Jigsaw Puzzle

27 Things You Didn't Know About Jigsaw Puzzles

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Jigsaw Puzzle
Spilsbury jigsaw puzzle
Wikimedia Commons

The Jigsaw Puzzle Debuted in the 18th Century

Despite several people taking credit for the first jigsaw puzzle, most historians give the credit to English engraver John Spilsbury according to Ceaco, a Massachusetts-based puzzle manufacturer. Around 1760, Spilsbury mounted a world map to a sheet of hardwood and cut around the country borders with a handsaw. He sold these "dissected maps" as a geography-teaching tool.

A clicking machine from 1922, used to die cut leather
Wikimedia Commons

They Weren't Always Mass-Produced

The mass production – and wider availability – of jigsaw puzzles began with the introduction of the die-cut machine in the 20th century. According to ThoughtCo., metal dies for each puzzle were created and then pressed down on sheets of cardboard or softwoods to cut them into pieces.

King George III
Wikimedia Commons

The Puzzles Were Once a Rich Man's Game

Puzzle history continued into the 19th century, according to Ceaco, and owning a deluxe jigsaw puzzle became a draw for rich families to use as educational tools — even catching on with King George III. Hardwoods, such as mahogany, were the material of choice.


Jigsaw Puzzles Are Named After… Yes, a Saw

Puzzled as to why they are called jigsaw puzzles? Wentworth Wooden Puzzles, a British firm, notes that the term jigsaw comes from the special saw called a jigsaw that was used to cut the puzzles — but the name only caught on once the saw was invented in the 1880s.

Family during the Great Depression
Fotosearch/Stringer/Archive Photos

They Thrived During the Depression

Noted jigsaw puzzle collector Bob Armstrong, who has written and lectured extensively about puzzles, shared that puzzles flourished during some of this country's darkest days — the Great Depression. Many were made by skilled workers who were suddenly unemployed, and with few people having the money to travel pictures leaned toward the exotic and the foreign.

Beach Jigsaw Puzzle
Fox Photos/Stringer/Hulton Archive

They've Historically Provided Solace ...

During tough times, puzzles were a great distraction, both in the past and now. According to Puzzle Warehouse, puzzles offer an escape as well as an opportunity to succeed, albeit in a modest way — especially during the Great Depression, when unemployment rates climbed above 25 percent. Puzzles provided amusement when restaurants and nightclubs were out of reach for most people — something they're also doing today.

Mother and Daughter Puzzle

... And Are Once Again Providing Solace

Sweeney's Seafood Bar & Grill in Centerville, Ohio, whose owners are avid puzzle enthusiasts, have been giving away gently-used jigsaw puzzles with every order over $20 to help families relieve pandemic-fueled cabin fever.

Puzzle Mansion
Puzzle Mansion by Ramon FVelasquez (CC BY-SA)

Jigsaw Puzzles Have Their Own Museum

One place to see a staggering array of "preserved" puzzles is The Puzzle Mansion in the Philippines, which is recognized by Guinness World Records as having the largest collection of jigsaw puzzles in the world. Though a bed and breakfast operation, it's also a noted destination for puzzle lovers from around the world who get a glimpse into the 1,500+ collection of founder Georgina Gil-Lacuna.

Free sign

They've Been Used as Promotional Tools

When die-cut cardboard puzzles became more available, the prices also went down — and puzzles often became giveaways. According to Puzzle Warehouse, retail stores offered free puzzles with the purchase of a toothbrush, a flashlight, or other products to keep brand names in front of customers for the hours they spent working on a puzzle.

Puzzle For Meditation
Francesco Scatena/istockphoto
Elderly Woman Puzzle
Hugh Jackman
Featureflash Photo Agency/shutterstock

Jigsaw Puzzles Have Some Famous Fans

Social media may make stars out of puzzle experts, but there are also a number of celebrities who are reportedly jigsaw puzzle fans. As featured on Wentworth Wooden Puzzles' blog, everyone from actors Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart to Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones to philanthropist Bill Gates are said to be puzzlers.

Teamwork Puzzle

They Can Be Done Competitively ...

It's likely no surprise that what was once a simple hobby has a competitive side. In fact, there's even competition on the international level with the World Jigsaw Puzzle Championship, which honors the fastest jigsaw puzzlers and is held every year in Spain.

YouTube App
Anatoliy Sizov/istockphoto

... And There Are YouTube Stars Famous for Solving Puzzles

A Google search for jigsaw puzzle experts led us right to Karen Puzzles, whose videos of expert jigsaw-solving tips regularly attract more than 200,000 views. We reached out to her, learning she's 29-year-old, Los Angeles-based Karen Kavett. "I've been doing jigsaw puzzles my whole life," she says. "Everyone in my family is into all kinds of puzzles, from jigsaws to crosswords to logic puzzles. We always had puzzles around, and I always gravitated towards the visual nature of jigsaw puzzles."

