The Puzzle Place was an edutainment show that initally ran from 1994-1998 on PBS with 75 episodes and 6 out-of-print VHS compilations.
About the Show
The show focused on six diverse puppet kids from different states who hang out in a special place for kids called, "The Puzzle Place" run by the Piece Police. The show also features subplots from the pets: Sizzle the Cat and Nuzzle the Dog. The kids are:
- Julie Woo: A perky Chinese-American girl from San Francisco, who loves shopping.
- Kiki Flores: A feisty Mexican-American girl from San Antonio who loves rapping.
- Ben Olafson: A fun-loving Swedish-American boy who lives on a farm in Wisconsin.
- Leon MacNeal: A snarky African American boy from New York City.
- Skye Nakyaiye: A laid-back Apache boy from the Rez.
- Jody Silver: A friendly Lithuanian Jewish girl from Cincinnati.
The show utilized the talents of Jim Henson Company puppeteers such as Noel MacNeal of Bear in the Big Blue House fame, Carmen Osbahr, the puppeteer for Rosita from Sesame Street, and even Matt Vogel and Peter Linz , known best as the originators of Constantine the Frog and Walter in the latest string of Muppet films. Vogel also took over the role of Count Von Count on Sesame Street after Jerry Nelson's passing.
While the show had basic lessons, it also tackled difficult topics such as racism, sexism, handicaps, death, diversity, open communication, and compassion. The production and writing quality was especially high for a puppeteering show that was never directly connected to the CTW.
Status of the Show
Currently, PBS doesn't hold the rights to it, and chances are no one ever will. Lancit Media, which was the proprietor of the show itself and all merchandise pertaining to it, went through many financial restraints in its shortlived run and inevitably went under. In order to ever release these episodes on any format, one would need to renew the rights, which is a money-consuming prospect for a show as inconsequential to the public at large.
According to a KCET article written in 2014, there was a pilot aired in 1994 entitled "The Puzzle Works" or "Puzzleworks". Before this point, a lot of write-ups were done for the show under the name of "The Puzzle Factory", which was apparently changed to avoid copyright issues with a toy company of a similar name. Besides that, nothing else is mentioned about the pilot.
While it's unknown if the pilot had different characters, one write-up calls one of the characters Jamal "Jammin" Waters and has a Hispanic character called Victor Melendes. In another article from later on, characters have different first and last names (Max Olafsen, Leon Devon, Jazzy Silver, Skye Blazing Star).
All six of the out-of-print VHS compilations (as well as an extra clip created for a special VHS in a series called Kids for Character) were sought out online and ripped by the currently defunct Dailymotion user TheRedBaron1985.
Currently, 26 of the 75 stand-alone episodes have been found through some collective efforts and dumb luck. Apart from that, there are 9 complete episodes in the VHS compilations and 4 of them (Cute Is As Cute Does, Going By The Book, Rip Van Wrinkle, and Deck the Halls) haven't been found in stand-alone format, making it about 30 full episodes and 45 episodes yet to be found. The Kids in Character clip shows part of S1E31 Finders Keepers. S2E04 Oldies but Goodies & S2E06 Yellow Belt have had two excerpts found, but in unsubtitled Portuguese, of all things.
The List Thus Far
(italic means lost episode -- bold means found episode)
Rip Van Wrinkle (S1E17 Going by the Book & S1E03 Rip Van Wrinkle)
Deck the Halls (S2E01 Deck the Halls) (???)
Sing-Along Songs (???)
