Jigsaw Puzzles - Game Facts, Benefits and History

A completed jigsaw puzzle
A completed jigsaw puzzle | Source

Solving Jigsaw Puzzles - A Fun and Absorbing Activity

Solving jigsaw puzzles is a fun and challenging activity that is experiencing a resurgence in popularity. It's a great hobby for adults or children and for individuals or groups. In addition to being an enjoyable and absorbing pastime, assembling jigsaw puzzles has psychological benefits.

Once a jigsaw puzzle is finished, it doesn't have to be dismantled. The puzzle pieces can easily be glued together and the puzzle preserved. It can then be either framed as a piece of art or used as a mat for desks, tables and other surfaces.

The jigsaw puzzle game is thought to have started in the eighteenth century. Modern innovators have created new types of puzzles, including ones with challenging twists, 3D puzzles and puzzles that are solved on a computer. The basic idea behind the jigsaw puzzle is still the same, however - to create a picture by finding and joining pieces of wood, cardboard or other material that each have a tiny portion of the image.

A happy puzzle solver with her framed jigsaw puzzle
A happy puzzle solver with her framed jigsaw puzzle | Source

Many puzzles are mass produced on cardboard by big companies and sent to toy, department and game stores. Some are made by artisan companies and individuals who create handmade jigsaw puzzles for both adults and children. Many of these puzzles are produced on wood, just like the jigsaw puzzles of the past.

A handheld fret saw may have been used to create the first jigsaw puzzles.
A handheld fret saw may have been used to create the first jigsaw puzzles. | Source

The First Jigsaw Puzzles

John Spilsbury is often said to be the inventor of the jigsaw puzzle, although he may have popularized the puzzle instead of being its creator. He was probably the first commercial seller of jigsaw puzzles.

Spilsbury was an eighteenth century British mapmaker who decided to create a product to help children learn world geography. To make his puzzle, he glued one of his maps to a piece of wood and then sawed the wood into pieces. He's thought to have used a handheld fret saw to cut the wood. Children had to join the wood pieces in the correct arrangement to reform the map.

Spilsbury's puzzles were known as dissections and first appeared around 1760. Unlike the case in modern jigsaw puzzles, the pieces of a dissection weren't interlocking, so they separated easily. The dissections were expensive and could only be afforded by wealthy families.

The use of jigsaw puzzles gradually spread to other school subjects besides geography. At first, the puzzles were used only as educational tools for children. Around 1820, games for adults appeared. The games were expensive and weren't widely available, however.

How to Make a Jigsaw Puzzle with a Scroll Saw

Later Jigsaw Puzzle Developments

In the late 1800s, the name "dissection" was replaced by "jigsaw", although according to the American Jigsaw Society the puzzles were cut by a fret saw, not a jigsaw. The development of the treadle fret saw was a great help to puzzle creators. Today's handmade wooden puzzles are usually made by fret saws, too. The modern tools are usually power tools, however. Powered fret saws (or fretsaws) are sometimes called scroll saws (or scrollsaws).

Another significant development in the late 1800s was the appearance of the first cardboard jigsaw puzzles. Most puzzle manufacturers at this time preferred to create wood puzzles, which they could sell for a higher price.

Jigsaw puzzles for adults started to become popular around 1900 and became especially so during the Depression. Free cardboard jigsaw puzzles were given away with purchased products, such as toothbrushes. In addition, a weekly puzzle was sold to the public and became very popular. It may sound strange that people would spend money on a jigsaw puzzle during the financial hardship that existed during the Depression. The puzzles were bought because they provided a cheap source of entertainment during a very difficult time.

Jigsaw puzzle pieces
Jigsaw puzzle pieces | Source

Types of Jigsaw Puzzles

A wide range of jigsaw puzzles are available today. Some are made in large quantities by big companies while others are made in smaller quantities by artisans.

Mass produced puzzles are readily available in stores. These puzzles are die cut. The "die" is a piece of metal that acts like a stamp or press and is used to cut specific shapes from a material.

Some puzzle fans prefer to buy handmade puzzles from artisans. Although it's not always the case, in general the greatest advances in puzzle development come from craftspeople.

