A 1,000 piece Ravensburger is the gold standard of puzzles. Less glare with a linen finish. Pieces fit well, diverse shapes, but in a grid (all pieces meet at a 4-cornered intersection) to keep things straightforward.
Usually fairly crisp images, but for some, like these "Tranquil Tigers," each piece is a swirly work of art.
- "Large Piece" or "Large Format" or Oversized/Jumbo pieced puzzles (designed for puzzlers with dexterity issues, or puzzlers with poor eyesight — though also maybe harder for a little one to choke on?) generally make the image look smoother/more coherent. Not sure why there aren’t more large format puzzles with >500 pieces.
We enjoyed this one by SunsOut:
- Look for puzzles with different colors and textures, unless you're looking for a challenge that will require inventing new ways of approaching the problem.
- I'd avoid puzzle brands with a ~uniform grid-cut, e.g. Eurographics.
(We are big panda fans, so we couldn't pass this one up, but I'm going to keep its existence a secret from the friends that we would otherwise happily loan our puzzles out to so they don't despair at the number of ~identical black pieces swimming in a sea of indiscernible green)
Ribbon Cut puzzles are the most common. A ribbon cut, also known as a "traditional cut" or "strip cut", has interlocking pieces and matched, interlocking corners, with a few shape variations of pegs and holes. Ribbon cut puzzles have uniform rows and repeating patterns.
Manufacturers of Ribbon Cut Puzzles: Buffalo Games, Cardinal, Clementoni, Dino's, Educa, Heye, Jumbo, Lafayette, MEGA, MindStart, New York Puzzle Co., Piatnik, Pomegranate, Ravensburger, Schmidt (Ribbon but with variation)
Random Cut puzzles have irregularly shaped, sometimes non-interlocking edges and are generally considered more difficult than their ribbon cut counterparts. Random cut puzzles vary significantly in appearance from puzzle to puzzle, which will in turn increase the difficulty. Random cut may also be referred to as "Victorian cut", "Whimsy cut", or "Irregular cut."
Manufacturers of Random Cut Puzzles: GeoToys, African American Expressions, Andrew Blaine, Aquarius, Brainwright, Ceaco, Cobble Hill, Dowdle, Eurographics, MasterPieces, Peaceful Wooden
Here's a good puzzle brand comparison someone did in 2015 (though I've seen a couple recent Eurographics puzzles that were really just regular double-headed guys throughout, so it might not be up-to-date, but it will give you a basic understanding of the factors at play).
Puzzle Brand Comparison | Jigsaw Junkies
It's difficult to find a good comparison of puzzle brands on the web. We hope you find this useful! SUMMARY CHART (click for closer view): Scroll down for links to each brand's detail page. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- HIGH LEVEL SUMMARY LEVEL A -- BEST QUALITY -- (BRANDS I AM CONFIDENT BUYING ANYTIME) EURO Ravensbuger --...
Update: Puzzle Warehouse apparently bought this blog and reformatted it so that you need to click on each brand to get any of the details. That’s fine? but here’s a link to the original Jigsaw Junkies puzzle brand comparison page as well.
Shaped Puzzles are a thing!
And they’re fun! Sunsout and Bits & Pieces are the shaped puzzle specialists.
Here's a kinda trippy 1,000 piece "Mystical Forest" — though the artists had to compromise with the engineers and the legs are a bit more melded together than this picture implies)
The pieces on this one are pretty strangely shaped (often an opening will unexpectedly fit more than one piece), but after a dozen puzzles, this is the first that really does have the satisfying "soft click" that I hear advertised from others.
(which also come in one designed for kids that has 250 large pieces as opposed to the 750 piece original).
(some people were expecting the backs to be colored to identify which pieces went with which animals, in order to do them in a modular way — I guess after you do it the first time, you could put each animal in a separate ziplock, or even flip them over and have your little ones color them!)
- When puzzling with a group (fewer invested folk), consider a puzzle with sub-parts that they can complete, like this very satisfying (and quick to put together), image of doors.
(In this category, there’s also a 1,500 piece windows one, a 1,500 piece bicycles one, a huge VW bus one, a huge one of European sites, a cutaway house with individual rooms, and these nice seaside paintings)
Puzzling with a twist
Some people choose not to look at the box while they’re completing the puzzle, in order to heighten the challenge. (In the olden days of puzzles, this was the default! They'd just come in a box with a title giving a hint as to what the pieces would reveal)
For the very daring, have someone else pick out the puzzle so that the puzzlers don’t have a clue what it is and what it’s meant to look like!
There’s been a global shortage of premium puzzles because of covid, but you can still find many at Puzzlewarehouse ($6 shipping on orders <$75), Amazon, and Barnes & Nobles (free shipping over $35). Also check your local game store — which might have curbside pickup. (Ravensburger is literally not selling any puzzles on their website to consumers, except personalized puzzles, which might be fun!)
⚠️ Be aware that on Amazon in particular, there’s a lot of scalping going on, so don’t be tricked into thinking an expensive puzzle is any better than the regular ones. A 1,000 piece Ravensburger goes for about $20.
I also have a bit on international purchasing gifting.