Tuesday, February 20, 2007

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 54: Whitman Frame-Tray Puzzles

"It's Kid Tested!" blares the logo (a smiley face wearing a W-shaped crown...) for the venerable Whitman "Frame-Tray" Puzzles, a mainstay of jigsaw puzzles from the last forty years.

I don't know about you, but I own a bunch of these very basic Whitman puzzles (for very young kids, apparently, since you can put them together with your eyes closed...in about two seconds).

Why collect such simple jigsaw puzzles? Well, because - of course - the Whitman company developed them using pop-culture characters and situations from science fiction television and superhero comics.

The frame tray puzzle format, which "develops coordination and motor control" consists usually of just ten pieces or thereabouts, so again it's not much of a puzzle. But the art - I think - is terrific pop culture kitsch. I love this stuff...

Just last weekend, my parents found for me at a yard sale a Superman frame-tray puzzle, copyrighted from the year 1966. The puzzle depicts the Man of Steel (my favorite superhero...) walloping a very 1960s version of a menacing robot (complete with flying transistors and widgets!)

Other superhero frame-tray puzzles from Whitman dramatize the adventures of Batman and The Hulk, among others. Non-superhero characters that figure in the line include everyone from Porky Pig and Little Lulu to Zorro.

I also have in my office collection, three Frame-Tray puzzles from the years 1978 and 1979, and in particular Star Trek: The Motion Picture. As you'll see from the puzzle faces, the images are not actually from the movie, but rather the TV show. The Trek logo, however, is straight from the Robert Wise-directed movie.

On the first one of these Whitman Frame-Tray puzzles, you'll see there's a Tholian ship on the viewscreen. There's also a mistake: That's Spock in the command chair (I can see the pointed ears...) but he's wearing a golden jersey, not his typical blue one. Oopsy.

The second Trek "Frame tray puzzle" depicted here (and noted as being from Merrigold Press...) is also my favorite of the ones I own. It reveals Captain James T. Kirk in a series-era space suit (seen in the third season episode "The Tholian Web") taking a space walk. An engine nacelle from the U.S.S. Enterprise is visible in the background.

He's also carrying some sort of glowing box, which I *think* is the Medusan ambassador from "Is There In Truth No Beauty?" If so, he should be wearing a visor, just for safety...

The third puzzle from Trek reveals a landing party getting ready to beam down, and the crew is wearing uniforms with back packs, if I'm not mistaken. I also think that's Nurse Chapel on the platform, and there aren't that many collectibles which featur her character, so that's cool.

Other sci-fi series that eventually got the Whitman Frame-Tray Puzzle treatment include Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981). I think Disney's The Black Hole (also 1979) may have one of these puzzles too, but I haven't seen it.

Again, these may not be the most grown-up of puzzles, but they'll pretty much be the first ones I let my young son, Joel play with. I've got to hook him early on Star Trek...and I've got just the stash (and the puzzles...) to do it.


  1. Howard Margolin12:07 PM

    John, considering how simplistic the art is on those puzzles, the Star Trek one with the bridge scene is suprisingly good. The style of the art reminds me of Neal Adams.

  2. Great, another collectible area for me, I see! I already have the monster frame tray puzzles. Didn't know about these.

  3. Anonymous7:16 AM

    Here's the Black Hole puzzle:
    From my web site SoundAdviceforToday.com --- Paul Wenzel, an Artist Lost in a Black Hole