Could this "French Village" Be Quebec City?

by Elmer Prather, guest blogger

The puzzle pictured below is the 40th Cobble Hill puzzle I have had the pleasure of putting together. It is a 1000 piece puzzle titled French Village. The reason I chose to spend the time and energy to put it together is because it reminded me of a French speaking town that I have visited several times, Quebec City, Quebec.

The puzzle has an open archway that leads to a body of water and Quebec City sits on the inlet of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. You are able to see the water as you traverse through some of the streets in downtown Quebec City. Many cruise ships stop here on their way to the maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.

French Village - a Cobble Hill Puzzle assembled & photographed by Elmer Prather

The puzzle has multiple hanging baskets of various flowers as does Quebec City. There is a cobblestone walkway in the puzzle and the city streets have similar cobblestones. Below is a picture I took while visiting downtown Quebec City.

Photo by: Elmer Prather, Quebec City

The primary language spoken in Quebec City is French and the shops, cafes and the entire town has the look of an authentic French town. While you are walking along the cobblestone streets for the most part, you will hear the people speaking French fluently. The shop owners and Restaurateurs encourage their customers to speak French when they order food in their restaurants and cafes or when they are purchasing something from the shops along the streets.

The residents and elected officials of Quebec City have done a fabulous job recreating a French village town in Quebec City.

Best Geeky Gifts Pop Insider Holiday Guide

Who? Doctor Who! We're excited that our Doctor Who: The Doctors puzzle is so popular with hobby puzzlers and fans of the BBC sci-fi show. It's also super cool that our Doctor Who: The Doctors puzzle was picked by the team at Pop Insider for their Best Geeky Gifts Pop Insider 2020 Holiday Gift Guide!  

The Pop Insider Holiday Gift Guide

If you're not familiar, The Pop Insider is all about fueling your fandom and being the "it" source for pop culture news, reviews, and giveaways. Their 2020 Holiday Gift Guide features products from many categories like Puzzles (woohoo!), Collectibles, Home Goods, Artwork, and Games - so you won't be short on geeky gift ideas this year.  Head over to their website to look at the categories and get inspired!

We'd also like to take this opportunity to mention a few of our favourite geeky gifts! Did you know that we have a line of Doctor Who puzzles AND a Keys to the TARDIS tile game? 

The game features fun door flipping madness as players try to escape the TARDIS while avoiding Daleks, Cybermen, and worse! It's a fun family game for ages 8+. You can learn more about it by checking out the Rat Hole Review.

We also carry a great line of Archie puzzles for fans of the famous comic and a great board game that has players "Running 'Round Riverdale"! 

One of the best parts of the game is that you get to form your clan of four from the 18 Archie characters! You'll slide across town on skateboards, swap spots with other players, and cause utter chaos when you play that "Dirty Trick" card! Fun for ages 7+. 
Running 'Round Riverdale Archie Board Game by Outset

If you're wondering what that box below on the right is - we'll solve that mystery for you! It's not a new Nancy Drew puzzle, but it is a game you can look forward to playing in 2021! We're super excited to announce that our Nancy Drew Collector game is finally coming to fruition. The art work was approved by Simon and Schuster and we are anticipating this to be an excellent edition of entertainment for the Nancy Drew fans!

Hardy Boys (left) & two Nancy Drew puzzles, plus a game coming in 2021!

For some good laughs, we have to mention a couple of fun puzzles from Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal and David Olenik who both have hilarious Cobble Hill puzzles (that are hard to get right now, so if you see it, grab it)! We should have them back in stock late November/early December, but you may find them at your local retailer!

The Oatmeal, Cats Playing Hippos

Buttons by David Olenick

And with that we say, "Thrusters on full...."
StarTrek: Original Series (1 of 5 Star Trek puzzles) from Cobble Hill

Don't forget to check out the 
Pop Insider Holiday Guide for the best geeky gifts (our Doctor Who: The Doctors puzzle is on page 23)!

