Saturday, December 28, 2019

Reeling in the Years

Happy New Year! Another year gone by and this time, another decade as well. I’m reflecting back over the past ten years from a beautiful porch overlooking Lake Travis outside of Austin Texas. I’ve just had emergency surgery for appendicitis (and am doing fine), which is a great way to put things into perspective and cap an incredibly interesting decade. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, as I’m sure there are other ways to put things into perspective, but it was effective. I’ve got an amazing family and a satisfying career, not to mention the most enjoyable hobby I could have imagined. Things could be worse. A decade ago, I wasn’t writing this blog each week. I wasn’t even collecting puzzle boxes, and was only just starting to make cocktails. It hasn’t all been martinis and roses but I certainly can’t complain.

Art Deco Clock Box by Bill Sheckels

Reflecting on time has been a preoccupation since at least the ancient Greeks, whose original god of time, Chronos, personified the concept. Chronos, which literally means “time”, pre-dates the more famous Greek gods and got mixed up with the later Titan Kronos, god of agriculture, who famously ate his children (including his son Zeus, who didn’t like being eaten). The god of agriculture was often portrayed as an old bearded man with a harvesting scythe, and because of the similarities in names, the idea of “time” and this persona merged. He became the god Saturn to the Romans, and their end of year winter festival “Saturnalia” was the original holiday that has now been replaced by Christmas, and why images of Father Christmas and Father Time are tangled up in it.

Time is full of secrets

To commemorate the year’s end, the passage of time, and the New Year ahead, I traditionally try to find an appropriate puzzle box to offer. I’ve featured a box with soba noodles, which are a Japanese New Year’s tradition, and a pineapple, a common symbol of welcome. I’ve presented an origin story for a favorite artist, by way of referencing a new beginning. And I’ve featured an incredible clock, perhaps the ultimate symbol of time. This year I’ve got another clock, it so happens, and time waits for no man, so let’s get to it. This handsome mantel clock is crafted in the classic Art Deco style by master furniture maker Bill Sheckels. It sits 9 ½ inches high, is made from thermally modified Ash, and contains a functioning quartz clockwork which has been beautifully lettered in Art Deco font. The bottom of the clock face bears Sheckel’s name, which is a nice touch. The clock, a perfectly pretty piece all in its own right, hides a cleverly disguised hidden compartment locked with multiple steps. Sheckels has helpfully installed access to the clock inside the secret compartment, so that the puzzle must be solved before the clock can become functional. It’s a very handsome puzzle with a solution that only time will tell.

Clockwork Orange by Taylor Hall

Here’s a toast to the decade with something delicious. It will awaken the senses and stimulate the brain. It comes from “down under”, a place ahead of its time, if you live where I do, at any rate. Mixologist Taylor Hall, from Sydney’s Tandem Bar, was inspired by the flavors of one of his favorite cookies, the Jaffa Cake, a delicious McVitie’s biscuit covered in bitter orange jam and dark chocolate. These are often dipped into hot coffee, as if they weren’t tasty enough already. Hall recreates all of these flavors into a wonderful after dinner drink which is perfect to help you stay awake with while awaiting the New Year. 

Time for a treat

It features a spicy Scandinavian spirit, aquavit, which also makes it an ideal cocktail with which to toast the Art Deco Clock Box, as Sheckel’s originally hails from Scandinavia, and his design sensibilities are heavily influenced by his home. To that base spirit is added fresh strong coffee and the lightly bitter and citrusy amaro Aperol. Some choice cocktail bitters round things out and a good shake produces some wonderfully festive foam. After that, it’s up to you to take the time to enjoy it. Here’s a toast to the decade – thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read my writings each week, and to the wonderful friendships I have been gifted as a result. Cheers!

Enjoying this pair in double time

Clockwork Orange

1 oz aquavit
1 oz French press coffee (chilled)
1 oz Aperol
½ oz simple syrup
2 dashes chocolate bitters
6 dashes orange bitters

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Flame an orange peel over the glass and add for garnish.

For prior New Year’s offerings see:
Happy New Year!
Time Passages
Favorite Things
A Warm Welcome

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Desperately Seeking Santa

Happy Holidays! I enjoy holiday themed offerings, and often delve into an exploration of the origins of many Western traditions, a delightful and enlightening pursuit. I’ve expounded upon the fascinating and gruesome history of Valentine’s Day, for example, and I’ve eluded to the introduction of the festive tree this time of year before.  Evergreens have been used in reverent worship since the time of the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Druids. It’s not hard to understand how a vibrant green plant might have inspired awe in the dead of winter long ago. Notwithstanding its Pagan origins, the tree took on new meaning thanks to the Germans in the sixteenth century, who brought trees into their homes during Christmas.

