Saturday, May 19, 2018

To the Lighthouse - Part I

I’m heeding the siren’s song which has been beckoning me to write about a pair of puzzle box beacons for a while now.  I’ve always loved lighthouses since I was a boy, which is admittedly not very unique.  There’s something about the combination of a tower, a spiral staircase, a room with a hatch, the sea, the rocks, and just the height of it all which appeals to children in general.  As an adult there’s also something forlorn, perhaps lonely, and certainly romantic about them.  Lighthouses originate all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, where they would signal the entrance to a major port.  We don’t have to travel quite that far back to enjoy this puzzle box.

40 Move Challenge Box (Lighthouse) by Yasutoshi Makishi

Yasutoshi Makishi is a Japanese American carpenter and cabinet maker who was born in Okinawa.  Over twenty-five years ago he studied a seven-move puzzle box he had acquired from the source - Hakone, Japan.  He spent the next two years studying it and developing his own techniques and designs for a similar box, which would stand up well to the climate in America, and which would be incredible sturdy and strong.  This would lead to his original eight-move puzzle box.  He went on to design ever more challenging boxes, produced in his unique style based on classic techniques which he then modified in his own clever way.  His boxes are all hand made from high quality wood and given natural, simple finishes. 

Not so simple ...

He originally sold his fine work at highly selective juried arts and crafts shows in the North Eastern United States, where astute observers would find his boxes adorned with hand painted idyllic scenes on the lids.   These meadows and lakes with sailboats were often painted by his own hand, or by fellow artist friends.  He later retired from the craft circuit and began making his signature series of simple appearing boxes (at least on the outside) which ranged in movement and difficulty from eight moves on up to fifty.  Prior to 2011 all of his boxes were hand signed, and subsequent creations bear his recognizable branding iron mark.  What sets his boxes apart from traditional Japanese puzzle boxes are the maze-like twists and turns, as well as blind alleys and dead-ends, that he builds in with increasing difficulty as the move count goes up.   You will approach one of his boxes in the traditional manner, and soon find yourself stuck.  These puzzle boxes are surprisingly tricky, and the highest move boxes are downright difficult!  The Lighthouse box featured here requires forty moves to open, and is one of the most complicated “traditional” style Japanese puzzle boxes I have encountered (not counting his fifty-move box, I can think of one other …).  It’s a delightful box which combines a few of my favorite things. 

Siren Song by Meaghan Montagano

It’s about time we raised a glass to Mr. Makishi here at Boxes and Booze.  Since lighthouses are used in modern times to warn sea travelers about treacherous rocks and jetties, it seemed safe enough for us to enjoy this deliciously tempting tipple, the Siren’s Song.  Hopefully the lighthouse will keep us safe.  The drink was created by New York "startender" Meaghan Montagano, bar manager at Michelin starred La Sirena, to compliment St. George Spirits amazing Spiced Pear Liqueur.  The drink is richly layered thanks to the base of anejo tequila, and sweetened with one of St. George distillery’s many unique and outrageously good offerings. Their Spiced Pear Liqueur carries notes of cinnamon and clove which compliment the ripe Bartlett pear flavor.  The walnut syrup adds warm under tones and the cinnamon syrup places this drink firmly in the decadent category.  I’ve spiced things up even further by using Soltado, an anejo tequila which has been infused with serrano pepper and more cinnamon.  Be careful – once you head this Siren’s Song you may never go back.  Here’s to temptation, in moderation, with a lighthouse to guide the way back to safety. Cheers.

Warm and cozy flavors with a bit of heat and spice - tempted?

Siren Song by Meaghan Montagano

1 ¾ anejo tequila (I used Soltado)
¾ St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur
½ oz walnut liqueur
1 bar spoon cinnamon syrup
1 dash smoke bitters (I used Black Cloud Charred Cedar)
Lemon peel garnish

Stir together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Keep an eye out for mermaids and keep your lighthouse handy.
Will you heed the warning?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Touched by an Angel

Inspiration can strike at any moment, and in the most unusual ways, if you let it.  The international man of mystery and metal mayhem, the diabolical Dutch designer of devious delights, yes the one and only Wil Strijbos, knows how to let life inspire him.  One of his most lauded puzzles, the much coveted Angel Box, was born in his mind from a simple little stroll he was taking while visiting Helsinki many years ago.  A friend had suggested he visit an old Nokia office building which was being used as an artist’s studio and exhibition space.   This harmless exploration started the puzzle wheels turning in his head.