A Historical Walk with the Walker Sisters

by Elmer Prather, guest blogger

These two quilt puzzles are the 37th and 38th Cobble Hill puzzle that I have had the pleasure of putting together. They are 1000 piece puzzles titled Crazy Quilt and Fruit Basket Quilt. These puzzles reminded me of the quilts made by the Walker sisters who resided in the Great Smokey Mountains. The Walker sisters lived in Little Greenbrier Cove, Tennessee before and after the U S Government forced them to sell their cabin and land in order to make it part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The deal they made with the government allowed the six sisters to live in the cabin until the last one of them died.

Elmer Prather's 37th Cobble Hill puzzle - Crazy Quilt 1000 piece

Elmer Prather's 38th Cobble Hill puzzle - Fruit Basket 1000 pc

Their cabin was made of logs from tulip-poplars and insulated with mud and rock. Other buildings on the Walker property included a barn, corn crib, smokehouse, pig pen, apple barn and blacksmith shop. A spring house situated on a nearby creek kept dairy products such as milk and butter cool throughout the year, as well as provided storage room for pickled root vegetables. The cabin had no electricity or bathroom.  There was not even an outhouse.  I have visited the Walker sisters' cabin several times. Each time I visit the cabin I learn something new about the sisters and how they lived.

Walker sisters' corn crib

Together the sisters' parents raised eleven children—seven girls and four boys.  All eleven children reached maturity and given the time period and its lack of medical care, this was an extremely rare case. The sisters, from oldest to youngest, were Margaret, Polly, Martha, Nancy, Louisa, Sarah Caroline, and Hettie. 

The Walker boys left home or married, while only one of the seven sisters—Sarah Caroline—married. John Walker, their father, died in 1921 at 80 years old, leaving the Walker sisters to carry on the responsibilities on the farm. One of the sisters, Nancy, died ten years later and the remaining five sisters continued their life on the farm. They fed and clothed themselves, raised livestock and maintained their mountain homestead for over forty more years.

The sisters were also excellent spinners and weavers. Wool from their sheep was washed, carded and spun on a spinning wheel, sometimes dyeing the yarn with berries or bark. They then wove the skeins of yarn into fabric. Flax and cotton were also grown at the Walker sisters' farm for production of their own textiles using the cotton gin their father had built. It took three people to operate the cotton gin with one feeding the balls and the other two turning the rollers. The linsey-woolsey blend cloth created was used to sew their clothing as well as their quilts.

Hettie, Martha, Louisa (L to R) ginning cotton

In 1926, Congress approved authorization of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, allowing North Carolina and Tennessee to begin raising money to buy nearly half a million acres, most of which was privately owned. Parcels of land collected from families and timber companies alike were bargained for, haggled over and eventually purchased, including the Walker sisters' 122-acre homestead. Refusing to leave their mountain home, the sisters held out until 1940. From the creation of the park, the sisters received $4,750 for their land as well as the opportunity to live out the rest of their lives at their home through a lifetime lease.

However, living in the national park meant traditional practices such as hunting and fishing, cutting wood and grazing livestock were now prohibited within the park boundaries. A new lifestyle developed for the sisters. Visitors flocked to the park and visited what became known as "Five Sisters Cove". The Walkers welcomed the curious newcomers and saw them as an opportunity to sell handmade items such as children's toys, crocheted doilies, fried apple pies and even Louisa's hand-written poems. The sisters were featured in the Saturday Evening Post in April 1946, showcasing their mountain lifestyle to the rest of the country.

Walker Sisters Place - historical landmark in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The year before the Post writer visited the homestead, Polly passed away. Hettie died a year later in 1947 and Martha died in 1951. Margaret died in 1962 at age 92, and Louisa stayed in the house until she died on July 13, 1964. The last sister, Caroline, who had moved away and married, died in 1966. 

