Every so often I come across a puzzle box which happens to embody something inherently apropos for the central theme of this odd blog of mine, which attempts to pair puzzle boxes (and the occasional non-box puzzle) with craft cocktails. I call them “perfect” Boxes and Booze boxes, which is not to imply they are my absolute favorite boxes, but how can I not like them? Typically these puzzles contain some alcoholic element, such as the SpringNight box by Yoh Kakuda, which features a frog who is drinking sake, or the Hokey Cokey lock from Ali Morris and Steve Nicholls, which comes with a bottle opener attached to the shackle. Sometimes the entire puzzle fits the theme, such as the Whisky Bottle from Akio Kamei, an absolutely essential item in every Boxes and Booze collector’s collection. There are also puzzles which have something to do with writing, an obvious but often overlooked aspect to the adventure, such a Ze Super Pen by Stephen Chin, or the Writer’s Block by Tracy Wood Clemons, which is a puzzle box writing desk with booze inside – perhaps the ultimate perfect B&B box.
|Memo Pad by Hiroyuki Oka|
The writing theme strikes again in the Memo Pad, a wonderful little offering from former Karakuri Creation Group artist Hiroyuki Oka. Oka’s formal training and greatest passion is in the classic Japanese puzzle box form and the art of yosegi marquetry. He spent a decade working with the KCG and produced many creative puzzles with an affinity for the classically shaped box, although some of his designs were much more unusual. For the past ten years or so Oka has been working on his own company, Oka Craft, where he makes his beautiful traditional move puzzle boxes of the highest quality for unbelievably low prices. His Memo Pad takes the appearance of a small notepad, crafted from Walnut, with Dogwood and Purpleheart accents. The word “MEMO” is written prominently on the top, so there’s no mistaking it. It also comes with a handy wooden pencil, which fits perfectly in a built in holder. Go ahead and write down any thoughts or inspiration on how to open the secret compartment, and we can compare notes later.
|A noteworthy puzzle box|
The Memo Pad is also my litmus test for the humidity level in Houston. The opening compartment has an extremely precise fit, so that when the wood is even slightly, imperceptibly swollen, the drawer sticks. But once in a while, it opens like butter. Of course, the first time I ever met this box, it was stuck tight. So I wasn’t sure if I had figured out the right sequence, or not. The cocktail pairing for this box owes its origins to Nick Baxter, the brilliant baron of bafflement (knight of knowledge, master of mazes, professor of puzzles?) whose name just might be familiar to a few of you. Nick helped me open the Memo Pad with the unorthodox yet completely effective suggestion that after I had performed the necessary steps, I “bang it hard and flush against something”. It worked of course, which led to his next insight, that the puzzle ought to be paired with, therefore, a “Harvey Wallbanger”.
|This Wallbanger is bananas|
Indeed. The Harvey Wallbanger, like many popular cocktails from the seventies-eighties era, was the brilliant brainchild of a marketing genius. In 1969, George Bednar became the US marketing director for the importer of Galliano, a seldom used anise flavored herbal liqueur from Italy. He found a willing partner in Donato “Duke” Antone, a retired bartender living in Connecticut with a big personality, who helped him come up with a simple drink featuring Galliano (vodka, orange juice, Galliano). Together they created a backstory involving Antone’s famous “Blackwatch Bar” on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, where in 1952 he invented the drink for a Manhattan Beach surfer named Tom Harvey. A cartoonish surfer drawing was created with a tag line and the drink became immensely popular in the seventies. Of course none of it, not even the famous bar, ever existed, but they sure sold a lot of Galliano. The liqueur recipe was altered as well, and truth be told it was an awful drink. Which just goes to show … something about America, I suppose. Antone was a self-promoting superstar, and his obituary claimed that he also invented the Rusty Nail, the White Russian, and the Freddy Fudpucker (don’t ask), among other famous drinks, and that he was a WWII recipient of two silver stars, two bronze stars, two Purple Hearts and a Croix de Guerre. I mean, seriously, wouldn’t you want to have a drink with this guy?
|The Memo Pad Cocktail|
For the actual toast I’m making to the Memo Pad puzzle box, however, I’ve brought us into the modern era. It’s a fun challenge to turn a Harvey Wallbanger into a delicious cocktail, and many modern bars have done it successfully. It helps that they have restored the original Galliano recipe now. My version takes the original ingredients, but swaps the vodka for gin, and connects the dots between this drink and another classic, the Last Word (which ties in the writing theme here quite nicely). To make a Last Word we need a base spirit such as gin (check), an herbal liqueur such as Galliano (check), a citrus such as OJ (check), and a sweet liqueur. Call me bananas, but I went with a banana liqueur. Don’t judge until you’ve tried it, because it works and is delicious. May I present, the Memo Pad: the Last Word in Wallbangers. Cheers!
|A notable pair|
1 ½ oz gin
½ oz Galliano
¾ oz banana liqueur
2 ½ oz fresh orange juice
Shake together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Garnish with your favorite tall tale.
For more about Haroyuki Oka:Apples and Honey