Angel Box by Wil Strijbos

One of the first things he encountered was a digitally locked door, which he snuck through when someone else came by.  This is why the first thing one encounters on the Angel Box is a combination padlock.  Ironically this one must be opened, no one is coming to let you in here.  There is a combination provided, but in classic Strijbos fashion, it is not for the lock on the box.  Wil has quite a sense of humor. 

She's waiting for you to free her!

Wandering around that Nokia Building, he discovered many rooms, like a labyrinth, some accessible, some not. He had to be careful not to lock himself out, or in, to certain rooms or hallways.  In fact, he finally did just that, and was stuck on the inside … or outside? of a room.  Until his angel came and opened the door for him, a stranger, who became a friend, and who eventually gave him her heart.  Wil recounts the story, saying that it wasn’t at that moment that he thought of the Angel Box design, but that those memories (and photos he took) formed the basis later on, as other parts of the box materialized to him over time.  The story of his inspiration is provided with the box – it’s one of the tools for solving it, actually.  I didn’t realize that until after I had!  Like all of Wil Strijbos’ incredible puzzle boxes, the Angel Box is a “sequential discovery” puzzle, with items that are discovered along the way which are critical for solving and opening the box (and in this case, freeing the Angel, and finding her heart).  His puzzles are also famous for how they reward and tease you at the same time.  There are steps here, and you are stopped at each and made to figure out the next step, often while being rewarded with a bit of progress or a glimpse of what is waiting, just out of reach.  It’s a wonderfully tricky and satisfying creation with lots to discover and puzzle over, all housed in an impressively shiny anodized aluminum box.  The window where the tiny angel peers out at you, waiting patiently, is particularly brilliant.  Here’s hoping Wil keeps taking long walks and getting inspired!

Undercover Angel by Fred Yarm

I was inspired as well to create something unusual and interesting to toast this richly romantic box.  I settled on a recipe from the genius Boston bartender Fred Yarm which is featured in his under-the-radar cocktail book, Drunk and Told (his follow up to Drink and Tell).  The drink is a sophisticated modern take on the classic Chrysanthemum cocktail, which substitutes dry madeira for the dry vermouth and balances the Benedictine with a bit of cherry liqueur.  He named it after the 1977 hit single from Alan O’Day, but only because he didn’t know about the Angel Box at the time.  This drink is a beauty, and warms to you if you appreciate it and recognize it when you see it.  Here’s to life’s unexpected moments of inspiration.  Cheers!

A heavenly combination of flavors

Undercover Angel by Fred Yarm

2 oz Sercial Madeira (I used Bual, which is sweet and nothing like dry Sercial, and likely changes the drink completely,  but I still found it delicious here)
¾ oz Benedictine
¼ oz Luxardo Maraschino
1 dash St George Absinthe (I used Vieux Pontarlier)

An Angelic Pair

For more about Wil Strijbos:
Butterfly Feelings
A Cordial First
A Blog Awakens ...

Saturday, May 5, 2018


We’re coming to you live and on location from Churchill Downs this week as Boxes and Booze makes a run for the roses!  Okay, fine, I’m not actually in Louisville, Kentucky to watch the “most exciting two minutes in sports” in person, but I’m celebrating the longest continually held sporting event in America with a special offering fit for the Kentucky Derby. 

Kuchinashi (Gardenia) by Shiro Tajima

We start with a game even older than the Kentucky Derby.  Shogi, often referred to as “Japanese Chess”, dates from over five hundred years ago, around the same time that Western chess was invented.  Shogi literally translates as “Game of Generals” and the playing pieces are very similar to chess.  The strategy is somewhat different, and captured enemy pieces can be returned to the board for the captor’s use.  One of the playing pieces (koma), the knight, sets the theme for this Derby worthy puzzle box.  Shiro Tajima’s Kuchinashi doesn’t immediately remind one of a horse, although he created it for the Year of the Horse in his zodiac box series.  The puzzle is a small Shogi game board, and the koma playing piece provided has the knight kanji on it, which represents a horse, as typically depicted in Western chess.  This knight moves in the same manner as a chess knight, which is important.  

