There are puzzles and then there are puzzles.
If you like jigsaw puzzles, you’re familiar with the kitschy cardboard variety depicting Disney characters, classic art, nature, or animals. The pieces often consist of two outward tabs and two inward blanks and are apt to bend easily. These are excellent for children and the casual puzzler, the type you’d expect to see in schools, senior homes, or hotel lobbies.
If you’re looking for a richer experience with wooden pieces, try the British Wentworth jigsaws. Richer means more money, so expect to pay $65 for 250 pieces to $150+ for 500 pieces or more. Wentworth includes whimsies, or cutouts, which reflect the theme. It’s a different experience to hold the wood, let the weight of the piece drop into place, and see the cutter’s use of color lines and boundaries.
My latest discovery in the jigsaw market is Artifact Puzzle, whose founder Maya Gupta is a research scientist for Google, former professor of electrical engineering, and recipient of highly prestigious awards. Gupta showcases contemporary artists and individual designers who create ingenious pieces. At this level, putting together a jigsaw involves the cover art and the design of the pieces .
Artifact is the best VALUE in puzzling. The experience involves high quality, laser cut wood pieces and the pictures are extraordinary and enlightening. Buyers can choose by the artist as well as the puzzle designer. Originally made in Seattle, they are now made in Menlo Park, California. They are presented in a box with tissue paper and cost $50 to $120. When I consider the price of video games, not only is this reasonable it is lasting.
The granddaddy of the puzzling world is Stave, an exclusive Vermont creation which can be made to order, an heirloom for use and reuse and future generations. If you like to collect or invest, here’s something to diversify your portfolio. Smaller puzzles with 50 to 100 hand-cut pieces will run you hundreds of dollars. But beware that the number of pieces is deceptive. It might take you longer to complete a seventy piece teaser with a three difficulty rating than the 500 piece cardboard puzzle, because the pieces fit multiple ways, there’s white space, and irregular edges. Every piece is hand cut.
Are you ready for pricing?
Traditional Stave puzzles (link) begin at $647 for 100 pieces and run upwards of $5,000 for 1000 pieces. They also make teasers, troublemakers, tricks, and tidbits, which start at a far more reasonable $75 for 25 pieces. There’s genius in the cutting and design. Also, there are no photos of the art to follow. A favorite of mine is True Romance which costs $452 for 90 pieces! It is a double trickster because to complete the puzzle of two monsters in love, you have to put the hearts in the correct place and they fit multiple ways. I almost finished, only to learn the last piece would not fit.
I’m not an expert puzzler and I don’t have a lot of patience, so I don’t invest in the insanely challenging puzzles, like the “5-bolt Trick puzzles …for the true masochist. [They] consider them to be part of the Stave Torture Chamber! [and they] won’t even sell you one of these babies until you’ve earned your stripes with a Trick puzzle having a lower difficulty rating.”
Why buy a Stave when you can, I don’t know, buy a car, a ticket to the Caribbean, or a put a down on a condo?
It’s one you can relive, share, and pass on. It is usable art. It is lasting. It’s social or solitary. You experience fun, frustration, patience, art, cooperation if done together, joy, and ultimately, contentment and bliss. The tactile sensation, the craftsmanship, clever design, and interaction with others add a dimension to puzzling which is lacking in digital games.
I include notes with my wooden puzzles about when they were received, who completed them, how long it took, and anything special about the design. My children receive a family or individual puzzle each year, a tidbit or teaser.
Over Thanksgiving I left out several wooden jigsaws and my guests completed three Artifact puzzles; the children were drawn to the board like moths to light.
When the X-Box and the latest digital fad have gone the way of the Atari, my children will still have their Stave puzzles, which they can then share with their children.