Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Great Pyramid


The ancient pyramids of Egypt hold an air of mystery and wonder and remain a fascinating marvel of engineering.  Modern day speculation posits that the near perfect precision of orientation along the cardinal points (north / south / east / west) of the great pyramids was achieved with the use of gnomons – long surveying rods placed in the ground to cast shadows.  At the fall equinox, the rod’s shadow will trace a perfect east – west line along the ground. 

Pharaoh's Secret by Perry McDaniel

Perry McDaniel, a favorite craftsman and fellow Texan, uses something a bit more modern to achieve his precision, but I suspect he could do it with shadows too.  He designed (along with Norman Sandfield) and created the Pharaoh’s Secret, a miniature pyramid made from walnut, mahogany and padauk woods.  Those familiar with the creations of the Sandfield brothers won’t be surprised to see that this pyramid is held together by perfect dovetails, impossibly positioned at opposing sides all around.  There’s definitely something deep inside this tomb, rattling around like an angry mummy waiting to unleash its curse upon the world.  Listen closely and you might hear it whispering the secrets of the ages.  I can just barely make it out … I think it’s saying … “foooooled youuuuuuu”. Hmphh.  Well, whatever the secret is, finding it is half the fun.  The other half is admiring the beautiful workmanship and clever design of another timeless piece from this team.

Ancient Egyptian Dovetail ...

I’m taking a bit of poetic puzzling license here with this toast, but I think it’s acceptable in this case.  The group of puzzlers who produced this fine pyramid are themselves at the pinnacle of playfulness.  I don’t think they will mind.  The Pharaoh’s Secret pyramid also resembles a volcano to me, with its red cap and dovetails like lava bubbling out and flowing down the sides of the mountain.  Since the goal here is to get inside, I logically thought that going “Under the Volcano” would be in order.

Under the Volcano by Kyle Davidson

There are a few Under the Volcano recipes floating about but this appears to be the original, from Kyle Davidson and sourced from the underground collection of rogue cocktails published in the pamphlet “Beta Cocktails”.  Presumably the drink takes its name from the 1947 novel by Malcolm Lowry set in Quauhnahuac, Mexico on the Day of the Dead, 1938.  It tells the tale of an alcoholic former British consul who experiences the most fateful day of his life.  It’s full of lyrical metaphors on the human condition and struggles against the forces of destruction.  Sounds like an amazing recipe for a cocktail.  This one is a sophisticated margarita which replaces the orange liqueur with something quite a bit more complex, the combination of Italain Cynar amaro and French Chartreuse.  The result is absolutely incredible, a medley of flavors to ponder and enjoy.  Perhaps it even contains the secret of the pyramids, who knows.  Cheers!

Not your average margarita ...

Under the Volcano by Kyle Davidson

2 oz Tesoro AƱejo Tequila
3/4 oz Lime Juice
1/2 oz Cynar
1/4 oz Yellow Chartreuse
1/4 oz Agave Nectar 

Shake together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with something explosive.

Surprises appear amid this pair ...

For more from Sandfield and Company:
More Dovetail Attention
Complimentary Condimentaries
Fool Me Twice

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Doctor is In


Who doesn’t love a confusingly eccentric Time Lord who goes around saving the world?  Dr. Who (his real name is exceedingly hard to pronounce) originally premiered on November 23, 1963 starring English character actor William Hartnell, who would go on to be known as the First Doctor.  One of the many pieces of trivia from the show’s long franchise is how the original “time and relative dimensions in space” machine (TARDIS) in which the Doctor and his companions travel got its distinctive external appearance.  It was actually supposed to "blend in" to wherever and whenever it appeared, as a disguise – such as a column in ancient Rome, perhaps a pagoda in China, who knows.  But after constructing the famous blue police box for the first episode, the producers realized they did not have the budget for such extravagance.  It was much easier to claim that the time machine’s “chameleon circuit” was broken, and the police box remained forever after.  I personally grew up during the Tom Baker era, the Fourth Doctor, who brought an impish charm and charisma to the role as he dashed about the universe in his striped scarf while eating Jelly Babies. 

