exuding joy with Le Puzz
From its bright yellow packaging to the unabashedly quirky designs, the New York-based puzzle company Le Puzz is synonymous with instantaneous delight. Behind the fun new company is Alistair Matthews and Michael Hunter, two longtime friends whose mutual penchant for vintage puzzling and whimsical preoccupations inspired them to create the cheerful emporium that is Le Puzz.
We spoke with Alistair and Michael to learn more about how the company came to be, their collaborative projects, and the joy that comes with piecing together business and play.
Tell us about how you started Le Puzz.
Michael: Alistair and I have been friends for more than 10 years. We met in the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, where we were both art students in totally different fields. I was doing painting, while Alistair was doing photography. We’ve remained friends over the years and have always talked about doing a project together. During the pandemic, I had quit my job. I was staying at home as a new dad and I got into collecting vintage jigsaw puzzles off of eBay and Etsy.
Alistair: We thought it would be so fun to make our own puzzles, so one day, we decided to just make a list of everything we think would make for the best puzzle experience.
Michael: We called up our dream team of graphic design collaborators, Noemie Le Coz and Jeremy Elliot from Little Troop. They basically took our huge list of ideas, dreams, and mood boards and translated it into a visual language. When we had our first design review, Alistair and I were both stunned speechless at how perfectly they nailed the aesthetic we were hoping for. It felt like they downloaded our brains.
What drew you to puzzles as a medium?
Alistair: We’ve definitely always liked puzzles as a Christmas activity with family or a vacation activity, but I think the pandemic really shined a spotlight on it. When the lockdown started, I think I did one puzzle, and I don’t know about you guys, but the second I’m done with a puzzle I want to start another one. I think just being home and not having anything to do, I ended up gobbling down any puzzle I came across, even asking my neighbors if they had any puzzles for me to do!
Michael: My puzzle consumption went up and down with the responsibilities of having a new kid around. But now he’s two-and-a-half and if he sees anything on a tabletop, he wants to grab it. So he makes puzzling hard at the moment. But when I was home over the holidays with my family, we actually did the I ♥ Stickers puzzle together. Every year we do a puzzle, and it was really special to be doing one together that I had a hand in making.
Tell us about the imagery. Where do you get your inspiration for that?
Alistair: I’m a big collector of things, and I have several random, strange collections, from novelty candles and fake food miniatures to things that look like other things, like a pen that looks like a baguette. That stuff is endlessly inspiring! During the pandemic it was kind of all I had around me to work with, so I was able to just take some things into the studio and create something out of it.
Michael: Our first collaborative puzzle was the I ♥ Stickers puzzle. It was the first time we were able to work in the studio together after nine months of working remotely. We worked on it at the height of the pandemic and it was really convenient because you could source any kind of sticker online pretty easily. It was so fun to just order a bunch of sticker packs, open them up and stick them to a huge poster.
Alistair: We’re currently working on our second series together with two of our favorite artists. One is with a marbling artist. She makes these really beautiful marbled paintings on silk fabric, and we’ve turned one of those into a puzzle, and then another collaboration is with this illustrator named Clay Hickson, who takes a lot of inspiration from the Bay Area illustrators of the ‘60s.
How do you approach the design process of the puzzles?
Alistair: It often starts with, “Oh, I had this really good idea,” and then some of them just stick and some of them just kind of fall off.
Michael: We keep tons of notes and lists on our phones, and we’re always texting and calling every day, just like, “Oh, did you see this?” or “Look what I found on eBay.” Some of the ideas really come to the top. It kind of feels with Le Puzz that there are no bad ideas. When discussing ideas together, we just try to have a lot of fun in concepting stuff and writing copy that would go on the boxes and the games.
Alistair: Totally! You don’t see many puzzle companies putting their neck out just to be silly.
It’s really cool how puzzling can be so solitary and communal at the same time.
Alistair: One of our taglines is “Puzzles for people who puzzle with people (or alone).” Which is a silly way of saying, “Puzzles for everyone” but it’s true, it’s the best of both worlds because it’s such a fun solitary activity, but it’s also such a fun group activity. And it’s also great for the summer if you’re going on vacation and for the winter when you’re in the house.
Michael: Yeah, it’s kind of just puzzle season all year round.
Alistair: We’re lucky to have a business with something that we’re just wholeheartedly behind.
Your branding really reflects that playfulness perfectly.
Alistair: The branding is everything we wanted it to be, even without realizing it. It just feels super familiar and vintage, like you’ve seen it before. Just warm, comforting, and happy.
Michael: And I mean, when the world seems to be on a never-ending downward spiral it’s nice to be able to work on a project like this and try to bring something that’s positive, joyful and warm into people’s lives.
What makes a really good puzzle for you as a collector? What do you look for?
Alistair: I’m definitely drawn to food as a theme.
Michael: There are a couple things that make a fun puzzle in our opinion. A good die line is a very important one. Technically speaking, the way the pieces are laid out is the die line, and there are a couple ways you can go about it. There are a lot of puzzles out there that use a ribbon cut style, a sort of step-and-repeat pattern and a lot of people love it. Our puzzles are random cut, so every piece is going to be a unique kind of funky shape. Image-wise, we try not to leave too many big, blank color fields. We try to make sure that every piece of the puzzle has some information on it that’s going to help you, and it’s not just going to be like a frustrating, stalled-out point. So we often do look really closely at the die lines that we create and how the image falls on the pieces.
Alistair: Sometimes puzzles come in the shape of something too. I got one the other day that I haven’t done yet, but it’s a house and the puzzle is called “If animals ran the house.” It’s basically a drawing, and the animals are messing up every room, but the die line is the shape of the house, which is fun.
Michael: Just keeping it lighthearted and funny.
How do you see Le Puzz evolve?
Alistair: We’ve been talking a lot about trying to expand internationally. We’re also definitely excited about collaborations in whichever different direction that could go in. Our big dream is to open up our own puzzle factory so that we can manufacture puzzles ourselves, which would allow us to do so many more exclusive limited runs or bizarre puzzles. Just really pushing the boundaries of what a puzzle could be.
Michael: It would be so amazing to to be able to have all those tools at our disposal to use and experiment with.
Alistair: I also love the idea of bringing more people into the puzzling fold. One of our greatest joys is when somebody’s like, “I’ve never done a puzzle, but I did yours and now I want to do another one.” We get a lot of joy out of introducing somebody to something that we love.