Puzzles we love | Wire cutter

In these scary and confusing times, you can find unexpected peace of mind with a puzzle. So disconnect from social media. Stop reading the news for a moment. Turn off the television. Try a puzzle. It just might provide a stimulating distraction for people of all ages, not to mention hours of entertainment while you’re stuck at home.

What makes a great puzzle

While most puzzles are reliably formatted with standard piece shapes and difficulty levels, people’s personal puzzle preferences tend to reflect their aesthetic tastes. Still, not all images make a great puzzle.

What makes a great puzzle? Senior writer and avid puzzler Tim Heffernan recommends designs with bold color blocks that contain moderate levels of detail. Intricate patterns can overwhelm your eyes (especially during prolonged brainstorming sessions), and soft, hazy watercolors can provide an added challenge, giving some clues as to which piece goes where. Believe me, I’m working on a 1,000-piece Frida Kahlo puzzle whose shades of blue, yellow, and fuchsia have kept me from finishing it for months.

Which puzzle is for you? Check out some of our employees’ favorite puzzles that have helped us relax, pass the time, and enjoy a screen-free distraction.

A geometric delight: Charley Harper puzzles

Photo: Charley Harper

Monteverde ($20 at time of publication)
Glacier Bay, Alaska ($20 at time of publication)
Royal Island ($20 at time of publication)

My family has loved Charley Harper puzzles for years, making them every summer and winter at family gatherings. Harper was a unique artist, known for his geometric and deceptively detailed paintings of nature, a style he called minimal realism. And some of his best work – a series of posters he created for the National Park Service – are also among the best puzzles.

What makes Harper’s art so vibrant and inviting to the eye also makes it a perfect medium for disconcerting. At first glance, the images may seem repetitive, but upon closer inspection, each section of the piece is full of subtle variations. These differences make puzzles like The Rocky Mountains an Easter egg hunt for the eyes. Even the difficult 1,000 piece puzzles my family loves end up being fun for the kids – their quick eyes and natural curiosity make them natural baffles.

My favorite is Isle Royale. It’s diabolical, with its narrow range of colors, high degree of symmetry, and background of hundreds of nearly identical autumn leaves. It takes a while to complete, but the reward is spectacular.

Tim Heffernan, Senior Writer

When I lived in Tucson, Arizona, the puzzles of Harper’s Coral Reef and Sierra Range brought some of the nature I missed seeing elsewhere to my desert home. To me, they feel surprisingly easy for 1,000 piece puzzles due to the clean geometric shapes Harper uses, so while they’re time-consuming, they’re not frustrating to put together.

Erin Price, Community Manager

A crowd pleaser

A Star Wars puzzle box.
Photo: Buffalo Games, Inc.

Star Wars Vintage Art: You’re All Clear ($17 at time of publication)

I got this Star Wars puzzle for my family when we were all home for vacation one year, and it became a five-person activity that no one could walk away from. The theme, loved by several generations in my family, balances easy character sections with more challenging areas for all skill levels. We now buy a new puzzle each time we are together.

Sasha VanHoven, Head of Audience Development for Content Strategy

Puzzles for children

A Ravensburger children's puzzle.
Photo: Ravensburg

Ravensburger’s new neighbors (about $12 at time of publication)

We received a stack of puzzles, including several Ravensburger puzzles, from our local toy store to keep our 8 year old busy while school was closed. So far they are a hit! She hadn’t shown a ton of interest in puzzles before, but the increased challenge of 100 piece, 300 piece, up to 750 piece puzzles caught her attention. Plus, she loves anything we can find with puppies, unicorns, or farm animals.

Tasks like turning all the pieces face up, finding corner pieces, and sorting pictures into groups keep him busy for 10 minutes here and there. We finished this 60 piece farm scene at the end of the school day, and she was so proud that she showed everyone in her video calls (with the school and with her Nana).

Jackie Reeve, Senior Writer

A mega-challenge

The Areaware Gradient Puzzle.
Photo: Areaware

Areaware Gradient Puzzle Collection ($35 at time of publication)

My family enjoys doing puzzles together at our northern Minnesota cabin. Gradient puzzles like this are soothing if you’re a few pieces at a time type. Anyone can sit with him at the coffee table and sort the pieces by color while killing time. Once it’s done, my family displays ours under the glass top of the coffee table like it’s a piece of art. But it doesn’t stay there long, because visitors see it and want to taste it.

Signe Brewster, Editor