Santa's Workshop by Kelly Snache

What about Santa Claus? St. Nicholas was a Greek monk from the third century, born near modern day Turkey. He was famed for his generosity and kindness, especially to children, and his life was celebrated. Many countries developed their own versions of this gift giving saint, such as the Dutch who called him Sint Nikolaas, and gave him the more famous nickname Sinter Klaus. The celebration of his death on December 6, marked with gifts and wishes for prosperity, slowly became tangled with the Christian celebration of Christmas around the same time. The Swiss even called their holiday benefactor “Christkind”, meaning Christ Child, for example. The English were much more pragmatic, naming him “Father Christmas”. But ultimately we find ourselves in America, where the Dutch brought their Sinter Klaus to town in the late eighteenth century. Over the next hundred years, the media, in the form of poet Clement Clarke Moore (Twas the Night Before Christmas, 1822) and cartoonist Thomas Nast (Harper’s Weekly,1881), reshaped the jolly old soul into the guy we know today.

My Tea Tricky ... 

Ok, I know I’m supposed to present a puzzle box here at some point, too. How about this one, fresh from Santa’s Workshop? Another seasonal creation from our puzzling friend up North, Santa’s Workshop is a holiday themed chapter in the Tea Box series from Kelly Snache. Kelly describes these in this way: “The Granny’s Tea Box puzzle design pays homage to my Granny. She introduced me to the joy of puzzles at a very young age (probably to keep me out of trouble for 5 minutes), and of course loved drinking tea herself. Serendipitously, the pint-sized tea boxes, my love of recycling and my passion for wood puzzle boxes has steeped much like the tea, to blend the varied ingredients into a delightful enigma. I see oodles of charm in these teensy weensy tea boxes and the potential for an intriguing puzzle experience.” Kelly plans a total of ten tea boxes over time. Santa is number seven in the series so far, and the most recent, made from a vintage soft wood tea box modified with Pau Amarello, Walnut, Bloodwood, American Cherry, Wenge and Maple into a five moves to open puzzle box. It’s definitely on the nice list!
Sleigh Pilot

Typically one would leave some cookies and milk out by the fireplace for Santa, which is why he got so fat, incidentally. You would be forgiven for thinking that Santa's drink of choice is a cold glass of milk. A little known fact is that Santa actually loves a few cocktails on Christmas Eve. His sleigh is magic anyway, he doesn’t really need to stay sober. Rudolph is his designating driver. A lover of all things kitschy, Santa really goes for an over-the-top tiki style drink. This entire class of cocktails (tiki) is an oeuvre meant to evoke a generic Polynesian vibe and transport one to an ambiguously tropical locale. It was “invented” by Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt when he opened Don the Beachcomber, the very first tiki style bar in Hollywood, 1934. A few years later, “Trader Vic” Bergeron remodeled his place up the road, copying Gantt, and sealing the fate of tiki, which became immensely popular thanks to war veterans returning from the South Pacific and the folly of the Hollywood elite. In modern times tiki styling might have been considered cultural appropriation, but tiki cocktail culture was always acknowledged to be a fabrication, not a true representation of authentic Polynesian culture. In this light, it’s simply an art form all on its own.
This year we dive back into the history books for one of Don the Beachcomber’s originals, the Test Pilot. Like many of his classic recipes, it has evolved over time, but should include overproof rum, Puerto Rican rum, Jamaican rum, lime juice, and Don’s signature mix of Angostura Bitters and Pernod (or other anise flavored liqueur such as Herbsaint or Absinthe). Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, new versions of the drink popped up quickly at other bars, with a notable version being the “Jet Pilot”, which added grapefruit juice and cinnamon syrup to the mix. These drinks captured the imagination of the public in the Forties and Fifties, during the “Jet Age” of air speed development, with Edwards Air Force in Southern California host to Chuck Yeager’s 1948 air speed record in an X-1 jet. His record would be surpassed in 1967 by the X-15 rocket plane, which inspired its own cocktail.
Santa's being a little naughty

For Santa’s version of the Jet Pilot, I’ve simply swapped out the Jamaican rum for Becherovka, the Czech spirit I wrote about last winter made with flavors of cinnamon, clove, allspice, ginger and cardamom. It retains the spirit of the rum while adding something festive for the holidays, and works perfectly. Of course, any decent tiki drink needs an outrageous, over-the-top garnish, so here is one made from citrus peels that ought to hit the mark, straight from Santa’s Texas Workshop. Here's wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season. Cheers!
Naughty and Nice

Sleigh Pilot

1 oz Becherovka
¾ oz Puerto Rican aged rum
¾ oz overproof dark rum
½ oz lime
½ oz grapefruit
½ oz Falernum liqueur
½ oz cinnamon syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
6 dashes absinthe
4 oz crushed ice

Flash mix ingredients together in a blender and serve ala tiki style in a favorite mug.

