Nerding Day: The Troubling Puzzles of Karly 🌭

I have a friend Mark who shares my taste in cinema, so he invited me over to watch knife fighting instructional videos in his basement. We studied the shadowy virgins pretending to murder each other before moving on to increasingly unexplainable tapes. But I’m not here to talk about the time a gasoline company produced a VHS tape about a family’s road trip into Native American ghost country to sell no actual product or service. I’m here to talk about the far more cursed collection I found in a back room:

Mark’s partner Karly owns 19 vacation homes worth of puzzles, and there is not a sane one among them. Sexualized cheese sculptures, societies of taxidermied mice, ancient platters of sweaty meat, and so, so many distressed kittens. I started taking pictures of them and told him, “I’m doing an article about your wife’s puzzles, and I’m going to call it…”

I learned a lot about puzzles as I gasped my way through this haunted stack of mistakes. I learned art for puzzles is more about violent disharmony than composition. I also learned there never was a God; it has been mirthless chaos all along. So with what I’ve learned, I was able to come up with the perfect Jigsaw Puzzle Rating System. Each of my friend’s wife’s shattered nightmares will be rated 1 through 10 on two criteria: Ocular Shrieking and Creeping Darkness.

Okay, let me Google one quick thing and we’ll get started.

“WAX IMPRESSIONS” is 500 pieces of human parts. It’s the carefully stored hands and faces of… celebrities? Royalty? I don’t recognize any of these remains. This means they’re either not good wax sculptures or someone has replaced the wax museum’s storage room with the wax museum’s guests, again. Wait, hold on, I recognize one. Computer, enhance:

There. I’d know the front four inches of 1963 Ellizabeth Taylor’s feet anywhere.

Ocular Shrieking: 9/10

This seems like it should be a perfect score, but listen: it’s a closet full of nothing but human heads except for a single pair of feet named E. Taylor. It’s a little too perfect. It feels like a mostly sane jigsaw puzzle photographer said, “Ha ha, let’s make one of them just a labeled foot. Take away the Elizabeth Taylor head to make it look like they only sculpted her fee– no, chopped-in-half feet.” My point is, it’s a real non-maniac’s idea of what a maniac’s murder closet would look like. It *clap* is *clap* not *clap* hard, puzzle photographers: if you’re looking at a serial killer trophy case with no penises, that’s a decoy trophy case. You’re standing on a trap door.

Creeping Darkness: 10/10

If I put together this puzzle I would absolutely expect to be missing a single piece and find it later in the mouth of a dead body. This is fucked. A stain on our world. I mean, why did they even bother labeling the hands when they clearly crawl around to whatever spot they want?

BATHROOM, SWEET BATHROOM! is a passive aggressive argument between set designers. It’s like six refugee families moved into a 14 bed, 1 bath apartment and each of them has a different skin condition. What the shit am I looking at, BATHROOM, SWEET BATHROOM!?

Ocular Shrieking: 7/10

This is a vomit of unidentifiable shapes. If you were putting this puzzle together, you’d be saying things like, “I think this piece is part of the… Croatian sex driver? Maybe the klaarb lotion?” I have no goddamn idea. There are abandoned muffins and egg timers among the clutter of torsh scrubbers and chlorg tubes. This is something an idiot mermaid would build out of shipwreck debris after having surface toilets described to her by a lobster.

Creeping Darkness: 2/10

Maybe it’s the plastic flowers mashed into the moist landfill of discontinued Amway creams, but I almost get a pleasant feeling from this puzzle. At the risk of walking into a trap, I’d say the jigsaw puzzle photographer responsible for this has a reasonable explanation for all the cat parts hidden among it. See if you can find all 8 pounds!

A thing I’m learning about puzzles is there is more world building than you’d expect. For instance, look at how much you suddenly know about these teddy bears. They were posed and photographed by a pervert, and no second thing.

Ocular Shrieking: 10/10

I can’t even look directly at it. If I told the FBI about “BARE BEAR BEACH!,” I’m pretty sure they would shoot my friend’s wife. I legally became a bear sex criminal the second I published this.

