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)
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 --...
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.
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.