TARDIS Box by Richard Giaimo

To celebrate the release of the landmark “Season 11” which premieres around the world on October 7 (2018) I thought it apropos to feature a TARDIS puzzle box.  The new season is only season 11 if counting from the program’s revival in 2005, but the thirty-seventh season overall.  Dr. Who has spanned generations.  I should say, re-generations, since the lead role relies on the premise that the Doctor, an alien “Time Lord” from the planet Gallifrey, will take on a new body every so often as he travels through space and time.  It’s about time too that the Doctor visits the modern era.  For the first time ever, the new iteration of the Doctor will be played by a woman, Jodie Whittaker, who will now go on to be known as the Thirteenth Doctor.  James Bond, take note.

I can't list the box's dimensions, there are far too many ...

The TARDIS box is the unique creation of wood working hobbyist and musician Richard Giaimo from Cape Cod, who modeled it after the 1970’s Tom Baker era iteration.  Fashioned from birch and painted with watercolor blue, the box is decorated internally with printed graphics which recreate the internal time machine and control panel from that era.  On top there is a functioning blue light.  There are three or four internal compartments which are fairly easy to find, as well as two others which are more cleverly hidden away, including one extremely sneaky and well disguised compartment which is easy to overlook.  The box is styled as roguish folk art, a bit rough, full of surprises and incredibly charming, just like Tom Baker’s Dr. Who. 

Banana daiquiri by Dr. Who c. 1750?

Die hard Dr. Who fans will know about his proclivity towards bananas.  He loves them.  Bananas make an appearance now and again throughout the show’s history, like a long standing running joke.  In “The Girl in the Fireplace” (season 2, episode 4, 2005), the Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, travels back in time to Versailles where / when he apparently invents / invented the banana daiquiri.  Good thing he was carrying a banana at the time.  Of course, I had to make a banana daiquiri to toast the good Doctor and this TARDIS.  The daiquiri, as everyone now knows, is the simple and delicious combination of rum, lime and sugar.  This version (with said banana) from Caitlyn Jackson of Geraldine’s in Austin, Texas ups the ante with banana liqueur.  I threw in some extra banana as well, which I know is bananas, but I found it appealing.  You’re gonna love it – a bunch!  Here’s to the new Doctor Who, it’s about Time. Cheers!

What do you call a shoe made from a banana? A slipper ...

Banana Daiquiri adapted from Caitlyn Jackson

1 ½ oz aged rum
¾ oz fresh lime
½ oz Giffard Banana liqueur
¼ oz simple syrup
½ ripe banana

Muddle the banana in the bottom of a tin then shake all ingredients with ice.  Strain into a favorite glass filled with crushed ice.  Garnish with banana TARDIS.


Time flies like an arrow
Fruit flies like a banana

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Moment of ZN


I’ve been meditating on this offering for a while now, thinking about this box, with its ancient zen-like spirit.  Started as a branch of Chinese Buddhism called “Chan” (which derives from Sanskrit for “meditative state”) over one thousand years ago, Zen Buddhism emerged after the migration of this religion to Japan.  The teachings of Zen are complex and focused on enlightenment, like all Buddhism, but contain the central theme of accepting reality just as it is.  Zen must be practiced in real life - it can't be truly understood through words on the page.

Box of ZN by Randal Gatewood

Randal Gatewood must have loved the ideas contained in these centuries old teachings.  Zen, and Taoism, which Zen is strongly influenced by, appear to have factored into a number of his works.  His Yin-Yang Master box has the central symbol of Taoism prominently displayed on top, and his “Box of ZN”, at least to my interpretation, appears to be similarly themed.  A calm and meditative approach is not a bad way to experience a puzzle box, after all.  No point in getting frustrated, that won’t get you anywhere.  Enjoy the beauty, observe the motion, the interactions, and go with the flow.  Don’t keep trying the same move over and over, you’ll get nowhere.  Let it take you on a journey and before you know it, something unexpected might occur.  It’s like a Zen koan, those wonderfully insightful stories with deeper meaning.