For more from Kelly Snache:
Time Passages

Saturday, December 14, 2019

French Kiss

“All confined things die” – Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Moulin Rouge by Stephan Baumegger

With a stroke of his pencil and paintbrush, the famous French painter released his art on the world so that it might live. His philosophy might also give insight into the driving force behind the desire to solve a puzzle box – as an inherent act of life itself, perhaps.

We find ourselves on the Boulevard de Clichy, in the Parisian district of Pigalle, close to Montmarte, staring up at a windmill adorned on its top by a set of famous red blades. This red windmill, the Moulin Rouge, was the home of the original French can-can dance and the site where cabaret was born in 1889. It epitomized the Belle Epoque, the period of optimism and prosperity during the turn of the nineteenth century immortalized by artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec.

I know you can-can do it!

Austrian social worker and highly regarded wood craftsman Stephan Baumegger has now immortalized the famous landmark in his own way, by creating a fabulous puzzle homage. Baumegger began making wooden puzzles at a young age, having seen one during a school trip and deciding to make it himself when he got home. His puzzle making has been a journey of self-motivation ever since, and he has gone on to create many well recognized, challenging and iconing interlocking puzzle designs. For the 37th International Puzzle Party he was commissioned to create an exchange for one of the participants. The result, his Moulin Rouge, is a tiny replica of the original, made from Amarant, Merbau and Beech woods. He entered a special version into the 17th International Puzzle Design Competition, where it won a Top Ten Vote award. The lovely windmill comes with an explanation from Baumegger, that "Colette, one of the beautiful dancers at Moulin Rouge was trapped at night when the theater closed. Please help her to escape as quickly as you can." Should you be wise (and sober) enough to navigate the hidden alleyways of Pigalle, you will ultimately be met by a tiny, colorful, zinc figurine dancer. If you’re lucky, she might even give you a kick. Colette was crafted especially for this puzzle, and in the design competition versions she is brightly hand painted in the classic French colors of red, white and blue. I'm partial to those colors as well in my neck of the woods. 

Moulin Rouge c. 1930

“Of course, one should not drink much, but often” – Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

For the toast, we don’t need to ponder about a pairing very hard, as it turns out there is a classic, if obscure, cocktail already, called the Moulin Rouge. The earliest record of it exists in Harry Craddock’s famous and swanky Art Deco offering from 1930, The Savoy Cocktail Book. The originator is unknown, so it can best be ascribed now to Craddock who set it down in print. It may well have existed a few decades earlier, perhaps even known to those original patrons of the dance hall. One of the main ingredients, “orange gin”, was no longer produced after a time, suggesting a likely explanation for the cocktails subsequent obscurity. But no matter, these details are elementary to today’s intrepid mixologists, who are just an orange peel away from such delicacies.

A few simple ingredients make a timeless classic

I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer rush out to procure a specific bottle of something unusual, such as orange gin (Tanqueray and Malfy make nice ones now), if I can simply make it myself. A little infusion of various orange peels, from sweet to bitter, and some spices, overnight, does the trick quite nicely. The other homemade ingredient which is an absolute must is grenadine, no matter how easy it seems to purchase. There is simply no substitute for homemade in this category, so you will only ever be getting close if you purchase something good. Grenadine, from the French word “grenade”, is pomegranate. It is not the bright red sugar syrup in a Shirley Temple. To make it properly at home, you need a pomegranate, some sugar, and if you want it really fancy, some pomegranate molasses and orange flower water. I use Jeff Morganthaler’s recipe, it is the best in the world. Try it, and you will never use anything else again. Here’s to homegrown inspiration, setting pencil to paper, and keeping up that can-can do attitude. Cheers!

I get a kick out of this pair

Moulin Rouge from The Savoy Cocktail Book c. 1930

1 ½ oz Apricot Brandy
¾ oz orange gin
¾ oz lemon juice
¼ oz homemade grenadine

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Can-Can Garnish.

For Jeff Morganthaler’s grenadine recipe:

For Stephan Baumegger's page:

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Measuring Up

Let’s talk about sake for a moment. For goodness sake, it’s one of the oldest known spirit distillates on historical record, dating at least to the eighth century and possibly earlier. Sake is a spirit made from fermented rice, in which a brewing process similar to that used for beer converts starch into sugar, which is then converted to alcohol. Unlike with beer, where these two processes occur separately, they occur simultaneously during sake brewing. Like most unique spirits there are numerous styles and flavor profiles. Sake is traditionally served in different types of vessels, from the flat saucer sakazuki, to the small cup ochoko, to the wooden box masu. Sake is also served at many different temperatures, with warm sake typically reserved for winter, and for lower quality spirit. Most high quality sake is served chilled, like a fine white wine.