Margaret (91) standing and Louisa (79)

All seven sisters and their parents are buried at Mattox Cemetery in Wears Valley. The word "mother" appears on the marker for Caroline, who is buried next to her husband Jim Shelton. The remaining six daughters have the word "sister" chiseled on their headstones.  I have been to this cemetery and have viewed the grave sites. This cemetery is located between Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and Townsend, Tennessee.

I stated earlier that the sisters made their own quilts. Many of their quilts were collected from the cabin when the last sister died and they are now stored in the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center in Townsend Tennessee. They are occasionally displayed for public viewing. The beauty, quality, variety of colors and patch shapes of the quilt tops is amazing.

Collage of Walker Sister quilts by Elmer Prather

The cabin has been maintained by the National Park Service and is open to the public. It is an amazing place to visit. You almost feel the presence of the sisters when you enter the cabin. When you walk through the doorway it's like they have invited you in to visit and to get caught up with all that is happening in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

As a side note, I purchased my first Cobble Hill puzzle at a little antique store, about a mile from the cemetery where the sisters are buried. The puzzle I purchased was a 1000 piece puzzle titled Hot Hot Sauce.

Elmer Prather of Canton, GA USA

New Store Alert to Brighten Up Your Day!

We sincerely love our retailers! There's nothing better than working with independent stores, whether it be a bookstore, toy & game store, gift store, or hobby store. Working with independents is special because you get to know the owners, which allows us to see how much they care about their staff, customers, and products. They are looking for more than the "best deal and price", they're also looking to offer the best quality products that are on trend and/or will add value to a family's home.  It's a great feeling to support these stores who provide toys, games, and puzzles to their local community. So, we thank all of the consumers out there who support local shops - thank you very, very much!!

There is one store in particular that has been a loyal Outset Media / Cobble Hill Puzzle Company customer for a very long time and we'd like to celebrate with them! They are a significant member of their community in Erin, Ontario. And now, they are expanding all of their great ideas and customer service into the community of Fergus, Ontario with their second location!  We invite you to tour the new store, Brighten Up, in Fergus, at 735 Tower Street South!! Some will recognize this as the beloved retail store, Jester's Fun Factory (we loved the owners of this store too, but they retired), which changed ownership back in March of 2020, just as Covid reared its ugly head.  So, it's been a long awaited few months for the store owners, but they are thrilled to be open to the public and ready to welcome everyone (not all at once, obviously). 

Brighten Up in Fergus Ontario
Brighten Up, Fergus, ON Storefront at the reopening celebration - with Lego character!

Over the last August weekend, Brighten Up's owners, Stephanie and Chris (and baby Cassandra), celebrated a ribbon cutting ceremony. Their "original date" was scheduled for April 4th, but the lock down stalled the celebration.

Chris, Stephanie, and baby Cassandra are excited for the new store in Fergus

However, a few months later, they managed to pull off a wonderful weekend with Covid safe activities and precautions put in place, for all to have fun! 

They had several demo stations set up for play and even our very own sales rep, Derrick Castiglione, made it out to the opening! Several of Outset's distributed lines were available to play like Fat Brain's Peek-A-Doodle-Doo memory game, Playmonster's Yeti In My Spaghetti skill game, and Blue Orange's Bitty Kitty colour-matching memory game. They also had a Crystal Art and JaCaRou craft station for crystal/diamond "painting".

They have games for all ages from the young at heart to infants and toddlers! Check out the drawing game "How Do You Doodle" or the fun fill in the blank games like "Things" and "What?". You'll also find a great selection of word games, trivia games, and popular card games from Playmonster's SET.

Not only do they have a great selection of games, arts and crafts, but they're also fully stocked with a fantastic selection of jigsaw puzzles from Cobble Hill, as well as other quality brands.

That beautiful middle section is filled with Cobble Hill puzzles in all piece counts!

And if you want to prepare for winter, they have the 40,320 piece Disney puzzle from Ravensburger!

They also have your kids and grandkids covered with children's puzzles!

