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9 Jul 2017
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Jigsaw puzzle development

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Posted By Ingrid J.

The word jigsaw relates to the original method of manufacture of the earliest jigsaw puzzles which involved using a picture painted onto a piece of flat wood cut it into several pieces with a jigsaw. These original wooden jigsaw puzzles were manufactured as early as the middle of the 18th century in England and, because they were cut by hand, had loose fitting pieces and irregular shapes. Jigsaw puzzles are an unusual yet enduring pastime. Despite early and uneven puzzle manufacturing attempts the appeal of taking a perfectly good picture, breaking it up into a thousand pieces only to put it together again has endured.

It is difficult to accurately determine the circumstances whereby someone decided to cut up a perfectly good picture into small puzzle pieces only to re-assemble them as a completed jigsaw puzzle. Historically, painting on wood goes back over a thousand years and even dates to Roman times when the deceased often had their likenesses painted onto their coffin lids

It is worth noting that old fashioned world maps are a very popular theme of puzzle hobbyists due to John Spilsbury. Around 1760 Spilsbury, a London mapmaker, started up the commercial enterprise of jigsaw puzzles. Spilsbury's world maps were introduced to school age children as a collection of cut up shapes painted onto wood. By assembling the puzzles, country by country, children would be able improve their geographic knowledge.

Today's jigsaw images are as diverse as there are different photographs. Remaining popular is the countryside panorama usually of foreign locations. Castles usually French and German ones, as well as mountains and rivers, have been popular jigsaws for over a hundred years. Adult puzzles start from 250 piece puzzles with the 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle being the most popular. Nowadays puzzle manufacturers use cameras, computers and software to make the most complex jigsaw puzzle images conceivable. From Bill Gates face made up of various banknotes to all white (no image) puzzles, there is a puzzle enthusiast for every jigsaw puzzle no matter how challenging.

Given the unevenness of cut of those early wooden puzzles, not to mention labour costs involved, it did not take long before the materials used in puzzle manufacture took a huge change of direction. Puzzles today are, for the most part, made of a high density cardboard known in the trade as greenboard and are fully interlocking which means that once correctly fitted together the whole array of connected pieces will move together as one. The board has an image printed onto it and the board is then passed through a press with a puzzle die that exerts over 200 tons of pressure to ensure a clean, uniform and fully interlocking cut. It is the steel die which does the cutting through the board. Making these dies is an expensive undertaking but a 1000 piece puzzle die will last for years. 1000 piece puzzles are actually made up of 1026 pieces and are the best selling jigsaw size.

1000 piece puzzles are actually made up of 1026 pieces and are the best selling jigsaw size. With all the permutations possible no two puzzle pieces should be the same shape. There are 14 basic jigsaw puzzle piece shapes that range from pieces with zero knobs (each piece having four female parts) to the 4 knob piece which has four male parts. There is every permutation in between, e.g. 3 male parts to one female part on each piece, etc. The puzzle pieces making up the side of the puzzle will have at least one smooth side and four puzzle pieces in each puzzle will have 2 smooth sides at right angles. Shapes can vary in basic structure from square to oblong again employing the complete range of male / female construction.

Jigsaw puzzle pieces can be very similar in basic shape leading to all sorts of problems. This is most frequent especially when dealing with solid colours. A puzzle strategy would be to arrange together the same shaped jigsaw puzzle pieces with the same orientation allowing you to spot subtle differences in puzzle shape. By removing the distraction of the picture and turning the jigsaw puzzle pieces the puzzler can study the puzzle pieces from the back without the puzzle picture as a distraction.

Puzzle contests are regularly held by jigsaw puzzle manufacturers where it can take the winner less than an hour to complete a 1000 piece puzzle. Jigsaw puzzle enthusiasts are such a committed group of hobbyists that there are no limits to the puzzle pastime. Although the 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle is the most popular there are puzzles which have 24,000 pieces, are over 5 feet high and over 14 feet wide. Such a puzzle can take up to a year to complete.

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