Traditional flower bulb legs support the Shogi board

The name of the puzzle, Kuchinashi (Gardenia), refers to the flower bulb shaped legs of the traditional Shogi board which were popularized during the Edo period.  These have been expertly recreated by Tajima on this puzzle.  It is also a play on words, as “kuchinashi” also means “no mouth”, which reminds those watching the game to keep quiet and not interfere with the players.  Tajima refers to this common courtesy in his description of the puzzle.  A well played game of Shogi will take well over two minutes – this is no horse race of speed but rather a steady journey of cunning and intellect.  Solving this beautiful puzzle box may take a while, too!

Champagne Mint Julep

Which calls for a drink, don’t you think?  And what is more appropriate for the Kentucky Derby than the classic whiskey drink which is practically synonymous with the race, the Mint Julep.  The Derby didn’t lay claim to this tasty tipple until 1938, however; it came to Kentucky by way of Virginia where it was, apparently, a healthy way to start the day!  A description from 1803 explains the drink as a “dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians in the morning."  But the true origins of the drink lay far beyond Virginia.  The word julep stems from the Persian gulab, or julab in classic Arabic, which was a drink made with sweetened rose petals rather than mint. The classic pewter cup filled with crushed ice in which the julep is served helps retain the chill and forms a nice frost on it, perfect for sipping in the warm sun on Derby day.

Festive bubbles improve everything!

A truly fun and festive spin on the classic mint julep, which traditionally features bourbon, mint, sugar and ice, is the addition of some bubbly!  It really makes the drink pop and is a sure crowd pleaser.  There are many versions of this twist, such as the delicious Sparkling Julep available at Houston’s award winning bar of the same name, Julep. Their version features Cognac, Sparkling Rosé of Gamay, Turbinado, and Mint.  Next time you’re in Houston, do yourself a favor and enjoy one.  In Portland, Oregon, bartender Ryan Murphy takes a more classic approach with a high-proof bourbon, mint and simple syrup, to which he adds Champagne on top and some Angostura bitters.  I took my inspiration from his version, and used a delicious new product for the bubbles.  Ducourt Estates has brought back to life a wonderful aperitif popular in Parisian cafes in the fifties, based on Rose wine from Entre-Deux-Mers.  The wine is infused with fruits and citrus and finished with carbonation to create their Le Gout d'Autrefois Rosé Limé, which is delightful on its own for your summer picnics, and shines in this mint julep.  Add some sparkle to your own run for the roses this year, or whatever kind of horsing around you get up to.  Cheers!

A pair of prancing ponies

Champagne Julep

½ oz high-proof bourbon
½ oz simple syrup
6-8 fresh mint leaves
3 oz sparkling wine

Muddle the mint with the simple syrup in the bottom of the julep cup.  Add the bourbon, bitters and wine, and top with crushed ice.  Garnish with more bitters, mint, and powdered sugar if you like.

For more about Shiro Tajima see:
Monkey Business
Pooh Corner
Here There Be Dragons

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The IDF - Part II

The next offering in the Locks and Libations series follows naturally after the famous DanLock from Dan Feldman.  Locks appear to run in this family, and it should come as no surprise that the debut from Dan’s son Boaz is a brilliant puzzle as well.  Growing up in a house full of puzzles must have had something to do with it.

B-Lock by Boaz Feldman

Boaz Feldman recounts that solving puzzles of all kinds was common and ubiquitous in his home as a child.  He practiced lock-picking from an early age as well, before these techniques could be readily discovered on the internet.  He loves magic and music, and was a magician and drummer to make money during his University days when he studied Computer Science.  He now works in the software industry.  When he began to participate in the IPP, he remembers meeting people for the first time who knew his father, and who mentioned how much they loved the DanLock.  It was clear to him that he wanted to create another lock puzzle to exchange with everyone, which would bring something new and fresh, and the B-Lock was the result.  From the response it generated, he feels gratified that he succeeded.