Japanese Measuring Cup by Tatsuo Miyamoto

The masu, traditionally made from Japanese cypress wood, is a simple cubic box made to a very specific measurement. These were originally used to measure exactly 1 serving of rice, known in Japanese as “go”, a Japanese “cup”, which in modern equivalents equals 180ml or approximately 6.1 US fluid oz. This has also become the traditional serving size for an order of sake, which is often presented with an overflowing cup or glass, to symbolize generosity and prosperity. 

Will you measure up to the challenge?

Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyamoto of the Karakuri Creation Group has created a beautiful puzzle box which perfectly captures the “spirit” of this traditional form. Crafted from Japanese cypress, naturally, his “Measuring Cup” is a polished and larger reproduction of the classic masu. The closed lid on top mimics a cup perfectly full to the brim. There is even the Japanese kanji symbol for “go” etched on the side. The puzzle box is elegantly appointed with a few hidden moves that may play on assumptions to fool the solver, and even includes two distinct compartments. It’s another fine creation from this master craftsman. It also now belongs in the small and select group of puzzle boxes that meet the criteria for perfect “boxes and booze” boxes. Another such box that I have mentioned in the past is Spring Night from Yoh Kakuda, in which a tiny masu can be found in the hands of the happy frog.

The Aki

Here's a sake cocktail to toast this fine box. Of course a masu full of sake alone would have been enough here, but Miyamoto went the extra ri and so shall we. For this drink I used a favorite of mine, nigori sake, often referred to as “cloud” sake because, well, it’s cloudy. That’s what nigori means in English. After fermentation sake is filtered to remove the remaining grain solids, with resulting clear spirit. Nigori sake is coarsely filtered, using a broad mesh, so that fine rice particles remain and impart a cloudy appearance. It is generally sweeter and milder in flavor.

A Japanese Vesper cocktail

I’ve used it to create a Japanese version of the classic James Bond drink, the Vesper. You are likely familiar with his famous shaken martini, which appears time and again in the novels and movies along with the catchphrase “shaken, not stirred”. The drink he originally orders in the very first Ian Fleming novel, Casino Royal, 1953, is one of his own invention, composed of 3 parts gin, 1 part vodka, and ½ part Kina Lillet, shaken until ice cold and served with a lemon twist. The drink is unnamed until later, when he settles on “Vesper”, the name of his original love interest, Vesper Lynd. The Vesper differs greatly from a traditional martini, which is made with gin and vermouth, and classically, stirred. Bond’s version adds some vodka, and switches the vermouth for Kina Lillet in a very dry proportion. Kina Lillet is a French aromatized aperitif wine flavored with quinine that was popular at that time. Since then it has gone through a few formula changes, such that it was impossible to create a true Vesper for a long time. The “Kina” component is back again now in Lillet, however, so Bond fans can rejoice. For even more robust quinquina flavor Cocchi Americano can be added as well. In this version of the Vesper, I’ve swapped out the vodka for sake, and therefore adjusted the drink’s name to reflect Bond’s love interest from the 1967 film version of You Only Live Twice. Kampei!

Taking the measure of this pair

The Aki

3 oz gin
1 oz sake
½ oz Kina Lillet
½ oz Cocchi Americano

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a masu cup. Lemon twist.

For more about Tatsuo Miyamoto:
A Heart Shaped Box
A Game of Thrones

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Deluxe Edition

This time of year many of us are reflecting on the more important aspects of our lives, spending time with family and friends, sharing stories and hopefully feeling thankful. I’m thankful for many things, including this opportunity to share my thoughts, puzzles and drinks with you all. I occasionally hear a word or two of encouragement back, which is always welcome and appreciated. Let me know how you are doing, drop me a line or leave a comment if you are enjoying this blog, and tell me what you are thankful for in life too. I’d love to hear from you.

The Flatliner Deluxe by Mike Toulouzas 

I also love holiday themes here, and haven’t done one specifically for Thanksgiving that I can recall, which strikes me as preposterous. After all, it’s one of my favorite holidays, and I’m not alone in that. Everyone loves Thanksgiving in America, and we would all do well to remember the point of it all in these controversial times. There are only a handful of countries that have such a holiday – the US, of course, as well as Canada, and also some Caribbean Islands and Liberia, believe it or not. We just finished celebrating our version here in the US, with traditions that include a famous parade in New York City and a giant feast from which we are still recovering. My annual Thanksgiving Day contributions include a world famous mushroom and Madeira soup, Texas ruby red grapefruit sorbet, and of course, a selection of hand crafted cocktails.

You just might die trying ...

So what should we discuss here at Boxes and Booze for the Thanksgiving offering? Well, I don’t have a turkey puzzle box, yet, so we will have to make do with the stuffing. For those few of you out there who are uninitiated, the stuffing (sometimes called “dressing”) refers to the side dish mix of breadcrumbs, onions, celery, mushrooms, stock, and often other ingredients like nuts or oysters that is packed inside the turkey cavity and served on the side. Packing all that stuffing into the turkey will have to serve as our segue to this fine packing puzzle from the talented Mike Toulouzas.

