LACLEDE COUNTY, Mo. -- As soon as you hit the door, it becomes easy to get lost among the aisles of brightly colored boxes and cardboard cutouts. It is a puzzle lover’s paradise. With more than 3,000 kinds of jigsaw puzzles on the shelves, store owner Nancy Ballhagen has a one-of-a kind selection. Some you can purchase, others are collector’s items and only available to look at.

As soon as you hit the door, it becomes easy to get lost among the aisles of brightly colored boxes and cardboard cutouts.

It is a puzzle lover’s paradise. With more than 3,000 kinds of jigsaw puzzles on the shelves, store owner Nancy Ballhagen has a one-of-a kind selection. Some you can purchase, others are collector’s items and only available to look at.

Dedicated only to those looking for a mind-bender, Nancy Ballhagen’s Puzzles sits just off Interstate 44 outside of Sleeper, Mo.

Ballhagen and her late husband Keith opened the small shop in 1991. Their fascination with jigsaw puzzles started in the couple’s dining room when they were short on cash and were looking for a way to spend quality time with the family.

“We have always liked to work puzzles, but when my kids were little, we didn’t have any money and puzzles were pretty cheap,” Ballhagen said. “When we had company, we got together and would sit over a table with coffee and a puzzle. It is better than sitting in front of the TV.”

Everybody has a strategy, but most people start with the edges, Ballhagen said.

It is not for everyone, she says. Patience is key and they are often time-consuming.

“People that like to do puzzles like to do puzzles. People that don’t really don’t,” she said. “My husband always said, ‘It is like making order out of chaos.’ When you empty a puzzle box on a table, it is just a bunch of pieces. It is relaxing for people who like to do puzzles.”

What kind of puzzle to tackle is a matter of personal choice.

“I like to have a pretty picture myself,” Ballhagen said.

Anything too challenging is not her idea of fun, she said.

From simple to difficult, religious scenes to pictures depicting popular television shows, there is just about everything imaginable inside the store. Prices range from a couple of dollars to a couple hundred.

The most expensive puzzles are those Ballhagen cut herself. Using a scroll saw and a picture or pattern, Ballhagen is always working on her next project, but it is a slow process that often takes weeks to complete.

Besides custom made pieces, glow-in-the-dark, hologram, shaped and puzzles that number up to 18,000 pieces can be found.

Don’t be fooled by the size of a puzzle, she said. Some of the most complicated come in a box with as little as nine squares.

Ballhagen said she has lost track of the number of puzzles she has completed in her lifetime, but the largest had 7,500 pieces. The 8 1/2-foot long panoramic view of New York hangs in the back of the store and took nearly a year to work out. There are at least 250 smaller works hung on the ceiling, bookshelves and walls.

To get to Nancy Ballhagen’s Puzzles, take Route 5 south to Route BB. Head through Sleeper and turn left on Garden Crest Road, just before Interstate 44.

Except for holidays, the store is Wednesday through Saturday and open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

On the Net: www.missouripuzzle.com

Contact this reporter at charisp@lakesunleader.com.