N-e idea how to open Z box?

I’ll tell you my favorite koan.  There are many variations, but here is one:  Two monks, an old master and his young apprentice, were walking in the country side.  They came upon a river bank where they observed quite a spectacle.  A wealthy woman was shouting at her servant, who struggled in the middle of the river with all her luggage piled on his shoulders.  She demanded he hurry up and fetch her across as well.  The old master shrugged, picked up the woman, and carried her across the river where he set her down, with no thanks, and continued on his way.  The young apprenticed hurried to catch up with his master, and spent the next hour fuming but saying nothing.  Another hour, and another, went by in silence.  Finally he could take it no more and exclaimed to his master, “Why did you help that awful woman?”  His master replied, “Young apprentice, I set that woman down hours ago.  Why are you still carrying her?”

Moment of Zen by Will Talbot

The Box of ZN is easily my favorite of Gatewood’s creations.  It has a very interesting shape, like a little chest with flared sides and two sturdy handles, and is made from exotic Bubinga and Keruing woods.  The top features a zig-zagging pattern of wood slats which is echoed in design on the sides.  Depending on how you look at it, or how the slats may move, perhaps, you might imagine the letters “Z” or “N” at various times.  Which is probably how the box got its name.  That’s a very zen way to name something, don’t you think?  The mechanism is extremely satisfying, with well-hidden but logical moves, a dynamic experience, and 27 total steps required to open the box.  There’s no banging, force, or invisible mechanics involved.  It’s a very peaceful, meditative flow, and the end is illuminating.

Take some sage advice and try this one

Such an experience calls for a moment of zen.  Yes, the box provides such moments, as described, but I’m talking about the cocktail.  Set amidst the backdrop of one of Manhattan’s swankier spots, the roof top hotspot bar at the Standard Highline Hotel, the Top of the Standard Bar (aka the Boom Boom Room) would seem the last place on Earth to find a moment of zen.  Of course, it’s just the kind of place where you could really use one.  Perhaps that’s why bartender Will Talbot created it, but for whatever reason, we can all enjoy it now.  This is a solid bourbon whiskey cocktail, which is certainly a good place to start when looking for some zen.  It adds a nice zing of lime, and an unexpected whirlwind of flavor from yellow Chartreuse, which might derail the serenity.  But it’s balanced with an incredibly soothing syrup made from jasmine tea, which mellows and balances the flavors and brings the calm.  A little sage adds depth and wisdom, and the result is a truly delicious cocktail.  The original is served with a fried sage leaf garnish as well, which is pretty neat, but I found my moment of garnish zen in a different way.  Cheers! 

Enlightenment awaits

Moment of Zen by Will Talbot

2 oz whiskey
½ oz fresh lime
½ oz yellow Chartreuse
½ oz jasmine tea syrup
6-8 sage leaves

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a fried sage leaf or citrus twists.

For more from Randal Gatewood see:

And now you have come to ZN.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Shell Game


Some days you just want to pull the covers up over your head and go back to sleep.  With the days slowly getting shorter (at least in my part of the world) and the cooler weather setting in, it’s even more tempting.  I’m taking cues from this adorable little fellow, another wonderful creation from Japanese Karakuri Creation Group artist Yoh Kakuda. 

I'm Shy by Yoh Kakuda

“I’m Shy”, Kakuda’s introductory piece for the group, features a charming little turtle with a wobbly grin.  Kakuda modeled him after a real life red-eared turtle kept at school, and relates a tale of the tiny turtle who is now grown up, and doesn’t look quite so shy anymore.  But try to touch him, and he still retracts back into his shell, as turtles are wont to do.  

Nice and slow there little fellow

Kakuda has recreated this reticence in brilliant fashion here, with an almost automaton like movement which occurs if you try to socialize with Mr. Shy.  These subtle, automated movements find their way into many of Kakuda’s later works as well, and remain a favorite theme.  The turtle, with his beautiful rio-grande wood shell, sits atop a lovely chest which only opens with the right touch.  I think I’ll be reaching out to Mr. Shy more often as the weather chills down for more pointers on huddling up and keeping cozy.