The Deluxe Version (prototype)

Mike, who lives in Greece and occasionally makes some truly beautiful and award winning puzzles, was inspired for this particular piece by another appropriately named packing puzzle, “Stuffing”, by Liu Suzuki. That puzzle required the stuffing of four oddly shaped pieces into a rather small box so that the lid shut completely. What made it so difficult was the way the pieces overlap and leave gaps when assembled, making the solution very confusing. Mike had been thinking about creating a packing puzzle that could not be assembled outside of the box, a common way for this type of puzzle to be solved. It can then simply (or not so simply) be placed inside of the box. Suzuki’s puzzle, with its irregularly shaped pieces, got Mike thinking. He increased the challenge by making six very oddly shaped pieces, which do not hold together in any construction outside the box and thus foil the attempt to solve it that way. He called his puzzle “very, very difficult” and named it “Flatliner”, exactly because it will cause you to experience a cardiac arrest after trying to solve it. Mike does have a great sense of humor. And as he does on occasion, he later revisited the idea and produced a limited “deluxe” version featuring a beautiful standing box of Palisander, Bubinga and Beech wood, with Walnut and Maple pieces and a lid which attaches to the box side when open. This version has only five loose pieces, and one fixed piece placed inside the box already. I don’t know if that is supposed to make it easier or harder, but I would personally add another very to the original very, very difficult rating. Mike is absolutely devious at puzzle designs and this is one of the most challenging packing puzzles. I have solved it once, long ago. More recently a helpful guest spilled out all the pieces and I am still trying to put them back properly as of this writing. But at least it reminded me of this wonderful puzzle, and for that, I am thankful.

Packed with holiday spirit

For this Thanksgiving toast I mixed up something apropos, and tried to stuff as many holiday flavors into the glass as possible, in keeping with the theme here. For the base I used cognac, a deluxe touch to replace bourbon in this seasonal whiskey drink. Of course there had to be spiced pear liqueur from St. George distillery, full of Bartlett pear, cinnamon and clove. Any excuse this time of year to use that is a good enough excuse, trust me. Add it to anything to impart that instant holiday flavor. For some interesting and harder to place notes, like an irregularly shaped puzzle piece, the Czech spirit Becherovka does the trick. It’s a fascinating herbal spirit dating from 1807 full of dark honey, clove, cinnamon, ginger, licorice, menthol, allspice, cardamom, bitter root and gentian. It has been called “Christmas in a glass” and works incredibly well in winter drinks. It adds just the right touch of intrigue here. There’s also Bessamim, another aromatic spiced liqueur that evokes cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, carrot cake and candied spiced nuts. As if all of that weren’t enough already, there’s a subtle hint of homemade grenadine, made with fresh pomegranate juice and pomegranate molasses, for a final touch of sweetness and vibrant color. Pack it all together for some deluxe holiday magic. Here’s to the best of the season, may you all stay healthy and happy. Cheers!

These birds are stuffed

The Deluxe Version

¾ oz cognac
¾ oz Becherovka
½ oz St. George Spiced Pear
½ oz Sukkah Hill Bessamim
¾ oz lemon
¼ oz house grenadine

Shake ingredients together and strain into a favorite glass.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Playing Koi

Inspiration comes from unlikely places. It’s always interesting to me to discover the source of what sparked an artist to create something special. Japanese puzzle box artist Shiro Tajima has been inspired by the Japanese Zodiac to create a whole series of animal themed boxes over the years, and more recently, by the Japanese language itself. Japanese writing combines a mix of three different character sets: the Hiragana and the Katakana (which together form the syllabic Kana characters), and the Kanji, a set of several thousands of representative characters. The Kanji are “ideograms”, in that each character represents a separate idea or word. Even more words and complex concepts can be created by combining Kanji.

Kakoi by Shiro Tajima

The Kanji for “Kakoi” (which is itself just an English transliteration of the character) looks like a classic hashtag symbol inside a square, like this: . The meaning is broadly translated as “to encircle” or “to enclose”, or even to “fence in”, but I do not claim to be interpreting it correctly. The meaning is secondary here. Tajima has created a puzzle that reflects the appearance of the kanji. Kakoi is actually his second such puzzle – his “Tagai” puzzle, another incredible creation, is also modeled after a kanji symbol. In Kakaoi, he merges dual colored woods using Black Walnut and Monarch Birch to produce a striking contrast. The puzzle is a cube with a light and dark half, topped again on each side with alternating woods. The movements are fluid and interesting, and the solution is truly inspired. Indeed, the puzzle won a Jury Grand Prize at the 17th annual Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition.

