.  He adorns his boxes with vintage hardware and even vintage coins at times.  He enjoys scouring the history books for old ideas he can breathe new life into.  

Tile A While by Thomas Cummings

His newest creation, “Tile A While”, is based on the classic sliding tile puzzles patented in the early 1900’s by L.W. Hardy.  Hardy’s original design, which requires approximately 62 moves to solve, can be traced back to a 1909 patent.  An easier design, patented in 1912, substitutes two smaller square pieces for one of the longer rectangular pieces, and cuts the move count in half.  Cummings offers the puzzle in this version, citing the typical modern day attention span, or in the original, more tedious (more fun!) version, which he refers to as the “Meanwhile, Tile A While” version.  Who can resist a rhyming puzzle?  This classic has been given many names, but the two which seem most familiar are the “Dad’s Puzzle” and the “Pilgrim’s Progress”.  I’ve attached a few links to supporting documents at the end, and would be delighted if those with extensive sliding tile puzzle knowledge would add more info and any corrections in the comments. 

Dad's gonna love it

Of course, I mentioned that Cummings enjoys the unexpected curve ball in his puzzles, and there is more than meets the eye in this one as well.  Maneuvering the pieces properly into position (there are a few clues handy in case it’s not clear what needs to go where) does result in some progress, pilgrim, (and quite a bit of rattling) but like a bad Dad joke, you’re just getting started!  Cummings has taken a few of his older ideas and given them a new spin in this puzzle, which is really the best version of all those previous efforts, as nice as they still are.  It’s great fun and another winner from Eden Workx.   

The Pilgrim Cocktail by Dale DeGroff

To toast this modern retelling of an old classic, I’m doing the same with a perfect potion pairing.  Dale DeGroff, often referred to as “King Cocktail” and known as the man who coined the term “mixology”, helmed the bar at New York’s Rainbow Room at the turn of the modern century.  He ushered in the cocktail renaissance by reviving lost classics and returning the craft into craft cocktails.  Simple touches like freshly squeezed juices were unheard of when he began to insist on them.   He put his mark on new creations based on old ideas, like the “Pilgrim Cocktail”.

Three of my favorite bottles

The story goes, back in 1995 at the Rainbow Room, DeGroff had befriended the photo editors from the Associated Press, who worked across the street and would often have lunch at his bar.  He came up with this drink one Thanksgiving as a tribute to them.  As told by DeGroff’s wife Jill, it was bitter cold that day, so he warmed the cocktail, placed a batch in an insulated coffee pot, and in his distinctive red jacket made his way down from the top of the NBC building, across the crowds in Rockefeller Center to the Associated Press Building, back up the elevator to his friends, all while carrying the pot along with twelve stemmed glasses on a silver tray.  Keep in mind this is the most famous bartender in modern history.  But of course that sort of thing is what made him famous.  Here’s to pilgrim’s progress then and now, far and near, to the old and the new and the best of both.  Cheers!

These pilgrims make a fine pair

The Pilgrim’s Cocktail by Dale DeGroff

½ oz dark rum
½ oz light rum
½ oz orange curacao
2 oz fresh orange
½ oz fresh lime
¼ oz Allspice Dram
1 dash Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Can be served hot or cold.


For links to the Dad / Pilgrim’s Progress puzzle:

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Accidental Tourist


It’s summer, and that means vacations!  Following on the heels of last week’s bon bon voyage, here’s another travel themed treat to tempt your sense of adventure.  The Karakuri Creation Group’s annual theme based spring exhibition this year was on the theme of travel, which is a perfect fit for my own personal travels.  I’m even reading a book called “Less”, about a man on a journey. 

Bear gets ready by Yoh Kakuda

Yoh Kakuda makes wonderfully whimsical creations for the group, with boxes which almost always take the form of animals.  For the travel theme, Yoh chose a bear who is getting ready for a trip of his own.  Kakuda has captured the sense of anxiety we feel just before departure, as we scramble to make sure we have all the essentials – ID, ticket, keys, money, etc.  In “Bear gets ready”, our hero has his luggage all packed, his best coat and fine hat on, and is ready ….  But where is his ticket!  Where did he put his glasses?  And his pocket watch is missing – oh dear, perhaps he will miss the train!  This is an adorable puzzle box with very satisfying and humorous elements to the discovery.  I feel like he is now my own traveling good luck charm.  I’ll leave all the anxiety to him, and won’t misplace anything of my own.

All set ... now where did I place my glasses?

We will take our travels to South Africa for a change for a refreshing drink to wet the thirst for adventure.  This cocktail was a previous finalist in the prestigious Bacardi Legacy international cocktail competition.  It was created by innovative Cape Town bartender Nick Koumbarakis, who has said he enjoys the idea of “cross pollination of different sub cultures” and seeks to merge flavors and concepts in his cocktails.  Perhaps he would like the cross pollination of the puzzle and cocktail worlds as well.

