“The best puzzles for adults are challenging and fun to solve,” says economics professor and jigsaw puzzle historian, Dr. Anne Williams. “When finished, the puzzler feels pride and a sense of accomplishment at having conquered the unknown,” she says.
Studies also show that jigsaw puzzles have a positive effect on visual-spatial reasoning and problem-solving skills, as well as reducing the risk of cognitive decline over time.
Plus, “solving a jigsaw puzzle involves making order out of chaos, and gives a sense of control,” according to Williams. “Jigsaw puzzling can be a fun social activity for family or friends, but it can also be a soothing and solitary way to get absorbed in something that diverts one from the outside world.”
We asked Williams for advice on how to shop for the best adult puzzles, and consulted our staff of shopping experts for their favorite picks.
The best adult puzzles in 2023
Our NBC Select staff includes puzzle lovers, so we’re sharing some of their favorites, along with expert-recommended picks and top-rated bestsellers.
NBC Select commerce editor Lindsay Schneider loves gifting these miniature puzzles — they’re perfect for short breaks or beginner puzzlers, as they can be finished in 20 minutes or less, according to the brand. Each puzzle also resembles a different food, with options including a cupcake, french fries, a New York slice and more.
Pieces: Approx. 70 | Material: Cardboard | Dimensions: 12 x 12 in
This brand comes recommended by Schneider and NBC Select SEO editor Nikki Brown for its stunning imagery. Each Piecework puzzle features original artwork representing a different theme, and has random, ribbon-cut pieces for an added challenge, according to the brand. With this double-sided puzzle, you get two different candy-centric designs in one box, with one side glossy and one side matte so you can easily tell them apart. Many options also come with corresponding playlists to help you create the perfect puzzling mood and atmosphere.
Pieces: 1000 | Material: Cardboard | Dimensions: 19.25 x 26.6 in
Jiggy’s puzzles feature beautiful artwork, each one uniquely designed by a woman artist who receives a portion of every sale, according to the brand. Each puzzle also comes with glue and a straight edge tool included to help with preservation, something that NBC Select associate updates editor Zoe Malin especially loves. “It’s so rewarding to be able to do the puzzle and then save it forever,” she says.
Pieces: 800 | Material: Cardboard | Dimensions: 18 x 24 in
Another one of Schneider’s favorite puzzle brands, Le Puzz specializes in random-cut puzzle pieces, meaning that each piece has a unique shape, according to Le Puzz. The pieces are also extra-thick to help prevent the puzzle from coming apart (every puzzler’s worst nightmare). There's also a reusable, resealable bag for storing the pieces, along with a bonus, double-sided poster of the puzzle’s image.
Pieces: 500 | Material: Cardboard | Dimensions: 25 x 18 in
Williams loves the imaginative cutting designs and figure pieces of wooden puzzles. Brown recommends this 3D option, which doubles as a mechanical wall clock — “I spotted this in my sister’s apartment a few years ago and immediately thought, ‘I need!’” she says. “It requires focus and dedication to complete, but the finished product is worth the work. Plus, you’ll never lose track of time.”
Pieces: 168 | Material: Wood | Dimensions: 13 x 12 in
I received this round puzzle as a gift about two years ago, and to this day, it’s still one of the most difficult I’ve ever tried. It’s a portrait image with a ton of similarly-colored pieces for added difficulty, but the end result is well worth it. Even in the box, it’s an eye-catching decor piece that I’m constantly fielding questions and compliments about from guests. It also makes for a pleasantly challenging game night with friends.
Pieces: 500 | Material: Cardboard | Dimensions: 18.89 x 18.89 in
All puzzles from the Magic Puzzle Company feature intricate original artwork, and come with a fun, rewarding twist — upon completion, each puzzle does a visual illusion magic trick, according to the brand. Each design is also packed with over 50 hidden easter eggs (along with a list inside the box to help you keep track), and comes with two art posters, making it easier for groups to solve together. The puzzles are also top-rated, with a 4.9-star average rating from 4,545 reviews on Amazon.
Pieces: 1000 | Material: Cardboard | Dimensions: 27 x 28 in
Gradient-style puzzles are a fun and engaging way to unwind, and this one from Areaware makes a great gift for the holiday season. The design is meant to inspire meditation on color, and the chipboard is extra-thick to prevent damage from repeated use. It’s also available in a teal, blue and purple color combo, and 500- and 100-piece versions.
Pieces: 1000 | Material: Cardboard | Dimensions: 20 x 28 in
NBC Select editorial projects manager Rebecca Rodriguez is a big Studio Ghibli fan, which is why she loves these puzzles featuring characters from her favorite Ghibli films. Ensky specializes in Japanese animation puzzles, according to the brand, and in addition to Kiki’s Delivery Service, it also offers puzzles from other Studio Ghibli movies, such as My Neighbor Totoro, and popular Japanese franchises like Pokemon and Demon Slayer.
Pieces: 1000 | Material: Cardboard | Dimensions: 12 x 10 in
How to shop for adult puzzles
When it comes to puzzles, shopping is probably the easiest part of the process — however, if you’re as indecisive as me, the huge assortment of styles and designs available can be a bit overwhelming. To help you narrow down your search, we got some expert tips on how to find the best puzzle for you.
- Size: The size of puzzles varies greatly across the board, from mini 50- or 100-piece puzzles to sprawling 5,000-piece puzzles. When choosing a puzzle size, Williams recommends taking your time and commitment-level into consideration. “Are you looking for entertainment for a couple of hours, or a couple of days?” she asks.
- Image: Choosing puzzles that speak to your style or design preference is also important. Williams recommends selecting artwork that appeals to you and the purpose for which you’ll be using the puzzle — “Do you want a busy, energetic picture or a more relaxed and contemplative one?”
- Type and budget: If you’re looking for an inexpensive option, or for a puzzle to complete more casually, you may want to consider cardboard puzzles, rather than wooden ones, which can become expensive. “Wooden puzzles are more costly, and have a very different feel from cardboard ones,” says Williams.
- Cutting style: The cutting style of the puzzle’s pieces can dictate the difficulty level. According to Williams, more traditional styles have a grid cut, where the pieces line up in rows and columns, whereas other options can include irregularly-shaped pieces that are harder to arrange.
Meet our expert
At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently.
- Dr. Anne Williams is a Professor Emerita of economics at Bates College. She is a historian of the American toy and puzzle industry, and author of The Jigsaw Puzzle, Piecing Together A History.
Why trust NBC Select?
Ashley Morris is an associate SEO reporter at NBC Select who regularly covers skin care, body care, wellness, home and lifestyle. For this story, she interviewed a puzzle historian for guidance on what to look for when shopping for adult puzzles, and consulted NBC Select staffers for their shopping recommendations.