Mysterious & Puzzling

It’s truly a puzzler! Katie (and friends) test drove a Sherlock Holmes mystery jigsaw puzzle…deerstalker and pipe not included. Take it away Katie!


The Sherlock Holmes and the Speckled Band mystery jigsaw puzzle is by BePuzzled, a company that touts itself on forcing people to think and solve their games in unconventional ways. The puzzles are classic mysteries with a challenging twist: you read, build, and solve using clues from both the written story and the completed puzzle. I bought mine in a toy shop for $18.95 while on summer vacation in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, but you can find it online for slightly less. The suggested age range is 15 and older.

The short story Sherlock Holmes and the Speckled Band originally appeared in the UK edition of The Strand magazine in February 1892. The story was later included in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes collection, which was published in October 1892.
Inside the box is the 1000-piece unassembled puzzle and a booklet with the mystery to read.

The solution, which is the conclusion of the story, is provided but it is cleverly printed backwards. You read it by simply holding it up to a mirror, which is such a unique way to hide the answer!

I started by building the edges, and this is the point when I realized this puzzle was going to be more difficult than I had originally thought. In keeping with the mysterious nature, the finished image does not match the box cover. An SOS was sent to my library colleagues, inviting them to help.

A few folks answered the call and worked with me on Holmes’s latest case. Interestingly enough, every one of them had a different puzzle approach. One person took pieces that looked similar and lined them up in a row. Another moved pieces into piles and worked specifically on building a small section to later drop in.

One colleague clearly loved puzzles because she slowly and methodically finished around 1/6 of the mystery in just a few hours’ time. She’s the reason I can say I completed the puzzle in just under two weeks!

And yes, dear blog readers, I used some Photoshop magic to blur the puzzle. No spoilers from me!

Despite my (sometimes constant) groaning over not having an image to work from, I thoroughly enjoyed the puzzling challenge. It added an extra layer of intrigue and definitely more excitement when the puzzle was solved. I feel younger children can get involved with the puzzle build, though they may get frustrated since they don’t have any reference to a solution.

Even though I have partnered with Detective Holmes on many Cotsen-related adventures, I have never read Sherlock Holmes and the Speckled Band. I was entirely unaware of who or what was behind the unfortunate events described in the story, so the solution was quite a surprise. For those who may have already read the story and know what happened, this particular puzzle may not be the best option. Thankfully there are several other BePuzzled mysteries to choose from, including one from Alfred Hitchcock, and I assume each has a unique story line.

The mystery puzzles are afoot!

Interested in more Holmes posts? Try our virtual escape room, our live escape room, a review of a snail mail mystery game, and this super fun simple activity with rebus cards from our special collections!

The Tiny Library Challenge, Round II

bear books kit 4Readers might recall the miniature library kit that almost drove Katie to the edge of sanity in 2021. It took 12 months, 46 hours and countless grey hairs, but Katie finally completed it! Fast forward to 2022, and the discovery of the Mind-Find Bookstore kit by Rolife Hands Craft. How can we resist, right? This bookstore has a BEAR in it!  So we decided to test the kit…except…now it’s MY turn to feel the agony and ecstacy of miniature building.

The Rolife kit is nicely packaged, and retails for around $20 on Amazon and Target. It is intended for ages 14 and up. That age range is absolutely correct. You need a steady hand and lots of patience to build it. I slowly unpackaged everything, wondering what I had gotten myself into. In the background, Katie chuckled evily.

One thing I liked about the kit was that you could lay the pieces on the paper templates, matching up the numbers with the instructions. This allowed me to have everything in one place, without having to stop and hunt for pieces during the process. Fair warning: the print on the instructions is miniscule, and there’s a bunch of tiny little paper signs to cut out too. I used regular-sized scissors and fumbled through, but smaller craft scissors would have produced cleaner cuts for sure.

One thing I did NOT like about the kit was the glue. The nozzle was always gushing, which endangered the fragile pieces. I finally resorted to using a paperclip to brush the glue on all the teeny weeny surfaces.

The kit also comes with a pair of plastic tweezers. I definitely had to use them! Not just for construction, but also setting up the interior of the shop. It was quite the adventure, folding the little bags, gluing the little handles on, and then navigating each of them on to the little slippery pegs!

