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Jigsaw Puzzles - Why Bother!
Jigsaw puzzles are completely pointless, uncreative and repetitive. You spend hours putting together tiny little bits of wood or card only to pick them apart and jumble them back into the box again afterwards. Once completed, they rarely see the light of day again.
However, there is something meditative about that whole pointlessness. Meditation is focussed concentration, and so is the completion of a jigsaw. Whilst puzzling, the mind becomes totally absorbed in looking for the next piece, a bit of sail here, or a boot there and the troubles of life vanish. It takes concentration to the nth degree and the only problem is knowing when to stop. It's tempting to let the household chores go to wrack and ruin (or is that just me) and to stay up until two in the morning because you want to finish the sky.
jigsaw Puzzles - Why Bother!
I was brought up as an only child, by parents who had their own business. At Christmas time I would have sacks of gifts from relatives, many kindly buying the latest games. My heart would sink - there was no-one to play them with. What do you get the only child whose parents are always at work? A jigsaw puzzle. I would spend hours fixing those little bits of card into the right place.
There is something SO satisfying about the symmetry of pieces that fit exactly.
I expect that computer games have taken over from jigsaw puzzles as far as only kids are concerned, but I think children are missing out. Computer games are absorbing in a different way, their squeaks and grunts intrusive and their level of aggressive content sometimes frankly appalling. computer games just don't have that meditative quality.
In our household, jigsaw puzzles tend to be brought out at times of celebration, during holidays or over the Christmas season, so that the whole family can join in. We roll out a puzzle mat on to the table, so that the jigsaw can be tidied away at mealtimes, but as soon as the meal is over, out comes the puzzle, and we all sit around sharing the experience.
During slack periods throughout the day it's not uncommon to find one or two family members drifting towards the jigsaw, saying I'll just try to find the..., only to still be there two hurs later, having been joined by everyone else.
We try to find the most difficult puzzles possible, so that they last for a good few days.
A Brief History of the Jigsaw Puzzle
The first recorded jigsaw puzzles were dissected maps, invented by John Spilsbury. Children were encouraged to do them, as a part of their general education. It is a testament to the importance of puzzling, that Goya (around 17 years later than Spilsbury) was commissioned to paint a jigsaw puzzle, such was the serious nature of the hobby.
however, the USA really took jigsaw puzzles to heart and made them popular in every home. Puzzles were used as tests for immigrants wishing to enter the US. If an adult couldn't assemble a jigsaw puzzle within a few minutes, they were unfit to enter the country.
It was in the Great Depression that jigsaw puzzles really became popular, and from 1932 millions of puzzles were sold to householders. The Jig of The Week, which was sold at newsstands for 25 cents became hugely popular, and puzzlers would rush to buy one each week before they sold out.
Many jigsaws were given away free with products, which further increased their popularity, and it was a way of getting 'Art' into the homes of ordinary people. Much later in the 1960s one company in the US tried to find unusual art to make into jigsaws, such as Jackson pollack's Convergence, which was billed as the most difficult jigsaw ever. Salvador Dali also famously painted a piece for jigsaw called double image.
How to Complete a Jigsaw Puzzle
Most of us tackle a jigsaw the way our parents taught us to. First we find the corner pieces, then put together all of the straight edge pieces, finally filling in the centre. Some people follow the picture on the box lid, but in our household that's sacrilege. Following the picture makes the puzzle just too easy - it's akin to cheating!
There are many jigsaw puzzle manufacturers producing puzzles today. Probably one of the most famous is Ravensburger, a highly commercial manufacturer, making complex puzzles with 1,000s of pieces. However, the Wentworth Wooden Jigsaw Company produce puzzles for The National Trust, amongst others and makes truly fiendishly difficult puzzles. For example a puzzle about a zoo may have a piece shaped like a zebra in it, and several internal pieces may have longer straight edges than the edge pieces, or may have two straight edges, leading the puzzler to confuse them with a corner piece.
So, why bother with a jigsaw, because they're absorbing, entertaining, sociable, meditative, enriching fun.