S0E00 (PILOT) The Puzzle Works (late 1994)
S1E01 Tippy Woo (January 16, 1995)
S1E02 Train Driving Kids (January 17, 1995)
S1E03 Rip Van Wrinkle (January 18, 1995) -- also in VHS COMPILATIONS
S1E04 Accentuate the Positive (January 19, 1995) -- in VHS COMPILATIONS
S1E05 Gotta Dance (January 20, 1995)
S1E06 Rudy One (January 23, 1995) -- in VHS COMPILATIONS
S1E07 Butterfingers (January 24, 1995)
S1E08 Rock Dreams (January 25, 1995) -- PARTIAL RECORDING; FULL RECORDING in VHS COMPILATIONS
S1E09 Roamantics (January 26, 1995)
S1E10 Spud Buds (January 27, 1995) -- in VHS COMPILATIONS
S1E11 Different Drummer (January 30, 1995)
S1E13 True Colors (February 1, 1995)
S1E14 Cute Is as Cute Does (February 2, 1995) -- in VHS COMPILATIONS
S1E15 Leon's Pizza (February 3, 1995)
S1E16 Real Horses (February 6, 1995)
S1E17 Going by the Book (February 7, 1995) -- in VHS COMPILATIONS
S1E18 Mad Music Magic (February 8, 1995) -- in VHS COMPILATIONS
S1E19 Party of One (February 9, 1995)
S1E20 Dancing Dragon (February 10, 1995)
S1E22 Maiden Voyages (February 14, 1995)
S1E23 Donuts and Dithering (February 15, 1995) <-- CAMRip
S1E24 Bully for Jody (February 16, 1995)
S1E25 Ben's Bad Hair Day(February 17, 1995) <-- CAMRip
S1E26 All Weather Friends (February 20, 1995) <-- CAMRip
S1E27 Bread and Matzoh (February 21, 1995)
S1E28 Owning It(February 22, 1995) <-- CAMRip
S1E29 Baffled Ben (February 23, 1995) <-- CAMRip
S1E32 You Say Potato (February 28, 1995)
S1E33 At the End of Our Rope (March 1, 1995)
S1E34 Just Kidding (March 2, 1995) <-- CAMRip
S1E35 Everything in Its Place (March 3, 1995)
S1E37 Here's to the Winners (March 7, 1995)
S1E39 Willing and Able (March 9, 1995) -- PARTIAL RECORDING
S1E40 It's Magic (March 10, 1995) -- PARTIAL RECORDING
S2E01 Deck the Halls (January 15, 1996) -- in VHS COMPILATIONS
S2E02 Dressing Up is Hard to Do (January 16, 1996)
S2E03 One Way (January 17, 1996)
S2E04 Oldies But Goodies (January 18, 1996) -- clip found in UNSUBTITLED PORTUGUESE
S2E05 Helping Hands (January 19, 1996)
S2E06 Yellow Belt (January 22, 1996) -- clip found in UNSUBTITLED PORTUGUESE
S2E07 The Mystery of the Fabulous Hat (January 23, 1996)
S2E08 How Much is That Doggie in the Window? (January 24, 1996)
S2E09 The New Adventures of Julie Woo (January 25, 1996) <-- CAMRip
S2E10 We Three Kings (January 26, 1996)
S2E11 Hello, Maggie (January 29, 1996)
S2E12 Off the Track (January 30, 1996)
S2E13 Beautiful Doll (January 31, 1996)
S2E14 Tattle Tales (February 1, 1996)
S2E15 Those Ears, Those Eyes (February 2, 1996)
S2E17 The Ballad of Davy Cricket (February 6, 1996)
S2E18 Little Leon, Big Ben (February 7, 1996)
S2E19 I Scream, You Scream (February 8, 1996)
S2E20 Skye's Coat (February 9, 1996)
S2E21 It's Mine (February 12, 1996)
S2E22 One Big, Happy Family (February 13, 1996)
S2E23 Leon Grows Up (February 14, 1996)
S2E24 Cowpokes (February 15, 1996)
S2E25 Hurricane Julie (February 16, 1996)
S3E01 Family Fun (October 19, 1998)
S3E02 Anything She Can Do (October 20, 1998)
S3E03 You Don't Match (October 21, 1998)
S3E04 To Have and Have Not (October 26, 1998)
S3E05 Fiesta Follies (October 27, 1998)
S3E06 Between You and Me (October 28, 1998)
S3E07 A Star is Burned (October 29, 1998)
S3E08 Spooky (October 30, 1998)
S3E09 Up! (December 3, 1998)
S3E10 I'm Talking to You (December 4, 1998)
The Puzzle Place aired in international areas for a time, most notably in Portugal and Brazil, where it went under the name of Quebra-Cabeça.
- The 75 episodes (3 seasons) of The Puzzle Place are not on DVD.