Or several hundred pieces ...
In my opinion, the pleasure of receiving presents has somewhat diminished by the time you reach your 30th birthday, but this gift was different. It had been chosen with care and thoughtfulness. It was a beautifully packaged jigsaw puzzle, containing a stunning image of Hvítserkur in northern Iceland. I’m not usually into this sort of stuff, but this really caught my imagination. A clear product of yet more ingenious Icelandic creativity; I wanted to find out more.
The Icelanders behind ‘Puzzled by Iceland’ are Þóra Eggertsdóttir and Guðrún Heimisdóttir. The two, who describe themselves as “two blue eyed, blonde haired moms,” came up with the idea of starting a company when they were both on 18 months maternity leave from work. Puzzled by Iceland became the antidote to changing nappies.
Perhaps unusually, they didn’t have any idea what they would like to do, other than to start a company of some sort. Inspiration often comes from the strangest places. This time inspiration came from the Swedish Royal Family. Guðrún came across a puzzle featuring a photograph of the Swedish monarchy. It got them thinking that in Iceland, you couldn’t buy a puzzle of say, the Icelandic President. This was somewhat tongue in cheek; any such puzzle would be a comedic novelty, but nothing more. Slowly, the concept changed and evolved into what is now Puzzled by Iceland.
Since its inception in August 2010, Puzzled by Iceland has produced beautifully designed puzzles displaying picturesque Icelandic scenes and stunning Icelandic wildlife. They are packaged in neat little boxes, and come with an information leaflet. Even this filled me with delight: “some say it looks like a rhino drinking from the sea, others say it looks like a dinosaur.”
I caught up with Þóra to find out more. I asked whether puzzles were a bit old fashioned in this day of super electronics, apps and consoles. “They are, of course, competition for us,” explains Þóra, “but we wanted to encourage families to spend time together, to do something together. We wanted more quality time. This is something close to our hearts.” I am won over. The thought of wiling away cold winter evenings completing puzzles with your nearest and dearest whilst the very worst Icelandic weather rages outside seems almost impossibly cosy and romantic.
I can see why the puzzles have become so popular. Regardless of whether they are of tourist hotspots, lesser known sights, or Icelandic fauna, the images are visually stunning. Northern lights flashing over Oxarfoss. The cutest puffin caught in a close up. A white Icelandic horse against distant, snow-capped mountains. The neon-streaked landscapes of Þeistareykir in North Iceland. Evocative of Iceland’s natural rugged charm and beauty, each piece of the puzzle clicking into place leads you to the next, until the beautiful image is complete once again.
Guðrún is apparently the puzzle master, and is the first to complete new designs to test out. This doesn’t sound like a bad job to me, but there is much more to it than just building puzzles. The first batches of designs were released in November 2010, in time for the Christmas market, and went so well that a new batch of designs was released earlier this year. They have already teamed up with UNICEF to produce a charity puzzle. They have an online presence and social media. They have the global rights to the “Puzzled by” name, and they have their sights set on Norway next, although they don’t plan on stopping there. In fact, Þóra says that they are aiming for “world domination.”
Þóra is excited to tell me that Mayor of Reykjavík Jón Gnarr unexpectedly popped into the office last week. He must have loved the puzzles as much as me, as Þóra says that he left with a puzzle in his hands. With puzzles this beautiful and adorable who can blame him?
I hold the boxed jigsaw puzzle in my hands and look at the photograph of Hvítserkur on the front. Its white and black jagged rock form looms out of the light blue sea, against a green-blue sky. Arches cut through the rock reveal the Icelandic landscape behind. The picture is just stunning. A puzzle, so simple, yet so ingenious. It feels like I’m taking a piece of Iceland home with me. Or several hundred pieces. If world domination looks and feels like this, I’m all for it.
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