Modest Means by Ryan Welliver

For this modest little fellow I found a suitable libation full of warm spice and the flavors of fall.  The “Modest Means” comes from Ryan Welliver, bar manager of the Cocktail Club in Charleston, South Carolina, a swanky “upscale lounge dedicated to the art of the craft cocktail”.  The drink features an aged rum and a high proof bourbon, which merge so nicely in the glass.  Add some cool weather citrus and top it off with a delicious vanilla cinnamon syrup, which can make just about anything taste like autumn, and you have a fall favorite you won’t want to be shy about.  

Rum, bourbon, citrus and spice - time to slow down and enjoy this one

Next time you feel like hiding, shake up one of these, grab a good book, a down comforter, and a Do Not Disturb sign.  Here’s to timid turtles, reticent reptiles, bashful birds and modest mammals everywhere.  Cheers!

Don't be shy, give this pair a try!

Modest Means by Ryan Welliver

3/4 oz El Dorado 8-year rum
3/4 oz Old Forrester Signature 100 proof bourbon
1/2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz cinnamon-vanilla syrup
3 dashes pimento dram, such as Hamilton or St. Elizabeth

Shake with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with a grapefruit twist, or lime wheel turtle.

For more from Yoh Kakuda:
What Has Life Tortoise?
Wizard of Awes
A Purrfect Pair

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Fraulein's Fall


With the hurricane force winds currently whipping parts of the US and many more storms brewing off the coast, it feels like the earth is spinning too fast and going topsy turvey.  I’m turning upside down with this post as well and channeling my friendly dentist from down under, that madman of mechanical mischief, the Leonardo with a lathe, puzzle maker Stephen Chin.

Drunken Dancing Fraulein by Stephen Chin

Beloved for his wood turned tops and spheres, he has mastered the ability to turn complex interlocking puzzles into rounded forms.  He has also created a number of beautifully turned vase-like puzzles with clever hidden mechanisms.  And he’s never satisfied with merely producing a puzzle – he almost always tries to add little extras such as incorporating a whistle, or a top, into the design, and sometimes both!  He hates to waste wood, so many of these extras evolve as a way to salvage what would have otherwise been literally turned to dust during the lathe process.  His “Drunken Dancing Fraulein” is just such a puzzle, created in 2011 for the IPP 31 Design Competition and puzzle exchange.  The puzzle is as expected, beautifully turned from either Rosewood or Osage Orange wood and resembles a jolly fat maiden.  Give her a spin and she wobbles precariously about, jingling her impossible trapped wooden rings merrily.  Her head doubles as a whistle, although its tune is a bit off.  The goal is to sober her up a bit, get her steady on her feet, and find the little diamond tucked away safely in its secret compartment.  The whistle will also sound a clear note in the end.  The puzzle has just the right balance of misdirection and a well hidden secret to keep you mystified for a little while but not forever.  Combine that with its elegant form, fun entertainment factor and beautiful craftsmanship and it’s no wonder it garnered a top ten award at the competition. 

She's actually quite thin, she's just wearing a billowing skirt 

To toast this tipsy turner I found a tasty tipple which was too ironic to pass up.  It appears our heroine had a tragic downfall in the second act.  Mixologist “Max” from Los Angeles originally hails from Germany and hosts an incredibly stylish and innovative cocktail account known as “BarMaxLA”.  For this creative number with a catchy name, “The Downfall of Fraulein Birnbaum”, he was inspired by a well known story from his homeland.  It recounts the rise and fall of an infamous woman from a small German village whose last name was Birnbaum, which translates to “Pear Tree”.  Naturally, the drink features the pear flavor prominently.  It’s perfect for the fall season as well, and is so delicious it just might be your downfall as well.  Cheers!