Many artisan puzzles are made of wood. This used to make the puzzles very expensive, but new techniques have reduced the price. One of these new techniques is to cut the wood with a high speed jet of water that is under very high pressure. Another is to use a laser beam to cut the puzzle shapes.

A 3D jigsaw puzzle
A 3D jigsaw puzzle | Source

Handmade Puzzles - Increasing the Challenge

Artisans are responding to the increased interest in jigsaw puzzles by creating innovative games with challenging features. One of these features is the existence of several solutions to a puzzle, with some puzzle pieces fitting into more than one space. Only one of the solutions is considered to be correct. Another trick is the inclusion of a corner piece that fits into the middle of a puzzle. The artisan may also cut the pieces right on the line where a color changes, so a person can't use the mixed colors on a puzzle piece to help them place the piece.

Most jigsaw puzzles have a copy of the picture used to create the puzzle on the front of the puzzle box. This attracts the attention of potential customers and can be used as a guide as the puzzle is solved. Some artisans don't provide a picture of the finished puzzle in order to increase the challenge of the game.

Tips For Solving a Jigsaw Puzzle and a Time Lapse Movie

According to one puzzle maker, high quality or very desirable jigsaw puzzles that are still in their boxes can appreciate in value, but assembled ones won't.

Other Jigsaw Puzzle Types

Personalized Jigsaw Puzzles

Some companies will create a jigsaw puzzle from a customer's photo. This type of puzzle can be a great gift for a friend or relative. It's also possible for a person to create a jigsaw puzzle at home. Downloadable templates are available on the web. These templates can be used with either wood or cardboard.

3D Jigsaw Puzzles

3D jigsaw puzzles are actually a type of sculpture. The medium for the sculpture is interlocked puzzle pieces. These pieces may or may not have the shape of traditional jigsaw puzzle pieces.

Digital Jigsaw Puzzles

In this digital age, it's not surprising that puzzles that can be solved online have been created. There are also puzzle programs and apps that can be downloaded. A digital puzzle is certainly easier to keep tidy than a puzzle sprawled over a table, but for many puzzle enthusiasts, it's not a suitable substitute for a regular jigsaw puzzle. People who solve wooden puzzles say that part of the joy of the puzzle is the tactile sensation experienced when handling the pieces. Conventional puzzles also encourage more social interaction than digital ones.

A 3D Puzzle Collection

Puzzle Size

Puzzles vary widely in size. The number and size of puzzle pieces that are suitable for a child depend on a variety of factors, including the child's manual dexterity and attention span. Another factor involved in the choice of a jigsaw puzzle is the child's interest in the picture that's being created.

The recommendations for number of puzzle pieces given by many manufacturers are shown in the table below. The recommendations work for most children, but not for all of them.

Jigsaw Puzzle Sizes For Different Ages (Recommended by Puzzle Makers)

Age of Child
Number of Jigsaw Pieces
2 to 3
4 to 12 pieces
3 to 5
12 to 50
5 to 6
50 to 100
6 to 7
100 to 200
7 to 8
200
8 to 10
300
12 and older
500 or more
A jigsaw puzzle that's been glued together and is acting as a mat on a desk.
A jigsaw puzzle that's been glued together and is acting as a mat on a desk. | Source

Puzzle World Records

World's Largest Jigsaw Puzzle

According to Guinness World Records, the world's largest jigsaw puzzle in terms of number of pieces was created by students at the University of Economics of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The puzzle was constructed on September 24th, 2011. It consisted of 551,232 pieces and measured 48 feet 8.64 inches by 76 feet 1.38 inches.

Largest Commercial Jigsaw Puzzle

The world's largest commercial jigsaw puzzle consists of 32,256 pieces. It was released in September 2010 by Ravensburger. The name of the puzzle is Keith Haring: Double Retrospect.

Most Expensive Puzzle

The price of jigsaw puzzles ranges from inexpensive to very, very expensive. Stave Puzzles produces handcrafted wooden puzzles, some of which cost thousands of dollars. In 1993 they created a Guinness World Record with a $15,000 jigsaw puzzle.

How to Glue a Jigsaw Puzzle Together

Saving and Using Puzzles

Some people admire a completed jigsaw puzzle for a while and then dismantle the puzzle and put the pieces back in their box. There are other things that can be done with finished jigsaw puzzles, however. The puzzles can be both decorative and useful.

