Have you checked out the Eden Prairie Puzzle Library?
Eden Prairie resident Paul Kautz’s project appears to be the first of its kind. Modeled somewhat on the concept of the Little Free Library boxes that hold books for the taking, the puzzle library is free for community members to use, but it also requires users to register and check out, then return, the multi-piece pastimes.
Kautz (pronounced “Cow-tz”) started the puzzle library in 2020, as a way to help people maintain connections during the COVID-19 shutdowns. After hosting a puzzle exchange table in his neighborhood during social isolation, “We had a bunch of puzzles we’d done already, and I thought it would be interesting,” he said.
Having grown up on U.S. Forest Service ranger stations in Idaho, where his family would sometimes lose power for a week or more at a time, Kautz was familiar with puzzles as “something to do.” As an adult, he says he actually hadn’t done that many puzzles – until the past year, when he’s completed 75.
Professionally, Kautz builds websites, which meant he had the skills to make the online infrastructure at puzlib.com. A $250 Thrivent Action Team grant from the financial services organization allowed him and his wife, Kelly, to purchase puzzles, at prices ranging from $3 to $6, from sources like Eden Prairie’s PROP Shop and the Chanhassen and Bloomington Goodwill locations. “My wife and I put ‘em together, and if they had all the pieces, we would put ‘em in,” he said.
The first puzzles went into inventory in November 2020; when the puzzle library officially opened in December 2020, it contained a total of 110 puzzles, 63 of which were donated directly by Kautz – including some from his mom’s basement.
For the location, he wanted an outdoor space without restricted hours. Kautz is a member of Eden Prairie’s Immanuel Lutheran Church, 16515 Luther Way, which agreed to host the puzzle library in a sheltered doorway on its west side and donated a large, unused plastic cabinet to house the puzzles.
In its first year of operation, the Eden Prairie Puzzle Library gained 22 members. Although the initial plan was to offer a selection of difficulties and types of puzzles, Kautz says the 1,000-piece puzzles for adults have proven the most popular. In addition to logging who checks out a puzzle and when, the website also offers the opportunity for members to rate and review the puzzles they’ve completed.
Kautz himself prefers 2,000-piece puzzles, “big enough to be a challenge,” with bright colors and crisp lines, especially those depicting colorful candy.
In addition to checking out the puzzles from the library, members can donate their puzzles to the inventory for others to make. They should be missing no more than three pieces, Kautz said, to reduce frustration. Puzzle library members can also request that another member deliver a puzzle, rather than picking it up themselves, a feature Kautz thought might help older members or those without transportation. Options to request delivery or sign up to deliver are on the website.
While the Eden Prairie Puzzle Library is the first of its type, Kautz hopes it’s just the first of many. Currently, there are a couple of “free for the taking” Little Free Library type puzzle libraries in California, and a couple of paid membership online puzzle exchanges. “I tried to combine the two, and make it more efficient,” Kautz said.
He’s also provided some information on starting a puzzle library at puzlib.com, which contains all U.S. ZIP codes in its database, ready to match puzzle seekers to puzzle libraries. Kautz would even like there to be more puzzle libraries in Eden Prairie, potentially spreading them across the city and recreating the original neighborhood feel.
For now, though, the Eden Prairie Puzzle Library is open to anyone who would like to become a member. “It’s fun to make ‘em and then take ‘em all apart and have somebody else make ‘em,” Kautz said.
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