There are some things we only do in the holiday season, and that’s what makes them so special: make complicated cookies, use Scotch Tape, chug eggnog, send handwritten cards, and hunch over the dinner table with family we haven’t seen in years, working on an epic puzzle. My sister and I have spent hundreds of hours in silent, diligent puzzle prayer and have very strong opinions about what is worthy of our table. There’s a 1,000-piece limit to join this DNA stream, thank you very much. We’re here for the classics — no 3-D nonsense, or those solid-color “who wants to lose their mind” torture devices. We need busy, engaging material and artwork that stands the test of time. This is a Thomas Kinkade–free zone. So ban the cat to the basement — here are five expert puzzle recommendations to do with your whole family this holiday weekend.
This is the last puzzle the Sisters Beggs did and it consumed our Thanksgiving. Look at all of the people! They all have pretty much the same rosy-cheeked faces with slightly different outfits, making this just maddening enough. Non-corny puzzles are harder to find than they seem, and New York Puzzle Company makes great ones from vintage magazine covers, including Popular Mechanics, Good Housekeeping, and Vogue. Here’s a cheery, holiday-themed New Yorker cover that would keep everyone busy in between pie courses.
White Mountain Puzzles is one of the finest makers of puzzles in the puzzle universe. There are puzzler testimonials on their website, a live-chat function, the ability to search by difficulty, buy lost pieces that the cat swallowed, and design custom puzzles. But the gem purchase here is the state puzzle. We did Texas over a humid Christmas break in Houston a few years ago, and I still remember that lurking armadillo. In Traverse City this summer, we completed Michigan, and I never knew a state could have so many damn lighthouses.
I found Buffalo Games puzzles at the wonderful Texas grocery store H-E-B for, like, $8 and stocked up. The Charles Wysocki puzzles are comforting scenes of quaint Americana with saloon doors all over the place, and tricky mountain ranges that make you feel like an Olympic gymnast sticking the landing when you finally connect the gradient treetops. (Think Simone Biles with a perfectly rounded, three-day-puzzle hunch.) In this decidedly Christmas-with-a-capital-Christ scene, make sure to claim the carriage and townspeople section, or else you might get stuck with 50 evergreens that will test your patience with shrubbery.
For the design-school set, Pomegranate has these Charley Harper puzzles that make you want to set them with puzzle glue, frame, and hang on the walls of your apartment. (My own mother actually did this with a rather badass tiger puzzle in the ’80s.) These are more challenging than the busier scenes above because the colors are so similar, but there’s something calming about all of the green in Woodland Wonders. And a challenge means that you get to slow down and take your time, there’s no void of boredom quite like the aftermath of a puzzle completed too quickly.