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Series / The Puzzle Place

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The Puzzle Place was a Puppet Show for children that aired on PBS Kids, and was produced by Lancit Media (the same company behind Reading Rainbow) and KCET Los Angeles. It ran for 75 episodes over 3 seasons that originally aired from January 16, 1995 to December 4, 1998, with reruns airing until March 31, 2000. Created in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, it features a group of children from differing racial and ethnic backgrounds who hang out together at the titular Puzzle Place, where they learn to work out their problems and disagreements in a peaceful, constructive manner. You can read more about it on The Other Wiki here.

The Boys

  • Ben Olafson: European-American (German and Norwegian) from a farm in Flyover Country.
  • Leon MacNeal: African-American from New York City.
  • Skye Nakaiye: Apache from The Rez.
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  • Kyle O'Connor: Irish-American (and a wheelchair user). A Sixth Ranger who appeared late in the series' life.

The Girls

Also in the cast: a cat and dog named Sizzle and Nuzzle, who were usually the focus of the B-Plot and spent most of their time in the basement. There's also the multicolored gibberish-speaking Piece Police who run the place.

The puppets were well done and the stories were quite Anvilicious but enjoyable even to a teenage viewer.


This show provides examples of:

  • Aesop Amnesia/Recycled Script:
    • In the episode "Butterfingers," all the kids tease Ben with the titular mocking nickname after he drops his baton in a relay race, but realize how hurtful they were being and apologize by the end. In the episode "Just Kidding," all the kids tease Skye with the nickname "Mr. Forgetful" after he forgets to bring the bat for a baseball game, and have to learn the same lesson over again. In all fairness, though, the latter episode explicitly references "Butterfingers," complete with a flashback.
    • Three episodes also had anti-sexism, "girls can enjoy and succeed at the same things boys can" lessons: "Train Driving Kids," "Yellow Belt" and "Spooky!"
  • Affectionate Nickname: Kiki always calls Ben "Benny." Also, Julie can't go to sleep unless someone tells her "Good night, Sugarplum" the way her mother does - at slumber parties, her friends have to say it.
  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: Season 3 adds a segment at the end of each episode where the characters address the viewers and sum up the aesop.
  • Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?: After Julie tells the others the story of Yeh-Shen:
    Leon: A wicked stepmother. The heroine loses a shoe. The king finds it and then tries it on all the women in the kingdom. Who does this remind me of?
    Skye: The Little Mermaid?
  • Art Evolution: The puppets all get obvious facelifts in Season 3, with each character looking a little different than in Seasons 1 and 2. Most obviously, Skye, Kiki and Leon's skin tones and Kiki's hair are all darkened.
  • Broken Treasure: In the episode "I Love Kiki," Kiki accidentally breaks Julie's new toy horse and angsts about how to tell her. But in the end, the toy turns out not to be broken after all – it's a puzzle toy, made to come apart and be put back together.
  • Captain Ersatz: The Mighty Magic Pigeon Pirates.
  • Cold Turkeys Are Everywhere: When Jody was avoiding all bread during the Passover, everyone wanted her to try the special Apache fry bread Skye's grandfather had made.
  • Cute, but Cacophonic: Julie's obnoxiously loud singing is a running gag throughout the series. She sings perfectly nicely in the show's big musical numbers, though; this trope only appears when she's trying to show off her voice.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Leon.
  • Death Is a Sad Thing: In the episode "The Ballad of Davy Cricket," Jody's pet cricket dies, and the others help her deal with the loss by sharing memories of their own lost pets, as well as the mourning and remembrance customs from their various cultures.
  • Disappeared Dad/Missing Mom: Ben's father died, while Jody's parents are divorced and she lives with her father.
  • Dream Sequence: "Ben's Bad Hair Day" is full of this, as a napping Ben repeatedly dreams that he has hair like one of his friends' instead of his own mangled locks.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: One early episode had Jody sporting straight hair instead of curls with no explanation whatsoever.
  • Female Feline, Male Mutt: Sizzle and Nuzzle.
  • Fear of Thunder: Leon has it.
  • Five-Token Band: Zig Zagged Trope. Not only were there six human characters (and seven after Kyle joined the cast), the whole point of the series was to show an interracial group of kids getting along as friends.
  • Gag Haircut: The episode "Ben's Bad Hair Day" subjects Ben to this when his brothers' attempt to give him dreadlocks like Leon's goes horribly wrong. He tries to hide it from his friends with a Brown Bag Mask at first, but the bag flies off when he sneezes, revealing the mess.
  • Gender-Equal Ensemble: Three girls (Julie, Kiki and Jody) and three boys (Ben, Leon and Skye). Even if you include Sizzle and Nuzzle and the Piece Police, it still counts. They did add a fourth boy (Kyle) near the end of the series, though.