The Downfall of Fraulein Birnbaum

The Downfall of Fraulein Birnbaum by BarMaxLA

2 oz cognac
2 oz pear liqueur
1 oz apricot liqueur
½ oz fresh lemon
2 dashes orange bitters
Flaming absinthe mist (I opted for an absinthe rinse)

Shake ingredients together and strain into an absinthe rinsed glass (or flame the mist over the drink if you have no fear of burning down your house).  Garnish with a brandied pear or German beer stein lemon peel.

These Frauleins make a great pear

For more from Stephen Chin see:

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Metaphors of Metamorphosis


Nature is full of beautiful sounds, don’t you agree?  Especially in Colorado, where artist Kagen Sound and his family reside.  Perhaps inspired by the nature of the world, he created the Lotus Table many years ago, a stunning pedestal which hides six drawers that only open when the correct geometric patterns are created by rotating the concentric wooden rings on the surface.  Each ring is inlayed with contrasting wooden lines and curves, and multiple patterns can be created by shifting their positions.  When all six drawers are opened, the table has the appearance of a lotus flower.  He has transformed this large format concept into a series of puzzle boxes, which chronicle the metamorphosis of a butterfly.  

Caterpillar Box by Kagen Sound

Starting with the Lotus Box, a favorite plant for hungry caterpillars, the boxes follows the same principle on a smaller scale, with four hidden drawers dependent on four separate patterns.  There are eight concentric rings which must be manipulated to create the different patterns.  Along the way there are clues to be found which guide you on to the next pattern.  The Lotus Box is stunningly crafted in Claro Walnut and Curly Maple, with Wenge and Madrone for the inlayed pattern stripe.  The next in the series, the Caterpillar, features European Walnut and Birdseye Maple.  Kagen’s love for Walnut and Maple wood really shows in these boxes, which highlight the varied beauty found in different species of these trees.  Solve both boxes and you will have the starting clue to the final planned box in the trilogy, the Butterfly Box.  Kagen has channeled his fondness for pattern metamorphosis, which is a feature in many of his puzzles, into a metaphorical puzzle box trilogy.

Beautiful Birdseye Maple

For the Caterpillar Box toast I’m taking a bit of artistic license with another literary caterpillar, the cantankerous and confusing, hookah loving mushroom dweller from Alice in Wonderland.  Merely a black and white ink drawing by John Tennial in the original, the caterpillar became distinctly blue after receiving the Disney treatment in 1951.  He even got a name, finally, with the 2010 remake by Tim Burton: Absolem.  It has a nice ring to it.  Very Faulknerian.  

Absolem, Absolem!

I couldn’t find just the right “caterpillar” cocktail which already existed, so I made a new one, which hits the right notes.  The drink is based off the modern classic “Naked and Famous” from Joaquin Simo.  The base spirit of mezcal is perfectly smoky for this hookah toking tease, and the balance of lightly bitter Cocchi Americano and complex and confusing Chartreuse merge perfectly to complete the reference.  I added a touch of blue curacao as well, which does add a nice hint of orange, but really just to get the color right.  It’s absolutely, absolemly delicious.  Cheers!

Smoky, complex, lightly bitter and blue.

Absolem, Absolem!

¾ oz mezcal
¾ oz fresh lime
¾ oz Cocchi Americano
¾ oz Yellow Chartreuse
¼ oz blue curacao

Shake together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Adorn with a hookah smoking caterpillar brandy cherry garnish, or just a lemon peel.

These caterpillars make quite the pair.

For more from Kagen Sound:

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Jack of All Trades


I’ve made the analogy before that puzzle boxes are a metaphor for our lives, and for all of our searches for meaning and solutions.  Each one is unique, and beautiful, and different, each with a story to tell.  Some are simple, some complex, some have never been opened, some are damaged, some stuck.  Some are so familiar and we know just how to move them.  And some we simply marvel at and admire the way they work.

