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July 2006 | Vol. V - No. 7
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Curiouser and Curiouser

What Makes A Good Puzzle?


“The quality of manufacture is very important, too. It should have no missing pieces or dust; it should be well cut.” George M. Kurzon, Battle Road Press
Brainteasers, hand-confusers, metal, wood and plastic. An occult incantation? These are just some of the puzzles that are made. What is the key to a good puzzle? Is it the difficulty? The inventiveness? That it looks cool? TDmonthly Magazine talked to manufacturers in order to take the puzzle out of puzzles.

According to Pat Duncan, the president of the Great American Puzzle Factory, “The key to a good puzzle is it has to be visually appealing with lots of detail and lots of color. The image itself can be a theme such as movies or martinis or a collector's item such as John Deere puzzles or an emotionally appealing image such as a cat staring at a fish bowl.

SunsOut Inc.’s Diane Skilling thinks “in the end, it’s the design, at least in our experience, the color, the balance of details. Too much makes you crazy, but you need enough to give yourself a clue as you go along. For every one puzzler who wants the most difficulty, the others want something that’s fun and won’t drive them screaming into the night.”

George M. Kurzon, the owner of Battle Road Press thinks, “The quality of manufacture is very important, too. It should have no missing pieces or dust; it should be well cut. The thickness of the board is important; people like to handle thicker pieces. Wooden puzzles are very popular now; here again, the handling of the pieces is something very subjective. All things being equal, a puzzler would prefer wood to cardboard, but wood’s more expensive.”

U.S. distributor Challenge & Fun’s (ToyDirectory) Rob Wilson, director of marketing, found that, “For us, the main things that set our puzzles apart are the fineness of the wood and the printing and the esthetics. The printing process is different; it’s not paper glued on, which has the potential to peel off; ours are printed on the wood. We have a couple of new products, add-ons; puzzles that link puzzles. The outer boarder is in a puzzle shape, and links up with another puzzle, making a bigger picture — a park and next to it is a zoo, which expands into a city.”

Puzzled (ToyDirectory) owner Oren Cohen strives for “an interesting character or shape. Is there add-on stuff? Is it 3D? With a 3D puzzle you can play with it and paint it afterwards. Like our pirate ship.”

Ceaco’s Jason Schneider, product development and marketing manager, looks for things that go beyond the traditional puzzle. “We have a line of Joan Steiner’s “Can You Find?” puzzles which are a game within a puzzle. The Yo-Ho-Glow for children has hilarious images and glows in the dark. On the horizon is a special collectable addition commemorating 10 years of Thomas Kinkade. Should be a huge hit. We sold so many Kinkade puzzles, that they’d form a line of puzzles from San Francisco to Rome.”

Robert Fathauer, owner of Tessellations, explains that, “Multiple solutions increases the play value, but that’s not real common.” Tessellations’ puzzles always work in an educational component. “We always have a theme. We’re working on one now that will teach about irrational numbers — our puzzles deal with concepts that students will learn and thereby reinforce their learning.”

Charles Andresen, sales manager for A Broader View, has a more niche market. “The philosophy to our puzzles is to help spread geographical awareness, to help teach geography. To do this it is critical to have pieces that are shaped like the countries of the world on our map-based puzzles. A lot of extra design and manufacturing expertise goes into perfecting this, but the educational benefit is worth it.”

Andy Snowie, president of R&A Media Inc., goes after particular niches: “I have completed a short cylinder to represent a hockey puck. I'm calling it the CyliPuck. A play on words, but since that NHL strike last year was rather silly it seemed quite appropriate — putting together pieces to reach a settlement.” Snowie smiled as he said the last bit.

Mark Predko, director of sales & marketing for Buffalo Games Inc., explained: “We’ve seen the puzzle market grow over the last three years. Up until this year, our 1000 piece puzzles were always the strongest sellers. We’re finding a strong interest this year in a smaller piece count, especially a 300 piece series we introduced for adults. Not only are they appealing to novice puzzlers but also to the older puzzler as well: the larger pieces are easier to handle and there’s a full foldout poster in the package. People over 65 and families really appreciate that. What was somewhat of a surprise was to hear how 30 to 49 year olds enjoy the size, too. It’s a puzzle you can do in three or four hours; and in today’s day and age, it’s very satisfying to have a puzzle you can finish in one sitting.

Square Root Games’ president Gary MacLeod thinks it’s “the challenge. It can’t be too easy, or too hard, but it’s got to have a certain amount of challenge — that’s what a puzzler is looking for. Sliding block puzzles are still very popular as is Mancala.”

b. dazzle, inc (ToyShow) executive vice president, Marshall Gavin sums it all up: "Scramble Squares puzzles are 'Easy to Play, But Hard to Solve.'" These award-winning nine-piece puzzles, in over 100 styles of exquisite original art, teach patience, perseverance and critical thinking skills, while providing stimulating cross-generational entertainment, either as a solitaire game or as a cooperative activity for children, adults and senior citizens.

Easy to play, hard to solve: That’s what makes a good puzzle.





