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.

Jim

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!

 

Jigsaws in Middle School

Teaching inner city special ed kids has always been a challenge. They have short attention spans and would much rather be active than reading or listening. Studies have shown that spatial intelligence interacts positively with mathematics so, as an experiment, a 6th grade teacher introduced my puzzles to her special ed class.

Of course the kids loved them. What 6th grader wouldn’t? Here is something they can do with a clear but difficult goal, a put-together puzzle. Normally, making puzzles is no substitute for reading, writing & arithmatic but something must be said for active minds working hard and having fun. The most skilled and enthusiastic boy (below) is also good at math. Now the classes end each week with puzzle time Friday afternoon.

Over the years since I started making puzzles, 1986, I have made more flawed puzzles than I care to admit. If they were pillow cases, they would have been seconds. They are OK but not good enough to ask money for. I am glad an imaginative teacher found a good use for some of them.

Marblehead Girl’s Swim Team

This is my first blog since before Christmas so it is appropriate that this year starts with an upbeat story. For the first time the Marblehead High School girl’s team won the state championship. The meet was at the Harvard pool. 31 teams competed but only with each team’s fastest swimmers. All afternoon Marblehead exchanged the lead with Wayland, a prennial winner. Comming into the last event, a relay, Wayland was slightly ahead. Marblehead won the relay and the championship by one second. It was David vs Goliath. Wayland had 19 swimmers, Marblehead 7. The Boston Papers were there. A Herald reporter christened the Marblehead team The Magnificent 7.

My wife asked me to design and make puzzles for the swimmers and coach. A mother took a good picture. In the upper center of the puzzle my signiture cat is surrounded by fish. All other silhouettes are female. The cat is too.  She comes from a cartoon by Albert Dubout that shows her leading her kittens across a war torn Paris street. Notice Olive Oyl , lower middle next to “Jane Bond” but no Popeye. I put in as many figure pieces as possible; that makes the puzzle easier. Swimmers are not necessarily avid puzzlers.

New Designs for Small Puzzles

I have redesigned my smaller puzzles. Below left is the old 8×10 design with about 160 pieces and right is the new with about 250.

This new design is the first I am really happy with smaller than 11×14. Prices are the same so now you can get a good custom puzzle for $190 rather than the $320 that an 11×14 costs. Of course there wil be more than one design as time goes on and these designs will apply to the new 7×11 format as well. I will show some samples in future posts.

New Puzzle Sizes

I have been basing the sizes of my puzzles on the photographic standard: 8×10, 11×14 and 16×20. These sizes are now less relevant than they used to be. Like movies and television, the new standard is more horizontal. Many digital camera sensors follow the 24×36 millimeter standard, a width to length ratio of 1 to 1 1/2. So now I will offer puzzles based on the new standard as well as the old. The new sizes are 7×11, 10×15 and 15×22. Here is an example of a custom puzzle I made under the old standard and what it would be under the new:

The puzzle was 8.75 x 13.7 from an 11×14. Now I would make it 9.4 x 14.7 from a 10×15. I forsee making almost all of my special puzzles this way and, as time goes by, my standard puzzles as well. Prices will remain the same.

A Chocolate Company’s Puzzle

 

           Recently I made a puzzle for a corporate client. She wrote the following story. I could not have written it as well.

The world’s largest chocolate company recently went through a big merger, resulting in the world’s largest confectionary company. We contacted Ayer Puzzles to construct a puzzle that would aid in a “meet-and-greet” of members from each of the merging companies.

400 associates met as a group for the first time in Orlando, Florida. The purpose of the meeting was to unite as a group, learn about each other’s capabilities and form a plan for moving forward as a cohesive team. Part of this meeting was a one-hour teambuilding session named “Stronger Together”. Working with MossWarner Communications, Ayer Puzzles crafted a very large puzzle with 400 pieces. The puzzle was a graphic representation of the two merging companies’ products. The puzzle was a puzzle in itself, as it was made up of 18 mini-puzzles. When constructed, the 18 mini-puzzles came together into one large one.

As associates entered the room, they were assigned to one of the 18 tables. When the moderator yelled “GO”, each table assembled their mini-puzzle. When the mini-puzzles were completed, the 400 associates needed to work together to compose the larger puzzle onstage. While this may sound simple in words, watching 400 associates find their way through a packed conference hall to find their matching mini-puzzle was quite a sight! To complete the task, associates needed to use creative communication skills. As they watched the final puzzle come together, associates cheered.

What made this puzzling teambuilding session so successful? The puzzle was a physical manifestation of the corporate message – working together as a team to create something big!

Another Custom Wooden Jigsaw puzzle.

My client asked for a puzzle of his friend’s house including an alligator as a special piece and the house name in drop-out lettering. He gave me a picture that might have been good enough for an 8 x 10 puzzle but not for an 11 x 14. The picture may have been taken with a cell phone. So we made the puzzle with wide white borders and put the name in the bottom border. He found the alligator at the left, I traced it in right and left hand versions and put each piece in the side borders.  Just for fun I made the corners differently.

A Very Hard Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle

A client asked me to make a difficult puzzle for his wife on their fifth anniversary. He comissioned a painting and asked me to make a 16 x 20 puzzle of it. Furthermore he asked that all edge pieces be taken away. For the hell of it I made two copies. His wife liked the puzzle and did it in about two weeks. The second copy is below. Luckily, a waterjet puzzle is not made by jigsaw. When it is finished, it comes off the machine cut, wet and together. I have never taken it apart. I don’t dare to.