My family and I put together several jigsaw puzzles during the pandemic, though our focus on them comes and goes (sometimes, in part, dependent on whether there’s spare table space that isn’t covered with other activities). We’ve loaned out puzzles and borrowed others from friends, and I’ve found that it’s really hard for me to walk by an incomplete puzzle without trying to fit a few pieces together.
It had been a little while since our last one, but in the past few weeks we caught the puzzle bug again—we received a couple of new ones to try out, and also got out a few others that we just hadn’t gotten to yet.
First up is the 705-piece Food Fest Puzzle from Seltzer Goods. Seltzer Goods has a number of jigsaw puzzles, but two of them have multiple sizes of pieces 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 those in the 1,000-piece puzzles I’ve done; the medium is a little smaller than the 500-piece puzzle I did recently, and the large is slightly bigger than the 500-piece puzzle size. The extra large is, well, extra large, around 2″ across. I did notice that there were a few pieces that were stuck together already when we started—in some cases as many as three pieces already assembled—so we pulled them apart and mixed them in.
The puzzle is in bands: the extra large pieces are at the bottom, and then there’s a horizontal section of large pieces, then medium, and then the small pieces at the top of the puzzle. There are some bridging pieces (like the one seen above) that let two pieces 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 that size, so it didn’t take too long before she had completed that first band, and then started on the large pieces. Meanwhile, I started at the top with the small pieces, fishing out some blue and pink pieces that I could tell fit together.
I like assembling puzzles without looking at the picture; I’d seen the cover before we started, of course, but tried not to refer to it while assembling the puzzle. The puzzle includes a printed sheet with the image on it, in case you like to have that as a reference instead of the box lid.
The illustration, by Jiaqi Wang, is a colorful scene of people (and a polar bear) surrounded by enormous foods: a pizza, a bento box, a hot pot, and more. It’s delightful and strange! My family really enjoyed working on this one together, and we’re looking forward to doing the Recreational Bears puzzle soon.
Next up: the 500-piece Puzzle Complaints puzzle from Workman Publishing. Illustrated by Sandra Boynton, the puzzle features a bunch of chickens shouting about all of the problems with the puzzle: it’s too hard, too easy, has too much white space, and is boring.
This one was really easy to get the border made, because 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 outside edge are more complaints about the border, from the Comic Sans typeface to the random bit of checkerboard.
Most of the interior of the puzzle is text, with various chickens scattered around, so I pieced things together primarily by text color at first. While the chickens aren’t all identical, many of them are quite similar, and there are a few that are identical, just to make things tricky. After I got all the text done, I was left with a lot chicken bits—you can see all the screaming mouths above—that I had to sort out and place.
Overall, this one wasn’t too difficult, though we did find that a lot of the pieces were similarly cut, which meant that you could sometimes fit pieces together even though they didn’t belong. I don’t know if that was intentional, but it meant that you had to rely on the image and not just piece shape 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 lots of things to complain about.
For the next one, we stuck with the Sandra Boynton theme but upped the challenge with the 1000-piece Hidden Cows puzzle. This one is another silly illustration, this time a living room filled with 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 jigsaw puzzle—but their room is also filled with a bunch of actual poorly hidden cows, 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 book or the singing cows from the Philadelphia Chickens album.
The puzzle has a lot of color to it, so we were able to work on it a bit like I usually do: build the border, then pick out pieces of a particular color or pattern and assemble those, trying to see where they fit. However, the cows themselves are mostly white (with some black spots and the 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 we completed the bulk of the puzzle, we were left with a big pile of mostly white pieces to figure out, which was a little more challenging.
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 appearing on books and rugs and the toy box, it really starts adding up. I think I got to around 80, but then realized I hadn’t considered the pale green cow-patterned wallpaper, so I stopped.
Both of the Sandra Boynton puzzles have solid-colored backs to the pieces, which I liked. I feel like it made it easier to focus on the face-up pieces or to tell which ones needed to be flipped over (particularly 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 especially tough. As you can see, all of the pieces are yellow. The picture 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 tough to decide where to start.
I decided to go for faces with glasses, picking out anything that looked like eyewear or other headgear. Next up was facial hair, because a lot of those were pretty distinctive and covered a good amount of surface area on the faces. There were so many faces with stubble, though!
Most of the time, I like to work on puzzles without peeking too much at the cover image, but that was nearly impossible with this one. Fortunately, there’s a sheet inside the box that has the puzzle image, so I could refer to that while still using both box halves for pieces. We would pick up a piece, try to figure out what we were looking at, and then search the image so we could roughly place it in the right spot.
But even that was hard! It’s amazing how long it could take to find even a really distinctive feature in this grid of roughly 340 faces. We often joked that we found yet another piece that must be extra and didn’t belong in the puzzle at all. I came close to creating a spreadsheet where I could fill in features (“brown angry eyebrows, cheekbones, smiling mouth, no teeth”) so then I could just search it when looking for a particular face. Oh, and did I mention that there are some repeats? Some faces appeared multiple times in the puzzle, which meant that we sometimes placed a face near where we thought it should go, only to discover much later that it didn’t match up with surrounding pieces.
After we got the glasses, then facial hair, then unusual eyebrows or weird mouths, we were still left with … well, the bulk of the faces. At that point it was a lot of search-and-find, looking for anything that might help set one face apart from another. I definitely came to appreciate the subtle differences between faces, like whether a smile had a little line under the lip.
Unlike the other puzzles we did recently, the LEGO puzzle only has one type of piece (other than the edges): 2 knobs and 2 sockets. Some are more skewed than others, but it meant that it could be harder to match a piece to its space by counting the knobs. On the other hand, it made for a convenient grid where you could sometimes tell what column a piece might belong in based on whether a face was centered on the piece or not.
I’d recommend the LEGO Minifigure Faces Puzzle mostly for those who like a bit of a challenge: it definitely took the longest of all the puzzles on the list, but it was still a lot of fun.
If you and your kids enjoy puzzles, hope you’ve found something in this list you might like!
Disclosure: I received samples of these puzzles for review purposes.