Creeping Darkness: 9/10

If I heard a strange noise in my kitchen, I would rather find a hatching cluster of spider eggs than someone putting together “BARE BEAR BEACH!”. Let’s say you thought sexualizing children’s toys was cute, and are you hearing yourself, look at the bear with the binoculars. Why include him? Let’s say you thought sex crimes were cute, and oh my god are you hearing yourself, he is massacring this photo’s layout. And for what? “I’m very, very looking at buttholes,” he might tell you, but what his presence really says is there is nowhere you can hide from the dark perversions of a jigsaw puzzler, even in this land of magical toys.

Stuffed With Memories? More like stuffed with the souls of a lost Amish colony. “Putting together the puzzle won’t free us,” the box whispered. “Quite the opposite,” it explained. 

“I know,” I replied. “You probably started as a puzzle of two ponies on a tablecloth, and these are all the bored souls who assembled you.”

Ocular Shrieking: 8/10

“Did you say something in there?” shouted Mark.

“Tell him. Tell them all, No one will believe you,” giggled the box.

Creeping Darkness: 7/10

“Your wife’s fucking puzzles won’t shut up!” I shouted from the vacant face of a chicken on a puzzle box.

“It is the year 2387 and I’m a different guy!” replied a new voice. “I think I hear sounds coming from this strange and dusty tomb!” said the doomed explorer.

If a clown or magician walks up to you and exposes their button dewlaps like this, get out of there. They have marked you for mating.

Ocular Shrieking: 9/10

I hate every square inch of “OH, DO YOU KNOW THE BUTTON MAN?”. What has The Button Man done? These are catch phrases from characters who don’t exist and he’s made them his entire personality. Five hundred pins is already how you tell strangers you’re weird about sex, and The Button Man still has too many cheeky buttons about touching his buttons. This man put pinback buttons on his bowtie, which is already a good enough reason to spray him with bear mace, but the three he chose were Erotic Lips, Piano Keys, and Playboy Logo. I honestly think those would place you in the top five of a nationwide Creepiest Bowtie Pin Choice contest. Fuck you, Button Man. Fuck what future generations of archaeologists will think about us when they discover your metal remains.

Creeping Darkness: 6/10

I gave this a six because there’s a six out of ten chance The Button Man is not an over-accessorized man, but a being of pure button and this is him peeling off the outer layer of his flesh. There is a six out of ten chance the answer to the question  “Oh, do you know The Button Man?” is “Shhh! The Button Man hunts after he molts!” 

This BUTTON TALK puzzle is promising because it shows The Button Man can bleed. And if he can bleed, we can kill him.

Ocular Shrieking: 8/10

Maybe I’ll never be able to get inside the head of a button collector, but you can just not keep certain buttons, right? Like, if a pin says “Try banana juice,” what happens inside you that prevents you from throwing it in the trash? To be fair, not all of the pins on BUTTON TALK are meaningless bullshit.  I think we can all agree THINK FISH. My hair hurts. ESKIMO POWER. The word BITCH three times.

Creeping Darkness: 8/10

I do like how the badges of BUTTON TALK aren’t forming the skin of a horny juggler like they were in the “OH, DO YOU KNOW THE BUTTON MAN?” puzzle. Still, there are some unsettling things being said by these buttons. A lot of them are little jokes you tell when you also sometimes choke your wife. I have a theory that the button-making creative process is going fugue and pressing every last fleeting thought into a pin. So you might only find out later you’re a lonely, aging misogynist longing for the mouth of anyone– kids, family members, anyone. Oh, and you might be a militant Inuit nationalist? The point is, jigsaw puzzles have taught us nothing good has ever been expressed through button.

I don’t care what anyone says. “Deli Fare” is the perfect amount of old wet.

Ocular Shrieking: 6/10

A lot of jigsaw puzzles are abandoned slime farms stolen from “What Not To Do” chapters of food photography textbooks. This is an AI art generator trying to create a picture of “Moist Rusty.” If someone posted this picture on social media, you’d assume they were getting through a Resident Evil castle level, not getting lunch. Did they mean for this to be a sad tube graveyard, or was there a mixup at a colonoscopy screening? Because this implies there’s a proctologist somewhere studying a mound of deli meat for polyps. Fucking roasted, puzzle.

Creeping Darkness: 4/10

This isn’t an especially scary pile of sweaty food. If I saw this outside of a jigsaw puzzle, I’d tell the lead investigator the caterers had been slaughtered within the last 12 to 14 hours. So there is some menace to it, just not an impending menace.