We hope you can see why we want to celebrate this fabulous store. We're just thrilled for them that they're taking on this challenge of operating a new store in the Fergus community. Given how well they have operated their Erin, Ontario store, we are super confident that they will receive a warm reception at their new location. If you're in the area, please stop by and support this fabulous family run business.

Follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Shop Cobble Hill puzzles on their new online store!

*9/5/20: corrected: original post said "August 4th" for initial grand opening. Corrected to read "April 4th". 

Full Steam Ahead with Southern Pacific

by Elmer Prather, guest blogger

This is the 36th Cobble Hill puzzle that I have had the pleasure of putting together. It is a 1000 piece puzzle titled “Southern Pacific” by Mike Bennett. This is the second Mike Bennett puzzle I have put together, the first was "Santa Fe 3751". The steam engine in this puzzle was engine number 4449.

Mike Bennett's Southern Pacific puzzle assembled by Elmer Prather

Southern Pacific 4449, also known as the "Daylight", is one of only two GS-class locomotives surviving, the other being GS-6 4460 at the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, Missouri. I have seen this locomotive at the Museum of Transportation. GS is abbreviated from "Golden State", a nickname for California (where the locomotive was operated in regular service), or "General Service".

The locomotive was built by Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio, for SP in May 1941. No. 4449 was retired from revenue service in 1956 and put in storage. In 1958, the SP donated the locomotive to the City of Portland, Oregon. In 1974 the locomotive was restored to operation. The engine has operated in excursion service throughout that area since 1984.

I have had the pleasure of riding several different steam engines in my life. My favorite and longest steam engine ride was from the Terminal Station in Atlanta, Georgia to the Terminal Station in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a three hour ride. The steam engine was Norfolk and Southern Railroad engine number 611. When we got to Chattanooga, we had lunch at the restaurant in the terminal building. I have included a picture of the steam engine that took us there and back. If you will notice, the steam engine we took to Chattanooga had the same color paint configuration along its side as the engine in the puzzle.  

Norfolk and Southern Railroad Engine Number 611

Before and during our trip I spoke with several of the volunteers who maintained and operated this engine. I found out how much they loved and respected their engine. The Train Engineer stopped the train about half way to Chattanooga and let all of the riders off the train and backed it up several miles and then he drove the train by us at full steam. We took a lot of pictures of the train as it passed. It was amazing to see all of the people parked at some of the railroad crossings taking pictures of the train as it passed on the way up and on the way back. It appeared that a lot of people love steam engines.

Engine number 611 was used for excursions throughout the Southeastern United States for several years. These excursions stopped in 2018 when Amtrak changed the rules concerning excursion trains being on their tracks. Engine number 611 is now located in the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

There are still a few steam engines running excursions in America but not very many due to the cost of maintaining the equipment and regulations. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to ride as many of them as I did. Those steam engine rides are fond memories for me.

Southern Pacific 1000 piece puzzle by Mike Bennett

Available at your local retailer or favourite online store.

On the USA and Canada Cobble Hill website, search item code: 80291

Buyer Beware: Puzzle Problems with Pretenders!

Scams! Covid-19 has brought up the most incredible scams. We won't get into all of them right now, but we do want to highlight one in particular so you can protect your wallet!

There have been numerous websites that pretend to sell Cobble Hill puzzles, but they are clearly untrustworthy companies.  We wanted to call them predators, but it sounded so scary, so we kept it light and call them "pretenders".  It's quite possible that they'll "sell" you a puzzle, take your money, and you'll never see a copy of the puzzle.  The websites that we're talking about are ones that have just quickly put up a storefront, stolen copyrighted images from either our website, social media accounts, or another retailer's store. We are quite certain that they are not legitimate operations, but rather pretending to have actual inventory. 

I'm sure that many of you reading this blog know exactly what I'm talking about. In fact, some of you wonderful puzzlers have even reported the pretenders to us, for which we are so thankful!  

So, what can be done about these fake websites?  While we have been successful at getting several of them removed, others are trickier. We'll give you an example of one that we're trying to take down now and show you some things to look for when you're determining whether to purchase a puzzle from the company or not.