The Tourist by Nick Koumbarakis

In his “The Tourist” cocktail, he starts his journey with the recognizable aroma of roasted El Salvador coffee beans, which to him evoke the memory of his father reading the morning newspaper, and lend a backbone of character and integrity to the drink.  His travels take him to Italy where he adds sweet vermouth and amaretto, then to India and Indonesia where exotic cardamom creates hints and memories, on to Greece for a tickle of saffron, and finally of course to Cuba by way of Puerto Rico with the spirit itself, Bacardi rum (no entry in the Bacardi Legacy competition is complete without it!).  I’ve recreated this delicious and fascinating cocktail to help the Bear get ready for his journey.  I suspect it will be richly rewarding.  Cheers!

World travel in a cup

The Tourist by Nick koumbarakis

7 dried cardamom pods
35 ml light white rum (I used Bacardi 8 which certainly changes the drink dramatically but was delicious)
30 ml sweet vermouth
12 ½ ml Amaretto
18 grams roasted coffee beans

Muddle cardamom in a mixing glass then add remaining ingredients and stir with ice.  Strain into a demitasse cup and garnish with an orange peel, a float of 151 rum, and a misting of saffron essence.  Sip and start a journey of your own.

This pair is set for adventure

For more about Yoh Kakuda:
What has life tortoise?
Pleasant Porters
Wizard of Awes


Saturday, June 30, 2018

Bon Voyage


I’m on vacation so this week’s offering will be small and sweet (I know, the expression is typically “short” and sweet, but in this case “small” works so much better).  I’m revisiting a few of my favorite places along the California coast on this bon voyage, so it seems the perfect opportunity to revisit a few favorite box and booze destinations as well along the way.

Bon Bons by Perry McDaniel

Here’s a small and sweet puzzle box treat to tempt the taste buds.  What the heck, here’s a whole bunch of treats.  Perry McDaniel, the premier purveyor of puzzling pastries, is one of the most precise craftsman I know who can create incredibly complex mechanism in the tiniest pieces of wood.  He has outdone himself with his Bon Bon series, scaling things down to a diminutive box which resembles a bite sized bon bon.  

They look good enough to eat

He created four of these in total for his pop up pastry shop, which appears mysteriously in various parts of the world.  The set includes three bon bon sized puzzle boxes made from different woods and adorned with a single thin stripe of frosting on top, and a decorative bon bon with a bite taken out of it, which reveals scrumptious layers of colorful wood inside.  This decorative bon bon is certainly the hardest one to open, since it doesn’t, but the others might as well be glued shut as well since they are incredibly tricky.  It’s hard to believe how intricate and complex Perry has made these tiny treasures, and it’s a joy to experience them.

Baker's Dozen by Mike Di Tota

I know there are only four of these delectable desserts in the Bon Bon series, but I wish there were a dozen.  With that in mind I’ve paired them with another incredible “unlocked” cocktail from one of the most innovative zero-proof mixologists around, Mike Di Tota from New York, who’s cocktail “Billow’s and Thieves” I also featured on these pages.  He is the General Manager and Bar Director at The Bonnie in Astoria, Queens, where he created a number of sophisticated zero-proof cocktails. He holds a degree in botany from the New York Botanical Garden School of Professional Horticulture, and uses his understanding of roots, bark, seeds, stems, herbs and flowers in his delicious drinks.  

Jam packed with flavors

In his “Baker’s Dozen”, he combines two of my favorite cocktail ingredients, lime juice and tonic syrup, with a decadently delicious blackberry and fig syrup, to create one of the most delicious drinks I’ve tasted in quite a while. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a bon voyage like this soon – small, sweet, and serene. Cheers!

A pair of unusual baked goods

Baker’s Dozen – Mike Di Tota

1 oz blackberry-fig syrup
½ Tonic Syrup
¾ oz fresh lime
Soda water

Combine ingredients in a favorite glass and fill with ice. Top with soda water and stir. The original adds a sprinkle of dried Lebanese-style aphrodisiac tea leaves and buds, for garnish.

Blackberry-Fig Syrup
∙ 1 quart turbinado sugar simple syrup
∙ 13 ounces fig preserves (Di Tota uses Bonne Maman brand)
∙ 13 ounces blackberry preserves (Di Tota uses Bonne Maman brand)
∙ 1 cinnamon stick, crushed
∙ 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
∙ 5 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

For more about Perry McDaniel:

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Feeling Corny


Let’s face it.  This is a feel-good blog.  I never set out to be the world’s most acerbic or eviscerating critic of the particular media I write about.  It’s true that I tend to be overly complimentary of the puzzle boxes and even the cocktails I feature each week.  Admittedly, not all puzzle boxes are very complicated or difficult, and some have design flaws or quality issues.  I tend to feature the best ones, but not always.  The platitudes I offer are truly genuine, however, and I really do enjoy these creations and admire the artwork and skill required to create them.  Even more, I recognize that most of these artists rely on our patronage and good reviews for their livelihood, and if I can encourage someone to keep creating, I’ve helped a little. I also love a good pun, and really can’t help myself, so if it gets a little corny in here at times, so be it.