There were a couple different types of books to construct as well. Some were just paper covers glued to foam pieces. Others were books you could actually open and turn the pages. Nice!

The advertised completion time for the kit is 3.5 hours. Well, it took me 5 hours and lots of complaining, squinting, moaning, and muttering quiet curses. At one point, I sent Katie a photo of my messy progress and bemoaned how crazy the kit was making me. She simply sent back this:

Like the kit Katie assembled, this little bookstore can be wired for lights. Buuuuuut I couldn’t figure out the “heat tube” part of the instructions, annnnnnd the little lightbox broke during construction. So I had to jerry-rig the bulb to the battery like some sort of miniature MacGyver. But in the end, there was LIGHT!

I would say the Mind-Find Bookstore kit by Rolife Hands Craft is mid-range in difficulty. If you are working on this with a kid, plan for lots of extra time and patience as most of the pieces are from scratch, the paper signs are small, and the instructions are a little vague. Ultimately, the results were cute, and this cheerful little bookstore will brighten any room or shelf!

Katie and Mr. Finley Walk the Shire

Get ready for the coolest possible way to get some steps in. In late spring, a curious ad popped up in Katie’s social media. It was a call for adventure, one that Katie answered with her intrepid pup, Finley.

Specifically, it was THE LORD OF THE RINGS Virtual Challenge series, offered by Conqueror Virtual Challenges. An online community that provides virtual fitness experiences and encourages participants to hike famous trails, you can meander through historical locations or climb massive mountains. There are challenges as short as 20 miles through Angor Wat, or as long as 2,485 miles to complete the entire Pacific Coast Trail. The cost varies between $30 to $50, depending on the challenge. THE LORD OF THE RINGS has five different sections you can complete individually for $50, or you can follow the entire journey from The Shire to Mordor for $200, which is a stunning 680 miles. Katie signed up for just one challenge, The Shire, which starts in Hobbiton at Bag End and ends in Bree. Take it away Katie!


In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo Baggins recalled sound advice his cousin, Bilbo, had once shared with him: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” It was Bilbo’s adventurous spirit that led me to The Conqueror Virtual Challenges LORD OF THE RINGS adventure. After registering, you gain access to an app that allows you to virtually follow your path through the location.

You either manually enter your miles (or kilometers) or you can sync your activities from your smartwatch or fitness tracker. Participants can walk, run, bike, swim, row – it doesn’t matter how you get there, it just matters that you are meeting your fitness goals and making every mile count. And you can see other participants on their journeys!

As you travel, you are sent digital postcards to commemorate the distance or to share information about your location. Here’s the first one I received:

Another very cool thing? For every 20% of the challenge you complete, you choose to either plant a tree or stop 10 plastic bottles from entering the ocean. In the spirit of the Ents, I decided on trees. This was my first one:

Most of my miles were completed while walking with my own Samwise Gamgee, my pup Finley, who was more than happy to accompany me on this epic trail. Finley and I typically walk three miles a day around our neighborhood, but there were times when we found ourselves strolling down city streets or on a winding footpath in the woods. I also discovered the route I take on Princeton’s campus from the parking garage to Cotsen is exactly one-mile round trip. And here are me and Finley heading to an outdoor concert in Madison, WI this summer.

I left Bag End on June 2 and arrived in Bree on July 14, trekking 145 miles in 42 days. I thoroughly enjoyed checking in on the virtual map. The digital postcards were a nice added touch of encouragement, along with knowing I planted five trees. Here’s my finish screen:

What shocked me was the medal I received after I completed the challenge. You get one for every section of the trail you sign up for. It was mailed to my address, and arrived about 10 days after I crossed the finish line. The medal is AMAZING! It is beautifully crafted on both sides with stunning intricate details. Here’s the front:

The back includes an envelope that contains the One Ring, which you are instructed to “Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe.”

And yes, if you look closely, you can see that ring does have the famous Mordor inscription in Tengwar! The Conqueror Virtual Challenges are fantastic motivation to either kick-start a personal exercise plan or to encourage you to keep moving forward on the path to good health. And now that My Precious… I mean… the One Ring is in my possession, I must continue the journey to Mordor. I’m going to extend my subscription and further the adventure!

And just one more triumph to add…today is officially Finley’s “Gotcha Day!” Adopted two years ago from Texas, we are so happy to have him as part of the blog family!