Boaz's blocked BLock

The B-Lock is as simple in presentation as a lock puzzle can get.  It’s another standard Nabob brass lock with a steel shackle, which is a bit smaller than the DanLock.  There is a simple key, attached with a removable string just to keep it all together.  There’s no point in trying to use the key, though, because the keyhole is blocked.  The B-Lock is clever in many ways, including the very name of the puzzle, which is a fun play on words.  Boaz took his cue from his father’s famous lock which bears his first name (Dan) and applied the same treatment to his own lock, the “B”oaz Lock.  He tells a funny story of how he originally meant to use his nickname “Bo” and call it the “Bo-Lock”, until people pointed out he might not want his puzzle to be thought of as “bollocks”!  The B-Lock works much better, and doubly refers to the fact that this is in fact a block-ed lock.  Once again Boaz worked with Israel Barzilai of the Nabob lock company to produce the modified B-Lock, which is truly a surprising and delightfully sneaky puzzle lock.  Luckily, Boaz plans to create more puzzle locks in the future and continue the family tradition.

Billows and Thieves by Mike Di Tota

I’ve paired the B-Lock with an incredible unlocked cocktail from one of the most innovative zero-proof mixologists around, Mike Di Tota from New York. He is the General Manager and Bar Director at The Bonnie in Astoria, Queens, where he created a number of sophisticated zero-proof cocktails this year for their “Dry January” menu. He also holds a degree in botany from the New York Botanical Garden School of Professional Horticulture, giving him a much deeper understanding of the origins from roots, bark, seeds, stems, herbs and flowers of the tools of his spirits trade.  

A fantastic fusion of flavors

His Billows and Thieves starts with a base of fresh grapefruit juice, and of course I used Texas ruby red Rio Star, an ingredient I have raved about before and swear is the best in the world.  Add to that a jolt of cold-brewed coffee and things are starting to get interesting.  To sweeten things up he adds a black cardamom-cinnamon syrup which adds an amazing burst of flavor.  Finally some fresh lemon and smoked sea salt round out this amazing cocktail, which will sharpen your senses, rather than dull them.  Mike was thinking of pirates when he named this cocktail, but you don't have to plunder on the high seas to enjoy one of these delicious drinks.  Shake one of these up next time you want to be drinking without drinking, and unlock a whole new experience.  Here’s to sneaky solutions, tricky tipples and deceptive delights.  Cheers!

This pair is truly un-B-lievable 

Billows and Thieves by Mike Di Tota

3 oz fresh grapefruit
1 oz cold-brew coffee
½ oz black cardamom-cinnamon syrup*
½ oz fresh lemon
Pinch smoked sea salt
Nutmeg garnish

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Dust nutmeg on top.

*black cardamom-cinnamon syrup: toast 2 smashed cinnamon sticks over medium heat until they become aromatic and begin to crackle, then remove.  Combine 1 cup maple syrup with ½ cup water and heat to dissolve, then add back the toasted cinnamon sticks plus 3 smashed black cardamom pods. Simmer for a few minutes then allow to cool to room temperature.  Strain the syrup and bottle. 

The Feldman family tradition continues

The B-Lock by Boaz Feldman (and new DanLock) can be ordered by contacting:

For prior Locks and Libations see:

Saturday, April 21, 2018


Unlocking the next Locks and Libations pairing in this series brings us to perhaps the most celebrated of all puzzle locks, the DanLock.  Most agree that this incredible classic deserves a spot as one of the all time greats in the puzzle “Hall of Fame” and certainly the puzzle lock Hall of Fame.  Much has been written about it and the nuances are likely familiar to most.  The puzzle was originally crafted by Dan Feldman out of a solid brass Nabob padlock from the premier Israeli lock company, founded in 1945 by Israel Barzilai.  The Israelis certainly know a thing or two about security.  

