Saturday, January 20, 2018


Over the past few years since I have been writing this blog I have had the great fortune to get to know a few of the craftsmen and women who make these fine puzzle boxes, and I’ve become friendly with quite a number of mixologists as well.  Almost all of these friendships are virtual, with correspondences occurring via email or other media.  They are my modern day pen pals.

Ze Super Pen by Stephen Chin

A friend who lives clear on the other side of the world from me (‘downunder”, you might say) even sent me a pen to keep up the correspondences, so I’ve got no excuses now.  Stephen Chin, the madman wood turner well known for making tippy tops, whistles, eggs and spheres out of beautiful wood has set his considerable talent to fine writing implements as well.  His “Ze Super Pen” looks for all the world like a handsome handmade wooden pen, and it is!  If you didn’t know any better you would be perfectly content to use it proudly, writing poems to all your pan-pacific puzzle and potion pals.   But you do know better, don’t you? Now, if you’ve had some experience with a Stephen Chin puzzle, you might be expecting this pen to laugh at you when you try to write with it, or maybe even bite you.  Certainly it must squirt ink on your shirt, at the very least. Maybe if you jot down the secret syllable, the pen will beep a digital ditty and flash some twinkling lights?  If I sound crazy then you really haven’t seen one of his puzzles!

This puzzle pen is all-write!

By comparison, this fine writing instrument is rather tame, with no actual bells or whistles.  But it does contain a secret after all.  Hiding inside the pen, there is a diamond to be found.  In fact, since it has a secret compartment with treasure inside, no less, Chinny has created a puzzle box pen! Through some rather clever and subtle modifications, he has utilized many of the natural parts of the pen itself to disguise what is essentially a sequential discovery puzzle leading to the hidden treasure inside the pen.  The final solution is very satisfying and will surely cure any writer’s block you might have had.  I’m penning this praise for your promiscuous pen, Chinny – it’s a real diamond in the rough.

Pen Pal by Gal Karni

I’ll toast my pen pal’s pen with this perfect potion, the Pen Pal, created by Gal Karni of Barmini in Washington, D.C.  The Pen Pal is a wonderful variation of the classic Old Pal, which in turn is a well known variation of the beloved Negroni.  If you’ve read my blog a few times before you’ll have come across innumerable Negronis, and that’s unlikely to change!  The Old Pal traces its origins to 1927 and the friendship between Paris based sportswriter William “Sparrow” Robinson and Harry McElhone, the famed proprietor at Harry’s New York Bar.  Harry’s in Paris was the place to be and imbibe for expats during prohibition in America.   McElhone recounts the tales of his friends in his book, “Barflies and Cocktails”, where we learn that Robinson liked to call every “My Old Pal”.  He loved the combination of rye, dry vermouth and Campari that Harry would fix for him, and the drink became legend.  Perhaps they both would have enjoyed this new version, which doubles the rye and smooths out the Campari bitter with its mellower cousin Aperol.  Here’s to you, My Old Pal, and thanks for the pen!  Cheers!

This pair is stu-pen-dous

Pen Pal by Gal Karni

1 ½ oz rye whiskey
¾ oz dry vermouth
¾ oz Aperol

Stir ingredients over ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Lemon twist or lemon koala garnish.  Sip pen-sively.

For more about Stephen Chin:

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