Saturday, September 28, 2019

Hammer Time


“It’s better to be the hammer than the anvil.” – Emily Dickinson

Where's My Hammer by Dee Dixon

It’s always cause for celebration when a new puzzle box artist emerges in the world. Boise, Idaho’s metropolitan area is known as the “Treasure Valley”, and now there’s one more reason for the name. Dee Dixon is a truck supervisor at an excavation company and has a small workshop in his garage where he creates his beautiful boxes. He started out making small keepsake boxes and other items over the past few years. He also made puzzle boxes and gave them as gifts until recently, when his wife Denise encouraged him to put some up for sale. His boxes are all made from beautiful exotic hardwoods and feature elegant little details that differ on each box. From the outside, most of his boxes look like lovely hand crafted keepsake boxes, and the unsuspecting puzzler might assume there is a simple, well known mechanism at play, maybe one of the handful of well-known and familiar devices. But Dee’s boxes are all different. He makes each one individually and each is unique. He will occasionally recreate a mechanism, or improve one, and has started to name his boxes accordingly (e.g. “Blinded” and “Blinded II”). If you manage to open one, you will be met with a complex collection of wood, metal and acrylic parts inside, with a range of fairly simple to devilishly complex devices in the style of sequential movement and sequential discovery puzzles.

A gorgeous mosaic of exotic wood details

“Where’s My Hammer” is one of Dee’s newest boxes, and one of his most striking. It features several types of hardwoods including leopard wood, sapele, tiger wood, black walnut, maple, and blood wood, arranged as a mosaic across the top and sides of the box. There are beautiful mitered corners with maple key accents. The box alone is a work of art, but the puzzling aspect makes it particularly appealing. This is a 7-step sequential discovery puzzle box, with well-hidden secrets and a clever combination of items to find and use to open it. Dee’s oldest son is one if his puzzle testers, who can usually open his boxes and suggest a difficulty rating. This box caused so much frustration that his son declared, “Where’s my hammer!” That endorsement alone ought to pique the interest of most of my readers. I don’t usually talk about my own personal solving experience, but in this case it’s a funny story. I was sure that I had solved the puzzle completely, and had some critiques on how to make it perfect. I sent them to Dee, and he politely suggested that I was on the right track. It turned out that the puzzle worked exactly as I had envisioned, I just hadn’t solved it yet. Where’s My Hammer is a fantastic puzzle box. It was then that I realized that Dee will be very popular, and very busy with orders. I suspect he’s just getting started with some great ideas.

The Hammer Highball

I’m toasting this brilliant box with a variation on the classic highball. The highball is a great example of how a few simple ingredients and a straightforward recipe can create something more than the sum of its parts. Whiskey and soda, a time honored working man’s drink that’s also the height of elegance and precision. The story, which any truly great cocktail must have, attributes the “invention” of the highball to Patrick Gavin Duffy, bartender at Manhattan’s Ashland House in the 1890’s. Putting whiskey, ice and soda (or ginger ale) together was not a thing people did back then, until then. A highball was a railroad term for the ball connected to a float inside a steam train’s water tank,that indicated when there was enough water in the tank for the train to head out. The conductor would signal the all clear with two short and one long blast on his horn. That’s the classic ratio in a highball – two short of whiskey, one long of soda. The highball faded from fashion in the US after a time, but was picked up by the Japanese, who refined it to a sharp point in the 1920’s when whiskey production began to take off in Japan. Like a tea ceremony, building a proper Japanese highball involves meticulous attention to details such as the glass, the ice, the temperature, even the number of times the drink is stirred.

The only Hammer you should use on this box

Highballs are back in fashion again. Modern day bartenders can argue all night long about the proper ingredients, ratios, and build technique in a good highball. They are a fantastic and refreshing way to enjoy a whiskey, or any other type of spirit, on a hot summer afternoon. I’ve created a warm and savory variation on the theme, to extend the pleasure of this long drink into the cooler months. This highball is built around the peaty single malt Lagavulin, an incredible scotch probably best enjoyed neat, but let’s make things interesting. To that end I’ve infused the scotch with some seriously decadent bacon using the standard fat-wash technique to create some smoky, bacon-y goodness. Maybe I’m just hamming around here, but it wouldn’t be the first time. It’s a damn fine drink to enjoy while looking around for a hammer to use on this puzzle box. Cheers!

The Hammer Highball

1-2 oz bacon infused Lagavulin (1 oz is modern, 2 oz is classic)
4 oz soda water
4 dashes celery bitters

Build ingredients over ice in a highball glass. Stir slowly 12 times for luck. If you want to be really pompous, stir the whiskey, bitters and ice first to chill then pour the soda water down the length of the stirring spoon.

For more information and to order Dee Dixon’s boxes see:

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