Jigsaw puzzles come in many shapes and sizes and can be anything from just a few to several thousand pieces. The earliest jigsaws appeared in the 1760s when European mapmakers pasted maps onto pieces of wood and cut them into small pieces.
There are various reasons why we might choose to complete a jigsaw – for example, to take on a challenge, relax and unwind, or (if completed with others) to socialise.
If you’re familiar with jigsaws, you’ll probably know they can be both frustrating and satisfying – depending on how easy or difficult it is to fit the pieces together.
But not only are jigsaws an entertaining way to pass a few hours, there are some surprising health benefits too. Below we’ll look at some fun facts about puzzles, as well as seven ways they can boost your health.
Fun facts about jigsaw puzzles
English cartographer John Spilsbury created the first jigsaw puzzle in the 1760s
He attached a map of the world to a piece of wood, cut out each country, and dared people to put it back together. Spilsbury then marketed these puzzles to wealthy and influential people so they could teach their children geography.
The first cardboard jigsaw puzzle appeared in the late 1800s
These didn’t initially replace wooden jigsaws because manufacturers believed cardboard puzzles would be seen as low-quality. The profit margins on the wooden puzzles were also larger.
The name jigsaw comes from the tool: the jigsaw
The original name for the jigsaw puzzle was ‘dissected puzzle’. But after the jigsaw cutting tool was invented in the 1800s, puzzle makers began using this to cut the puzzle pieces and make more intricate shapes – so dissected puzzles were renamed ‘jigsaw puzzles’.
Puzzles made using a jigsaw were quicker to produce, which meant they could be manufactured at a lower price, and more were sold.
Puzzles became more widespread in the early 20th century
Companies like Parker Brothers (an American toy and game manufacturer) started making jigsaw puzzles in a wider range of designs.
Over the years, their popularity has risen and fallen. The Great Depression was one era when puzzles were particularly popular.
More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic saw a rise in jigsaw puzzle popularity too, with puzzle sales increasing by 38% in 2020 compared to 2019.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that production techniques improved for making cardboard puzzles
Once this happened, jigsaws could be considered ‘good quality’. Since that time, the technique for producing cardboard puzzles hasn’t changed much at all.
Jigsaw puzzles come in a huge range of sizes
Some puzzles are small enough to be fridge magnets, and are often used as promotional material. Others are larger; 300, 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000…all the way up to 40,000 pieces. They also come in all different shapes, including round, square, and oval – and even in 3D and 4D.
Since the original map of the world puzzle, jigsaw puzzles have diversified into pictures of animals, cartoons, flowers, popular movies, scenery, and vehicles
You can even turn your own photographs into jigsaw puzzles.
For the serious puzzler, you can buy puzzle accessories, such as trays, to sort the pieces in
Experts say it takes four times as long to do a 1000-piece puzzle as it does to do a 500-piece one
The reason for this is that each time you double the number of pieces, the difficulty is quadrupled. Therefore, it’ll take you around 64 times longer to complete a 4000-piece puzzle than a 500-piece one.
Here are a few jigsaw puzzle world records...
The world record for the jigsaw with the most pieces is 551,232.
The world record for the largest jigsaw by size is 6,122.68 m² (65,905.17 ft²) and has 12,320 pieces.
The largest collection of jigsaw puzzles contains 1260 puzzles.
The largest number of people to solve a jigsaw puzzle is 9569.
There’s also a world record for the largest online jigsaw puzzle, which is 1,200,000 pieces.
The most expensive jigsaw puzzle was sold for $27,000.
7 health benefits of doing jigsaw puzzles
As well as being fun, research has found that jigsaw puzzles can benefit our health too…
2. Puzzling can help to keep your mind sharp
Completing a puzzle requires problem-solving, memory, and visual perception skills. As a result, studies suggest that jigsaws may be an effective way to exercise your mind and combat cognitive decline.
3. Jigsaw puzzles can make you feel good
When you correctly fit a puzzle piece, there’s evidence that your brain produces higher levels of the ‘feel-good’ hormone dopamine, which can lead to a feeling of accomplishment and fulfilment.
Some people also liken completing a jigsaw puzzle to meditation, because it provides a sense of peace and calm. As a result, studies suggest that spending time concentrating on a jigsaw puzzle can ease stress and anxiety.
4. Jigsaws can help you connect with family and friends
Jigsaw puzzles can be just as fun to solve with others as they are by yourself.
Why not start a jigsaw puzzle on a table in your house where other people can easily access it? This might encourage family or friends to connect a few pieces of the puzzle whenever they have a moment to sit down and focus on it – or give you the opportunity to complete it together.
Doing a jigsaw puzzle can also be an effective way to spend time or start a conversation with children.
5. Jigsaw puzzles can benefit children too
We all know that children’s minds can dart from one thing to the next. But jigsaw puzzles can provide a good source of focus.
Plus, there are plenty of learning benefits to solving jigsaw puzzles. For example, themed puzzles can be a good way to help children learn everything from colours and letters to numbers and shapes.
6. Puzzling can give you time to yourself
Jigsaws are great if you need some ‘me time’. They allow you to take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life – and from the unrelenting stimulus of today’s digital lifestyle.
7. Solving jigsaw puzzles can help to reduce screen time
Spending too much time in front of screens isn’t healthy. It can affect our eye and brain health, sleeping patterns, and weight. However, finding ways to minimise screen time can be tricky.
Doing a jigsaw puzzle can encourage you to take time away from your phone, computer, and even your TV. Jigsaw puzzles are also immersive, so it’s easy for several hours to pass by before you realise you’ve not picked up your phone once!
Can jigsaw puzzles reduce the risk of dementia?
There’s some debate as to whether or not jigsaw puzzles can help to reduce the risk of dementia – with lots of online articles claiming they do. However, research in this area remains fairly limited.
You can find out more about the link between jigsaw puzzles and dementia on the Alzheimer’s Society website.
Jigsaw puzzles to try if you need some inspiration…
When choosing a puzzle, it can be useful to think about where you’re going to do it, because this will help to determine the size. Will it be a small 500-piece one? Or a larger one, like a 3000-piece?
It’s also worth considering how many people will complete the puzzle. If it’s a solo activity, you might want to put it in a spot that’s quiet and out of the way. However, if all the family will work on it, it’s probably best placed somewhere that’s accessible to everyone.
If you’re not sure what sort of puzzle you might like, here are some puzzles in a range of different sizes to hopefully inspire you…
Jigsaw puzzles are not only a fun way to spend your time, but they offer a number of health benefits too.
They’re also intergenerational and can be enjoyed by people of all ages. So whether you complete one by yourself or as a family, everyone can benefit from jigsaw puzzles.
From the first wooden puzzle to the modern-day digital ones, jigsaw puzzles have become a fixture in our lives; one that’s hopefully here to stay!
For more inspiration on productive ways to spend your time, head over to the hobbies and activities section of our website. Here you’ll find everything from creative writing and reading to mindful activities.
Do you have any favourite jigsaw puzzles? Or an anecdote about what made you start puzzling? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.