Welcome to another edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!
We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, board game creators, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.
And I’m overjoyed to have Rachel Happen as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!
Rachel is the entrepreneur behind Baffledazzle, a Kickstarter campaign to create visually striking, challenging jigsaw puzzles for a new generation of savvy puzzlers. Baffledazzle originated as Tumblr and Twitter accounts that encouraged viewers to try different activities and explore Rachel’s unique brand of visual and mental puzzles.
As an avid puzzle solver herself, Rachel strives to turn every new puzzle into a learning exercise, making Baffledazzle puzzles an intriguing mixture of hands-on puzzling and solver-driven exploration.
Rachel was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!
5 Questions for Rachel Happen
1.) How did you first get into puzzles?
Honestly, I can’t remember! I have always been really into puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles were my school-break staple for many years. I’d spend snowy days lying on the floor, sorting pieces by color. In fourth grade I had a math teacher that would give us those grid-based logic puzzles to fill time. I just devoured them. I solved them all and collected them in a binder. She had no idea what to think of me.
But my interest in puzzles really ramped up a couple of years ago when I stumbled on a 1960s-era Springbok and it knocked my socks off. They were doing things that pushed the jigsaw puzzle medium forward, visually and conceptually. I absolutely love exploration and challenges so finding both in a jigsaw puzzle was heaven.
I started buying up old Springboks and learned all about Par and Stave and the centuries-old tradition of beautiful wooden jigsaw puzzles. Then I read Anne Williams’ excellent book on jigsaw puzzle history and just thought, “I have to try making my own puzzles.”
[A glimpse at Code Breakers, one of Rachel's puzzly designs.]
2.) Many of your creations, both on your YouTube channel and in your Kickstarter campaign, have both a puzzle aspect and a research aspect. Is it safe to say that your optimal solving experience goes beyond paper or puzzle pieces? What appeals most to you about that style of puzzling?
Ah, you put this so beautifully! Yes that’s exactly right. I want to use puzzles as a path, instead of making puzzles for puzzles’ sake. I aim to make puzzles that take you somewhere new, show you something you haven’t seen before. The solving experience I’m looking for is one of discovery.
I love that style of puzzling because one minute you’re quietly solving a puzzle and the next you’re combing through the history of public transit in France or plugging common Polish sayings into Google Translate, hot on the trail of the next clue. It pulls you away from your desk and pushes you out into the world. By making puzzles about real things (facts, people, moments in history, cultural traditions, etc.) I’ve tried to give solvers another way to engage with the world, another way to explore it.
I also love that there are no rules! They’re puzzles where you’re supposed to look up the answers on your phone. I wanted to make puzzles that acknowledged the omnipresence of information. I’ve tried to draw on that skill for searching by asking solvers to harness it and navigate into new waters, find new sources, and piece things together.
[In this video, Rachel discusses the Baffledazzle Kickstarter
campaign she launched earlier this month.]
3.) You mention in your Kickstarter video that you’re also a dancer and a clothing designer. How does the creative process for those activities compare to creating a BaffleDazzle video or puzzle?
Ooh, good question! I feel like the creative process is very similar because I’m hyper-focused on experience. Creation of any kind usually starts with an experience of my own. Maybe I saw something, learned something, or felt something that I thought was worth sharing. From there I think about how I can capture that experience in an object, activity, or performance.
For me, it’s not enough to just share the thing. Seeing a picture of that hilarious dog isn’t the same as walking around a street corner and just seeing it there. You don’t feel that same silly elation of encountering something bizarre out of nowhere. Similarly, reading a couple of sentences about a clever British spy isn’t the same as sliding a dusty book off the shelves of a deathly quiet library, flipping it open, and seeing her face, discovering her story like some forgotten treasure.
I do everything I can to capture that experience, then iterate and iterate and iterate! I credit my love of “let’s try it again!” to years of training in a ballet conservatory, where you can never practice too much.
When it starts to feel done, I take a step back and ask if I’ve made something that rewards people for their time. Have I captured the experience? Does this deliver something new? Will people walk away seeing the world a little differently? If the answer is yes then I push it out into the world!
[A few of the intricate pieces that make up the Baffledazzle puzzle
Cirkusu, which we'll be reviewing on Tuesday!]
4.) What’s next for Rachel Happen and Baffledazzle?
More puzzles!! I have a big backlog of puzzle ideas that I’d love to create. Having my own laser cutter will make prototyping new puzzles much easier, so I’m putting 110% into this Kickstarter campaign to (hopefully!) fund that purchase.
Aside from puzzles, I’d like to explore other experiences that could be paths to discovery. We’ll see what sorts of shenanigans I can get up to with a laser cutter in the workshop!
5.) If you could give the readers, writers, entrepreneurs, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?
See how many chips you can eat in a stack! But seriously, I would say: make things first, then worry if they’re any good. The only difference between someone with a business and someone with a good idea is that one of them acts like they know what they’re doing.
But wait! There’s more! Rachel has hidden a puzzle in this interview! The first person to provide the answer — either in a comment on this post or on one of Rachel’s social media platforms — will win a set of four Code Breakers puzzles!
(This offer is not contingent on the success of the campaign; she’s already produced these Code Breakers. And this puzzle never expires! If someone solves it years from now, she’ll still send them their prize.)
Many thanks to Rachel for her time. You can check out (and support) the Baffledazzle Kickstarter by clicking here, and be sure to check out Rachel’s other creative endeavors by following her on Facebook, Twitter (@Baffledazzle), and on her Tumblr page.
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