Happy Mitten sits down with Rachel Happen to discuss her project Baffledazzle! which you can find live on Kickstarter now. We are blown away by Rachel’s creativity and the quality of Baffledazzle!. Learn about Rachel and her project in our interview below and don’t miss out on Rachel’s challenge at the end!
Baffledazzle! is coined as a puzzle that captures the excitement of learning and the thrill of discovery. Was that always the blueprint as you developed Baffledazzle!?
Yes it was! I’m a life-long jigsaw puzzle lover but I always thought they could be much more than just chopped up cardboard images. I started exploring making my own puzzles and gravitated toward subject matter that I felt was worthy of sharing. I absolutely love learning so everything I wanted to share was something I just learned, stumbled upon, or discovered! So the concept for Baffledazzle came very naturally.
Baffledazzle puzzles all tell stories from recorded history, because you’re meant to use the world around you—internet! books! people you know! people you don’t know!—to discover the solution, but I also advocate for discovering little things through experimentation! My Tumblr and Twitter accounts are full of ideas for little daily explorations to see and experience the world around you in a new way. I hope to encourage the big questions (why do we breathe? why does rust form?) and the little ones too (how would I spell my name in ancient Greek? how long will a match burn in the rain?).
What early stages did your project go through before becoming what it is today?
I started out with an ambitious vision for improved jigsaw puzzles and very little idea how to make them! I went through a lot of mediocre puzzle designs before I settled into the puzzle + riddles format you see in my current series. Aside from researching subject matter for the puzzles, the most time consuming stage was refining the production process. Since all of the puzzles are laser cut and I don’t own my own laser (yet! I can buy one if my Kickstarter campaign is successful!), I had to find a workshop that could produce high-quality prototypes for a reasonable cost. For each puzzle, I would develop the design, produce a prototype, and spend a few days going over each piece, strengthening interlocks, refining lines and shapes, and altering design elements to work together with the wood grain.
I also spent time refining my puzzle-crafting abilities! I’ve been producing video puzzles, which you can see on my Youtube channel, to try out new subject matter, puzzle mechanisms, and clue styles.
Baffledazzle! consists of five puzzle series you’ve named La Plage, Ozuzo, Cirkusu, Lucharán, and Biurko. They all are very unique. I would love to hear where you got the inspiration for some of these designs.
Ah, thank you! A lot of time and effort went into selecting the subjects of the puzzles. The goal of these puzzles is to take solvers on an adventure, to lead them to a new discovery. I wanted to be sure I was delivering discoveries that rewarded solvers for their efforts! My preferred research style is picking up dozens and dozens of books from the library, on anything and everything that sounds interesting. Maybe 1 in 10 books has something that piques my interest. Once I’ve narrowed down the subject, to something like interesting scientific theories from the 1600s, I pick up as many books about that as I can find. My interlibrary loan account is constantly maxed out. 🙂 Swimming through this ocean of information allows me to hand-pick the details that I think are most interesting, that would be most rewarding to discover. A small example: magnesium actually gains mass when burned! Then I build the puzzle around those details! Like a custom built maze with a little pile of treasure hidden around every bend.
My personal favorite of the puzzles is your Lucharán series, which explores the imagery of Luchador wrestling masks. Do you have a personal favorite and why?
Ooh it is so hard to choose! La Plage has a special place in my heart because it was one of my earliest puzzle designs (which has lived through countless revisions) to make it to the Kickstarter campaign! As an artist, I love Ozuzo because it is a simple concept, simply executed. Every stripe or spot on the animals is a separate piece. There are no additional lines or shapes, only those that are provided by the animal’s pattern! But, I might have to say my favorite is Lucharán as well! I love the imagery and drama of Lucha Libre and the simplified Luchador masks in Lucharán are such a wonderful introduction to that world.
From a visual sense, Baffledazzle! looks absolutely stunning. What made you decide on the imagery choices you did?
Oh I’m so glad you like the look! I tried to choose puzzle subjects that had a strong visual or physical element, and worked to reference those visuals wherever possible. These references go beyond the overall design; if you look closely at the cut lines in puzzles like La Plage and Cirkusu, you’ll see even more clues hidden there! I think visual exploration is a really fantastic way to learn, and something that jigsaw puzzles are perfectly suited to deliver. Any one that has solved a jigsaw puzzle knows how well you come to know the puzzle image’s subtle variations in color, texture, and pattern as you sort the pieces and solve the puzzle. I wanted to make that part of the solving process rewarding as well! So as you’re sorting the puzzle pieces in Lucharán, maybe you notice the different eye shapes that these masks have (a feature that can reveal a lot about that wrestler’s character!). Or if you’re solving La Plage, where you’re working to piece together the work of artists during a specific moment in time, you might take in the style and emotion of their lines and shapes by touching them or studying them to find an interlocking piece. That’s a level of immersion that you simply can’t get by looking at art in a gallery.
The puzzles of Baffledazzle! are designed by hand and made from wood. What made wood the perfect choice for your puzzles and why did you select the wood types you did?
This is a great question! I chose to use mostly wood (some puzzles feature pieces of acrylic and felt as well) because it is very well suited to laser cutting. I wanted to avoid the “pasted image” method used in traditional, cardboard jigsaws, where a paper image is glued to cardboard backing and cut into pieces. So the etched designs you see on the surface of puzzles like Cirkusu and La Plage are created by burning the surface of the wood with the laser to darken it. Wood allows for a range of etched darknesses, so it gave me a bit more design flexibility!
I also chose to use solid Cherry, Blue Pine, and Maple wood because the quality of the puzzle material is also a part of the experience! I chose woods that work well with the laser, produce crisp results when etched, feel good in your hand, and look beautiful on your table!
You mention in your video that Baffledazzle! is personal. What do these puzzles say about you and what do you hope you are expressing with them?
Yes, it’s very personal! It feels like pouring my hopes and dreaming into a product. Baffledazzle is the next step for me, as an artist working to create new and valuable experiences for others. I’ve worked with many different creative mediums, including dance, footwear, and clothing. Puzzles are the best next step for me because they combine an interesting physical experience with a greater mental challenge. My hope for these puzzles, and for everything I create, is to encourage others to explore the world around us, try new things, seek out discovery, and be curious!
**Rachel Happen’s Post Interview Puzzle!**
“There’s a puzzle hidden in this interview! 😀 I’d like to extend a giveaway offer: the first person that provides the answer gets a free set of four Code Breakers coasters. This offer is not contingent on the success of the campaign; I already have a bunch of these on hand. And this puzzle never expires! If someone solves it years from now I’ll still send them the coasters. Let me know if this is something you’d be interested in. I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to make another puzzle!”
*Leave your answers in the comments below*