DanLock by Dan Feldman

Dan worked at IBM for 37 years and had a degree in mathematics and statistics from Tel Aviv University. He was fascinated with mechanical puzzles from his childhood when he built his first puzzle, the Chinese Rings, from instructions in a magazine.  In the early nineties he began collecting locks and puzzle locks, and developing his own ideas.  In his search for a factory to produce his ideas, he met Israel Barzilai of the Nabob company.  The friendship, and Israel’s extensive knowledge of lock mechanisms, led to the creation and production of Dan’s early lock puzzle inventions, the “Trip”, “Multip”, “Temptation”, and “Locked & Broken”.  It’s wonderful to know that Dan’s most famous puzzle, the “DanLock”, which provides a number of independent AHA moments, was itself born out of an AHA moment which Dan had while thinking about his prior lock puzzles.  The DanLock “B” was created years later, with changes to the inner mechanism and an added challenge.  In this version, four different tricks are layered sequentially to create the infamous puzzle, which starts with one key to the lock firmly secured to the shackle and another one broken in half.  The puzzle has likely become so admired over the years due to this very beginning, which invites the unthinkable, challenging the solver to avoid doing something uncomfortable or disastrous.  Add to that some incredibly tricky additional steps to put things back the way they started (which most also agree is the real puzzle) and it’s not hard to understand why this is such a classic. 

The Incredible Dan Feldman (IDF?)

The tradition of the DanLock continues with Dan’s son, Boaz, who now produces these locks with a steel shackle and a nice logo with the continued assistance of Israel Barzilai from Nabob.  Boaz shared some stories from the early days of the DanLock, which was originally released before widespread use of the internet.  People heard about it via word of mouth, and obtained a copy after exchanges of letters.  When they received the package after much waiting, they got a … broken key! What?! They wanted to ask about it, but couldn’t.  Many assumed it was a joke, or a mistake.  To this day it’s amazing see how different people approach this problem, with every imaginable permutation of action or inaction, which hasn’t changed since the first DanLock was released.  It’s also funny to watch people eventually succeed triumphantly with the second step, only to quickly realize they are completely stuck again in the ultimate paradox.  Some people even claimed the lock to be a scam.  Boaz’s fondest recollection is from an article by Edward Hordern in which he praises the DanLock: “If I had to give away my entire collection of locks – there must be a hundred or two hundred of them – and keep only three, this recent acquisition would be one of them. As the other two are rather nice antique ones."

Stop and Go by Julia Momose

At each step in the solving process for the DanLock, most people are stuck for a while (sometimes a very long while), have an epiphany, go forward a bit, and have to stop again.  This process repeats itself a few times before victory is at hand.  I found the perfect unlocked cocktail to pair with this puckish padlock, the aptly named “Stop and Go” by mixologist Julia Momose.  She created it as part of her “zero-proof” (non-alcoholic) pairing menu for Chicago’s double-Michelin-starred restaurant Oriole.  Her goal with these zero-proof cocktails was to show people how elegant and complex these drinks can be, crafted with the same care and culinary intensity typically reserved for high proof cocktails.  

No alcohol is nothing to wine about ...

The drink features Verjus, the pressed juice from unripe grapes, which translates from the French literally as “green juice”.  It is high in acidity and low in sugar, and it remains unfermented, so is non-alcoholic.  Reminiscent of wine, and much milder than vinegar, it is often used in sauces and mustards, and more recently, cocktails.  It shines in the Stop and Go, which uses rich demerara to sweeten the elixir and tonic to give things a festive pop.  The name derives from the color of the drink contrasted with a vibrant sage leaf floated on top.  Try this unlocked cocktail while trying your hand at unlocking the DanLock – it will keep your mind clear, even if it remains the only solution you find.  Cheers!

Stop and Go get yourself the incredible DanLock

Stop and Go by Julia Momose
2 oz Verjus rouge
1 oz rich demerara syrup
Tonic water to taste
1 sage leaf

The tradition continues with the new DanLock, produced by Boaz Feldman

N.B.: Special thanks to Boaz Feldman for the wonderful history and stories he provided.
The new DanLock can be ordered by contacting Dan Feldman’s daughter at:

For more Locks and Libations see:

Saturday, April 14, 2018


Just when you thought things were locked down tight for the next few weeks I’m throwing a wrench in the gears.  I’m unlocking the locks and libations series this week for something geared to pique your curiosity and get the wheels turning, perhaps with a little steam powered puzzling technology.

