Stanford engineer manufactures art, puzzles in Port Townsend

By Jon Michael Karpilow
Posted 4/17/24



If you wander towards the southwest edge of Port Townsend, there’s an unassuming business that’s been quietly percolating under most of our noses. Tucked between …

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Stanford engineer manufactures art, puzzles in Port Townsend




If you wander towards the southwest edge of Port Townsend, there’s an unassuming business that’s been quietly percolating under most of our noses. Tucked between Peninsula Flooring and the Les Schwab Tire Center, the building’s windows are noticeably screened and there is a conspicuous absence of signage to tempt potential customers' curiosity. But inside, Maya Gupta, the owner of Artifact Puzzles, blends artistry and technology with a sense of social responsibility to create some of the world’s most beautiful wooden jigsaw puzzles.  

The website for Artifact Puzzles ( provides a doorway into the breadth and creativity generated by this small company. By opening the homepage, visitors are immediately assaulted with a myriad of colors. The dropdown menu is organized to allow interested parties to easily explore the product line which is divided on the basis of design (e.g., straight edges, irregular edge, dropouts), the piece count in each puzzle, and the difficulty of assembly. With regard to styles, Artifact Puzzles span a broad gamut of artistry from the abstract (Bruce Riley), to the playful (Amariah Rauscher and Angie Rees) to realism (Edward Hopper) and draws from both contemporary artists around the world to pre-1929 classics (Jan Brughel, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin).

What is particularly surprising is Gupta’s background and how she ended up in Port Townsend. Raised in Seattle and trained as an engineer at Stanford University, Gupta spent her early years in academia, accepting a highly coveted faculty position in the Engineering Department at the University of Washington. Google lured (then Professor) Gupta from Seattle, convincing her that working for the tech giant would provide a greater opportunity to make changes in the world. She moved to the Bay Area and worked for the technology leader for eight years before an entrepreneurial itch drove her to strike out on her own.

Artifact Puzzles was not her first business attempt. But in 2009, Gupta was intrigued with the puzzle business as an experiment in the economics of micro-manufacturing.  Eventually, she expanded the company’s production sites to both Port Townsend and Fremont, California, where it now employs an array of individuals with backgrounds in art, puzzle design (yes, that’s a thing!), software engineering, and laser cutting for manufacturing.

Many of the puzzles offered by the company have specific themes. “During Covid,” explains Gupta, “we had puzzles that supported the idea of social distancing.” 

More recently, the company has produced several puzzles based on the work of Ukrainian artist Valentin Rekunenko. Like much of the artwork illustrated in the Artifact Puzzles collection, Rekunenko’s pieces are bright and colorful, but at the same time, serve as heart-rending reminders of the unjust war that has afflicted his country. Notably, throughout all of Gupta’s efforts in creating new puzzles from Rekunenko’s work, she has maintained her sense of social responsibility. All of the profits from the sales of puzzles derived from Rekuknenko’s pieces are donated to Direct Relief, a non-profit humanitarian aid agency that provides emergency medical materials worldwide. 

The act of designing, manufacturing and testing wooden puzzles is surprisingly complex. While many of the details surrounding the manufacturing of each puzzle are trade secrets, Gupta said that the initial selection and licensing of individual pieces of art is followed by hiring contractors with specific backgrounds in designing puzzle pieces. In this regard, Artifact Puzzles shies away from the predictability found in other jigsaw puzzles, and instead, leans into complex and imaginative shapes that increase the complexity and uniqueness of the company’s puzzles. The artwork is then printed and affixed to wooden backing before a high-tech laser is used to cut each shape. To confirm the durability of the puzzle, the more whimsical shapes are then tested to ensure their resilience to cracks or breaks.

So, who buys wooden puzzles? A lot of people! With over 10,000 puzzles sold each year, Gupta explains that many of their clients are “techies,” while others are simply people who enjoy the intellectual challenge of solving intricate puzzles. In addition to sales, the company has a second product arm called the Puzzle Library. Interested parties can rent puzzles and instead of returning the materials to Artifact Puzzles, the user simply transfers the puzzle to the next interested puzzle enthusiast (also known as a dissectologist).  

Recent competition from both Russian and Chinese companies has driven Artifact Puzzles to constantly expand their offerings, creating as many as 50 new puzzles each year. To further generate interest, the company sponsors “speed puzzling” competitions via Zoom where competitors all receive a recently designed puzzle and have to solve it online.

When asked why she decided to bring Artifact Puzzles to Port Townsend, Gupta shared her love of the Pacific Northwest and stated “weather was an important factor.”  In addition, Gupta was attracted to PT because of its reputation as a “woodworking town” and said that while she loved Silicon Valley’s spirit of innovation, the company “feels like a better fit for Port Townsend with its culture of making beautiful things.”