1. The Logo
First of all, if you're familiar with our Cobble Hill puzzles and you see one of our boxes with a logo missing - euh, that's a pretty BIG clue right there!  Do not buy puzzles where the brand's logo has been altered in any way (see the red circled area) below for The Witching Hour. Big clue! If they're trying to hide that from you, what else are they hiding!

2. The Brand Name
Another good indicator could be the omission of naming the puzzle brand.  Most companies who sell online will give you various specifics about the puzzle including the manufacturer name and/or the artist's name - they're not afraid of giving credit where it's due. Fake websites are often infringing on copyright and "stealing" images, like the puzzle box above and even the image to the right of it with the couple enjoying a puzzle together - that belongs to Cobble Hill. There is no mention of any puzzle brand or artist in the description of this puzzle.

3. The Contact Info
Also, look for the contact information. If it's a reputable company, they'll have an email address with their company name after the "@".  For example: info@legitimatecompany versus (looks like someone just randomly typed letters). See below.. really, 

4. The Images
If you see a distinct image or video that you know you saw on social media from a puzzler, then there's a good chance that image or video was ripped off - so question the website. Another key factor - at least for Cobble Hill puzzles specifically, is if you're familiar with our puzzles, then you know we have a signature fun(ky) random cut pattern. Our puzzles are not ribbon cut with every piece lining up in a neat row/column grid.  So the image below is definitely not one of ours as this is a ribbon cut style on our "Marmaduke" puzzle by Geoffrey Tristram.  

Fake Marmaduke puzzle ribbon cut

5. The WhoIs Lookup
If all of that isn't enough to make you at least question the website, then you can also check the WhoIs Lookup and see when this site was created.  You can gather different pieces of information to see if this instinctively "feels right" to you.  There are several legitimate retailers who have created websites recently, but if you're looking to buy from a US or Canadian company and the website shows a recent "Creation Date" with the server in China or the registrar's name includes "Beijing"... we're going to venture to guess that there are better options for you. Buyer beware! 

You'll have to use your common sense and gut instinct on some of these websites. And if you're a part of a puzzle group/community, it may not hurt to ask around first to see if anyone is familiar with the website. If you know the brand for that image, then you can also contact the company - like some puzzlers have done with us. It gives us a chance to hunt down the pretender and get the site removed or at least cripple it in some way. 

As of posting this blog today, we went to check on a website that we were working to take down and we have an update!!  Last week, we dug further on the "pretender" above and found the actual host for this website. We submitted a DMCA takedown notice on July 17th to the ISP (copyright issues with our images).  It looks like as of July 21st, they have removed our images. Yay! While that's a little win for us, it looks like the website it still up and running with the ability to purchase puzzles - so not a complete win for you, the shopper. However, who would buy from the website if the below image is what you would see?? From all the surveys we have done, we know image is the basic reason why everyone chooses a puzzle! Can you imagine what you would receive, if anything, if you ordered from this website? Why would this website still be up and running?? So weird... so, so, weird... 

Well, thanks for joining us on our adventure today. Enjoy your day all & stay safe! Happy puzzling!

A Day At The Lake - Catching Fish & Naps!

by Elmer Prather, guest blogger

This is the 35th Cobble Hill puzzle that I have had the pleasure of putting together. It is a 500 piece puzzle titled A Day At The Lake by Douglas Laird. This is the second Douglas Laird puzzle I have put together, the first was titled Flat Iron. When I first saw this puzzle I was amazed at how much the rocks and lake in the puzzle looked like a real lake. 