This one speaks to you, symbolically

Since the meaning of the name is somewhat irrelevant here, I’ve taken liberties with it as well for the drink pairing, focusing on the second half – “koi”. In fact I’m really just using the letters K, O and I to inspire this toast, although I put them together for the drink’s garnish. Using the letters, I gathered the ingredients Kina Lillet, orange bitters, and Italicus liqueur, to create a complex and refreshing martini variation. “Kina” Lillet is an homage to the original Lillet, a French aromatized wine made with 85% Bordeaux region grape wines, and 15% orange citrus liqueurs, all blended and aged to perfection. The original recipe from 1887 included bitter quinine flavor from cinchona bark, making the aperitif what was known as a “quinquina”, which is why it was called Kina Lillet. In 1985 the quinine flavor was removed in an effort to match tastes of the day, and like all things, has been replaced again since 2018, now that modern tastes have caught back up with the past. Current Lillet is again Kina Lillet, albeit with a less bitter profile.

KOI Martini

Italicus is another aromatized wine, technically known as a rosolio due to the infusion of rose petals into the mix, an idea with roots in the fifteenth century. This modern interpretation uses a recipe from the 1800’s, blending bergamot peel, Cedro lemons, chamomile, lavender, gentian, yellow roses and Melissa balm together in a unique aperitif. It adds another layer of sweetness to the complex flavors in his martini. The Lillet and Italicus play well together and compliment the honeyed gin I used for the base. It’s all tied together with orange bitters, a classic component of the original martinis from the antebellum era. A simple citrus twist will work perfectly for this martini, but if you want to freeze a citrus peel koi fish inside a clear ice cube, be my guest. Here’s to finding inspiration in unusual places – cheers!

A duo of unusual aromatized wines replace the typical vermouth

KOI Martini

2 oz gin (lighter juniper profile best, such as Barr Hill)
½ oz Lillet
½ oz Italicus
5 dashes orange bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Orange twist.

These two are playing koi ...

For more from Shiro Tajima:
Monkey Business
Feeling Cagey

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Wrapped With A Beau

It seems we are full of Fullers here at B&B headquarters, having recently presented the incredible Triple Lock Box, and now offering this beauty. It’s a box Eric produced over ten years ago now, and has quietly stood the test of time. It used to be that Eric’s incredible puzzle boxes were few and far between, but he must have hit his head on something, because the ideas keep tumbling out of him lately. His fans are rejoicing that he has a whole series of new designs and ideas either recently released or coming soon. The anticipation is founded on boxes like this one, that set expectations appropriately high.

Beaulid Box by Eric Fuller and Joel Freedman

The Beaulid Box was one of Fuller’s few box collaborations, a category which includes the Stickman No. 4 Clutch Tile Box with Robert Yarger, the Portable Pen Box with John Devost, the B-Box / Reactor with Goh Pit Khiam, and the Penultimate Burr Box Set with Ken Irvine. Eric has a knack for puzzle ideas and designs, as has been said many times before, but also has a keen eye for recognizing those qualities in other’s designs, and often for improving on them. Such was the case with the Beaulid Box, a result of a competition Eric held back in 2008. The Coffin Puzzlecraft Competition solicited ideas from the community and inspired collector and part time woodworker Joel Freedman to send in an idea he had based on the Stickman No 8 “3 – Lock” Box. In that mind boggling puzzle box, doing the same movements on the box produces a different result each time, thanks to a hidden internal switch with three different positions. 

Does anything spring to mind?

Joel produced his design over two evenings, in which he took the idea even further, in multiple ways, and sent it off to Eric. Part of the solution requires some understanding of what may be happening inside, and part requires recognizing certain states. This was not meant to be guesswork, and Joel’s original box had an aromatic cedar lid, if that tells you anything, and a more obvious mechanism. Eric recognized the brilliance of the idea, and in typical fashion added his own signature style. He again doubled the complexity, which resulted in an astounding number of possible states within the box. I could tell you the actual number, but it would be a clue for the more mathematically minded out there. Suffice it to say it essentially removes chance from the equation. He also modified the mechanism to be far more subtle, and more challenging to decipher. Eric crafted the boxes beautifully from Peruvian Walnut, Carolina White Ash and Quilted Maple, with steel and acrylic parts hidden inside. The marvelous mechanism is fully revealed once the box is opened, just like in his IRMO Box; and just like in that box as well, seeing the mechanical artwork spoils the surprise, so must remain a secret to be appreciated only after solving. Eric does provide a few hints about what is required, if you can detect them, but I will remain otherwise silent on the matter. 

A Moment of Silence by Maks Pazuniak

Here's a tasty tipple with which to toast the Beaulid Box. It can be found in Beta Cocktails, the slim collection of creative cocktails edited by Maks Pazuniak and Kirk Estopinal which is a quiet underground resource full of incredible drinks by well-known bartenders. I’ve featured a few gems from this book before, and it never fails to impress. The drinks are mostly strong, often bitter, using unusual spirits – not necessarily for the faint of heart but ideal for those who are open to new experiences.

