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.

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
Wolves at the Door