Puzzles are now in vogue for adults who want to relax, compete

Tracee M. Herbaugh

There are puzzle nights in cafes and libraries. Puzzle groups and online puzzle games. Hand-cut wooden puzzles that cost thousands of dollars. And puzzle designs ranging from original, cutting-edge artwork to your own personalized family photos.

Puzzles for adults are in vogue.

“I wasn’t as keen on puzzles at first, but once I started doing them, I saw the beauty of these puzzles,” said AJ Jacobs, a writer working on a book about puzzles. puzzles, including puzzles and crosswords. “Puzzles are a very soothing and joyful way to spend a few hours. They are physical, tactile pieces and you get an endorphin rush when the pieces snap together.

Fans say the puzzles offered respite from everyday stress, a chance to get away from screens and be in the moment.

Abby Matson, 37, found them therapeutic after her dog died unexpectedly three years ago.

“The puzzle was the only thing I could do to not cry,” she said.

Matson’s friend, Abby McDaniel, 38, joined her. “We stayed up so late drinking wine and doing this puzzle,” Matson said.

This undated photo provided by Stave Puzzles shows one of their puzzles titled "The mane event," which retails for $1,695.  Stave Puzzles are said to be Bill and Melinda Gates favorites.

They created a puzzle group that now has six members. It’s informal. Members send photos of a completed puzzle before sending it to the next person.

“It brings out an inner competition,” McDaniel said.

Jacobs, author of books including “The Know It-All” and “The Year of Living Biblically,” likes to immerse himself in an activity and then write about it. Part of his puzzle research led him to the World Puzzle Championship in Spain, a timed competition with teams representing 40 countries.

He, his wife and two children finished second to last. A team of four Siberian women won first place when they managed to complete all four puzzles in less than four hours.

This undated photo provided by Stave Puzzles shows one of the company's traditional puzzles titled

“Russia is a force to be reckoned with,” Jacobs said with a laugh.

While many puzzlers are happy with cardboard puzzles, there is also a market for wooden and craft puzzles. Inspired illustrations have replaced campy photos. Some enthusiasts purchase special frames, glue, and other tools to preserve finished puzzles.

Vermont-based Stave Puzzles makes a wide range of wooden puzzles, from “Tidbits” to “Tormentors”; they sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

“Our sales have grown 25% over the past decade,” said company founder Steve Richardson. “We are now getting orders from the children and grandchildren of some of our original customers, so this is definitely a generational business.”

This undated photo provided by Abby Matson shows a puzzle she has completed.  Matson, 37, started a confusing group with five friends.  Puzzles are all the rage.

Along with becoming more enjoyable, puzzles have also become more specialized. There are 3D and two-sided puzzles. Stave’s “puzzle” can be solved in several ways, rated on a scale of 1 (easy) to 5 (difficult). Customers cannot purchase a 5 round puzzle without first achieving a level 4.

Others prefer a simple puzzle that reminds them of childhood, but worthy of social media, of course.

On her way home from work one day, 29-year-old Kaylin Marcotte stopped at a toy store in New York City to buy a puzzle for the evening. “I ended up buying one of the puppies jumping out of a basket,” she said. Seeing a gap in the sophisticated puzzle market, she founded Jiggy Puzzles in 2018.

Jiggy’s puzzles are packaged in an elegant glass container and feature original designs by female artists. They come in two sizes, 450 and 800 pieces, and many sell for around $40. The art ranges from New York scenes to whimsical and heartwarming designs. A puzzle shows women’s breasts of different shapes, some with mastectomy scars.

This photo taken on September 28, 2019 and provided by AJ Jacobs shows Jacobs, left, his sons Jasper, 15, Zane, 13, and his wife Julie Jacobs at the 2019 World Jigsaw Championship in Spain.  Jacobs, along with his wife and two sons, represented the United States in the puzzle competition.  Jacobs is currently working on a book on the puzzles which is expected to be published in 2021.

To launch Jiggy, Marcotte organized a puzzle party at the Soho House in New York. About fifty young professionals arrived dressed for an evening between aperitifs and puzzles.

Shelby Comstock Britten, 29, attended the launch. An adult puzzle night with drinks seemed perfect, she said.

“I’ve always loved puzzles and will sometimes get a CVS one, but that’s a bit of a shame because it’s made for an 8-year-old,” she said. “I can’t Instagram that.”