The more expensive a puzzle, the less puzzle you get for your money?

This is a reply to a Reddit post which I found interesting enough to share here.

"Claim: The more expensive a puzzle, the less puzzle you get for your money's worth. Is it just my personal feeling or are a lot of the high-priced puzzles "too easy" and not worth their money puzzle wise? (Some of them are beautiful to look at, though, no doubt.)"

Difficulty when it comes to puzzle boxes and sequential discovery puzzles is so subjective I can’t even begin to rate them. I’ve had people solve a puzzle box in five minutes that took others weeks or months.

Higher difficulty does not make for a better puzzle...that’s a very narrow metric. I could make interlocking puzzles that are effectively impossible to solve but it wouldn’t improve my value proposition. The feeling of quality, the fit, the durability, the cleverness of design, tricks, and mechanics that surprise the solver, these are all factors.

Durability in particular, because when it comes to wood puzzles there is an easy way and a correct way. Cheaper wooden puzzles are cheap because they take shortcuts and don’t use any joinery. These brainteasers have a high failure rate over time, and a broken puzzle is worth zero.

There are macroeconomic factors as well. Mechanical puzzles inherently require precision, which is universally expensive, particularly in a small market. If I knew I could sell 10,000 copies of a puzzle it would justify investing in tooling and automation that would shrink the end price. But when you’re making 50-100 copies of something you have none of these advantages; the work must be done using traditional techniques which require highly trained labor (and lots of it).

So that’s my perspective on the maker side. But I’m also a collector, and here’s my insight after 16 years of collecting:

Things have never been better.

There used to be maybe a few dozen interesting designs you could get for cheap. Quality was mostly terrible...I remember ordering 2-3 copies of any given Bits and Pieces puzzle, hoping one of them would work properly.

The gap in availability between affordable puzzles and the more interesting designs was huge. Fairly quickly you’d find that you’d already collected all the interesting lower-priced ones, and if you wanted a new challenge you were driven into collecting limited edition high-end work. There simply weren’t any new designs being made available anywhere else.

That gap has shrunk dramatically over the last decade, with a far greater range of interesting and unique designs available at all price points. There are many great designs available for $50 or less, and they mostly work when they arrive in the mail.

So even if you choose to narrow your focus and determine value by difficulty alone, you have more options than ever before. Further, there are now public communities like this subreddit, Facebook groups and the Discord server where you can research and get the most bang for your buck.

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