Jack-in-the-Box by Jack Krijnen

Perhaps it is no surprise then that a puzzle box can serve as a biography of a life as well.  It seems perfectly fitting that someone who has spent a lifetime with puzzles should write their own autobiography into the wood.  Such a memoir is “Jack-in-the-Box”, the creation of mathematician Jack Krijnen from the Netherlands.  Jack studied at the Eindhoven University of Technology, where he first fell in love with mechanical puzzles.   He was naturally drawn to the mathematical nature of complex interlocking burr designs, and the first puzzle he ever made was Van der Poel's 18-piece burr, with a small saw and old chisel.  The appeal for him truly lay in thinking about the design, in how to create something with interesting logical movements and in mastering that complexity.  His first personal design was an interlocking cube which required nine moves of the same piece before it could be removed.  But he would return to that 18-piece burr time and again. Many years later he designed “Tipperary”, an 18-piece burr which requires the key piece to be manipulated 7 times before it can be removed.  Each move of that piece requires another set of 6 moves, forward then back, as well, for a total of 43 moves before the first piece is removed.  He regards this as an even more satisfying achievement than his later work with Alfons Eyckman on “Supernova”, a burr that requires 166 moves to remove the first piece, because he did it without aid from computers and software.  Speaking of which, he wrote his own computer program for Supernova, a design he doubts will be improved upon any time soon.

True to its name, there's a surprise inside!

Jack has also done significant research into n-ary sequence burrs with the inventor and designer Goh Pit Khiam.  These are puzzles with a variable number of key pieces (“k”) which can each be in a variable number of “states” (“n”). Solving such a puzzle requires cycling through every possible combination of states for each key piece.  The number of moves required to solve this can be expressed mathematically as n^k.  Jack’s achievement in n-ary design came with his breakthrough “Power Tower”, in which the n-ary sequences are synchronized by the key pieces themselves, with no other included pieces for stability.  As if that wasn’t enough, he felt certain the design could also be realized in a circular version using interlocking discs.  

Jack-in-the-Box Cocktail

Which at last brings us to his Jack-in-the-Box.
Crafted from Maple and Walnut, with Tulip wood inside, Jack-in-the-Box is a delicate and lovely little rectangular box with raised border edges all around and decorative hexagons on all sides.  It hides many, many secrets, and has at least four distinct sections to conquer.  Jack provides a bit of cryptic guidance with the box, which is to “find and use the tools, solve a riddle on the way, master the ternary wheels, and when you think you’re finally done, there’s a new challenge waiting.”  It seems fair to confirm from that description that there is much more than meets the eye waiting inside this box.  Much more.  He spent half a year crafting twenty-five of these masterpieces, which involved over 7000 parts in varying shapes and sizes and over 20 separate jigs for some pieces as small as a few millimeters.  Indeed, Jack has put himself in these boxes as well, in so many clever ways, right down to the name itself.  It’s his autobiography in wood.

Calva-uno, Calva-dos 

I’ll make a toast to Jack and his box with a classic cocktail that’s perfectly paired.  Although it doesn’t contain Scotch or Irish whiskey, Jack’s preferred potions, these spirits could easily be substituted for the Calvados in the original, giving the final drink a new flavor.  Calvados is a fine apple brandy from the Normandy region of France, where the spirit has been made for over five hundred years.  There are over two hundred varieties of apples used, with bitter and bitter-sweet apples comprising 70% of the mix, and sweeter apples or pears making up the rest.  A fine barrel aged calvados is similar to a fine cognac, scotch or whiskey in complexity and enjoyment, with its own unique characteristics.  The Jack-in-the-Box cocktail first appears in the original “Old Mr. Boston Deluxe Official Bartender’s Guide” from 1935, a classic tome that was first published shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.  The recipes were compiled by Leo Cotton, a purchaser for the Mr. Boston liqueur brand, who sourced the classics from the memories of well-known old bartenders of that era.  In the original, equal parts Calvados and pineapple were used, but a more spirit forward and less sweet version works better.  The origin story and inventor of the Jack-in-the-Box cocktail is otherwise lost to history, but no matter.  We can add to the story now with a new page, a puzzle box biography written in wood.  Cheers!

A pair of Jacks I'd bet on

Jack in the Box c. 1935 (updated Difford’s Guide version)

2 oz Calvados
1 ½ oz fresh pineapple
¼ oz simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Turn glass around and around until surprising garnish pops up.