I don’t care what anyone says. ORIENTAL CHOW is the perfect amount of mummified wets.

Ocular Shrieking: 4/10

ORIENTAL CHOW is what you name your Chinese food puzzle when you have no one in your life to bounce ideas off of. To make matters worse, this looks like the GrubHub thumbnail for a restaurant called Old Chang’s Diarrhea. There are 2300 items on the menu, yet everything comes out looking exactly like this (cup $1.76  bowl $5.93).

Creeping Darkness: 3/10

If a restaurant is serving food like this and it’s still in business, it’s definitely some kind of criminal peanut laundering operation. A litany of international crimes led to this dry smear of future leftovers. 

I guarantee you the owner of “THE DOLL SHOP” is a seven foot cricket with human teeth.

Ocular Shrieking: 10/10

If you see a retail display that looks like this, don’t bother turning around. The exit door is gone, and everything behind you is dolls. I don’t even know why they make dolls like this. There’s got to be a more efficient way to store six gallons of innocent blood.

Creeping Darkness: 10/10

Come the fuck on, “THE DOLL SHOP.” What could this be other than a prison for child souls? It’s like the first slide in a lazy presentation on avoiding ghost kidnappers. More troubling than its creepiness is how there’s no attempt at being a second thing. You can’t relocate a bunch of baby graves to your sitting room and expect people to think, “Ah, ordinary dolls to be appreciated.” An 80-year-old Barbie collector would show this to her quilting club and go, “Ha ha look at this skin crawling shit. GIVE US YOUR FORESKINS ha ha ha. Cheryl, this puzzle is more haunted than your guest toilet after you make Oriental chow.”

I feel like Ahhh! would have been a better title for the last puzzle.

Ocular Shrieking: 3/10

This is about as non-refreshing as you can make a drink look. Ahhh!, just how I like my beer– 40% foam, placed next to its raw materials to help remind you this comes from a bunch of grains left to rot in a dystopian Missouri warehouse. I am less thirsty now, Ahhh!.

Creeping Darkness: 4/10

This obviously isn’t very creepy, but I wouldn’t underestimate the crushing sadness of finishing a puzzle of beer by yourself. It has to be at least as sad as finishing a warm crystal bowling ball of beer next to a wooden spoon of rice by yourself.

OH! YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL!” is what a serial killer makes when they’re self-aware enough to know they can’t outwit the FBI. No rational person has ever said, “For this room I’m picturing several thousand babies avoiding eye contact dressed in indistinct variations of nude, shape, and clown.”

Ocular Shrieking: 10/10

This is a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle, but there were 1729 people aboard the eighteen planes that crashed simultaneously the day it was manufactured. So you do the math.

Creeping Darkness: 8/10

Anyone encountering “OH! YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL!” has plainly entered a world of terror, but it’s not the paralyzing unease of a normal doll collection. These aren’t the kinds of dolls who giggle from the shadows or pick up the phone to invite your wife into a trap with your voice. This is a marching army of baby soldiers– an immediate danger you either deal with or die. Do you have hand grenades? A firehose manned by exorcists? Then get the fucking fuck out of there!

When Karly learned what I was doing, she said the inclusion of MIDNIGHT’S DELIGHTS was non-negotiable. “Why?” I thought. “It’s only a cluttered fridge and I already have 211 food ones. What would the owner of the world’s most deranged puzzle collection know about weird puzzles?” Then I looked closer.

Ocular Shrieking: 7/10

My dear god. Some poor artist went in and designed “funny” food labels for all these products. All this work for a jigsaw puzzle and what did it get them? DULL PICKLES? DULL PICKLES!? Die nailed to your worst fear, you unspeakable monster. I hope your shitty puzzle gags impressed some 9-year-old who forgot to bring an iPad to Grandpa’s house.

Creeping Darkness: 10/10

The labels are sad on their own, sure. It can hurt to watch people struggle and fail. However, it’s when the labels all come together when they tell a story of grief. DULL PICKLES and EEL Helper are the dry heaves of a mediocre mind, but they have the energy of an unfunny person trying. But the others? No. Something happened early in this process that caused this puzzle designer to lose all hope. This is going to sound dark, but you don’t go from “GEE WHIZ” to “I don’t care… GOAT MILK” unless the police call you during the design process to tell you your family died. “Hello, Reliable Puzzle Shop, Silly Gary spea– oh. Oh. I understand. That’s sad news, but… but they would want me to finish this puzzle. Sniff. I guess… ReD StUfF? Here’s one: Green Things. And these refried beans are now… Re-Refried BEA— what? I can’t believe it’s LARD? That’s terrific, officer. I’ll use that one for sure. Okay, I’ll come down to identify them after I finish naming the frozen foods. BLUE EYED PEAS? Ha ha that one is going in too, officer.”

