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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Puzzle So Hard startup smartly ties in with acclaimed feature film 'Puzzle'

Puzzle So Hard

Puzzle So Hard puzzles

Currently playing in theaters, Puzzle, the acclaimed film drama about a repressed housewife (played by Kelly Macdonald) who meets a champion jigsaw puzzle competitor (Irrfan Khan) and achieves profound self-awareness after teaming up with him, offered puzzle maker start-up Puzzle So Hard the perfect marketing opportunity to help introduce itself.

The Philadelphia-based supplier created in-theater advertisements to run in a local Landmark Theatre venue in Philadelphia, and “one thing led to another,” says the company’s CEO and “Puzzler-in-Chief” Jen Hope.

“Back in March or April I suddenly got tons of friends forwarding me the trailer for Puzzle and saying ‘Oh, my gosh! You know this is coming out?’” Hope recalls. “I hadn’t heard of it, but knew I had a cultural kismet: I’d just quit my job to start a puzzle company and was finding that a lot of people were doing puzzles, and now people were talking about Puzzle. So I had to take advantage of the moment--and the captive audience--and reached out to our Landmark [theater].”

Hope soon devised an ingenious campaign for the theater chain dedicated to independent and foreign films.

“I put together a little quiz made up of three slides,” says Hope. “The first showed a 12-piece puzzle and asked viewers to choose the missing piece--one being a slice of pizza, because pizza could never be wrong! The second slide showed the answer, and the third was a straightforward Puzzle So Hard ad. Altogether it embodied Puzzle So Hard in that I just want to have fun with puzzles: I take this whole venture pretty seriously, but I definitely don’t take myself too seriously!”

Hope’s background, actually, is in civil rights law.

“I was a senior trial attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and while I wasn’t burnt out, I felt that the needle wasn’t moving fast enough,” she says. “Sometimes it gets to be a slog fighting over documents--as many lawyers do--and you’re often up against very well-funded opponents, and it gets to be a paper chase. So I needed a change, and took the obvious next step in quitting my job and starting a puzzle company!”

“Like so many people I had been turning to puzzles as my solace,” Hope continues. “We all have various problems that arise in our personal and professional lives, and there are lots of outlets for getting through them, like dance and ceramics, for which you have to leave the house and commit a certain amount of time to do. But I started buying puzzles and doing them on the kitchen table here and there, before leaving the house or on Saturday mornings while having coffee: To puzzle for 30 minutes was a real nice way to escape.”

Hope soon found herself “puzzling a lot and going out to get more puzzles.”

“I felt that there weren't puzzles that were as cool as I wanted them to be--kittens playing with yarn, bears drinking coffee--and while I’d do any puzzle, I wanted something that represented art that I like that’s not always mainstream, and that speaks to me. I ruminated on it when I went to a wedding last year in Palm Springs: I looked up at the ‘first light’ and saw the sun as it crested over the mountains. Venus was all bright, and the moment that the light hit was so dynamic with the natural gradient of the rising light! Those were the kinds of puzzles I wanted to do--puzzles that were a little more inspirational.”

Hope has since settled on four series of puzzles, each with three entries so far: natural gradients, as in the first light in Palm Springs; street art, thread art and outer space.

“Who doesn’t love space?” she asks, including her husband among space fans. “They’re going to be the hardest puzzles.”

The thread art puzzle series features photos of stitching and embroidery.

“When you blow them up you see all those fine stitches and art that is the traditional work of women,” says Hope. “For street art, we’re working with an awesome muralist out of Mexico City, Farid Rueda, whom I found on the Internet: I reached out to a ton of artists and some said no--which I totally understand since street art is a localized thing, and changing the medium--puzzles--changes the art.”

Puzzle So Hard jigsaw puzzles are packaged to fit on book shelves, notes Hope, with marketing signage designed to evoke the look of “1980s encyclopedias.”

“I’m a child of the ‘80s,” she explains, adding, “our logo looks a lot like Trivial Pursuit.” And while she concedes that puzzling is not for everybody (“My husband is not a puzzler!”), those for whom it is “will enjoy our puzzles and their gorgeous works of art.”

Still in the pre-order stage, Puzzle So Hard looks to have full stock available in a month or so. The initial puzzles are all thousand-piece, but Hope hopes for greater piece-count variation down the line.

“I want everyone to enjoy what puzzles are about, and know that we’re not a stuffy corporation but a small business--and that we‘re about building relationships and making connections,” she says. She concludes by summing up the universal appeal of a jigsaw puzzle: “Everyone in their own way says something similar, that a puzzle is a problem you can solve. Whenever the world around you is madness, however difficult a puzzle may be, you know all the pieces are there.”

Puzzle So Hard's movie theater commercial



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