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Boulder company brings back antique puzzles

These Colorado natives are using analog fun to help people reconnect.

BOULDER, Colo. — Walking into the factory of Liberty Puzzles in Boulder is like a buffet for the senses. Smells of freshly cut wood waft among the dozens of people operating machines, cleaning, disassembling and packaging puzzles. 

Co-founders and Colorado natives Chris Wirth and Jeff Eldridge have been using modern manufacturing processes to crank out hand-designed wood puzzles for 15 years.

Credit: Mike Grady

One of the first things to catch your eye upon entering their facility is a wall filled with antique puzzles. 

“These puzzles were hand-cut in the 1930s,” Wirth said. “They served as the inspiration for us to try and bring back the wooden jigsaw puzzle.” 

These nearly century-old puzzles are heirlooms from Wirth’s family. He said they were a constant on family vacations and holidays growing up.

Credit: Mike Grady

Wirth and Eldridge go to great lengths to choose the right art for their puzzles. In addition to using works in the public domain, they license work from about 50 artists around the world – 10 of whom are based in Colorado.

But there’s more creativity here than initially meets the eye. 

“The cut pattern itself is a work of art,” Eldridge said. 

Liberty Puzzles has a staff artist who hand-draws the puzzle patterns. He starts with pieces that are specific objects to match and sometimes enhance the art. 

“The special shape pieces we call the whimsy pieces,” Wirth said.

Eldridge explains, "They’re called whimsy pieces because back in the 1930s they were hand-cut on a whim.  

“What our designer will do is drop all the whimsy pieces into the rectangle form," Eldridge continued. "Then he connects them all using earlits.” 

His canvas for this process is a computer screen, his brush a stylist.

Credit: Mike Grady

Whimsy puzzles were widely popular during the Great Depression, but as manufacturing technology progressed, cheaper die-cut puzzles became more prevalent. 

But, with so many people plugged into screens, the Liberty puzzlers are hoping this analog outlet will help people unplug. 

“I think it’s more in relation with the trend of people trying to find a life balance of a world that is continually being more screen-driven,” Eldridge said. “We’re just excited to see that people are turning off the screen and sitting down and re-connecting with one another.”

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