Here are some puzzles, mostly priced between $10 and $200, for the novice or the aficionado.
Jigsaw for Beginners
Happily, most ordinary jigsaw puzzles announce their difficulty numerically. A 100-, 200- or 500-piece puzzle should satisfy the first-time solver, as should clear images with bright colors, cut into a regular grid pattern. “What is most important is that you should be enjoying putting the puzzle together. So it should be some picture that you enjoy looking at,” Ms. McLeod recommends. Novices might begin a search with some of the major brands, like Ravensburger, Springbok, Buffalo Games and Puzzles and Bits and Pieces (prices range from under $10 to over $50), most of which will let you search according to theme. Ravensburger alone has hundreds of options, from astronauts to unicorns to the Neuschwanstein Castle ($34.99), a riot of fall foliage and fairytale towers.
Teasers and Tricks
If you have solved sufficient images of cats, candy bar wrappers and picturesque Italian scenery, you will want a puzzle that offers something more. The brand Wasgij specializes in cartoonlike puzzles (around $20) that when solved helped to explain what caused the catastrophe pictured on the box. Ravensburger has released a line of escape room puzzles ($19.99), in which you have to solve riddles as you complete the puzzle, arranging pieces into objects that can help you break out of the Witches Kitchen or the Space Observatory. Puzzles from the Magic Puzzle Company culminate in a trick ending, with new pieces that allow you to rearrange the image. Nervous System mixes two puzzles together ($175). PuzzleTwist specializes in jigsaws ($20) that differ in essential ways from the image on the box. Stave Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles makes a specialty of trick puzzles, plus others known as Troublemakers, Tormentors and Teasers, but as these can run more than $1,000, they are less pastime than investment.
Jigsaws as Art
If aesthetics matter to you, there are companies that push puzzles closer to art and design. One is Pomegranate, which specializes in fine art reproductions of works by the likes of van Gogh and Diego Rivera ($17.95 to $34.95), allowing you to linger on color and suggestions of texture as you solve. “You can learn about brush strokes and color palettes and you can memorize the smallest details of vastly complicated and densely populated canvases,” the novelist and jigsaw enthusiast Margaret Drabble wrote in an article last spring. Then again, an Old Master in 2-D may still feel kitschy. Those who prefer a more Modernist feel can try Piecework’s hip and sumptuous illustrations ($26 to $36), Areaware’s soothing gradient puzzles ($15 to $35), in which colors slide from light to dark, Pomegranate’s line of Charley Harper posters or Jiggy’s playful rectangles ($40). Some collectors might argue that certain wooden puzzles are works of art themselves or, at the very least, models of exquisite craftsmanship, especially those that specialize in whimsy shapes, like Liberty Puzzles and Wentworth Wooden Puzzles.
No Easy Pieces
You could try The Lines from Bgraamiens ($18.99), in 1000 crazy-making pieces of graphite strokes on a white background. Too abstract? Check out puzzles from Nervous System, the makers of those mixed puzzle sets, which specializes in organic shapes based on phenomena like geodes, ammonites and wriggly amoebae ($45-$95). For a particularly devilish version of the gradient puzzle, try 5000 Colors from Play Group ($50). No piece is the same shade as any other. If that is perhaps too many colors, turn to monochrome puzzles, like Ravensburger’s Krypt series ($20.99), which takes incredible patience to solve as every piece is colored precisely the same. Or here’s one where the name says it all: Beverly Micro Pure White Hell (about $25).