Mecanigma by Neokid

This modern marvel of mystery comes from the South of France and is the creation of Christophe Laronde, a reclusive genius who goes by the moniker “Neokid”.  With a background in masonry and building, Neo has been making his puzzle box creations for the past five years or so.  His friend and business partner Julien Vigouroux, with whom he shares a love of riddles, inventions and magic, recognized his talent and helped him set up and start their joint venture, NK-Puzzle.  They built their workshop in an old distillery in Lodeve (“La Distillerie”), which has become a home for developing artists.  There, Neokid invents, designs and manufactures his creations using eco-friendly techniques and materials, with modern CNC machines, laser cutting, and 3D printing. 

Truly a mechanical enigma!

The “Mecanigma” box is a surreal fantasy inspired by “steampunk” which features an explosion of mechanisms, gears, levers and knobs crafted from veneered wood, plastic, steel and brass.  The box requires a sequence of 10-15 clever moves (depending on how you count one of the steps) in order to open, and has a large storage space inside where you will find a shiny plaque inscribed with the maker’s mark.  Each unique side interacts with others and the mechanisms are often locked on multiple sides.  There is even a combination lock which must be deduced in order to proceed, with self-contained clues provided by the box itself.  The design is brilliant and delightful, tactile, whimsical, and fun.  The level of detail on the box is truly impressive, begging to be explored, and provides rewarding movement with palpable and audible feedback as it comes to life.  It’s reminiscent of something one might find on MYST island and requires similar manipulations to solve.   The Mecanigma is a stunning vision brought to life by an enigmatic artist full of incredible ideas.

French Storm by Lee Hyde

To toast this mechanical marvel I’m turning my gears toward France, of course, for a drink based on the original bohemian enigma of the Belle Epoche – absinthe!  Absinthe has a long and storied history (which I have recounted in great detail) going back to ancient Egypt and Greece, but is best known as the hallucinogenic hangover-maker of the turn-of-the-century Parisian arts scene.  Thujone, the chemical ingredient in Wormwood (the bitter plant which flavors absinthe) was mistakenly thought to be mind-altering, a fact that got absinthe banned for a hundred years.  

An enigmatic maelstrom of flavors

This cocktail comes by way of London, where mixologist Lee Hyde is well known for mixing up elixirs with emotion at Bar Americain.  He created his complex concoction, the “French Storm”, for Enigma Absinthe while at Met Bar.  It fuses an incredible combination of flavors from the absinthe (originally Enigma Blanche, with notes of candied and tropical fruit, lychee, fennel, anise, lime, toffee and caramel) with Aperol, aged rum, cocao and almond.  The result is indeed a storm of flavor and feeling in the glass which recall the old and the new.  I can imagine Lovecraft regaling Toulouse-Lautrec with his tales of the absurd while they sip on these perfect potions.  Vive la France, levons notre verre, and Cheers!

A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma ...

French Storm by Lee Hyde

30ml Enigma Blanche de Fougerolles (I used Vieux Pontarlier)
15ml Aperol
10ml Ron Diplomático
15ml crème de cacao
10ml orgeat
15ml lime juice
egg white

Shake ingredients vigorously without ice to foam then add ice and shake briefly to chill.  Double strain into a vintage cut glass coup, a steampunk chalice or any favorite receptacle.  No garnish required for this one but I couldn’t resist adding a lime wheel gear.

For more about NK-Puzzle:

For more about absinthe:
La Belle E-"box"

Special thanks to Julien Vigouroux for providing information and these incredible photos of the Mecanigma in various stages of construction:

Saturday, April 7, 2018


Unlocking the key to creativity is one of the many objectives for this little venture of mine.  To keep things interesting (for the readers as well as myself) I’ve occasionally diverged from the boxes and booze path to dabble in things which are not exactly a box, such as many of Brian Young’s wonderful sequential discovery puzzles (they always have space inside for something, so, a box!), and things which are not at all a box, such as the incredible trick locks from ShaneHales.  Last week’s April Fool’s Day offering was my first foray into things which are not exactly a booze, and it was about time, too. Statistics (I know, I know) suggest that up to one third of the American population (my little corner of the world) doesn’t drink alcohol at all, and any good bartender knows there will be someone who wants an interesting drink but isn’t “drinking”.  I’ve decided to do a whole series on the theme I unlocked last week, with the “Unlocked Negroni”, and revisit my favorite alter ego, “Locks and Libations”.