As far from Louisiane as you can get ...

Here’s an original one from Maks Pazuniak, one of the driving forces behind the entire collection, who is himself a well-known bartender from New Orleans. I selected it for no particular reason, I just liked the sound of it. Pazuniak riffs on a true New Orleans classic, the La Louisiane, which is mentioned in Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em by Stanley Clisby Arthur, 1937. That original version calls for equal parts rye, sweet vermouth and Benedictine, the herbal honeyed liqueur. The sweet elements overwhelm the rye whiskey and it is a bit out of proportion to modern tastes, but a classic is a classic nonetheless. Jim Meehan from the famed PDT bar in New York City updated the classic by adjusting the ratios and adding some absinthe and bitters to the mix. In this version by Pazuniak, the original recipe seems far away, and you wouldn’t be blamed for missing the reference entirely, which is also what makes it so brilliant. In lieu of vermouth, there is an amaro, instead of the Benedictine he introduces an apricot liqueur, and he adds a touch of apple brandy to the rye base. Finally there is a whopping dose of bitters rather than the typical few dashes. Rather than absinthe, he uses a Campari rinse. Mixing it all together creates an amazing experience of flavor that just might put you at a loss for words, temporarily. Use it wisely. Cheers!

Hello darkness, my old friend

A Moment of Silence by Maks Pazuniak

1 ½ oz rye whiskey
1 oz apricot liqueur, preferably Marie Brizard Apry
½ oz Amaro Averna
½ oz Angostura bitters
¼ oz apple brandy, preferably Laird's Bonded
Campari, for rinse

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a Campari rinsed glass. Orange twist garnish.

For more from Eric Fuller see:
Candid Cam-era
Curve Balls

NB: Joel Freedman, who originally studied engineering, has been making his own puzzles for the past ten years or so, and recently bought himself a proper table saw. He plans to start bringing more of his brilliant ideas to life when he eventually retires. That sounds pretty good to me!

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Golden Hour

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost.” – J.R.R.Tolkien

Gold Chest by Akio Kamei

The weather turns colder and we look back to golden sunny days for a little warmth. Here’s a beautiful classic from the great Akio Kamei himself that should do the trick. Kamei is credited with reviving the ancient craft of puzzle box making, which started in the Hakone Odawara region of Japan about two hundred years ago. He was born in Osaka in 1948, and began working with the Yamanaka puzzle company in 1972. In the early 1980’s he set out on his own to begin creating his legendary puzzle boxes, and he coined the term “karakuri box” to represent the “trick”, rather than the secret, way of opening them. To him this implied there was more thinking to be done, and perhaps more fooling. He incorporates principles of physics into his designs, and often misdirection, or even outright deceit – what he calls a “doodle bug” (a red herring).  He also has a wonderful sense of humor, and encourages anyone trying to solve his puzzles to have the same. That is quite a challenge – to be caught in a trap, and laugh.

As good as gold

He created his Gold Chest in the eighties, one of his more iconic pieces. The chest, which appears to have a lid and base, is secured all around by bands of dark wood. There is a surprising amount of movement possible about the chest, once exploration commences, and ultimately one may be victorious and reveal the secret space within. Here is where Kamei plays one of his famous tricks, which has been emulated time and again ever since. There is a second secret space, easily missed, and requiring a counter intuitive process to find. He leads you down one path, so you may miss the other. It’s a perfect way to hide the gold.

Going for Gold by Daniel Miller

Here's a golden toast to the master, with a drink that can make any day a little brighter. It features “orange wine”, made with an ancient technique that has resurfaced in popularity in recent years thanks to the “natural wine” fad. Orange wine obviously refers to the color of the final product, which can range from pale straw yellow to deep auburn, but truly indicates the process of fermenting white grapes with the skins on for varying periods of time to produce wine with more body and tannin.

Orange you going to share?

This cocktail comes from Daniel Miller of V Street in Philadelphia, an entirely vegan restaurant and bar. The drink is fabulously refreshing and full of tasty tang. The more complex wine adds body to the sherry and the pineapple and ginger provide a super summery feel. This may be the perfect summer beach sipper, and then there’s the rest of the bottle of wine to contend with if you’re just feeling too lazy to make another cocktail. It’s absolutely golden. Cheers!

Au pair

Going for Gold by Daniel Miller

1 ¼ oz orange wine
1 ½ oz manzanilla sherry
½ oz ginger syrup
1 oz tangy pineapple syrup
½ oz lime
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Chilled soda water

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a salt rimmed glass. Top with the soda water and stir gently to combine.

Tangy pineapple syrup: 15 oz fresh pineapple juice, ½ cup sugar, 2 ½ oz white vinegar, pinch of salt. Combine over low heat until dissolved, cool and bottle.

