A jigsaw puzzle is a puzzle that requires the assembly of often oddly shaped interlocking and mosaiced pieces.
The puzzle is so named because the picture, originally attached to wood and later to paperboard, was cut into its pieces with a jigsaw, which cuts intricate lines and curves.
Jigsaw puzzles may be very complicated vis-à-vis the number of pieces and the number of different cuts and thus take many hours to complete.
Typical images on jigsaw puzzles include scenes from nature, buildings, and repetitive designs—castles and mountains are common, as well as other traditional subjects. However, any kind of picture can be used.
Artisanal puzzle-makers and companies using technologies for one-off and small print-run puzzles utilize a wide range of subject matter, including optical illusions, unusual art, and personal photographs.
In addition to traditional flat, two-dimensional puzzles, three-dimensional puzzles have entered large-scale production, including spherical puzzles and architectural recreations.
Englishman John Spilsbury, a London engraver and mapmaker, invented the jigsaw puzzle in 1767.
The first jigsaw puzzle was a map of the world. Spilsbury attached a map to a piece of wood and then cut out each country. Teachers used Spilsbury’s puzzles to teach geography. Students learned their geography lessons by putting the world maps back together.
Early puzzles, known as dissections, were produced by mounting maps on sheets of hardwood and cutting along national boundaries, creating a puzzle useful for teaching geography. Royal governess Lady Charlotte Finch used such “dissected maps” to teach the children of King George III and Queen.
Cardboard jigsaw puzzles appeared in the late 1800s, but were slow to replace wooden ones because manufacturers felt that cardboard puzzles would be perceived as low-quality, and because profit margins on wooden jigsaws were larger.
Mass production of jigsaw puzzles began in the 20th century with the advent of die-cut machines. In this process sharp, metal dies for each puzzle were created and, operating like print-making stencils, were pressed down on sheets of cardboard or softwoods to cut the sheet into pieces.
This invention coincided with the golden age of jigsaws of the 1930s. Companies on both sides of the Atlantic churned out a variety of puzzles with pictures depicting everything from domestic scenes to railroad trains.
Sales of wooden puzzles fell after World War II as improved wages led to price increases, while improvements in manufacturing processes made paperboard jigsaws more attractive.
However, it took until the 1950’s for production techniques to be improved to the extent that cardboard puzzles could be termed ‘Good quality’. The technique for cutting these puzzles has not changed substantially since.
By the early 1960s, Tower Press was the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle maker – it was acquired by Waddingtons in 1969. Ravensburger is another major manufacturer – while makers of wooden and specialty puzzles include Artifact Puzzles, Liberty Puzzles and Wentworth Puzzles. Numerous smaller-scale puzzle makers work in artisanal styles, handcrafting and handcutting their creations.
Jigsaw puzzles have seen a resurgence in popularity in 2020 due to the coronavirus. The global pandemic, which left the world in lockdown, gave way to more at-home activities like solving the humble jigsaw puzzle.
Jigsaw puzzles come in a variety of sizes. Among those marketed to adults, 300-, 500- and 750-piece puzzles are considered “smaller”. More sophisticated, but still common, puzzles come in sizes of 1,000, 1,500, 2,000, 3,000, 4,000, 5,000, 6,000, 7,500, 8,000, 9,000, 13,200, 18,000, 24,000, 32,000 and 40,000 pieces.
Three-dimensional jigsaw puzzles are made of wood or styrofoam and require the puzzle to be solved in a certain order, as some pieces will not fit if others are already in place. Also common are puzzle boxes, simple three-dimensional puzzles with a small drawer or box in the center for storage.
According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, doing jigsaw puzzles is one of many activities that can help keep the brain active and may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The jigsaw puzzle with the most pieces consisted of 551,232 pieces and was completed with an overall measurement of 14.85 x 23.20 m (48 ft 8.64 in x 76 ft 1.38 in) by 1,600 students of the University of Economics of Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), at the Phu Tho Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on 24 September 2011.
The largest online jigsaw puzzle consists of 1,200,000 pieces, and was achieved by GSD&M and the U.S. Air Force (both USA) in Austin, Texas, USA, on 15 June 2020.
The largest jigsaw puzzle measures 6,122.68 m² (65,905.17 ft²) and was achieved by DMCC (UAE) in Dubai, UAE, on 7 July 2018.
The largest collection of jigsaw puzzles consists of 1,047 different sets, and was achieved by Luiza Figueiredo (Brazil) in São Paulo, São Paulo, in Brazil, on 9 July 2017.
The record for the most expensive jigsaw puzzle sold for a charitable art auction to benefit a non-profit organization The Golden Retriever Foundation at a bid of $27.000 (£14.589). The hand-crafted wooden
jigsaw puzzle was custom made by Rachel Page Elliott (USA).
The most people solving a jigsaw puzzle at a single location is 9,569 and was achieved by Chello Multicanal (Spain) during the Fira de Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain, from 27 December 2011 to 4 January 2012.