For more from Jack Krijnen see:

Saturday, August 25, 2018

What It's All About


There isn’t a single perfect word to describe the community of folks who enjoy this obsession with mechanical puzzles, but one would certainly be “generous”.  If you’ve been following along you’ll be aware that I took a little trip to join some of these puzzling people at an annual gathering recently.  While there I was literally inundated with gifts of all shapes and sizes, including puzzles of every type and even a puzzle box or two.  The warm and jovial camaraderie was infectious and everyone was so welcoming.  One particular gift was quite memorable and as a way of saying thanks, I’ll share it with you now and offer a new installment in the "Locks and Libations" series.

The HoKey CoKey Lock by Ali Morris and Steve Nicholls

The Hokey Pokey, as it’s known in most parts of the world except the United Kingdom, where it’s known as the Hokey Cokey, is an age old dance and tune familiar to all.  Now, it’s also a puzzle lock.  The HoKey CoKey Lock was an exchange gift from Steve Nicholls at this year’s IPP.  He famously made everyone who received a copy do the actual dance with him first.  It was quite a sight. The puzzle lock itself is a distinctive brass padlock with a long looping shackle.  A few other features set this handsome lock apart: the name inscribed on the top (HoKey CoKey, in case you forget), the two little keys provided (which don't work, I checked), and last but not least, the shiny bottle opener attached to the shackle, with details of the puzzle printed on its side.  Reading it, you’ll see that the lock was designed by Ali Morris, who has dabbled in puzzle design before, most notably with his well-regarded nut and bolt puzzle.  Steve and Ali relate that the idea for this lock came to Ali about a year ago, at the very same gathering where I met Steve (although in a different global location, of course), while Ali was fiddling with another well-known puzzle lock.  The stories diverge a bit on which lock this was exactly, but I’m not naming names anyway lest it give away a clue.  Not that it helped me anyway!

This lock is definitely hokey

Ali confirmed a few things about his idea with his friendly locksmith, Shane Hales, produced a prototype with an engineering friend of his, and then proceeded to cycle through eight different models of locks until he was satisfied with the current iteration based on form and function.  Steve duly ordered a shipment of the brass "donor" locks, which when delivered nearly broke his wife’s back as she attempted to pick up the package (she thought they were tongue depressors, for some strange reason).  Back in Ali’s home kitchen, the locks were disassembled, modified, and put back together.  Not being professional locksmiths like Shane, they made up the disassembly process as they went, sacrificing panache and a few kitchen tools for efficiency.  Apparently it worked quite well, although the kitchen tools will never be quite the same.  The meat tenderizer in particular took quite a beating.


Not the intended solution for opening the locks ...

Sitting around in the evenings at puzzle gatherings, chatting with like minded friends and swapping stories like these while enjoying an adult beverage are some of Steve’s favorite moments.  He always finds himself hunting about for a bottle opener – at least, he used to.  Now he’s solved that puzzle too, and made sure that everyone who had to do the Hokey Cokey dance with him benefits as well, by including a shiny bottle opener along with the lock.  It's like he's saying, look, I know you're going to struggle to open this brilliantly sneaky lock, but no need to suffer while doing that.  If you can’t find the puzzle solution, find a different kind of solution and pop the top with your handy opener.  What a great guy!

The Hokey Pokey Cocktail

A puzzle with a bottle opener gets to join the short list of perfect ‘boxes and booze boxes” or in this case, “locks and libations locks”.  At first I thought I should pair this lock with a beer, or a beer cocktail.  It’s still a great idea, and one you can easily try yourself, especially if you have one of these locks.  You’ve got to do something with that opener, right?  But instead I went with a rather decadent choice, because why not.  In additional to the song, dance, and now lock, Hokey Pokey is also the name of the most popular flavor of ice cream in New Zealand.  It’s a rich and creamy vanilla ice cream mixed with crunchy crumbly bits of honeycomb candy, which is a light and fluffy toffee made from golden syrup, a lighter version of caramel.  Honeycomb candy is full of airy pockets and crevices which look like a honeycomb.  It’s also sometimes called, you guessed it, Hokey Pokey.  I made a cocktail version of the ice cream, despite the fact that neither Hokey Pokey or golden syrup are readily available in the United States.  But sugar and water are, so Bob’s your uncle.  I whipped up a batch of the syrup, turned it into honeycomb candy, and mixed a cocktail.  Or really more a dessert.  It was delicious, and made me feel better about this wonderfully tricky puzzle lock and that damn song playing over and over in my head.

