Jigsaw puzzlers found their happy place, and their people, during the pandemic. Puzzling was already a thing, but soon more groups formed on social media, while popular puzzles disappeared quickly from online and actual shelves.
Sales for one big puzzle maker, Ravensburger, soared 370% year over year in the first couple of weeks of lockdown in 2020.
Inventories have mostly recovered, although there are still “sold out” tags on some sites. And even though many people have returned to pre-lockdown life, the love of jigsaw puzzles stuck around. We’re still sorting and assembling, and getting that little kick when we successfully place a piece.
Puzzle pros say assembling the border is the best way to start. Then sort by color, pattern and, in really big puzzles, section. (At this year's World Jigsaw Puzzle Championship in Spain, Alejandro Clemente completed a 500-piece puzzle in just over 34 minutes. Most people take between two and seven hours on that size puzzle.)
This holiday season, in a world that seems anxious on many fronts, maybe a good gift would be a jigsaw puzzle. A few hours can be spent putting something together, with a beautiful picture the result. Call it piecing together some personal peace; puzzle therapy.
One-thousand piece puzzles are perfect for confident puzzlers like Janet Rosen, a lawyer in Evanston, Illinois, who loved puzzling as a child and got back into it during the pandemic. A gardener and reader, she was happy to receive a couple of hand-me-down puzzles from a friend: one of vintage gardening books, by Ravensburger, another of classic British book covers.
“I like the challenge, and the concrete method of overcoming the challenge,” she says.
At SeriousPuzzles.com, you’ll find Cavallini & Co’s gorgeous vintage illustrations of constellations, minerals, jellyfish, mushrooms and other collections, offered in gift-worthy reusable canisters. Also at the site is a fun retro Christmas puzzle from Cobble Hill featuring midcentury holiday imagery.
And the retailer offers a collection of dynamic, artsy jigsaws from Puzzles of Color, a company started by Texas siblings Ericka Chambers and William Jones to promote artists of color. The puzzles are standard sizes when finished, so you can easily frame and display them.
Some puzzlers like to sort by separating piece shapes. If that’s you, you’ll have fun with the lineup from Magic Puzzle Company, a company kickstarted during the pandemic.
The puzzles, set in scenes like a magical maze, a sunny cityscape or an island paradise, have surprise shapes like animals and clouds amidst the regular pieces. (Magic Puzzles also have a twist in each one, and without giving too much away let’s just say it involves a separate bag of pieces you aren’t meant to open until you’ve completed the main puzzle.)
Puzzle lovers Jena Wolfe and Rachel Hochhauser, colleagues at a Los Angeles creative agency, started the online shop Piecework a few years ago. They came up with the idea after Hochhauser was stuck during bad weather in a Yosemite rental cabin, and passed the time with a bunch of dusty old jigsaw puzzles she found in a cupboard.
They wanted to design eye-catching and satisfying thematic puzzles where the art takes center stage.
“We like to balance the components that make a great puzzle – variation in color, objects and textures,” Hochhauser says.
“We wanted to create jigsaws that someone would want to gift as a hostess present, or whip out after a dinner party to work on during dessert.”
Going a step further, the duo even created Spotify playlists to accompany many of their puzzles. A still life of moody flower heads gets a soulful, jazz-tinged playlist. One new one, Apres Ski, features '80s-era alpine gear, a fondue pot and a snowy alpine backdrop. The playlist has a lot of Tears for Fears, TOTO, Flock of Seagulls and similar music to help set the Euro disco vibe.
To create a personalized puzzle, using your own photos, try Minted. There are square and heart-shaped layouts, and it's a nice way to celebrate family members or a great vacation. For those planning a wedding, there are sweet little “reveal” puzzles in which you can ask the recipient to be a bridesmaid, ring bearer or other participant.
The folks at childrens’ toy company Melissa & Doug have boxed sets of wooden puzzles marked for ages 3 and up. Choose from four dinosaurs or four household pets; the lid serves as an assembling tray, and the wood box makes for easy storage.
The company’s got jigsaws with sound effects, too, to delight the littlest puzzlers. Choose from a farm, firehouse, zoo, orchestra and more, including licensed character tie-ins.
Large, colorful puzzles of the solar system or ocean floor would be fun to assemble: finished size is 2-by-3 feet, and the 48 pieces are big and sturdy.
Puzzles shaped like a luscious cupcake, a feline friend, or a stack of books might appeal to middle and high schoolers. They're available at Galison, which also has a cool, 500-piece, double-sided puzzle featuring artist Romare Bearden’s “Jazz II Deluxe” image on one side. On the other is a collage of images done by middle school students in the DreamYard in School Program, which provides residencies and after-school programs to Bronx public schools.
At Woodbests, look for beautiful wooden puzzles in various sizes, of zodiac symbols, famous paintings, or animals, birds and dragons. Young travelers might like a bundled set of 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles of Paris, London, New York and San Francisco, at Genuine Fred.
New York-based writer Kim Cook covers design and decor topics regularly for The AP. Follow her on Instagram at @kimcookhome.