Douglas Laird's A Day At The Lake (500pc) assembled by Elmer Prather

I have fished during some of my past trips to Canada. It is in the Pas, Manitoba. I have been to the Pas three times to fish with several of my good friends. On these trips to the Pas we would leave Atlanta, Georgia on a Friday in the third week of June. We did this because the temperature in the Pas is quite cold for most of the year.  The Pas is 2000 miles from Atlanta and it usually took us about 40 hours to get there. This is driving nonstop except for bathroom breaks and gas.  Once we got to the Pas we drove to Clearwater Lake and camped in the campground. Clearwater Lake a natural glacier formed lake. It is the clearest lake in Canada and the second clearest in the world. The lake is filled with Great Northern Pike and Lake Trout. We carried enough supplies to allow us to have a fish fry every night we were there.

On our first trip to the Pas we met two other fishermen. They were from Dallas, Texas. They shared with us that they came to Clearwater Lake every year to fish and camped in the same spot in the campground. One of them was a doctor and the other was a builder. On our subsequent trips to the Pas we made it a point to camp in our same spot so we could be close to our new friends from Texas.

The rocks at the edge of the lake in the puzzle remind me of a favorite place we fished near the campground. It is called the jetties. It is called the jetties because the rock formations there extend into the lake for about 100 feet. The jetties allow fishermen to walk across the rocks farther into the lake in order to be able to fish in deeper water and lake trout like deep water. I have posted a picture of me catching a nap on the jetties along with a picture of this puzzle below.

Elmer Prather camouflaged amongst the rocks! What a great nap!

We drove over to the jetties several times on each trip and fished for lake trout. The mosquitoes there were enormous and plentiful. We made a mistake on one of those trips to the jetties by not closing the doors on the VW bus while we were fishing and when we went back to the bus, we found what seemed like a million mosquitoes all throughout the bus. On this trip to the jetties, we had caught a few lake trout when we saw two Game Wardens rush into our fishing area.They asked to see our fishing licensees and we produced them. The wardens noticed that the four of us had a total of five fishing poles in the water and one of my friends advised them that he had two of them. The Game Wardens gave him a ticket, took his rods and reels and told him to be at the Judge's office that afternoon at 4:00pm. We drove into town and let our pal out at the Judge’s office. When our friend returned to the bus, he explained what an experience that had been. He said that the judge was dressed in his full English judge attire and after firmly reprimanding him the judge charged him $25.00 for the infraction and dismissed him.

The next day we were back at the jetties fishing when about mid afternoon we noticed an old Toyota pickup truck with two Inuit Indian ladies inside, pulling a small aluminum fishing boat, drive onto the jetties and park beside our VW bus. They put the boat into the lake, loaded their fishing gear into the boat and took off. Approximately two hours later the ladies came back to the jetties and docked their boat. We watched as they drove the boat onto the trailer and hooked the boat trailer to their truck then we saw them struggling with getting something out of the boat. They finally were able to get it out and to our amazement, it was a huge lake trout. It seemed almost as long as the women were tall. It must have weighed between 30-35 pounds. I was so impressed that I asked them if I could take a picture of it with them holding it. They said yes so I took the picture. I have posted a picture of the two ladies and their prize fish below.

Huge lake trout catch!

On one of the days that we were on this trip, we drove over to the boat rental place which was about 25 miles down mostly dirt roads from where we were camping. When we got there, we rented a boat and motor and did some lake trout fishing. We motored across the lake and found a huge mound of ice about ten feet tall on the edge of the lake. This huge mound of ice was formed by the ice that had covered the lake during the winter months breaking up into ice chunks and being forced off the lake and onto this mound by the strong winds and huge waves on the lake. We climbed the ice mound and posed for pictures. We left the ice mound and headed back to the boat rental place. On the way back we saw several Inuit Indian children swimming in the lake (talk about tough people). We had our insulated underwear and our field jackets on and these children were swimming in that cold lake water.

These trips to the Pas with my friends have been some of the most enjoyable times of my life. The obstacles that we overcame during these trips have caused us to bond and have made us lifelong friends

I am glad that I found this beautiful puzzle because it has caused me to reflect on some of those good times we had.

A Day At The Lake 500 piece puzzle by Douglas Laird

Available at your local retailer or favourite online store.

On the USA and Canada Cobble Hill website, search item code: 85074