Puzzles have undergone a bit of a renaissance recently. Forget the old, stodgy games that always seemed to be missing pieces and stored in broken cardboard boxes. These days, contemporary art, innovative designs, and artisan craftsmanship have given rise to a new generation of the pastime.
What’s more, people looking for distractions while sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic are turning to puzzles. The methodical process of putting a puzzle together piece by piece is relaxing and a great way to relieve stress. You can enjoy the challenge, the satisfaction of completing a puzzle, and in the end, a pretty picture. For a little extra escapism, we’ve gathered 10 different puzzles to get lost in that will transport you around the world.
Custom Hometown Map Puzzle
Buy now: $40, thegrommet.com
Butler and Hill’s 400-piece hometown map puzzles are made to order. Each is based on a specific address—a spot marked with a house-shaped piece. The topographical lines, streets, highways, and place labels of the image, which uses U.S. Geological Survey mapping, help confuse the picture and make the puzzle more difficult, especially if your location is in the heart of a big city like Boston or New York. More challenging still, the box does not come with a picture of the completed puzzle, so be prepared to test your knowledge of the area. Only available for destinations in the United States and United Kingdom, the map covers an area of 7.5 miles by 5 miles and the finished puzzle is 12.25 inches by 18.5 inches.
Butler and Hill also offers other location-based custom puzzles, including a hometown map that uses aerial photography and a topographical map of any outdoor destination.
World Map, 1594 Wooden Puzzle from Nautilus
Buy now: $125, nautiluspuzzles.com
For art lovers missing their favorite museums, Nautilus wooden puzzles are the perfect panacea. Much of the company’s collection focuses on fine art and architecture: you can find Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and an image of Le Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, Morocco, with its garden and beautiful blue Cubist villa. The pieces of these wooden puzzles are oddly shaped, rather than the standard, square tessellating pieces you see on many puzzles. Each also includes “whimsy pieces,” specific shapes related to the puzzle theme. This 20-inch by 14-inch, 555-piece map of the world, originally created by Petrus Plancius, a Flemish cartographer and one of the founders of the Dutch East India Company, has pieces shaped like bears, pineapples, palm trees, whales, anchors, and more.
Buy now: $25, printworksmarket.us
Printworks’s Sky Series puzzles are just as difficult as the trendy gradient puzzles from Areaware, but have a hint of a destination. You still have the challenge of fitting 500 tesselated and similarly colored pieces together, while feeling like you’re enjoying a sunset in some tropical locale, a sunrise atop a mountain, or the night sky from a national park. The finished puzzle is 15 inches by 20.5 inches.
Charley Harper Glacier Bay, Alaska, Puzzle
Buy now: $20, charleyharper.com
Charley Harper’s whimsical, graphic prints make excellent puzzles because, while the designs are deceptively simple, the repeated geometric shapes are all slightly varied, which gets confusing. Expect to spend some serious time fitting the 1,000 pieces together and then more time simply studying them afterward. Harper was well known for his nature and conservation-focused work, including 10 posters he was commissioned to create for the National Park Service. Each beautifully captures the essence of the place: the Glacier Bay piece features puffins, a whale tail, seals, and a bald eagle against a background of blues and grays. We also love his Monteverde puzzle, which depicts the flora and fauna of Costa Rica, including a resplendent quetzal in the center.
BerlinMagalog Art Puzzle
Buy now: $40, jiggypuzzles.com
Jiggy is one of a new crop of startups revitalizing the puzzling world. With a tagline like “puzzles worth framing,” you can expect these to be stunning works of art. They even come with tools to glue your puzzle together when you’re done, though the storage container, a gorgeous glass jar with a cork lid, is almost as decor-friendly as the finished piece. Jiggy highlights female artists from around the world, bringing their cultural influences right to your coffee table. Much of Jiggy’s debut collection is sold out, but you can still snag the BerlinMagalog puzzle by designer Diana Ejaita, who divides her time between Berlin, Lagos, and Milan, working as an illustrator and textile designer. With 450 pieces, this 12.6-inch by 16.8-inch puzzle probably isn’t one that you’ll labor over for weeks, but with such a spartan palate, it’s more challenging than it looks.