MSRP: $15.00
Age Range: 10 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Puzzles & Skill



This 26” round jigsaw puzzle features a spiraling Yellow Brick Road motif with pictures of scenes from Oz by the renowned fantasy artist Greg Hildebrant. It is 1000 pieces of wonder.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 8112      (added 6/1/2006)
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Age Range: 8 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Puzzles & Skill



This 3D wooden toy is both a puzzle and a plaything.  And, it’s very cool.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 8113      (added 6/1/2006)
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MSRP: $6.99
Age Range: 6 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Puzzles & Skill



Artist Adrian Chesterman created the wonderful pterodactyl that graces the newest of the Glow Bones puzzles. Turn off the lights, and the ptero’s bones glow in the dark. This 100-piece puzzle is a perfect starter for dino-inclined kids.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 8114      (added 6/1/2006)
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MSRP: $19.95
Age Range: 6 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Puzzles & Skill



Making Faces is a unique tessellation puzzle in which a face is formed where four square pieces fit together. There are three different types of pieces, allowing over 1,000 distinct faces. What's more, if a face is viewed upside down, a different right-side up face is seen. It is both weird and cool. The puzzle comes with instructions that include several brainteasers plus a game using the pieces. Four reproducible worksheets cover translational and rotational symmetry in tessellations, the mathematics of combinations, and drawing two-way faces. The 120 chipboard pieces come packaged in a plastic jar.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 8115      (added 6/1/2006)
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MSRP: $15.00
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Puzzles & Skill



The object of this puzzle is to assemble 12 pieces into a cylinder shape. Few have done it in less than 10 minutes. Many others have danced around the solution.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 8116      (added 6/1/2006)
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MSRP: $8.99
Age Range: 10 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Puzzles & Skill



This collection features our best-selling properties and a new die-cutting process that allows for larger, easier to place pieces.  From the youngest to the more mature puzzler, every member of the family will want to lend a hand and watch the puzzle take shape.  Includes images from Norman Rockwell and the Hautman Brothers.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 8117      (added 6/1/2006)
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British premium puzzle maker, The Wentworth Wooden Jigsaw Company, is launching a top-end gift puzzle for 2006. The Wentworth Personal Platinum Puzzle is a 500-piece puzzle in which the customer chooses the image and the special shapes (whimsies) that appear among the pieces. Words can be either written over the image or appear to be cut out of the puzzle itself. Individually designed and manufactured in the company’s factory in Wiltshire, England, this product will be a must-have for the discerning US gift-buyer. The puzzle is laser-cut from 3/8” 5-ply veneer plywood and boxed in a presentation box bearing the customer’s initials engraved on an inlaid brass plate. (Price: Ranges up to $1500)
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 6957      (added 2/22/2006)
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MSRP: $9.00
Age Range: 8 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Wooden Toys



These small but challenging puzzles are a quality version of a puzzle sometimes found in cardboard. They also remain challenging to solve again and again. Often solved more easily by the preteen set than by adults, Pocket Puzzles can make a great gift for just about anyone.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 6932      (added 2/20/2006)
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MSRP: $15.00
Age Range: 8 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Wooden Toys



On a dark oak board, this one-player game is won by moving 21 marbles in grooves until only one is left on the board. It includes a marble bag and instructions.

— Of the many products made by Square Root Games that Games of Berkeley stocks, supervisor Gabriel Dominique said this game sells best.
— Mark Henderson, sales associate with Fun & Games in Milpitas, Calif., said the Square Root products sell well in his store.
— This classic game has been around for centuries, suggesting it will continue to appeal to customers for years to come.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 3954      (added 7/15/2005)
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MSRP: $8.95
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Puzzles & Skill



Olympic backstroke champion John Naber, one of the four Olympic swimming champions featured on the new "Swimming Champions" Scramble Squares® puzzle from b. dazzle, inc., says, “These Scramble Squares are so challenging, they provide hours of challenge. It’s a gold medal puzzle!” This puzzle received Dr. Toy's 10 Best Socially Responsible Products Award for 2006 and was a Best Product Award Winner for Dr. Toy's Summer 2007 Resource Program.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7701      (added 4/25/2006)
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MSRP: $88.75
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Puzzles & Skill



Packaged in an impressive Pressboard Gift Box, this three-dimensional puzzle box is crafted in high quality wood material (Katsura). It has a beautiful finish and is stamped by the craftsman on the inside of the lid. There is only one unique way to open it, so it makes a super secret holder.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7480      (added 4/3/2006)
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MSRP: $24.99
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Puzzles & Skill



This 1000 piece puzzle features a beautiful picture of coffee, surrounded by colorful scenes detailing its rich history. Puzzle makers will become coffee experts and have a terrific story-telling puzzle to display or work again. From ancient times to today’s trendiest cafes, coffee has kept the world moving for centuries.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7479      (added 4/3/2006)
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Writer's Bio: Mark Zaslove is an entertainment industry veteran in developing content (writing, directing and producing television and feature films) for the major studios, including Disney, Universal and Warner Bros. A two-time Emmy Award winner for writing and recipient of the Humanitas Prize (for writing uplifting human values in television and movies), Mark is also Head of Content Development for Nice Entertainment. Read more articles by this author

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