Haleslock 4 by Shane Hales

Speaking of Shane Hales, let’s kick off this first in the series of unlocked cocktails with one of his fine locks (and I’m not talking about the hair on his head).  I’ve extolled Shane’s virtues as a brilliant carpenter and locksmith before, but he has some newly acquired credentials as well now.  He recently joined the ranks of the prestigious U.K. Master Locksmith Association, and has started his own locksmithing business.  Add to that his penchant for puzzles and there’s no wonder he’s up to number four in his own puzzle lock series.  

Hmmm, a rather unusual keyhole ...

The Haleslock 4 was created to be Allard Walker’s exchange puzzle for IPP 37 and along with Haleslock 3 was produced in greater quantities to meet those demands.  The lock is a standard issue modified padlock which features an unusual key reminiscent of a Phillips head screwdriver, known as a “cruciform” key.  This key design has always fascinated Shane (he tells me) and although he feels that this lock is not perfect, it captivated both his and Allard’s imagination.  Shane’s instructions are quite clear, you are to use everything provided (well, it seems to be a lock and a key) and open the lock.  If you actually follow those instructions, however, which may not be so obvious, there is an elegant solution hidden cleverly inside this puzzle lock.  In case it needs saying, inserting the key into the lock does not work!  Shane has unlocked another fine puzzle, and we can’t wait to see what the master locksmith will come up with next.

Tea Time by Bryan Dayton

For the unlocked cocktail pairing I’ve selected something which should appeal to Shane’s British heritage, a tea based cocktail.  This would be perfect for high tea or happy hour – perhaps one could blend easily into the next with no need to get up and move on.  And I’ve unlocked the secret to no hangovers – no alcohol!  Colorado based mixologist Bryan Dayton created this perfect potion for his Boulder bar and restaurant, OAK at Fourteenth.  Using green tea as the base, it adds lavender syrup, lemon juice and ginger beer (which is of course really just ginger soda, no fermentation in this beer), along with a few dashes of grapefruit bitters to round it all out.  

This is the key to a refreshing "cocktail"  

Now if you want to be a purist, or in this case a “tea” totaler, you might point out that bitters are actually alcoholic.  It’s true, cocktail bitters are complex mixtures of herbs, spices and bark which utilize alcohol to extract the flavors.  In fact they have a high alcohol content, usually over 40% which is compatible with most basic spirits.  But they are only intended to be consumed as a few drops, and must be so bitter as to be considered “non-potable”.  This is why no liquor license is required to sell them.  A few drops in your drink will impart flavor but no significant alcohol, in the same way as adding pure vanilla extract to your baking goods (which also carries a hefty alcohol content, at around 35%).  So you can enjoy as many of these light and refreshing tea cocktails as you like, and have some cookies while you’re at it, too.  Here’s to unlocked locks and libations, a puzzles and potions proxy.  Cheers!

Locks and Libations

Tea Time by Bryan Dayton

2 oz green tea
1 oz lavender syrup
2 oz ginger beer
½ oz lemon
2 dashes grapefruit bitters

Shake together with ice and strain into a favorite glass, or better yet, a tea cup! Garnish with grapefruit peel or the key to a great puzzle.

For more about Shane Hales:

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Fool Me Twice

It’s that time of year again, everyone’s favorite foolish holiday.  I’ve had some fun over the past few years with this one.  I once proposed a name change for the blog to “Twisties and Tonics” and featured Oskar’s Treasure Chest, a Rubik’s Cube which is also a puzzle box along with an “apple martini” which is really nothing of the sort.  A bit of Tom Foolery.  Last year I really tried everyone’s patience with a sneaky “Rick Roll” I embedded in a video of Fumio Tsuburai’s “Roll Box”.  After that I think everyone deserves a break.  There are still some sneaky things afoot for this year’s April Fool’s post, but they aren’t at anyone else’s expense this time. 

Unlocked Drawer by Kathleen Malcolmson and Perry McDaniel

I should say, if we are being honest with one another, that all great puzzle boxes are meant to be at someone else’s expense.  This hobby is self-inflicted masochism masked by intellectual curiosity at its finest.  For this April Fool’s Day I’m turning to one of my favorite groups of fine folks, the local Texas talents of Kathleen Malcolmson, Perry McDaniel, and Robert Sandfield.  Together they produced a classic little conundrum which purports to be nothing of the sort.  “Sandfield’s Unlocked Drawer” is a straightforward creation which doesn’t pull any punches – it is, as it claims to be, unlocked.  Just open it, and retrieve the Texas state quarter nestled inside.  Simple!  Ah, but, April Fools! You should know better than to expect things to be that easy from this group of puzzle professionals. 