Ixia Box by Juno

Now that you’ve been warned, you won’t mind if it gets a lot corny here this week, as I feature a new craftsman to these pages, Junichi Yananose.  Better known by his nickname, Juno grew up in a remote part of Japan and began making puzzles with precut blocks when he was eleven or twelve years old based on books and his own designs.  He eventually bought himself a scroll and table saw and began making burr and packing type puzzles. After he moved to Tokyo he had little time for puzzle making, but in 2011 he moved from Japan to Queensland Australia to escape fallout from Fukushima and embark on a new adventure.  He took a carpentry course at the government sponsored TAFE (Technical and Further Education) school and began working with Mr. Puzzle himself, Brian Young.  Brian and his wife Sue helped Juno and his wife Yukari to get settled in Australia, until they were finally able to open up their own puzzle shop, Pluredro.  Juno is known for his complex and unusual burr style puzzles, with many pieces joining to form geometric polyhedral shapes.  More recently, he has begun to develop his ideas about puzzle boxes, and the results are as unusual and surprising as might be expected from this designer.

Quite a bit more than meets the eye ...

The Ixia Box, so named for the pretty Ixia flowers which adorn the top, was the result of Juno’s attempt to salvage the run-off wood waste from his other puzzle creations.  He thought that by cutting these cutoff ends at sixty degree angles, he could form gears or flowers by gluing them together.  From this vague notion and no other specific ideas he went on to develop both the Ixia and Quartet Boxes, which feature these salvaged creations on top.  His continued work with burr puzzles then fueled many ideas for these and other puzzle boxes to come.  The Ixia Box is full of colorful exotic wood pieces including Rosewood, Jarrah, Util, Bubinga and Ebony, and has many levels and components.  The “flowers” on top, in three colorful woods, do much more than simply look pretty.  The puzzle box turns out to be of the sequential discovery category, due to pieces and parts which are discovered that are then used in some fashion to help open the box.  Juno’s background in complicated mechanisms and (dis)assembly puzzles guarantees that his boxes are not going to be simple affairs with a basic lid that opens.  What looks like a typical box will most likely be filled with unexpected components and the ultimate “compartment” may be very small despite external appearances.  The Ixia Box requires some creative thinking and alignment to proceed through the “middle” steps, and the sequence is satisfyingly elegant.  Fortunately I did not notice it until later, but there is a way to cheat on this step which ruins the fun.  I like that Juno throws one more obstacle in your way after this brilliant set of moves, which, although not nearly as elegant to solve, at least keeps the challenge going.  If this box represents what he can come up with using scrap parts, it’s no wonder that his carefully planned out boxes are so unusual.

Ixia Blue

For the cocktail pairing I’m bringing things back home to Texas, by way of Kentucky.  The Ixia flower is a species of corn lily, so we will start our liquid lesson off with a nod to a famous lily cocktail, the Oaks Lily.  Most will have heard of horseracing’s main event, the famed Kentucky Derby which we celebrated at Boxes and Booze this year with a Champagne Mint Julep.  Many will not be as familiar with the companion race, held the day before, known as the Kentucky Oaks.  Run by fillies rather than colts, the victor is draped in a garland of lilies instead of roses.  And like the Derby’s Mint Julep, the Oaks has its own traditional drink of choice, the Oaks Lily.  

Balcones Baby Blue Bourbon 

This new classic, made with vodka, lemon juice, orange liqueur and cranberry juice, is not a bad place to start for what we have in mind.  From there we can head back to Texas, as promised.  I wanted to capture the essence of the “corn” for this corn lily cocktail, which means bourbon.  Bourbon is by definition a whiskey made with at least 51% corn mash.  But Texas bourbon, you say?  You’re damn right! In fact, one of the most interesting and award winning corn whiskies in recent times come from the Balcones Distillery located in Waco, Texas.  Their “Baby Blue” bourbon was the first Texas whiskey on the market since Prohibition and is created using 100% heirloom blue corn.  The innovative team from Balcones makes truly handcrafted bourbon using copper stills in small batches to retain the unique flavors and nuances, which in the case of the Baby Blue includes notes of toffee, cinnamon, butter, vanilla, brown sugar and kettle corn, to name a few.  Mmmmmmm.  I’ve adapted the original Oaks Lily cocktail with Baby Blue bourbon as the star attraction for a richly rewarding treat.  Here’s to creativity blooming in unlikely places – cheers!

A corny pair

Ixia Blue

2 oz Balcones Baby Blue bourbon
¾ oz fresh lemon
½ oz cranberry liqueur
½ oz orange liqueur
½ oz demerara syrup

Shake together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a citrus peel flower.

For more about Junichi Yananose: