The mystery of Clementoni Toys' missing puzzle pieces

“We are not allowed to divulge information about our production process”, the company told a frustrated puzzle enthusiast. David Farrier investigates this utterly pointless mystery.

To be totally upfront: I hate puzzles. But my friends love them. Rose can’t stop doing them. I guess I’m just more of a LEGO guy.

Since we’ve all been in various states of lockdown thanks to Covid-19, I’ve noticed even more puzzle action going on. Which reminded me of a story I wrote - and never published - about Clementoni Puzzles.

It’s a mystery about missing pieces with a thoroughly unsatisfying ending. I hope you enjoy it. Or hate it. The important thing is we all feel something, okay?

And if you want more mysteries and oddities in your life, I’d love you to sign up.

Auckland puzzle enthusiast Rebecca purchased a puzzle. But she had a problem.

Her newly acquired puzzle of The Last Supper was missing two pieces. As any puzzle aficionado will know, this is a very frustrating position to be in. The entire idea behind a puzzle - its entire reason for existence - is to be completed. Missing pieces make this task impossible to achieve:

While Rebecca bought the puzzle in Auckland, New Zealand, it was made in Marche, Italy, by a children’s toy company called Clementoni Toys.

Convinced she hadn’t lost the pieces herself, Rebecca contacted Clementoni Toys, writing:

It’s certainly not a mistake our end; I always tip all the pieces onto my special puzzle table that has a lipped edge so nothing can drop off. Obviously this caused much confusion, searching and questioning when doing the puzzle - but more than anything I just can’t figure out how a puzzle is sold with missing pieces!

A representative from Clementoni Toys soon replied:

While the reply was very kind, it didn’t really help solve her problem.

On top of that, she was now more intrigued by the logistics of how the pieces went missing.

So she wrote back, “Thanks so much for your reply. I don’t need a new puzzle, I just would love to know more about how a puzzle could be sold with missing pieces. Does this happen often? Does it mean another puzzle was sold with two EXTRA pieces?”

Clementoni Toys soon replied:

“We are not allowed to divulge information about our production process”.

The bold is their emphasis, not hers. Suddenly, this mystery seemed even bigger than it was before:

The words reminded me of the New York Times’ amazing glitter expose, when their journalist wrote: “When I asked Ms. Dyer if she could tell me which industry served as Glitterex’s biggest market, her answer was instant: ‘No, I absolutely know that I can’t’.”

And it turns out Rebecca wasn’t the only one having a problem with missing puzzle pieces from Clementoni Toys. The company’s twitter stream is riddled with a litany of puzzle piece problems:

One puzzle enthusiast, Mariusz Cwirko, found themselves with the correct number of puzzle pieces, but unfortunately two of them appeared to be from another puzzle:

It appears the company’s twitter account is mostly just replies to customers who are missing puzzle pieces. But not just puzzles: Customers have tweeted about other products with missing or incorrect pieces:

What the heck was going on?

I wanted to find out about the production process that could not be divulged. I wanted answers. So I wrote to them.

Within 12 hours, they replied:

In order to clarify your doubts, hereby we inform you that each puzzle is supplied through a single production process and at the end of it, the puzzle got separated from an automatic machine so it is not possible that some pieces of a puzzle got mixed with another one.

In addition, Clementoni Quality & Control Department provide a strictly supervision by a sample check of the mass productions items in order to guarantee a high standard and reduce the defectiveness of faulty / missing pieces.

I was surprised that they were divulging part of their production process to me, but excited I was coming closer to an answer.

They’d assured me that the missing were definitely not with another puzzle. And that they had a strict Quality & Control Department. But if puzzle pieces weren’t being mixed up with other puzzles during production, where the hell were Rebecca’s missing pieces?

“Could it be an issue between the automatic cutting machine, and the box it's sold in? Or is someone stealing pieces somewhere in the factory?” I asked.

The next day, I had another reply:

There is no chance that some missing pieces got mixed up with other puzzles. The defective / missing pieces rate on puzzle range is really low, on average approximately 0%, even after the automatic machine control and the supervision of Clementoni Quality and Control department.

I wasn’t quite sure what to think - and it certainly didn’t help explain Mariusz Cwirko’s experience of having two foreign puzzle pieces rounding out their set.

I am also deeply suspicious about the “Approximately 0%”, going on the number of complaints on Twitter. But I suppose if they are selling massive volumes of puzzles, it’s possible.

Clementine went on, and in an attempt to solve this puzzle of the two missing puzzle pieces, offered two final solutions (seemingly going against their original plea of “We are not allowed to divulge information about our production process”:

  1. During the disassemble process, the piece not go properly inside the funnel of the puzzle pieces

  2. During the packing process, the piece could not be properly packed

I had my two possible answer to the riddle of the two missing pieces. 

Either the puzzle pieces did not go inside the funnel... or the pieces were not properly packed in their boxes.

Rebecca and I had our answer(s).

But I for one felt deflated. 

Somehow, these possible solutions were the least satisfying solutions I’ve ever encountered.

They may be entirely true, but I feel a bit like Rebecca, sitting sadly in her lounge, staring at a puzzle that she’ll never, ever, complete.