  • "Getting Ready for Bed" Plot: In the episode "Rip Van Wrinkle," Julie, Skye, Kiki and Leon have a sleepover, but none of them can sleep because they lack their usual bedtime comforts: Julie needs someone to bring her a glass of water and tell her "Good night, Sugarplum," Kiki needs a nightlight and music playing, Skye needs nature sounds, and Leon needs stuffed animals. But eventually they all help each other get what they need so they can finally fall asleep.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Kiki.
  • Go-to-Sleep Ending: Happens at the end of the sleepover episode. The kids even say goodnight to the audience before dozing off.
  • Halloween Episode: "Spooky!" doesn't mention Halloween, but it aired in late October and revolves around spooky things.
  • Instant Thunder: Averted in the thunderstorm episode. The kids learned to count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Several episodes have the kids dealing with being teased or bullied at school, while in several others they tease or pick on each other but realize they were wrong and apologize in the end.
  • Men Don't Cry: The episode "Big Boys Don't Cry" deconstructs this mindset.
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: One episode had Julie and Kiki meet their idol, a self-proclaimed "cute" singer. They later find out she's incredibly mean underneath.
  • Out Of Control Popcorn: Leon brings a package of popcorn, but when he turned it on to pop it, it doesn't pop. Later after they left, Sizzle and Nuzzle come across it and it finally starts to pop....and pop.....and pop; getting much bigger than the pets. Eventually, it explodes and rains popcorn all over the room.
  • Poirot Speak: Nicely averted with Kiki, who speaks strongly accented yet fluent English and whose forays into Spanish are complete sentences that always serve a purpose in context. It helps that her puppeteer really is from Mexico.
  • Shameful Shrinking: In an episode, Ben chews out at least two characters while he's trying to work out a puzzle. They visibly shrink as he yells at each one.
  • Second Place Is for Winners: In one episode, Ben enters his pet pig in a livestock show and is very disappointed when he loses, but the other kids are amazed when they learn he singlehandedly raised the pig from birth, and make him a special award just for that.
  • Sick Episode: The subplot of "Practice Makes Perfect" has all the kids except Skye coming down with the chicken pox.
  • Soap Within a Show: One episode in which Kiki accidentally broke Julie's horse figurine spoofed Days of Our Lives as part of an Imagine Spot.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: In the early episode "Train Driving Kids," the boys don't want the girls to join them in playing with an electric train set and suggest they make sandwiches in the kitchen instead. By the end they learn a proper Aesop about gender equality, of course, with Ben even realizing he prefers making sandwiches to playing with the train. Notably averted through the rest of the series, where several episodes that involve cooking feature one of the boys as the chef (e.g. "Leon's Pizza", or "Going By the Book," where Ben bakes a carrot cake), and where Skye's grandfather is the Supreme Chef in his family.
  • Sweet and Sour Grapes: Inverted here: In one episode about decision making, the Piece Police make different varieties of doughnuts for each of the kids, but they have to choose one at a time. Leon wants the cruller, but Jody has a hard time choosing which doughnut she wants, preventing everyone else from doing so. Through the process of elimination, she rejects the least desirable doughnuts until the cruller is left. Leon eventually tries to convince Jody that the cruller is "too plain" and trade with him, but that fails. After some thought, however, he realizes that the one he has probably won't be so bad, though all that is done away with when Sizzle and Nuzzle steal and eat it behind his back.
  • Theme Tune Roll Call
  • Title Theme Tune
  • Trademark Favorite Food:
    • Kiki loves cinnamon, even putting it in her chili as part of a chili cook-off. It won first prize.
    • Jody seems to especially like fish: her favorite pizza topping is anchovies (defying their Stock "Yuck!" status) and her favorite picnic food is pickled herring.
    • Each kid has their own particular favorite pizza topping: Jody likes anchovies, Leon likes green peppers, Julie likes pepperoni, Ben likes onions, Skye likes mushrooms, and Kiki likes extra cheese.
  • The Unintelligible: The Piece Police.
  • Vague Age: As is often the case with puppet characters (see also The Muppets and Sesame Street), and enhanced by the fact that the kids sometimes display Ping-Pong Naïveté. A line in one episode about Julie not having finished the third grade yet obviously implies that they're about eight, though.
  • When You Coming Home, Dad?: Jody's father, sometimes.
  • You Have to Have Jews: Jody's Jewishness is the focus of several episodes. The holiday special devotes considerable time to her teaching the other kids about Chanukah (and getting mortally offended when Ben innocently sticks her menorah on the Christmas tree), while another episode has her teach them about Passover, and in the episode where her pet cricket dies, her father teaches her about sitting Shiva.


Video Example(s):


Puzzle Place Opening

The cast of ethnically-diverse puppet kids is introduced by the theme song

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

Main / ThemeTuneRollCall

Media sources:

Main / ThemeTuneRollCall