An Overview of the History of Jigsaw Puzzles

Child Sorting Puzzle Pieces on Wooden Deck

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A jigsaw puzzle is a puzzle that requires the assembly of tiles or interlocking pieces in such a manner as to form a picture or a three-dimensional structure. The jigsaw pieces may be made of cardboard, wood, plastic, rubber, metal, or foam. Jigsaw puzzles can range in difficulty from very easy three-piece puzzles for toddlers to the current record holder, Life - The Great Challenge puzzle, with a whopping 24,000 pieces!

The Origin of Jigsaw Puzzles

The first jigsaw puzzle was believed to be constructed around 1760 by British mapmaker John Spilbury. Spilbury took one of his world maps, pasted it to a sheet of hardwood and cut around the borders of the countries with a fine-bladed saw. The result was a useful visual aid to help children learn world geography.

Cardboard didn't become the material of choice for jigsaw puzzles until the 20th century when puzzle companies began using dies. The popularity of the jigsaw puzzle reached its peak during the Great Depression, as piecing them together was an inexpensive way to pass the time during long periods of unemployment.

Kid-Friendly Types of Jigsaw Puzzles

Jigsaw puzzles come in all shapes and sizes. Very young children are likely to start with peg puzzles, usually made of wood with large pieces to which a peg is attached for easier manipulation. Sound puzzles are puzzles in which realistic sounds are played when the pieces are appropriately placed on the board, helping youngsters learn about the relationship between cause and effect, develop early vocabulary, and motor skills. Floor puzzles of 50 pieces or less, with large pieces generally made of cardboard, are meant for children aged 4 and up with better dexterity—and who are not as likely to eat the puzzle pieces!

Puzzles for Older Children

Tray or frame puzzles, generally made of wood or cardboard, are an excellent choice for children aged 3 to 5. These puzzles set a boundary into which the child builds the picture, and some may show the picture underneath, making these puzzles less intimidating to young solvers than traditional jigsaw puzzles.
Most manufacturers recommend the following guidelines for age-appropriate jigsaw puzzles:

  • Ages 2 to 3: 4 to 12 pieces
  • Ages 3 to 5: 12 to 50 pieces
  • Ages 5 to 6: 50 to 100 pieces
  • Ages 6 to 7: 100 to 200 pieces
  • Ages 7 to 8: 200 pieces
  • Ages 8 to 12: 300 pieces
  • Ages 12+: 500+ pieces

Adult Puzzles

Adults generally prefer jigsaw puzzles with 500+ pieces. These puzzles come in a wide variety of themes: animals, scenic views, fantasy, art, and much more. There are some interesting variations, such as Buffalo Games' World's Most Difficult Jigsaw series, where the image is printed on both sides of the puzzle. Photomosaic jigsaw puzzles, consist of thousands of tiny images blended to create a larger picture, and mystery jigsaw puzzles exist in which you must piece together the clues in a booklet as well as the puzzle, which may be different from the image shown, to solve a murder mystery.

What Are 3-D Puzzles?

As the name would imply, 3-D puzzles have three dimensions. They might be representations of buildings, as in the Puzz-3-D series by Wrebbit®, now owned by Hasbro. 3-D puzzles may also be spherical, as in the new Puzzleball series by Ravensburger. 3-D puzzles representing dinosaurs and other animals, food items, motor vehicles, and toys are available as well.

Certain two-dimensional jigsaw puzzles use lenticular imagery to give the puzzle the illusion of depth or movement. Though they are not true three-dimensional puzzles, some vendors refer to these as 3-D puzzles.

Digital Jigsaw Puzzles

There are many free jigsaw puzzles that you can download and play offline on your computer if you so choose. Many other sites also offer free jigsaw puzzles online that can be played directly within your browser.

Most jigsaw puzzles found on the Internet are fairly easy to do, generally with fewer than 50 pieces. However, you can purchase packages containing dozens or even hundreds of jigsaw puzzles which can be considerably more complex, with piece counts going into the hundreds.