The first step in saving and using a jigsaw puzzle is to spread puzzle glue over the surface. This glue is available in craft stores. The glue sticks the pieces together and dries to a transparent and protective finish. The puzzle can then be framed and used as a piece of art or placed on a surface such as a desk and used as a mat (provided it's treated reasonably gently and no liquids are placed on it).

There is another possible use for a jigsaw puzzle, but it means that the puzzle can never be solved again. The puzzle pieces can be used to make interesting and unique jewelry, such as necklaces and bracelets, as described in the video below. This is a great way to use puzzles that have lost some of their pieces and can't be solved.

How to a Make a Jigsaw Puzzle Necklace

If your home is becoming overwhelmed with framed puzzles and puzzle mats, consider passing the jigsaw puzzle joy on. Pictures and mats could be given as gifts. Unglued puzzles could be disassembled and then given to someone else to solve. Friends or relatives may appreciate the puzzle, and so may seniors centers, care homes, hospitals and schools.

Do you solve jigsaw puzzles?

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Pieces of a puzzle
Pieces of a puzzle | Source

Benefits of Solving Jigsaw Puzzles

Solving a jigsaw puzzle can be a very enjoyable activity for either an individual or a group. Most jigsaw puzzles can't be finished in one session, but that's part of their fun. Provided there's a place to leave a partly completed puzzle, a person can return to solve more of the puzzle at any time. It's interesting and satisfying to watch the picture grow.

Some people find that working on a jigsaw puzzle is a great way to relieve stress. The puzzle may be challenging, but it's comforting to know that it does have a solution. That being said, though, in 1989 Stave Puzzles released an April Fool's puzzle that had no solution! The purchase money was refunded to the enraged customers.

Solving jigsaw puzzles can be a social activity that involves a group solution. Working as a group allows for conversation about other topics besides puzzles and is a good way for people to have fun with friends.

Jigsaw puzzles may also be educational for children. For example, the picture that they create may teach them about a country, a habitat or the solar system. Assembling a jigsaw puzzle can also build their confidence, whether they work alone or with another person. When children solve a puzzle with someone else they are learning to cooperate with others.

Solving a jigsaw puzzle with someone else can lead to cooperation.
Solving a jigsaw puzzle with someone else can lead to cooperation. | Source

Some Possible Benefits of Jigsaw Puzzles

It might seem logical to assume that solving jigsaw puzzles promotes spacial recognition and reasoning. Not much research has been done in this area, however. Researchers do say that puzzles are helpful for maintaining our cognitive abilities as we age, but the research has generally been done with crossword puzzles instead of jigsaw puzzles. Even if solving jigsaw puzzles doesn't have a significant effect on mental abilities, it's still a very worthwhile activity for its psychological and social benefits. Best of all, it's fun!

© 2014 Linda Crampton

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Comments 30 comments

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

That's interesting that this low-tech type of entertainment is experiencing a resurgence. Maybe it's the antidote to constant text messaging among teens.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

That sounds like a good possibility, ologsinquito! Solving jigsaw puzzles is very low tech, but it could be a nice change from computer and electronic activities for some people. Thanks for the comment.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

I have always loved solving jigsaw puzzles! It is very relaxing to me. I loved reading all about the fascinating history of the jigsaw puzzle. This is a splendid hub and I enjoyed the videos as well. I never really knew how to properly glue a jigsaw puzzle, so that video is helpful.

Great hub! Up and more and sharing.

Have a great weekend,

Faith Reaper


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment, Faith! I enjoy solving jigsaw puzzles too, although I don't have as much time for them as I would like. Once I start a puzzle it takes me a long time to finish it. Assembling the puzzle is fun, though, even though I generally do it for short periods.

I appreciate the votes and the share, Faith. I hope you have a great weekend as well.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

Oddly, I find I don't have the patience to do a jigsaw puzzle. I say oddly because normally I am a very patient human being. I always wished I did have it because it seems like a very relaxing pastime. Thanks for the historical facts, Alicia, and have a great weekend.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the visit and the comment, Bill. Some people do find doing jigsaw puzzles relaxing. When I do one I find the process interesting rather than relaxing. I enjoy the challenge of completing the picture! Have a wonderful weekend, Bill.


