“The Nook of Cafe Shop” by Pintoo

Through the magic of the interweb, I’ve been seeing the cutest little puzzles from this Taiwan-based company, Pintoo.

The one I’ve picked up is titled “The Nook of Cafe Shop” by artist Noriko Nishimura. This is from Pintoo’s Showpiece series, which are puzzles designed to be displayed after completion.

As always, we start with the box.

It’s not all that from a design or display standpoint. The first thing I noticed is that there’s a strange sort of cover on the box that features the image. Underneath is just a blue, branded box. shrug, okay! The entire cover is removable, and there’s also a flap that you are supposed to cut off, I guess? For reasons?

The box cover design is super basic. Though, I wouldn’t really call it bad; more like it’s so underdesigned that it’s just there, and that’s that.

The sides of the box are kind of all over the place. One side is the flap to be removed….

…one side exposes the blue box underneath…

…one side has what I can only assume is all the manufacturing & copyright info…

…while the last side most resembles your typical puzzle box.

The colors, printing, and surface finish are all high-quality so it looks generally good, and if I saw it in a store I’d want to know more. I’d likely assume it was of a better than average quality. But the layout and proportions arent particularly striking or special. And maybe that doesn’t matter too much, since the puzzle isn’t really meant to go back into the box to be stored.

I actually think the back looks the best, just in terms of an appealing layout.

What’s inside?

Two baggies full of pieces. Also- and I’m an idiot for not getting a photo of it- the border pieces all come sort of connected together in sections.

Here’s a photo of the inside of the box where they show how the puzzle is assembled for display. You can see in step 2 how the border pieces come in little blocks, separate from the rest of the pieces. The border pieces are all white and act as a frame once the puzzle is complete.

The pieces are made of plastic, come in all variations of tab/socket options, and are definitely on the small side. The cut of the pieces has a lot of variety- they’ve varied the tab shape as well as how off-center the tabs are placed so you get lots of distinctive features. I really enjoyed the general wonkiness they’ve achieved while maintaining a classic 4-sided shape.

The print quality is very good. The blended watercolor sections are smoothly printed, but I can match dot for dot the parts of the artwork that are textured. The surface has very minimal glare, finish seems to be somewhere between matte and eggshell.

The backs of the pieces have little raised dots that may be part of production process, but I actually think they are purpose made to decrease table friction.

The pieces are plenty thick enough…and also, made of plastic, so they aren’t going to bend anyway. A stack of ten comes to 3/4″.

There’s no puzzle dust, but there was a minor amount of plastic wispys. Not enough to be a nuisance.

I sorted a little bit to start off with. The edges of the image can be sorted out, then the black, aqua, and browns. The rest was too jumbled to sort in bulk.

I started with the edge pieces, did the brown and black pieces next, and then it was just a matter of picking out little bits like windows, coffee beans, foliage, clock, etc. The experience was that of chugging pleasantly along at a steady pace while discovering little details in the artwork.

btw, I seriously fell in love with the ticky-clicky-clacky sound of the plastic pieces as I flipped them over.

So satisfying.

When assembling, the pieces come together very snugly. The snug fit combined with the matte finish makes the puzzle lines recede so they aren’t such a distraction; instead, the image itself comes forward.

However, the tight fit and small piece size could definitely pose issues for anyone who suffers from muscle weakness or dexterity problems. It can be tiresome for your fingers, and a few pieces took some serious force to get into place.

Here’s the finished puzzle before attaching the border:

And, with the border:

The border pieces are all interchangeable so attaching the border is a simple affair.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any progress pics of this puzzle. I was kind of in the zone and forgot. I did remember to time myself though: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Below you can see just how well this thing stays together. It is definitely designed for sturdiness and display. Disassembling this thing will be a slow, piece-by-piece endeavor.

Gots to say, final opinion? I am an instant fan. I really was dubious about plastic pieces and how good it would look as a display piece. But I’m convinced.

I fully intended to pull this puzzle apart and put it back in storage, but after I put it up to take some pictures of it I liked it so much I’ve decided to keep it on display.

From a distance of 10 feet you can barely tell it’s a puzzle.

This is definitely how presentable my kitchen looks all the time.

The color, printing and finish are excellent. There’s no risk of lifted or torn layers. Cuts are uniquely shaped and I had zero false fits. Pieces are sturdy and snug so it really doesn’t need a backing or glue to stay assembled. The white border looks great as a finishing touch. Overall an excellent puzzling experience.

There are three main drawbacks as I see it. 1) The tight fit of the pieces, 2) tedious disassembly if you don’t want to display, 3) the price.

I already covered the first point, second point is pretty self-explanatory. So I’ll go straight to some evaluation of the pricing…

These are expensive. I think this one was $25 for 600 pieces. The 1200 piece puzzles are $42 on Amazon. I’d classify this as a premium puzzle so I’d put an expected price range for 600 pieces at $14-18, and for 1200 pieces at $24-30. If you do intend to use it for display I think an additional $8-15 isn’t an unreasonable value trade. For use strictly as a puzzle it’s overpriced, and you’re stuck with an annoying tear-down afterwards, so maybe not worth it.

It strikes me how much the puzzle experience itself made the difference between the Art & Fable I last reviewed versus this Pintoo. Art & Fable comes with a beautiful print that one might independently pay $12-15 for, but the puzzle experience was a disappointment so the print didn’t feel like good value. With the Pintoo, the puzzle experience was so good that I find it quite easy to justify the higher price by calling it a piece of art that I can display.

All in all I’m instantly a fan of the Pintoo brand and I’ve got my eye on a couple more already. Pintoo makes some really gorgeous puzzles from the artwork of Tadashi Matsumoto. I’d put them all on my wall in a second. So a couple of those might make it into my collection in the future.

On the headphones:

That track “Bikini” had me laughing.

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