Twin Town couple create Minnesota-themed puzzles with hidden ‘twists’ – WCCO

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — It’s a favorite winter pastime with a twist.

People love to make puzzles, but have you ever wondered how they are made?

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“My family has always been obsessed with puzzles,” said Candace Nelson. “This guy didn’t like puzzles. He was a gamer.”

By this, Nelson means that her husband, Tony, loved board games. Checkers, chess and risk. He even invented a game which is a take off of cribbage.

“I think the Midwest in general has a real tabletop environment,” Tony Nelson said. “It’s something where you can actually get together and connect with your friends and family while doing something.”

What connected Tony to the puzzle world was a moment of luck. About 15 years ago, he and Candace were working on a puzzle when he had an idea.

“Wouldn’t it be more fun if we discovered something new?” Like a balloon in the sky or what? And Candace went crazy and she said, ‘I love this idea,'” Tony said.

Kind of like a puzzle within a puzzle. What you see on the box ends up looking slightly different from the puzzle you build, which makes a 500 piece jigsaw even harder. Tony and Candace call it “The Twist”.

They built six Twist puzzles that first year and now they have over 90. And if the pictures look familiar, there’s a reason why. They team up with Minnesota artists like Michael Birawer, Mark Herman, and Adam Turman who, in turn, provide Minnesota’s landmarks, landscapes, and legends, which Tony and Candace turn into puzzles.

(credit: CBS)

One of their favorite artists to work with is Cindy Lindgren.

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“It didn’t take a lot of persuading to convince me to give it a try,” Cindy said.

She specializes in winter cabin and Scandinavian scenes. The evolution of a puzzle begins with Lindgren’s sketch, which she then scans into her computer. Then she and the Nelsons work together to add some twists to the final piece before the puzzle is printed, cut and packaged.

“On the cover there’s the red Adirondack and inside the red Adirondack has a cup of coffee on his arm,” Lindgren said, pointing to one of his riddles.

What’s cool for the Nelsons and the artists is that the twists are used every year in the St. Paul’s Winter Carnival puzzle contest.

“The winning time for Winter Carnival is 31 minutes on a 500 piece puzzle with four people. That’s crazy,” Candace said.

Crazy is how Candace and Tony might describe their transformation from puzzle lovers to puzzle makers. Thanks to the artists they work with, everything fits together.

“It’s good for the brain, and it’s also good for the morale. When you put a piece in, you get a little dopamine hit every time you do it,” Tony said. “When you figure it out, you have this little feeling of victory.”

Tony and Candace say their toughest puzzle has about 50 different Minnesota twists.

Much of the proceeds from the puzzle competitions they run go to good causes such as the Autism Society of Minnesota, Second Harvest Heartland, and 4H.

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For more information on how they make these puzzles and where you can find them, click here.


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