Just take the quarter, the drawer is unlocked ...

Originally designed by Perry McDaniel, but with a simpler appearance, the Unlocked Drawer holds a place of pride in Kathleen Malcomson’s heart.  She had been working on the basic mechanism for this puzzle for about ten years before it came to life, adjusting tolerances, playing with humidity changes and researching solutions.  She had finally perfected the mechanism, but couldn’t get it to be consistent enough.  She approached Perry with her dilemma.  After confirming many considerations with her, he finally asked how many router tables she was using.  Just one, she replied.  You need two, that will take care of it, was Perry’s response.  Kathleen set up another router table, and it worked perfectly.  Knowing that she had solved the manufacturing issues, Perry offered the design for the Unlocked Drawer to Kathleen for Robert Sandfield’s 2007 IPP exchange in Australia.  In turn knowing how puzzlers think, Kathleen modified the design further, turning it into a classic puzzle box, which she rates as her favorite among her creations.  She recalls another triumph when later that year, after the exchange, a collector whispered to her that his copy was clearly “stuck”.  There’s really no better compliment than that, is there?  Meticulously crafted from her trademark Lacewood and Primavera, the Unlocked Drawer is a wonderful example of how simple yet challenging a well designed puzzle can be.  The precision required to execute this is also a testament to Malcolmson’s extraordinary skill.  If all doors were this tricky to open, we would never need locks.

The Unlocked Negroni

To toast this minny marvel of misdirection I’ve whipped up another misleading mixture.  You may have noticed my penchant for the bitter classic Negroni cocktail, which I frequently feature in various forms and versions.  Here’s a totally new twist on the genre, and perfect for April Fool’s Day, a “fauxgroni”.  Serve this one to you friends and relatives for a sophisticated sipper with a secret.  What the heck, serve it to your children too – it doesn’t have a drop of alcohol in it!  “Cocktails” with no alcohol have undergone their own revolution of late, with prep and care spent in their creation equal to the degree and extent of their alcoholic counterparts in many fancy bars and restaurants.   Often referred to as “mocktails”, these fancy non-alcoholic drinks are appearing on menus as “zero-proof” cocktails and other terms more fitting to their intense preparation.  I’ve coined the term “Unlocked Cocktails” which I think has a nice ring to it.

Fancy a faux-groni?

The Negroni is often thought of as the ultimate zero-proof challenge, since its three ingredients (gin, vermouth and Campari) are all alcoholic and distinctive in flavor.  There’s no juice or syrup for example.  How in the world can such a drink be recreated with no alcohol?  One of the best examples comes from Nick Duble, head bartender at New York’s Atera.  He created a “gin” by making a tea from juniper leaves and branches, a “Campari” by infusing beet juice with quinine and other aromatics, and a “vermouth” by rehydrating raisins!  There are simpler ways to achieve this level of flavor, and that’s fine with me (although I am in awe of his creativity).  Instead of gin I used Seedlip Spice, an innovative new product from the UK which is a distilled, non-alcoholic spirit based on techniques and recipes from 1651.  The Spice contains flavors of oak, cascarilla bark, green cardamom, all spice berries, lemon peel, and grapefruit peel.  I borrowed Duble’s innovative vermouth idea of rehydrating raisins, which really does taste like vermouth, and I used Italian bitter soda instead of Campari.  The Italians love their bitter liquids, and they have a number of such drinks available which are non-alcoholic.  The resulting “Unlocked Negroni” is a fabulous cocktail truly reminiscent of the original, and perfect for “imbibing when you aren’t imbibing”.  You’d be a fool not to try one.  Cheers!

This pair unlocks some surprises

Unlocked Negroni

1 oz Seedlip Spice
1 oz faux vermouth (rehydrated raisin “liquor”)
1 oz Italian bitter soda

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

For more creations from Sandfield & Company:

For prior Negronis: