Port of Tripoli: A Long Lost Puzzle Returns

The Port of Tripoli, Flemish School, signed JVO, c. 1650. 12 ¾" x 19 ¾", $460

The Port of Tripoli is one of the first puzzles I made at the very beginning of J. C. Ayer & Co. circa 1986.  The original was painted on wood. My brother Rick had it in his apartment in Paris. We propped it up in indirect sunlight and photographed it.  I had a Rollei and Rick had a 35mm Minolta . We used both slide and color negative film. Very amateurish but somehow we got a good result which made some of my first puzzles.

When we went digital, I lost the original. Recently we found a high quality digital copy while reworking the website. I t is a really good picture and a good puzzle. I think the unknown painter painted the mountain in a dream. The pastel colors of the mountain, sky and sea blend together to add a bit of difficulty for the puzzler.

If you’d like to try it, visit my website to order it here.

Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral: A Puzzle From an Old Family Recipe

Many years ago, my great grandfather founded J. C. Ayer & Company, which provided remedies to customers around the world. This new puzzle features one of the original advertisements from Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral. Below, alongside a picture of the puzzle, you will find one customer’s accolades from an issue of Ayer’s Almanac from 1868, which was translated into many languages and distributed world-wide. This puzzle is 7″ x 11″ and has 174 pieces.

Ayer's Cherry Pectoral

Ayer's Almanac

Make Believe Ballroom by Larry Rivers

Make Believe Ballroom by Larry Rivers

Years ago this puzzle was in my catalog. I am putting it back on my website because I really like the picture and have redesigned small puzzles to have many more, smaller pieces. In spite of its size, Make Believe Ballroom has more than 200 pieces.

I am just old enough to have seen the great Disney films and Broadway musicals when they first opened though I was pulled away from the last episode of Fantasia, Walpurgisnacht, deemed too much for my tender young mind. That theatre and the songs from Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and others wonderfully fought the depression and the following war with laughter. Make Believe Ballroom is in the same spirit. Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire could have been dancing on that bed.

A Silk Purse from a Sow’s Ear

Last fall, a customer asked me to make a puzzle from a tiny jpeg. I asked if she might have a better picture, but no luck. Moreover, the puzzle was to be for a friend who “had everything,” a dilemma that has happened to many of us in the past.

I spoke to a colleague who suggested using photo-editing software that works within Photoshop to make a copy of a photographic file to look like it had been painted in the style of a particular artist. We picked Vincent van Gogh. This produced the much larger picture shown below, very impressionistic, and almost unrecognizable from the original. The result was my best puzzle of last Christmas season.

This can happen to anyone who takes a picture with their mobile phone or even with a handheld camera on a low setting. And sometimes there is no other option but that small photo. If you want to create a puzzle with a low resolution photo, don’t give up. Send it along and we can work together to make a spectacular puzzle.


Original Photo








Photoshopped image

Custom Jigsaw Puzzle Makes For a Special Wedding Day


I recently received this letter from a bride for whom I made a custom puzzle. She agreed to have me publish her story.

Enjoy, Jim


“When I was planning for my wedding, one of my ushers Tim contacted me and told me that he wanted to get us something special for our wedding–not just something from our registry but something meaningful to us.  He suggested a wooden puzzle since he knows that I love puzzles.  A customized wooden puzzle had the advantage of being durable and being designed to reflect us. I, of course, loved the idea; and Tim suggest we try to incorporate the puzzle into the wedding.

Picking the image for the puzzle was easy.  We had had designed for us a wedding logo.  The logo was our names (Jerry & Christina) stylized in a way that they could be read upside down or right side up.  We felt that using the wedding logo rather than a photograph would commemorate the day appropriately and fit the theme of a puzzle.

After much consultation, we decided that the best way to incorporate the puzzle into the wedding was to have our guests help complete the puzzle during the reception.  Due to the number of guests and the fact that many of the guests don’t speak English, rather than having each guest put in a piece, we had a representative from each banquet table put in a piece after
we toasted with the guests at that table.

In order for the representative from each table to put in the puzzle piece easily (we realized that not everybody is into puzzles as I am), the puzzle was designed with a number of special pieces that would be relatively obvious to place.  We used our names and our wedding date and a number of objects (such as a guitar, a tiger, a cross, etc.) that were special to us.

During the reception, the partially finished puzzle was on the table as Tim supervised guests inserted pieces.  Because the wooden puzzle was quite sturdy we were able to place the puzzle on an easel after all the guests finished.   At the end of the reception after we had said our thank yous, Jerry and I placed the last piece, a heart, into the puzzle together.   It was a wonderful way to end the evening with meaning.”

Christina Chan-Park

PS.  Since the puzzle commemorated the wedding with one of my favorite hobbies, we ended up commemorating the wedding with
one of Jerry’s favorite hobbies too–comic books!


Custom Jigsaw Puzzle – Movement and Impressionism

Up late at a wedding

Here is a puzzle of a  picture that I took recently at a wedding in Marrakech. I don’t think much of it as a picture but as a puzzle, its impressionism and movement makes it  interesting and perhaps difficult.

Years ago I read of a famous and hard puzzle named Little Red Riding Hood’s Hood. It was solid red, without a picture of any kind; difficult but oh so dull. For me an interesting picture is important.

I am going to take Marrakech home and put it together. I think it will be fun but I am not sure that it is good enough to be one of my standard puzzles.

Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles – The machine


Witt Mann watching the waterjet cutting Koran Cover

The photo below shows the entire machine. On the right is the hydraulic pump. Water at 50,000 psi flows to the left and down through a diamond nozzle to cut the puzzle.  The machine control on the right controles the two servos that move the table and the puzzle under the jet. The table is shown in the loading position with an uncut puzzle on it.

I have been asked if cutting a wooden jigsaw puzzle with a waterjet is akin to swatting a fly with a sledgehammer. Well, maybe, but it gets me out of the house, keeps me off the streets and out of the bars. The main thing is it makes marvelous wooden jugsaw puzzles.

Another diversion, Iraq this time

A few months ago I started exercising with a personnal trainer. At my age, I need all the help I can get. Mike is a lawyer and Marine officer. While in Iraq he was part of a pay-back system to compensate innocent Iraqui civilians for losses incurred by “friendly fire”. (the loss of a goat for example.) Mike and a sargent with money set up shop and a croud of Iraquis would come to get their due. I suggesed to Mike that they must have been a jucy target for some nasties with mortars. Mike replied that the nasties never could figure out mortars but once a female suicide bomber was aprehended on the periphery before she could do much dammage.mkane2

I just finished a fascinating book: The Fourth Star by David Cloud and Greg Jaffe about four generals – George Casey, John Abizaid, Peter Chiarelli and David Patraeus – who slowly and painfully changed the army culture from conventional warfare, fighting the Russians on the plains of Germany, to counterinsurgency and nation building.  Politicians and the civilian populace will have to embrace the same change. Mike’s job was an example. He is moving on to Colorado, his home, where he will be a federal prosecutor. We will all miss him.

True or False – a more sinister use of Photoshop?


Our Congress at work.

This picture came to me with some text headed by “Should we buy them larger screen computers – or – a ticket home, permanently?”. Of course I thought, “send them home”. A few very late nights later I wondered if the picture had been “Photoshopped” by adding the solitare and facebook images to the screens. I forwarded the email with my questions to Jack. He answered: “This can be done on PShop, but it’s a nice job if it isn’t real…. However I wouldn’t throw’em out of office until I knew what kind of blather they were enduring at the time.” I should add here that the speaker on the right is the House Minority Leader and Jack is a California liberal. I did find out one thing: This is not the U.S. Congress as “Our Congress”  implies but the Connecticut Congress and the Connecticut House Minority Leader. It turns out I think that Jack is right; the picture is not altered and they don’t care because they know the blather that does go on.

I was brought up to believe in pictures though altering them is not new just much easier with digital photography. I am happy that doctoring pictures for puzzles just adds to the fun.

Junior Olympics at Sandy Bay

Cape Ann is a bunch of granite thrusting its way into the Atlantic Ocean North East of Boston. Sandy Bay is a large harbor at the end of Cape Ann protected by a granite breakwater. There is a lot to say about this wonderful place, too much for a blog, so I will add two links for you to peruse. Starting in colonial times granite was quarried in the interior of Cape Ann and put on ships here to be sent up and down the East Coast and beyond. Learn more here. The breakwater is necessary because the harbor is open to the North East where most of the storms come from.

We were at Sandy Bay to help on the Race Committee for last summer’s junior olympic regatta. There were more than 300 kids sailing Optimist Prams (Opties) Lasers and 420s. See more pictures.


Start of a race the first day

return after the last race on the second day.

The top picture is home base before the first race. The white tents are on the granite pier. The quarries are closed now. The last blocks were sent to Boston for the Big Dig

The second picture is just after the start of one of the races for the 420s on the first blustery day. The 420 is the only two-man boat in the regatta. (“man” as in mankind or “Turn back o man, forswear thy foolish ways”. Drives some feminists nuts.) Acturally boys and girls mix equally. There are even some girl skipper, boy crew combinations. Look closely at some of the boats on the right. A few of the crews are out on trapezes. I was born too long ago and never did get on a trapeze. The closest was in Germany: Skipper:  “Beuh kommt!”. I pushed out from the gunwale, the puff hit, the mast broke and I ended in the drink.

The bottom picture is of one Laser and some Opties returning after the last race.

Back to puzzles next week. A charming standard puzzle of a still life collage.