Road Trip—California! Micropuzzle
Buy now: $7, micropuzzles.com
Not only do these little puzzles feature travel imagery, like scenes of New York and California, but they’re also perfectly sized for travel. Each mini puzzle comes stored in a small, capped tube that you could easily slip in a bag or daypack, and the size of the finished puzzle (4 inches by 6 inches) fits nicely on a small café table, a seat-back tray, or even on top of a book. Small puzzles don’t often promise much of a challenge, but Micropuzzle pieces are smaller than standard, so you’re still dealing with 150 pieces for a postcard-sized puzzle. Go for a busy pattern, which will be challenging over and over again. We like the Road Trip—California! puzzle, which features destination logos from across the Golden State, Chinese Lanterns, a scene from the Yokohama China Town in Japan, and Italian Galleria, which shows the domed, windowed ceiling of an old galleria in Milan.
The Beach Two-Sided Puzzle by Gray Malin
Buy now: $25, booksamillion.com
Gray Malin’s dreamy beach photography has always had the power to transport us to lazy summer days in Italy or Hawaii. Together with stationery and gift company Galison, the artist turned a few of his most famous pictures, including an aerial shot of sunbathers on a beach and an image of two tiny skiers amid snowy trees into 500-piece puzzles. Even better: they’re double-sided, so you get two puzzles for the price of one. The reverse of the beach scene features an ocean reef, and there’s an aerial shot of the crowded area around the ski racks at Whistler on the other side of the snowy trees puzzle. Other puzzle themes include Italy and Hawaii. Each finished puzzle is 24 inches by 18 inches.
Fly Hawaiian Air Wooden Puzzle by Liberty
Buy later: $105, libertypuzzles.com
Liberty Puzzles has acquired a cult following because its puzzles are both challenging and beautiful. About 15 to 20 percent of the wooden pieces in each puzzle are whimsy pieces, sometimes they’re related to the theme of the puzzle, sometimes they’re related to each other, and sometimes they are made up of several interlocking pieces, creating puzzles-within-puzzles. In the 553-piece “Fly Hawaiian Air” vintage travel poster puzzle, you’ll find mini puzzles of two surfers, a sun, a Tiki mask, and more. Puzzlers also love the special edition puzzles shaped like turtles, whales, bison, and crabs featuring the animal totem-inspired art of Sue Coccia. (Please note, due to Colorado’s current shelter-in-place order, Liberty Puzzles is temporarily closed, but plans to reopen as soon as possible.)
I Love Seattle Puzzle by Dowdle
Buy now: $20, dowdlefolkart.com
Dowdle’s fans love this company in part for the fun, destination-focused designs by Eric Dowdle that feature on every puzzle, but also because of the “No Missing Piece” policy: If you lose or damage a piece from one puzzle from the current line, the company will send a one-time, complete puzzle replacement of the same title for up to one year after your purchase date. Because of the way the puzzles are cut, it’s not possible to replace a single missing piece. A number of the puzzles come with “stories” that give extra information about the destination featured and facts about different elements of the design, including local figures and notable buildings. In the 1,000-piece I Love Seattle puzzle, you can spot the much-photographed pink elephant, Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, and more.
Ravensburger Earth 3-D Puzzle
Buy now: $50, ravensburger.com
A giant among puzzle makers, Ravensburger has an extensive collection with every theme imaginable and sizes ranging from simple 10-piece sets to 40,000-piece monsters. You could find scenes from any country you might be wishing to visit. But particularly fun are the company’s 3-D puzzles. Build your own 216-piece VW bus, Eiffel Tower, or Neuschwanstein Castle. Or tackle the more challenging and novel 540-piece globe puzzle, which comes with a special stand to help you build the 9-inch sphere. (Please note, because of Ravensburger’s popularity and the demand created by those stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company is currently selling out of items as quickly as it restocks them. If these 3-D puzzles are not available when you click through, check back some other time.)
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Maggie Fuller Maggie Fuller is a San Francisco–based but globally oriented writer driven to provoke multicultural worldviews as a multimedia journalist. She covers sustainability, responsible travel, and outdoor adventure.