My family and I have put together several puzzles during the pandemic, although our focus on them comes and goes (sometimes, in part, depending on whether there is table space available that is not covered by other activities). We loaned puzzles and borrowed some from friends, and I found it to be really hard for me to miss an incomplete puzzle without trying to put a few pieces together.
It’s been a little while since our last, but over the past few weeks we’ve caught the puzzle bug again – we’ve gotten a few new ones to try, and we’ve also released a few more that we simply didn’t need could not access. again.
The first is the 705-piece Food Fest jigsaw puzzle from Seltzer Goods. Seltzer Goods has a number of puzzles, but two of them have multiple piece sizes included. (The other is the recreational bears, which we haven’t assembled yet.) Each puzzle has four sizes: extra large, large, medium, and small. The small pieces are comparable to the 1,000 piece puzzles I’ve made; the medium is a little smaller than the 500 piece puzzle I made recently, and the large is slightly larger than the size of the 500 piece puzzle. The extra large is, well, extra large, about 2″ in diameter. I noticed that there were already a few pieces glued together when we started – in some cases up to three pieces already put together – so we separated and mixed them.
The puzzle is in strips: the extra large pieces are at the bottom, then there is a horizontal section of large, then medium, then small pieces at the top of the puzzle. There are bridge pieces (like the one seen above) that allow two pieces to attach to a single larger piece.
One of the fun things about this approach is that my daughter and I were able to start on opposite sides of the puzzle. She found all the extra large pieces and started assembling them: there are only 52 of them this size, so it didn’t take too long before she finished that first strip and then started on large parts. During this time, I started at the top with the smaller pieces, looking for blue and pink pieces that I could tell fit together.
I like to put puzzles together without looking at the picture; I had seen the cover before I started, of course, but tried not to refer to it when putting the puzzle together. The puzzle includes a printed sheet with the image on it, in case you want to have it for reference instead of the box lid.
The illustration, by Jiaqi Wang, is a colorful scene of people (and a polar bear) surrounded by huge foods: a pizza, a bento box, a cooking pot, etc. It’s delicious and weird! My family really enjoyed working on this one together, and we look forward to doing the recreational bear puzzle soon.
Next: Workman Publishing’s Puzzle Complaints 500-piece jigsaw puzzle. Illustrated by Sandra Boynton, the puzzle features a group of chickens screaming about all the puzzle’s problems: it’s too hard, too easy, there’s too much white space, and it’s boring.
This one was really easy to do, as it has a colored yellow border and the rest of the puzzle has a pale cream colored background – the pieces are easy to find just by color. Around the outer edge there are more border complaints, from the Comic Sans typeface to the random piece of checkerboard.
Most of the inside of the puzzle is text, with various chickens scattered around, so I first pieced things together mostly by text color. Although not all chickens are the same, many of them are quite similar, and there are a few that are identical, just to complicate matters. After finishing all the text, I had a lot of chicken pieces left – you can see all the screaming mouths above – that I had to sort and place.
All in all, this one wasn’t too difficult, although we found that a lot of the pieces were cut the same way, which meant that you could sometimes fit pieces together even though they didn’t belong. I don’t know if this was intentional but it meant you had to rely on the picture and not just the shape of the part to check the fit. I liked this one just for all the silliness of the complaints and the meta-nature of a puzzle designed to have a lot to complain about.
For the next one, we stuck to the Sandra Boynton theme but took on the challenge with the Hidden Cows 1000 piece puzzle. This one is another silly illustration, this time a living room full of not-so-hidden cows. There’s a family of pigs who clearly enjoy cow decor – cow throw pillows, cow curtains, a cow rug, even a cow puzzle – but their room is also filled with a bunch of real evil cows. hidden, standing behind lamps, peeking out from behind the curtains, huddled under the piano. There are some fun details referencing some of Sandra Boynton’s cow-related things like the amazing cows comic strip or the singing cows of Philadelphia Chickens album.
The puzzle has a lot of colors, so we were able to work on it a bit like I usually do: build the border, then choose pieces of a particular color or pattern and put them together, trying to see where they situate. However, the cows themselves are mostly white (with a few black spots and pink noses), and there’s also a mostly white grand piano taking up a significant portion of the right side of the puzzle, so after completing the major part of the puzzle, we ended up with a big pile of mostly white pieces to figure out, which was a bit more difficult.
After completing the puzzle, of course, we were then tasked with counting all the hidden cows. The actual cows are pretty easy, but if you add in all the other cows that appear on the books and mats and the toy chest, it really starts to add up. I think I got to around 80 but then realized I hadn’t thought of the pale green cow wallpaper so I quit.
Both of Sandra Boynton’s puzzles have solid color backs for the pieces, which I liked. I feel like it was easier to focus on the face up pieces or tell which ones needed to be flipped over (especially in a puzzle that had so many white pieces).
Finally: the 1,000-piece LEGO Minifigure Faces puzzle from Chronicle Books. This is another one in the LEGO puzzle series (I wrote about the LEGO Paint Party puzzle about a year ago), but this one was particularly difficult. As you can see, all the pieces are yellow. The image is a grid of minifig heads, stacked on top of each other and side by side, so it’s just a sea of faces. After assembling the border, it was really hard to decide where to start.
I decided to go for faces with glasses, choosing anything that looked like glasses or other headgear. Then there was facial hair, as a lot of it was quite distinctive and covered a good amount of area on faces. There was so lots of faces with stubble, though!
Most of the time I like to work on puzzles without looking at the cover image too much, but that was nearly impossible with this one. Luckily there is a sheet inside the box that has the picture of the puzzle in it, so I could refer to it while using the two halves of the box for the pieces. We would take a piece, try to figure out what we were looking at, then search for the image so we could place it in approximately the right place.
But even that was hard! It’s amazing how long it takes to find even one truly distinctive feature in this grid of around 340 faces. We often joked that we found another piece that needed to be extra and didn’t belong in the puzzle at all. I almost created a spreadsheet where I could fill in the characteristics (“angry brown eyebrows, cheekbones, smiley mouth, no teeth”) so I could just look it up when I search for a particular face. Oh, and did I mention there are repeats? Some faces appeared multiple times in the puzzle, which meant that we sometimes placed a face close to where we thought it should go, only to find out much later that it didn’t match the surrounding pieces.
After getting the glasses, then the facial hair, then the unusual eyebrows or weird mouths, we were still left with… well, the bulk of the faces. At that time there was a lot of research and discovery, looking for anything that might help distinguish one face from another. I definitely came to appreciate the subtle differences between the faces, like a smile has a little line under the lip.
Unlike other puzzles we’ve made recently, the LEGO puzzle has only one type of part (other than the edges): 2 buttons and 2 sockets. Some are more asymmetrical than others, but that meant it could be harder to match a room to its space by counting the buttons. On the other hand, this provided a handy grid where you could sometimes tell which column a piece might belong to based on whether or not a face was centered on the piece.
I would recommend the LEGO Minifigure Faces puzzle mainly to those who like a challenge: it definitely took the most time of all the puzzles on the list, but it was still a lot of fun.
If you and your kids love puzzles, I hope you found something in this list that you might enjoy!
Disclosure: I received samples of these puzzles for review.