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:

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