At some point during every high schooler’s career, food chains pop up on the biology class syllabus: cue everyone thinking mushrooms are carnivores because they eat dead stuff and the frustrated teacher promptly moving on to the structure of a cell. Food chains rear their ugly heads again during college in Biology 101, as one of those core requirements everyone loves to hate. But if you’d played Chomp–a beautifully designed food chain-themed jigsaw puzzle–as a kid, figuring out whether a killer shark eats a killer whale or vice versa would be a piece of cake.
There’s a charming toothiness to the Chomp jigsaw set, aided by the simple design of cute little animal pieces endlessly sinking their teeth into each other’s butt. In the Forest block, a bear-like creature devours a fox that slays a frog who snacks on a snail that gnaws a leaf, which slurps up a mushroom.
Temple University design student Mirim Seo dreamed up her hungry jigsaw after discovering the work of Enzo Mari, a creator of vintage animal puzzles. There are five chains in the Chomp family: forest, ocean, arctic, jungle, and desert. Each chain includes producers, consumers, and decomposers, designed to teach kids about basic food chains. “Picking the right animals to show the food chain in its environment was difficult,” says Seo. “There are so many options and I had to pick great shapes of animals that fit together.”
Seo researched food chains for about a month before starting production. Each jigsaw food chain took around four weeks to complete, except for one. “I am still struggling with the Desert section,” she says. “But that’s a secret!” Seo used a lasercut machine at Temple to carve the maple lumber used in the jigsaw pieces. Finding the right eco-material was important: “All things are related with our nature,” she says.
Chomp isn’t Seo’s first shot at biology-based design projects. S.E.W. (Saving Endangered Wildlife) is a hand-sewing game where kids learn basic stitching patterns and create tiny paper manatees and toucans. Each endangered animal in the S.E.W collection has a different level of construction complexity. Another project, Special Sashimi, is an elegantly illustrated book documenting dolphin slaughter.
Unfortunately for budding kid scientists, Chomp and S.E.W aren’t yet in production, although Seo is looking for funding and considering a Kickstarter campaign. These butt-biting jigsaw puzzles can’t exist in obscurity forever.