Did you know that Jigsaw puzzles were made as far back as 1767? Then, they were all made of wood and cut by hand – hence ‘jigsaw’ – but this was before pressing puzzle pieces from cardboard became technologically feasible.
Image source: GameOZ
This fairy tale still lives on in quaint Norwich, Vermont courtesy of Stave puzzles. They are renowned for beautiful, intricate and sometimes maddening hand-cut puzzle pieces which make them the Holy Grail of collectibles. In fact, the Smithsonian magazine tagged them as the ‘Rolls Royce of Puzzles’.
The puzzles are loved and know no borders. Queen Elizabeth II gave them as presents, Bill Gates and Barbara Bush are fans. Tom Peters had a dozen made from his famous quote – In Search of Excellence – to celebrate an anniversary of its printing. Peter Ueberroth (former Commissioner of Baseball) also had Stave make him an aerial perspective of his golf resort, the Pebble Beach Golf Resort. You can buy it from the Pebble Beach pro-shop or in Twin Farms near Barnard, VT.
At a glance, the puzzle pieces in Stave’s catalog seem like a fancier version of the normal jigsaw puzzle; chosen works of art reprinted on wood then meticulously hand-cut. However, Steve Richardson, founder and owner of Stave puzzles is credited by the puzzle industry for inventing the ‘Trick Puzzle’. These are mind-numbing puzzles which have come to be known as ‘torture in a box’. They are a fan-favorite.
A number of the tricks pulled by Stave puzzle seem unfair. Like ‘swappable’ puzzle pieces that can fit perfectly in one place or straight-edged pieces that go inside the puzzle, fake corners and so on. Any puzzler used to starting with an outside edge will be shocked to find a version with no straight lines at all. Stave puzzles are beautifully packaged with hand-written labels in elegant boxes but once you realize that there’s no picture to guide you that’s when the fun begins.
Stave’s all time best-seller, Champ, is a sea serpent based on the legendary Loch Ness-like monster claimed to have once inhabited Lake Champlain. It’s just 44 pieces which should be a short job to any puzzler except that it can be assembled in 32 different combinations of which one is correct. Some jigsaw puzzles feature 3D formats where some pieces lay flat and some go upright. The difficulty level is based on a 1 – 5 lighting bolt scale. Four bolts is described as ‘If they made Pepto Bismol for the brain, this is when you’d need’ it’ while 5 reads ‘what part of impossible don’t you understand?’ For beginners, Richardson recommends ‘teaser’ which are a subdued version of the trick puzzle without swappable pieces.
As expected, the world’s best jigsaw puzzles don’t come cheap. $145 will buy you the smallest entry-level piece from Stave’s catalog. Champ will cost you 267 bucks and comes in a package the same size as a box of earrings. ‘Traditional’ puzzles which include art prints, covers of the New Yorker and the like can be ordered in any size – from a 100 pieces to 1000 pieces – for between $ 537 to $3000. A hand-painted, limited edition runs for $3500 to $7000. Stave Puzzles even had an 8-foot long masterpiece sold for $15 000; an entry into Guinness World Records as the world’s priciest puzzle.
Since most of the puzzles are meant to be given as gifts by those who order them, Stave includes personalization free of charge. This includes names or even caricatures of the recipient. Some pieces are available for instant delivery but others are cut to order and may require 4 – 6 weeks for delivery. There are thousands of art images you can choose from for your customized jigsaw puzzle.