The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/daily/arts/2021-12-11/gift-guide-puzzle-me-this/

Gift Guide: Puzzle Me This

By Wayne Alan Brenner, December 11, 2021, 10:00am, All Over Creation

You don’t have to spend all day staring blankly at a screen just because you’re staying inside, citizen. You don’t have to be virtual all the time, not when there’s an ancient technology to help infuse a bit of graphic and tactile interest into your actual, AFK life.

Ancient technology? Yes, but not like the sort of tech that space aliens used to help Elvis Presley and Erich von Däniken build the pyramids.

No, we’re talking about: Jigsaw puzzles.

Quite the rage, those pictorial puzzles, especially near the start of Our Pandemic Situation in 2020, but still going rather strong as things trickle into an Omicron-riddled afterflow. And, sure, the world’s prime producers of jigsaw puzzles – aren't they in Germany somewhere? – may have briefly run out of stock a while back. But we’re not talking about those fellers – although we do hate to see them crying, ever so frustrated, in their folksy and decorative beersteins.

No, we’re talking about two American jigsaw puzzle companies. We’re talking about these purveyors of an excellent method of whiling away the hours of a stuck-at-home (or home-by-choice) day or night. We’re talking about:

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1. THE PUZZLED CO.
These jigsaw puzzles are straight out of Dallas, Texas – just up the road a ways, right? Which proximity partly explains why their newest collection of puzzles – made with precision waterjet cutting and museum-quality printing on waterproof PVC – features the equally adorable and surreal illustrations of Austin’s own Sam Hurt. Yes, these Puzzled folks have joined forces with Eyebeam’s creator to unleash an array of polychrome weirdness into your favorite tabletop piecing-together situation. Bonus: Of course you can order these, and all the other Puzzled collections, online. But! Oh! These Sam Hurt ones in particular are currently available at the Blue Genie Art Bazaar – and you know what a treat it is to shop around that holiday spectacle of retail and revelry.

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2. PUZZLE SENSEI
Yeah, we’re all about the food scene in general, aren’t we? And that’s why bright and colorful depictions of food on well-made 1000-piece puzzles, well, those are precisely in our wheelhouse. Especially as Puzzle Sensei has started off with gorgeous cartoon images of Asian dishes – rarely depicted in the puzzle industry, but often happily devoured by people everywhere. We mean: Who among us, ever jonesing for five-spice noodles and the subtle flavor of lemongrass, could resist joining together the pieces of just-complex-enough puzzles called Shabu Frenzy and Dimsum Factory and Lucky Ramen (pictured)? And how about some food-centric philanthropy with your recreation: Puzzle Sensei donates 5% of their profits to Feeding America. Yeah, we like that. And, because that fantastic and culinarily inflected artist Sarah Becan also gives this Boston-based company a paint-stained thumbs-up, we like these puzzles even more.

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