Jigsaw Puzzle Solving

Jigsaw puzzles are an invention of a bygone era.

As an entertainment product, it’s antithetical to modern trends. It’s a slow activity, where the finished product is readily available on the box, with no room for customization or personalization. It’s hard to livestream or showcase on social media, and it often takes a while to get situated into a puzzle to make any real progress. Yet, there are now speed puzzling competitions, which have grown in popularity in recent years. Meanwhile, Kickstarters like the Magic Puzzle Company are taking new spins on the traditional jigsaw puzzle format and endgame.

Much of the attraction comes from the simplicity of the task. The final image is already known beforehand1, and even completion tips apply universally—sort pieces, build out the border first, and don’t let yourself get stuck. Puzzling requires a bit of mental energy and attention, but only momentary bursts of focus; it’s the analog equivalent of the “podcast game,” where you can divide your attention equally and casually between multiple activities and still get the most out of each.

It’s this slower, self-driven pace that makes jigsaws relaxing. Speed puzzling aside, the only requirement for building a jigsaw puzzle is enough space to keep the pieces between sessions, and there are even puzzle mats and boards to preserve state if you need to clear the dinner table. As a social activity, it’s trivial to include others and chat while building, akin to poker or bridge just without the competitive element.

The simplicity of the task distills the purity of the problem to be solved. Puzzle for a little while, and you start developing your style and approach to a jigsaw. Start with the edges, yes, but what happens afterward? Would sorting the pieces help, and if so, would it be by color, texture, shape, or something else? Do you build from the sides, from the middle, or look for recognizable bits in the picture to focus on? Even the well-known tactic of stepping away from the problem and letting a solution appear can work well in tricky scenarios.

From all of the above, I appreciate jigsaw puzzles and find time for them, particularly when other aspects of life get hectic. It’s a form of release and escape, a slow analog activity —in direct contrast to the fast pace of startups, or the rapid-fire cadence of media and entertainment. To that end, I’ve gotten into framing finished puzzles around the house: they work as hung artwork, giving the same effect as paintings, with the added implication of effort spent to build them2.

  1. Some companies, though, have played with the idea of not including a reference picture.

  2. Although I suppose you could hang someone else’s finished puzzles, just to subvert expectations.

Share this article
Shareable URL
Prev Post

AI Optimism

Next Post

Gaming to Engage

Read next