Saturday, September 7, 2019

Born Supremacy

I’m going to let you in on a secret. But only if you promise to keep it, which I know is self-evidently hypocritical, but nonetheless. I’ve mentioned before that I always enjoy writing about one of Jesse Born’s new designs, because his name lends itself to clever wordplay. But this time, I’m going to let his work speak for itself – to tell you its own secret.

Secretum Cista by Jesse Born

Let’s begin with the name. The provenance of the name, “Secretum Cista”, is rather auspicious and steeped in mystery. From the Latin, “Secretum” has many translations, notably “secret seal”, or more simply just “secret”. But the name is associated with the “Secreta Secretorum”, the Secret Book of Secrets purportedly written by Aristotle to his pupil Alexander the Great and covering a host of elevated topics ranging from statecraft to the supernatural. The second part of the name, “Cista”, translates from the Latin to “basket”, or “box”, or in this case, “chest”. Secret Chest. There were other potential names, also derived from Latin, that Jesse was considering, but these shall remain a secret. You never know what other secret chests the future may hold.

Exquisite details like this "Tetris" yosegi and drawer with curved sides

Jesse was not thinking about creating a puzzle chest, and was initially resistant to the idea suggested to him by puzzle chest lover Matt Dawson. But as the idea infused his psyche, he decided to do what all successful visionaries know they must do – rise to the challenge. Jesse has an ambitious mind, full of creative ideas. He knew it would be difficult, but to his credit he didn’t waver. He met obstacles, set-backs, delays and design challenges. Each step was a new learning experience. In the end, he has created a masterpiece, so the journey was worth the effort.

Stunning ancient Mango wood, and inner drawer liners that hide secret mechanisms

His chest is simply stunning. It has layers upon layers to discover, marvel at, appreciate and enjoy. It is a woodworker’s show piece and a puzzle lover’s puzzle chest. The chest sits twenty inches high and weighs close to fifty pounds – it’s a solid piece of furniture. There are eighteen drawers awaiting exploration, each with a delicate hand turned Katalox drawer pull. The case is made from lustrous Wenge which emits a handsome warm sheen, and has raised through dovetail joints at the corners which lend a polished yet rustic feel. Each drawer is made from multiple types of wood. Some have surprising shapes on the inside, and all have an extra wood lining for additional elegance. On the top row, the drawer fronts are of Holly, with bespoke ribbons of Purpleheart and Wenge mosaic inlay using Jesse’s “Tetris” pattern – look closely and the classic shapes can be discerned. Inside, the Purpleheart drawers are curved on the sides and have a Poplar wood lining. The second row has two-hundred year old aged Mango wood fronts, Paduak drawers, and Cherry lining. The remaining rows all have Mahogany drawers and fronts which highlight the beautiful wood grain. Slightly darker Mahogany was used to offset the bottom row fronts. Inside, the third row has a Walnut lining, the fourth row has a Bloodwood lining, and the fifth row has a Red Oak lining. The bottom (sixth) row is unique in that the inner drawers are hexagonal, with Purpleheart sides and a Katalox lining. The hidden beauty of each drawer is one of the many treasures awaiting inside.

This drawer is key ...

Each and every drawer in the chest is locked with an individual and unique secret mechanism, except for one. In the center of the chest is a Wenge drawer with an Oak circle. Pull on it, and the circle is revealed to be a solid Wenge cylinder, albeit with six empty sockets. What is this strange cylinder, with its empty sockets? Its central placement, at the heart of the chest, is more than metaphor. The chest is a metapuzzle, and the cylinder will be key to the solution before the final locked drawer can be opened and the puzzle completed. Some of the chest drawers are locked with independent mechanisms, and can be opened at any time, while some require the opening of other drawers first, in a linked sequential interplay. The full name of the chest, The Secretum Cista Mechanical Puzzle Chest, gives some hint into how many of the drawers are unlocked through actual mechanical movements within the chest. Another incredible addition to the design is discovered when the chest is turned around. Jesse has placed a glass back on the chest, allowing the inner workings to be visualized. A complex mechanical marvel crafted in colorful exotic wood awaits the observer, providing insights into how certain drawers might open but no clues as to how this might be accomplished. Once solved, however, the mechanisms come to life. Watching the workings move as the drawers are activated is magical.

The glass back allows a view of the magic

The chest is a treasure hunt. Opening each drawer serves a purpose, whether to whet the appetite for what is in store, to allow access to another drawer further along, to hide a tool which may be needed to solve a future puzzle, or to hide one of the master keys. It provides a wonderful journey with a mix of challenges that range from simply subtle to deviously difficult. The endgame is a perfect motivator to keep one going, and is immensely satisfying to complete, but the journey is the true pleasure. Secretum Cista is the stuff of legends.

Every row has a unique drawer composition with surprising details

Toasting a puzzle chest of this magnitude requires more than one drink. I’m not suggesting thirteen separate cocktails like I made to celebrate another legendary vessel, the Apothecary Chest, which is actually thirteen individual puzzles, after all. No, I’ve got something else in mind. The Secretum Cista is a single puzzle chest, self-contained, by one individual artist. But it does require the discovery of six essential keys. Yes, here is where we will need to introduce more than one drink. For assistance we will turn to the classic tome “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks” by David Embury, 1948.

The Six Essential Cocktails of David Embury

I have a natural affinity for David Embury and his famous cocktail book. Embury was never a professional bartender and never worked in the spirits industry. He was a senior tax attorney in a Manhattan law firm and had a prominent and successful career. He also loved to make cocktails, and published, on the side, an encyclopedic volume of the twenty-first century cocktail which has become part of the classic cocktail cannon. A signed first edition of his book can fetch well more than the cost of a new puzzle chest. He insisted that there were six essential cocktails, to be known and loved, if one were to be taken seriously as an aficionado:  the Daiquiri, the Jack Rose, the Manhattan, the Martini, the Old Fashioned, and the Side Car. All other cocktails, in his estimation, are merely variations on the theme of these basics. Embury was also famous for placing all cocktails into two categories, either aromatic or sour, and for his formula of base spirit, “modifying agent”, and “special flavoring and coloring agent” in a strict 8:2:1 ratio. This ratio makes for very dry drinks with very prominent alcohol dominance, and has been adjusted accordingly over the years for modern palates and balance. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this exact proportion for these drinks now. But I present these essentials here in their classic form and ratio, in the true spirit of the game. Six keys for six keys, may they unlock all the wonders in the world. Cheers!

Hmmm, I could use some help here. Any takers?

Six Drinks from The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David Embury, 1948

N.B. All drinks to be shaken or stirred as noted with lots of ice to chill and strained into an appropriate glass.

The Daiquiri
8 parts white Cuban rum
2 parts lime juice
1 part simple syrup
Shaken, no garnish

The Jack Rose
8 parts Applejack
2 parts lemon
1 part grenadine
Shaken, twist of lemon

The Manhattan
5 parts American whiskey
1 part Italian sweet vermouth
1 dash Angostura bitters
Stirred, maraschino cherry

The Martini
7 parts English gin
1 part French dry vermouth
Stirred, lemon twist or olive

The Old Fashioned
12 parts American whiskey
1 part simple syrup
1-3 dashes Angostura bitters
Specifically: Stir syrup and bitters in the glass, add about 1 oz of the whiskey and stir again, add two cubes of cracked ice and top with the remaining whiskey. Lemon twist and maraschino cherry.

The Side Car
8 parts Cognac
2 parts lemon
1 part Cointreau
Shaken, lemon twist

For more about Jesse Born see:

Natural Born
Born Again
Victorian Age

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