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April 2005 | Vol. IV - No. 4


These Aren´t Your Grandma´s Puzzles

For many, nothing could be further from hip than the time-honored puzzle. Yet, as consumers increasingly demand challenge and beauty, size and intricacy, a few leading puzzle makers have emerged, pushing the borders of puzzle design in their wake.


In 1995, Robert Silvers began creating unique photographs that Buffalo Games licensed and turned into a line of puzzles, called Photomosaics, a few years later. Silvers originally intended the photography to be a class project, then turned it into a master’s thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Way back in 1991, I visited an artist and scientist who was arranging Dominos and sea shells to look like portraits of people,” Silvers says. “I was always a photographer and thought I could do something similar with photographs.”

Years later, Silvers found the resources and opportunity to implement his idea. He combines thousands of photographs to produce a digital mosaic that looks like a single portrait, and cuts this image into the puzzles his company produces. His newest titles will include his original art and licensed merchandise and continue to challenge puzzle makers to work in a new way.

MasterPieces Puzzle Company

David Rolls started MasterPieces Puzzle Company (ToyShow) eight years ago in his garage. Four years ago, he persuaded his old baseball teammate from the University of San Diego, Rob Rogers (now vice president of sales and marketing), to partner with him when he left his professional baseball career.

“The challenge has been to bring excitement and energy to a category that has been around for so long,” Rogers says. “Puzzles aren’t the most exciting product in the market places, but they can actually be one of the top performing items in a toy section.”

Claiming that people have been increasingly looking for challenging activities they can enjoy at home that bring fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment, his team has been quite successful with a line of 1000-piece Jumbo puzzles. Considered the largest in the world, these pieces are a third larger than traditional 1000-piece puzzles.

Also a top seller is their Legends of the Silver Screen line. Rogers explains that these puzzles include symbols with special meanings, like Elvis’ birth date on the license plate of a car.

The Kim Norlien series incorporates larger features with hidden images. Glow in the dark puzzles have been popular for the last three years, and their award-winning Mystic Mazes come with decoder discs to reveal hidden clues that help puzzlers escape the maze. New are the 3-in-1 Triptych puzzles, which, once built, are placed side by side to form one three-by-three-foot image.

European Competitors

Claudia Knauss, CEO and publisher of German puzzle maker Heye Verlag, says that since the company began producing puzzles in the early 1970s, humorous content and unique triangle packaging have been the basis for their success.

Their new Wanted puzzle, with a hide and seek theme, along with designs by the French artist Loup, are the most popular. His Orchestra and Castle of Horror puzzles have 2000 pieces. New additions include puzzles with a soccer theme, Porcelina Fairies, a line by British artist Stephan Mackey, and the work of Rosina Wachtmeister. Most sales are to adults and older children.

Alexandra Deegan, product manager for Ravensburger, based in Germany but with offices in the United States, says their bestsellers are 1000-piece adult puzzles. Still, they “do serious quantities in children’s puzzles” as well.

Points for Most Challenging

Formed by Paul and Eden Scott Dedrick in 1986, Buffalo Games introduced The World’s Most Difficult Jigsaw Puzzle, pioneering the specialty puzzle market. Today, they employ 60 people and have expanded their product line to include traditional as well as innovative designs, such as the 3D Spherical Globe. All have at least 500 pieces.

“Ours is the only 3D sphere that uses traditional jigsaw pieces and no interior support,” explains Kevin Renaud, marketing and communications manager for the company. It requires a unique, patented manufacturing process, he adds.

This year, Buffalo Games will introduce 39 puzzles, including two series featuring their new Warner Brothers license. Capitalizing on emerging trends, Renaud says they look for a category that moves better than others, and they enhance it with new titles and images.

The same could be said of b. dazzle, inc.’s (ToyShow) popular Scramble Squares® puzzles. For a company that has been around since 1993, b. dazzle, inc. has continued to excite users and encourage repeat purchases of its over 100 puzzles. While the challenge to place the tiles the right way stays the same, the art on each Scramble Squares pack changes. New for 2005 are 20 titles, including Alligators, Antique Autos, and Cocktails. These unique squares can be arranged in a multitude of ways, but only one will achieve the right combination to complete a flawless design.

Says company co-founder Marshall Gavin, “[We] live up to the very high standards that the market has come to expect from us for beauty, production quality, interesting and popular topics and puzzle difficulty.” Marshall and his wife, Kathie, b. dazzle´s co-founder, president and CEO, recognize that their discerning audience will accept nothing less, especially as puzzle fans have begun to pay more attention to detail over the past few years.

“In this post 9/11 era, the trend for the American family has been to slow things down a bit,” Buffalo Games´ Renaud remarks. “Families look to take comfort in sharing more home-based, affordable activities, and puzzles and games fill that need nicely.”

Writer's Bio: Julia Ann Charpentier is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and an editor for book publishers. Read more articles by this author


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