Another item cashing in on the "everything old is new again" theme: the old-fashioned, no-tech jigsaw puzzle.
Apparently also capitalizing on the baby boomers' penchant for "cocooning" and staying home, jigsaw puzzles are bigger than ever these days.According to a spokesman for Milton Bradley (a subsidiary of Hasbro Inc.), jigsaw puzzles account for retail sales of $70 million to $80 million a year. Milton Bradley is the biggest U.S. manufacturer of jigsaw puzzles, producing approximately 17 million of them a year. But a number puzzle featured England, with all the pieces cut along political boundary lines. A fine-toothed wooden saw, called a jig saw, was used to cut the wooden puzzles. Even though today's puzzles are done with die-cut presses, the name has stuck.
Puzzles did not really become big business until 1860. Company founder Milton Bradley had been marketing lithographs of Abraham Lincoln, but people no longer wanted pictures of Lincoln without a beard. Bradley was looking for a new idea, and came up with "The Smashed-cc12p2Up Locomotive: A Mechanical Puzzle for Boys."
Today's puzzles come in all shapes and sizes - from simple puzzles aimed at children to the world's largest mass-produced puzzle, a 12,000-piece puzzle depicting Hieronymous Bosch's painting, "The Temptation of Saint Anthony."
Almost anything can - and has - shown up as a puzzle. But the most popular puzzles are still scenics and animals (with an emphasis on cats). Puzzles are available in all skill ranges, as well. The puzzle that bills itself as the "world's hardest" is one from Buffalo Games called "Leprechaun's Luck." What makes it so hard? The same picture is printed on both sides, one rotated 90 degrees from the other, and with pieces cut so there is no way to tell which go on top. Only dedicated (or crazy) puzzlers attempt this one.
Milton Bradley's research shows that puzzles are popular with all ages, and that puzzle making is often a family affair. However, women over 35 tend to dominate the adult market, and serious puzzle makers also tend to be relatively affluent and well educated.
Milton Bradley's most popular line of puzzles continues to be the 1,000-piece Big Ben. These are bought and made at such a rate that the company changes the pictures three times a year.