Puzzle Enthusiast

They Have Their Own Grand Tradition

Consider yourself a true member of the jigsaw puzzle community? Then call yourself a "dissectologist." That's the word for those who enjoy jigsaw puzzles, according to the blog Jigsaw Joy. There's even the Benevolent Confraternity of Dissectologists, a UK-based worldwide club for "lovers of jigsaw puzzles from all nationalities and time periods."

Playing on Laptop
katleho Seisa/istockphoto

Jigsaw Puzzles Have Gone Digital

You no longer need a big table to do a jigsaw puzzle. These days, you can play online on sites such as Jigsaw Explorer, which provides puzzles that even a beginner can do. You may even be tickled by the cheering crowd after completing the 8-piece puzzle of a boat on the river. You can also customize the number of pieces (from a handful to hundreds). With so many people stuck at home these days, the city of Los Angeles even launched "Magic Hour Puzzles," featuring images of iconic L.A. landmarks beautifully depicted by the artist George Townley that you can solve online.

A three-dimensional puzzle composed of several two-dimensional puzzles stacked on top of one another
A three-dimensional puzzle composed of several two-dimensional puzzles stacked on top of one another by chrisyatesstudios (CC BY-SA)

... And They've Gone 3D

A novel approach to the traditional jigsaw puzzle is the 3D version, where you can put together everything from an owl to the Earth itself. These may seem more like model building but are still considered part of the jigsaw universe.

Puzzle Pieces
Larisa Sviridova/istockphoto

Jigsaw Experts Love Industry Intrigue

Karen Kavett gave us an insider's tip on the current manufacturing of puzzles, saying,"One thing that I learned since trying out lots of different brands of puzzles for my YouTube channel is that many smaller puzzle companies use the same manufacturer. So you might end up with pieces that are essentially identical but from two totally separate companies." She presented it as a puzzle "conspiracy" … ah, the intrigue.

Doing a Puzzle

Pros Do Puzzles for the Same Reasons We Do

"Outside of filming my videos, I do puzzles when I need to turn off my brain for a while," says expert Karen Kavett. "I find it very therapeutic to go through the motions of sorting the pieces and placing them one by one, and when I do a puzzle while listening to a podcast, I can completely tune out the outside world. I only ever have one puzzle going at a time since I do them fairly quickly — a 1,000 piece puzzle will typically take me just three or four hours. I love to spend a Sunday morning doing a puzzle and catching up on my podcasts for the week — it's the perfect way to spend a weekend in my opinion."

Dog puzzle

Jigsaw Puzzles Depict Countless Themes ...

Puzzles are available in a seemingly endless array of themes, not just the expected landscape scene. There are those based on animals, natural wonders, famous works of art, nostalgic scenes, hobbies, holidays, travel destinations, movies, culinary creations, and many more.

Father and Son Puzzle

... And They Can Be Customized

Thanks to sites ranging from Snapfish to Zazzle and Shutterfly, to name a few, jigsaw puzzles can be made to feature treasured family photos or even custom artwork. Some take a youngster's favorite film and incorporates his or her own image into the scene.

Marriage Puzzle

They Can Even Help Pop the Question

For the shy or simply clever, marriage proposals can be accomplished with the aid of a jigsaw puzzle. Who would have ever thought that back in the 18th century?

Puzzle Art

Jigsaw Puzzles Inspire Artists

Sure, jigsaw puzzles may have one way to solve them – but their pieces have inspired artists to push the boundaries. A prime example is the Vancouver artist Tim Klein, the self-billed creator of "puzzle montage art" who combines pieces from different puzzles into new works of art at once striking – and surreal.

Human Puzzle

Jigsaw Puzzles Can Offer a Philosophical Take On Life

The concept of jigsaw puzzles has often been used as a metaphor – and for these uncertain days, we find this last thought quite timely. The New Age author Deepak Chopra is credited with saying, "There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle."

Big Jigsaw Puzzle

Jigsaw Puzzles Can Be Pretty Darned Big

According to Guinness World Records, the largest jigsaw puzzle was completed in 2018 in Dubai, a feat that featured 12,320 pieces and was some 65,000-plus square feet.

Puzzle Presto

Jigsaw Puzzles Can Be Saved

Not content to simply crumple up a puzzle and start it again another time? You're not alone – many puzzle fans decide to keep their finished work intact and often displayed. That's led to a wide array of products ranging from puzzle glue to Puzzle Presto! a peel-and-stickle puzzle preserver.

'Puzzle' Movie

Jigsaw Puzzles Can Provide a Cinematic Storyline

A 2018 movie called "Puzzle" was based on a 2010 Argentine movie of the same name. Starring Kelly Macdonald and Irrfan Khan, the film traced the story of a suburban woman whose birthday gift of a jigsaw puzzle opened up a new world for her.