Room of My Own profile image

Room of My Own 2 years ago

What a fun and detailed hub! I have a few jigsaw puzzles but since adopting a very curious cat, I've had a hard time doing them. LOL! (She'll sit on anything that you express even the slightest interest in.) I have a really nice puzzle of one of my favorite paintings by Marc Chagall. I think that is the only way I'll every be able to afford famous works of art!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks, Room of My Own. I'm very lucky that I have a room which I can keep shut up when I have a puzzle in progress, because my cats are curious, too! You've made an excellent point about being able to get nice art through jigsaw puzzles.


DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

I enjoy solving jigsaw puzzles it used to be one of my best pass time but have not done this in a while. I am so glad to have stopped by here to learn more about jigsaw puzzles interesting facts.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the comment, DDE. Solving jigsaw puzzles can be very enjoyable. I hope you find time for this hobby again!


bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

Hi Linda. Gee, I haven't done a jigsaw puzzle in years. But I do have great memories of doing this as a kid. What I was not aware of was how far these puzzles have come over the years. The 3-D puzzles that look sculptures are amazing. I would love to give one of those a try. Great hub. Voted up, shared, etc.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Bill. Yes, although some jigsaw puzzles haven't changed since I was a child, others definitely have! I've never tried to solve a 3D jigsaw puzzle. They look like they're fun. Thanks for the vote and share.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 2 years ago from South Africa

A very interesting and comprehensive article about jigsaw puzzles. Once I start to build one, my soul cannot rest before it is done. Highly addictive. The 3D's look like rewarding challenges.

PS: I wonder what had happened to my framed jigsaw puzzles. I must have given them away during one of my clean-up sprees....


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

It's too bad that you lost your framed jigsaw puzzles, Martie. I've heard of other people who say that solving the puzzles is addictive! It can certainly be a very absorbing activity. Thanks for the visit and the comment.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 2 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

I haven't done a jigsaw in years Alicia. I used to have a series of them as a child of all the different continents and you had to slot the major city names in. It was a pretty good way to learn geography. Thanks for another fascinating hub


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

That does sound like a good way to learn geography, Cynthia! I solved a lot of jigsaws when I was a child, but I don't remember solving them in school. Thank you very much for the comment.


Vellur profile image

Vellur 2 years ago from Dubai

Interesting and informative hub, I know so much about jigsaw puzzles after reading your hub. Voted up.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

Very interesting hub Alicia, I especially enjoyed reading about the history of the jigsaw puzzle. My wife and used to enjoy making jigsaws but having cats makes that difficult. More than once they have jumped into the middle of a half finished jigsaw and caused destruction, with us having to start all over. Now if we do a puzzle it is usually electronic on the computer so it won't be messed up. It isn't quite the same though. Voted up.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks, Vellur. I appreciate the comment and the vote!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Jodah. I understand about the cat situation, because there are three cats in my home! I have to keep puzzles away from them. Thanks for the comment and the vote.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

Nice article! I have been thinking recently about getting a jigsaw puzzle. It has been some time since I have done one, and is a great thing to do during inclement weather.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Deb. Yes, it is very nice to work on a jigsaw puzzle during a rainy day. It's a fun activity. Thanks for the comment.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

I can't imagine putting together a jigsaw made from wood. Glad they are now different. I do love to put one together with family on occasion. It is such a great way to converse and have some good quality time.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the visit, Dianna. Yes, solving a jigsaw puzzle is a good way for a family to come together and to interact. It can be a great social activity.


truthfornow profile image

truthfornow 2 years ago from New Orleans, LA

I enjoyed reading the history of the jigsaw puzzle. I like working them. It is very relaxing and takes your mind off all your troubles.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, truthfornow. Yes, solving a jigsaw puzzle can be a great way to forget about problems for a while! Thanks for the comment.


Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 19 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Alicia, this was a fascinating read about the history of the jigsaw puzzle. Brings back memories that my mother loved to work on a puzzle in the good old day. Voted up for interesting!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the comment and the vote, Kristen. I think that solving jigsaw puzzles is fun!


adevwriting profile image

adevwriting 16 months ago from United Countries of the World

I know that jigsaw puzzles are amazing to solve though I haven't done much of it. I enjoyed reading your hub. Voted up and interesting!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 16 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the visit and the votes, adevwriting!

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