Let’s do a nice one. It’s I ❤ Hearts!

Ocular Shrieking: 0/10

Pleasant hearts placed perfectly in rows? Fine! Nothing here makes me worry for the safety of the artist, which is the bar I now use to appreciate jigsaw puzzles.

Creeping Darkness: 1/10

This is really unappealing and I’m not sure what you use the hearts for, but there’s only a tiny bit of sadness here. If I had to guess I’d say 63 years ago, an aunt with no hobbies or personality accidentally said she liked hearts near one of her birthdays. It’s almost sweet! She probably smiles at these and thinks, “Am I supposed to freeze them and put them in drinks? Swallow and pass them? Who started this stupid fucking tradition? Anyway, the puzzle maker who came by to photograph them sure seemed sad.”

I think jigsaw puzzles might be a fallback career when you can’t paint for shit. “Still Life #24” is clumsy ass garbage. It looks like the production background for an unreleased Christian cartoon about food cops. If you put this trash image on a birthday cake, rats wouldn’t eat it.

Ocular Shrieking: 5/10

“Still Life #24” looks like an unfinished photo collage done by a coal miner who dropped out of 7th grade because the photo collages were too hard.

Creeping Darkness: 5/10

“Still Life #24” looks like something a coal miner imagines ever since they quit their job as an art teacher because one of their students painted “Still Life #24.”

“Okay, Springbok creative team. You’re the best jigsaw namers in the business. We’ve got a picture of 210 ceramic figu– extremely random ceramic figures on a black void. What do we call it?”


“What about simply… GO FIGURE!

“Gentlemen, I’m only a mysterious intruder with a knife, but GRANDMA’S KITCHEN.” 

“That’s the one. Great job, new guy. GRANDMA’S KITCHEN.”


Ocular Shrieking: 7/10

What the f– computer, isolate sector A3, enhance:

What the shit is this? Am I looking at a dismembered middle-aged centaur with milking tits? What is wrong with Grandma?

Creeping Darkness: 6/10

There’s nothing like a couple hundred tiny ceramic things lined up in delicate rows to remind you how short our time here on Earth is. These will be the last faces Grandma sees when Oriental chow clogs her final blood vessel. These will be the miniature porcelain ears to hear her last words. “I… I should have… spent more time… asking the… hhhh… gift shop owner… hhhh… what you were, milking centau–“

“CHILI TODAY – HOT TAMALE” proves that old saying in the art world– when you take a picture of food too disgusting to print in a magazine, split it into 500 pieces and sell it to Mark’s wife.

Ocular Shrieking: 3/10

I love how at some point in the production process, someone thought it was necessary to give this picture a little sash that says “MEXICAN FOOD.” Why? For whom is it for? Assuming a jigsaw consumer couldn’t recognize Mexican food, in what way would this information change things? Was it a trick to get some pedantic nerd to say, “Actually, m’lady, a lot of these dishes are more associated with Spain or Argentina.” Who does this “MEXICAN FOOD” sash help? Maybe it was a writing prompt so no jigsaw puzzle designer named it PIZZA MY HEART or IF LOOKS COULD KALE? They could have written them a private note that says, “This wet scrap is Mexican food, so name it something like GRANDMA’S TACO or AVOCADO WHAT SHE’S HAVING! thanks.”

Creeping Darkness: 7/10

That seven score doesn’t really have anything to do with “CHILI TODAY – HOT TAMALE” itself. But I read over the paragraph I just wrote and I’m 7/10 unsettled by the effect these puzzles are having on me. I don’t remember typing GRANDMA’S TACO and I can’t make the case for it being a coherent punchline.

I’m not sure why I took a picture of this one. What a pedestrian level of madness. Oh, look out for TROLL-MANIA!, everyone. Fucking eighty dollars worth of ordinary toys dumped in a corner. The guy who made “OH! YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL!” collected enough human toes to feed 900 doll soldiers! Either dedicate yourself to the craft or cry in the coal mine with the “Still Life #24” artist. It’s not a great sign I’m only making references to jigsaw puzzles.

