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Victoria toymaker’s puzzle with no solution offers ‘joy of open-ended building’

‘Because they can fit together in any arrangement there’s no frustration’
Victoria toymaker Matt Hiebert’s new puzzle technically has no solution, or endless solutions, depending on perspective. (Courtesy of Aroundsquare)

Puzzles come in many shapes and sizes.

There are four-piece puzzles for toddlers, those with more than 6,000 pieces to tackle as a team or for the more advanced puzzler, and everything between.

They come in difficult patterns, all one colour, clear, unexpected shapes and with no borders.

Generally, however, a puzzler finds some calm in the sorting, seeking and placing – with a defined image as the goal.

A Victoria toymaker’s new puzzle, Contra, however, is different. Technically has no solution, or endless solutions, depending on perspective.

This new anti-puzzle resembles its conventional counterpart, but with 1,125 pieces in five solid colours, no set image to strive for and all the interior pieces are identical in shape, allowing them to be fit together in endless configurations.

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While it may sound more frustrating than soothing, it opens outlets of creativity while offering the peaceful motions of a traditional jigsaw, said creator Matt Hiebert of Aroundsquare.

“You can sit around with people and do it together and it’s a bit of a social pressure valve. You’re not obligated to be talking, talking talking, you can just relax and be together,” Hiebert said.

A toy designer for 20 years, the newest creation brings a taste of Hiebert’s early days when he developed unusually-shaped wooden blocks for users to build unexpected sculptures.

“These were decidedly ‘you’re not building anything that resembles anything’ … it’s just the joy of open-ended building,” Hiebert said.

The twist introduces similar opportunities for puzzle-builders to create their own works of art within the structure of the jigsaw medium.

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If someone starts with a blank paper to make a picture the options are perhaps too endless, but given a few constraints, such as using straight lines and only three colours, the parameters give way to richer ideas of a similar flavour, he explained.

“I started to realize that creativity can be facilitated when you have a structure you’re building within. … It’s an enriching experience.”

It also levels the playing field between those who excel at puzzles and those who don’t. Hiebert said his youngest, who is four, spent hours putting pieces together this winter.

“Because they can fit together in any arrangement there’s no frustration,” he explained.

Contra is a veer away from the small metal skill toys they’ve been developing the last few years.

In recent years, Aroundsquare’s focus is on playable art objects that blur the lines between jewelry, mindfulness tools, personal accessories, and creative skill toys. Past releases include a solid platinum knucklebone skill toy, as well as a hefty 750g stainless steel gravity cup.

“We like to do strange stuff. We try not to be limited in our creativity,” Hiebert said. “That part of the business was growing really well. It was a step sideways to do a puzzle.”

He wanted to build to a certain scale before introducing something like this puzzle.

“My customers are not expecting me to stay in my lane anymore,” he said.

Aroundsquare also plans to open a retail space this year in the Sparrow building on the corner of Cook Street and Hillside Avenue.

“Victoria is becoming a bit of a puzzle hub,” Hiebert said, pointing to Puzzle Lab in Victoria and Cobble Hill Puzzles in Saanich.

“We’re excited about the possibility of what we can do with that place. Our products are quite niche.”

Contra is set to launch online Jan. 26.

The Contra puzzle has no firm solution, but several creative options, says the Victoria toymaker that invented it. The puzzle is set to launch Jan. 26. (Courtesy of Aroundsquare)

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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