Buttery bourbon and toffee will do quite nicely

We all have a passion, whether it's boxes, booze, or something far less exciting.  But it's the people behind the passions who really matter.  After all, that’s what it’s all about.  Cheers!

This pair is okey dokey

The Hokey Pokey

1 oz bourbon
1 oz heavy cream
1 oz golden syrup
2 dashes aromatic bitters
Honeycomb candy crumbles

Combine ingredients together with ice and … you guessed it … shake it all about. Strain into a favorite glass and crumble more honeycomb on top.  Cheers!

For prior locks and libations see:

Thanks to Steve Nicholls and and Ali Morris for the amusing stories about the lock, and the photo of the infamous meat tenderizer.  Steve, thanks again for the lock!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Homeward Bound


It’s time to head back home again.  We’ll conclude this mini travel series, which began as a road trip in Rocky’s Model T, continued with a surprise party for a few friends, and now ends with a final travel themed puzzle, the Dragonfly Box by Shou Sugimoto.

Dragonfly Box by Shou Sugimoto

Designed for the Karakuri Creation Group’s “Travel” themed exhibition, Sugimoto channeled his feelings and emotions regarding the theme for his Dragonfly into its movements rather than trying to create something more overtly travel related in appearance.  He notes that he does not really like traveling, or even going out much, and usually returns home again soon after departing for somewhere.  He expresses this with his simple, comfortable box made from katsura, magnolia and maple woods, inlaid with a stylish dragonfly.  The inlay insect gives the box a signature, adds a touch of simple beauty, and is also a clue.  Dragonflies are such amazing aerial acrobats, and the name is elegantly appropriate for this puzzle.  The mechanism it employs is unique and truly delightful.  The box could easily have been another inclusion in the group’s older “Creative Secret Box” series of nine novel and unexpected mechanisms.  It’s a welcome reminder of the simple pleasure of returning home – and a thrilling example of what we can likely expect from this incredibly talented new member of the Karakuri group. 

Dragonflies move in the most amazing ways ...

After a long journey, a simple drink is also a welcome comfort, and thus the Dragonfly Cocktail turns out to be the perfect accompaniment with which to toast this journey’s end.  No one knows exactly who invented this simple yet satisfying highball of gin, ginger ale and lime, but it likely owes its existence to “Buck’s Club”, an exclusive gentlemen’s club in London which was opened in 1919. 

Dragonfly Cocktail (aka Gin Buck)

The “Buck”, a highball with spirits, citrus, and ginger ale, is said to have been invented there.   Bucks are the forerunners to the “Mule”, which was introduced around 1940 and uses ginger beer rather than ale.  Variations abound, using different base spirits such as rum (Dark and Stormy), bourbon (Kentucky Buck), scotch (Mamie Taylor) and vodka (Moscow Mule) to name a few.  With gin and lime, it becomes a Foghorn (popularized at the Waldorf-Astoria with Old Tom gin) or a Gin Buck, also known as a Dragonfly.  Don’t even get me started on the names if the lime is switched for lemon, but you get the idea.  It’s simple and simply delicious.  Which is just what journey’s end calls for.  Cheers!

Let your spirits fly

Dragonfly (circa 1920)
1 ½ oz gin
½ oz lime
3-4 oz ginger ale

Build ingredients over ice in a tall glass.  Stir and enjoy.  Garnish with a citrus twist and let your imagination take flight.

This pair looks right at home

For more about Shou Sugimoto:

For a prior gin buck variation:

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.