Ocular Shrieking: 0/10

Oh, is one of you Trolls a silly pirate? Fuck you. Come back when you’re a ceramic miniature made of unclear smears and one of your arms was chewed off during a centaur milking accident.

Creeping Darkness: 0/10

Yes, if you look closely, a Wizard Troll and a Taliban Troll are watching a circle of naked Troll children. And yes, Cop Troll is about to arrest Dashiki Troll for talking to Kimono Troll. And okay, fine, each of these creatures has the face of Mary-Kate and Ashley. If the category was Problematic Decisions, this would be a 10/10, but it’s not. It’s Creeping Darkness, and who would be afraid of multicultural best friends? Besides Cop Troll, of course.

Look, everyone! It’s Yellow! Wait, no, that’s the whole thing? No. No.

Ocular Shrieking: Yellow/10

From concept to name to execution, “Presenting Yellow!” is a desperate grab for nothing. It’s a yellow way to tell everyone at the jigsaw puzzle factory you’re not handling your divorce well; you need help. It’s an idea you would tell a mad scientist to assure him his soul erasing ray was a success.

Creeping Darkness: Yellow/10

This puzzle is like a solid brick of void misplaced in our dimension. And more haunting than its existence is how it implies these monsters made a puzzle for all the colors. “Step Back… It’s Lavender!” or “It Gives Us Great Pleasure To Welcome Taupe!” but most likely, “My Wife Left Me For Blue And I Can’t Do This Anymore.”

I grew up during an era of history where finding adult material involved treasure maps and interpreting nipples from scrambled TV signals, but still, if you showed 13-year-old me the PLAYBOY Playmate Puzzle, I would have found it almost ghoulishly cruel to ask anyone to assemble a naked photo from a tube of puzzle pieces.

Ocular Shrieking: 1/10

I didn’t take this out of the tube to test this theory, but you have to imagine a used PLAYBOY Playmate Puzzle never comes complete. You don’t buy something like this and then NOT throw out all the pieces except the feet ones.

Creeping Darkness: 8/10

“Three words: Pornography Jigsaw Puzzle,” I say smugly to the wordy idiot going on and on about the stupid baby shoes that were never worn.

This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: John Hector McFarland, who is the missing wax Anne Schedeen butt puzzle piece needed to complete us.

13 replies on “Nerding Day: The Troubling Puzzles of Karly 🌭”

I had intended a pedestrian joke about a decapitated Tom Servo, but then I was compelled to search out the Playboy jigsaw puzzles. There are so many more than you would guess. I’m horrified now.

Absolutely classic article.

I know this is weird, but in my fanon of the Seanbaby Columnatic Universe, the Mark in this story is web 1.0’s Bad Candy Mark.

“It’s a yellow way to tell everyone at the jigsaw puzzle factory you’re not handling your divorce well; you need help. It’s an idea you would tell a mad scientist to assure him his soul erasing ray was a success.” Dang. These little lines always get me. Thanks for the article!

Given that “Stuffed with Memories”/“Remplis de souvenirs” is the one and only box with bilingual text, we can reasonably conclude that it has eaten the memories of at least one francophone.

I nearly died so many times, the slow decent into puzzle related madness and yellow was so great, this is definitely a favorite and also holy collection of puzzles, that’s staggering. Welp all I got to say, pieces all fell into place ohgodnotheygotme

In the first picture, the puzzle that jumped out at me was “Do You Know the Button Man?”

I was like, “oh, this sounds like a horror movie about a serial killed who takes his victims and slowly sews up every hole on his victims and adds a button.”

I just got to the entry for said puzzle…and I’m curious to see what you came up with…

Well, the picture disappoints. It’s just a boring set up of the last vision each victim takes in before The Button Man carves out their eyes & replaces them with “I can see clearly now” and a button with a rain cloud covered by a red “no smoking circle”.

There is a horror movie here…

1. i recognize some of those dolls from mr busey’s science class
2. i found a tube of playboy puzzle in the furnace room when i was ten and thought the same damn thing

Well, I read that one button as “GOAT MILF,” and I guess that would have been trying too hard for that fridge.

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