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Jigsaw Puzzle Enthusiast

Insider Info

Webster's dictionary defines a jigsaw puzzle as "a picture that has been cut up into irregularly shaped pieces, which must be put together again to re-form the picture."

Jigsaw puzzles were invented in Europe in the middle of 18th century. The first puzzles were wooden maps of Europe. They were made by a mapmaker and cut into pieces by a jigsaw, hence the name -- a jigsaw puzzle. Each separate piece had a distinctive color and was shaped exactly like one country. School teachers used those maps in geography lessons.

In the 19th century, puzzles switched from being educational tools to toys. The pictures on the puzzles illustrated daily life, children's literature, fairy tales and the Bible. Later, travel and art also found their way to the puzzles' pictures.

By the 20th century, jigsaw puzzles for adults were becoming popular in North America. The images on the puzzles underwent another change. Puzzles began showing fashion models, caricatures of politicians, scientific discoveries, famous paintings, movie stars and ads for soap or toothbrushes.

Manufacturers have now replaced expensive wooden puzzles with cheaper cardboard ones. Advances in technology allow for mass production. As a result, the prices have dropped. One factor stays the same, though -- people enjoy doing puzzles.

Anne D. Williams is one of the world's foremost experts on puzzles and the author of two books about them. She explains the appeal of jigsaw puzzles. "People have always loved working puzzles because people have always loved solving problems. A puzzle represents a problem, but unlike many other problems, like unemployment, war or global warming, a puzzle can actually be solved and admired. The struggle to bring order and beauty out of the chaos of hundreds of disconnected pieces motivates virtually all puzzlers."

Jason Olek is the manager of a food market in Rochester, New York. He is very serious about his puzzling hobby. "I love the sense of accomplishment when putting in those final pieces of a puzzle. Some puzzles are very challenging. You have to study the exact shape of each piece. Not for the weak-minded!"

Like Williams, Olek also appreciates puzzles' beauty. "I like to frame them when done. I had one of my puzzles on display at the local mall and library a while back."

Another puzzle enthusiast is Tamara Paulin. She is a co-owner of two game shops. She emphasizes puzzles' relaxing and social qualities. "I put together jigsaw puzzles at my home, or at my Mom's home, on the kitchen table. I could do it alone for a little while, but it's much more fun to have someone else join in. Then we can talk and drink tea together as well."

While some people engage in jigsaw puzzle competitions, Olek considers puzzling a solitary occupation. "I work alone. It is a form of meditation for me."

There is now a new way to do puzzles: you can do them online. You can also chat with the other puzzle lovers through Internet forums dedicated to jigsaw puzzles.

Although Olek is an active member of such a forum, he doesn't like doing puzzles online. "Nothing compares to the real thing," he says. "Online puzzles are OK, but you don't get nearly the experience as with the real pieces. They teach good memory skills and keep the brain fresh."

Paulin elaborates: "I think puzzles can increase a person's concentration and patience, exercise pattern-recognition skills and work out the brain in so many small ways. Plus, it is fun!"

Puzzles are fun and interesting for most age groups, although kids under 10, retirees and families are considered main puzzle users.

"Teenagers and college students do them less frequently," Williams says. "But even they would participate at a family gathering."

"In my store, we sell very few during summer," says Paulin. "Mainly we sell them at Christmas, as gifts. Customers buy them for all ages, but the typical recipient is a mother or a grandmother."

You can buy a puzzle as a birthday present or as cheap entertainment for a party. You can buy a puzzle in a toy store, a game shop or online. You can also buy a customized cardboard or wooden puzzle. Starting from simple six-piece puzzles for toddlers and rising in price and complexity, the variety is endless.

Paulin says, "Our shop sells 500-piece puzzles for around $20 to $30. The very large puzzles go up to a couple thousand pieces and cost around $60."

Of course, for the real experts or collectors, there are custom-made wooden puzzles. They usually have a few thousand hand-cut and hand-painted pieces and cost three to five hundred dollars, sometimes more.

Besides the industrial manufacturers, there are several private puzzle-makers in North America. They specialize in custom-made wooden puzzles. A client can order a puzzle with a photograph they took, or a favorite painting. Many of those puzzles have uneven edges and very intricate designs. Their craftsmanship can be exquisite. The price range is in hundreds of dollars, depending on size and complexity.

Getting Started

Anyone can start doing puzzles at home, sitting at a table or on the floor. The only requirements are a stretch of empty surface, good light, a little bit of time and some patience.

Paulin has some suggestions for a beginner: "Pick a puzzle with a smaller number of pieces, like 250 or 500. Choose an image that you will enjoy looking at for many hours. Easier puzzles have many colors and distinct objects visible in them. For example, still-life is usually easy. The hardest puzzles have large areas of similar color, like a big sky."

She adds: "I would encourage anyone with any interest to give it a try. It doesn't require a large outlay of time or money, and the benefits are so many."


Association of Game and Puzzle Collectors
197M Boston Post Road West
Marlborough , MA   01752

American Jigsaw Puzzle Society


Jigsaw Puzzle Forum
Where you can chat with like-minded puzzle fans

Play online and choose the level of difficulty from six-piece to 247-piece

Elliott Avedon Museum and Archive of Games
Learn more about the history of puzzles

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