For more from Akio Kamei:

Top Shelf
Double Trouble
The Game is Afoot!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

A Puzzling Odyssey

“The journey is the thing.” ― Homer

Scriptum Cube by NKD Puzzle

We are taking a journey this week back in time and place, to ancient Greece and the realm of the great heroes and gods. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are two of the greatest epic poems of all time, full of iconic characters and incredible tales of wonder. Most will be familiar with the story of the Minotaur, for example, the half man, half raging bull monster born of the Muse Pasiphae, Queen of Minos. When the bull child became too big to care for easily, and had developed a taste for people, the King of Minos had a huge Labrynth built underground by the master craftsman Daedalus (and his son Icarus) where the Minotaur would be kept, and fed with human sacrifice. This was a puzzle with high stakes, and all who entered never returned, until Theseus solved the challenge and emerged victorious by way of Ariadne’s thread.

“Each man delights in the work that suits him best.” ― Homer, The Odyssey

We find ourselves immersed once again in this ancient tale within the next brilliant offering from NKD Puzzle, where Christophe Laronde and Julien Vigouroux produce innovative, beautiful and clever designs in the South of France. The Scriptum Cube is a large puzzle box covered in ancient Greek text from the Iliad and Odyssey, crafted from Poplar with Beech wood veneer and internal metal parts that has been laser engraved on the outside. Exploration quickly reveals a set of central plaques set into the sides, adorned with letters and symbols. There are many moving parts, and it soon becomes clear that a secret must be deduced if there is any hope of entering (or escaping) the labyrinth. A daunting quest awaits.

“Be strong, saith my heart; I am a soldier;
I have seen worse sights than this.” ― Homer, The Odyssey

Can you hear the Song of Achilles, or will you fall prey to the Sirens ...

The cube is another work of art from this French team who have also produced the Mecanigma and Silver City puzzles boxes. Christophe likes to embrace a theme and bring it to life in a brilliant and beautiful way that embodies the spirit of the story into the puzzle. The Mecanigma exudes Steampunk design sense perfectly, and the Silver City recalls the groundbreaking work of Luc Schuiten in an elegant homage. With the Scriptum Cube he has nicely captured the feeling of the Minotaur’s Labyrinth in the aesthetic of the object and puzzle solution too. Ariadne’s thread winds its way about the cube, leading any hero home safely, if only it can be discovered.

“How prone to doubt, how cautious are the wise!” ― Homer

I admired the cube for a long time and spent many hours in fervent code breaking, trying to solve the riddle and crack the cube. I thought all would be lost and I too would be a victim of the Minotaur, a puzzling cautionary tale for the ages. But I had my own Muse who helped me along the correct path, a gift from the gods perhaps, to set me thinking.

“Even a fool learns something once it hits him.” ― Homer, The Iliad

The secret is perfectly placed, obvious all along, and so elegantly simple. It seems all was not lost, and I ultimately entered the chamber to freedom, which reveals itself with a satisfying series of semi-automated movements, feeling vindicated though yet still battle weary. I now marvel at this marvelous cube, admire its wily cleverness and recommend it to all those on the road to Ithaca, as I set the Scriptum Cube alongside its legendary brothers.

“A man who has been through bitter experiences and traveled far enjoys even his sufferings after a time” ― Homer, The Odyssey

The Odyssey Cocktail, guarded well

In the Iliad, the gods on Mount Olympus drink nectar from their golden chalices as they toast one another, watching the mortals below wage war and endure all manner of suffering in the name of the god’s entertainment and folly. Here is a more modest toast to this Odyssey of a box, originally created in partnership with Rosewood Hotel London and the Botanist Gin for a special pop up bar they held in the courtyard called the Botanist Greenhouse.

“Wine can of their wits the wise beguile, Make the sage frolic, and the serious smile” ― Homer

Mythical flavors of hibiscus, cardamom and bergamot 

The Odyssey Cocktail features gin infused with fresh green cardamom and rooibos tea. In place of the rooibos I substituted a similar and worthy replacement, hibiscus tea, to retain the essential flavors and bright color. One additional ingredient also adds an interesting and delicious touch – Italicus, a sweet bergamot liqueur. The drink takes you on an Odyssey of flavors in the most delightful way. It will certainly sooth the savage beast, and might help you find your own Muse along the way. Cheers!

The Odyssey Cocktail at the Botanist Greenhouse, Rosewood London

100ml gin (originally the Botanist) infused with cardamom
50ml lime juice
50ml simple syrup
20ml Italicus
10g rooibos tea (or dried hibiscus)

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite coup. Garnish with mint leaves, a viola flower, grapefruit wedge and cardamom. Or a citrus peel Minotaur. This recipe makes two cocktails.

An Epic pair

For more from NKD Puzzle:

 “There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.” ― Homer, The Odyssey