This is the confessions of a jig-saw addict. Every time I dissemble a completed jig saw puzzle, I tell myself, well, that was a waste of time. I could have cleaned the whole house, written five chapters of my novel, or started an aerobic exercise regime. There would be more to show for the time I frittered away, than playing with tiny pieces of cardboard.
But a few weeks later, there I am again, opening another box, sorting the pieces into straight edges, then colours, assembling an image to match the one on the box lid. The problem is, I have over fifty puzzles stacked on a cupboard. Friends and family keep giving me more for gifts and also used puzzles are remarkably cheap at op shops.
Those darn jigsaws are a distinct presence in my house. Should I toss them all out, so I can get on with my life, undistracted and without a stiff neck?
Apparently, I am not alone in my hobby or obsession, if you can call it that. During COVID lockdowns, many people discovered the joys of puzzles and maybe books too, as they struggled to fill their days inside. Jigsaws are certainly nothing new, it’s just they have made a comeback. ‘Everything old is new again’, as they say. If only we had wardrobes full of clothes that we wore generations ago, with the retro trend. We’d all make a fortune.
So, how old are jigsaws?
The story goes that the first jigsaw was made by a London mapmaker, John Spilsbury in the 1760s. He made a world map of wood and cut it up into the separate countries as a tool to teach children geography. Fancy that. You learn something every day.
Children of previous generations recognised countries by their shape, as well as knowing where they were. Nowadays, our kids have no idea. Such basic physical geography is no longer taught. Instead, kids spend whole terms on learning about Bali or the sinking of The Maldives. ‘Where is India?’, I asked one of my year-12 girls. I showed her a world map. “No idea,” she shrugged. See, jigsaws used to be useful. But are they still useful?
Are Jigsaws still useful?
I try to justify them as useful, so I can continue wasting time. Research says puzzles are good for you! Solutionswithrush.com gives 11 reasons why.
- They are a great way to stimulate the mind and improve your memory
- Puzzles boost creativity and artistic skills
- They can improve hand-eye coordination
- Puzzles increase the mind’s ability to retain information
- And promote abstract thinking
- They even help with neurological diseases
- And reduce stress levels, anxiety and depression
- While improving collaboration, concentration and problem-solving skills
- Solving puzzles improves brain cell communication
- Puzzles increase your spatial intelligence
- Puzzles just make people happy
I’m sure this comprehensive list implies puzzles help you from getting dementia too, as they keep the brain sharp. That means we won’t need to go into a nursing home as early or even at all. Yeah!
And research says doing puzzles together is even better. Grandparents can interact with their grandkids, lovers with each other, friends can become lovers etc. Puzzling is social and you get to sit next to someone, share a cup of tea or a quiet wine. But careful not to spill it!
Further Justification of Jigsaws
I’m on a roll.
I won’t listen to my brother-in-law who maintains that cutting something into small pieces and then spending hours putting it back together is just plain dumb. He gives my sister a hard time about her quilting, because quilting is like puzzling, except you use cotton and thread, not your fingers to reunite pieces.
Well, I could argue that housework is also a huge waste of time. You do it but it undoes itself quickly, so you have to do it again. And it’s not as much fun as finding the missing bit of London Bridge or the Dalmatian dog’s ear. Confession: I am working on a dog puzzle at the moment.
Cooking is another one. You cook, putting ingredients together, then someone eats it, and you have to do it again. Yes, cooking is a waste of time too, unless it is a yummy treat, and you get to eat it all yourself.
There are many tasks that we do that are repeated over and over again. How many times in your lifetime will you wash your face? That will do for justification, now let’s learn a little about jigsaws as this is meant to be a history post.
History of Jigsaws
From being used as a wooden geography lessons, jigsaws expanded their range and audience. Soon there were cutout boards featuring nursery rhymes, fairytales, ships, trains and pretty scenes. Early in the twentieth century, Parker Brothersgames invented interlocking pieces so a picture could be put back together.
The task of making these little pieces fell to women. Of course, why not, they had smaller hands and men figured the work was too tedious for males. Parker Brothers said the reason was because women knew how to sew, not admitting that they could pay women a lot less.
It was during the Depression of the early 1930s that the jigsaw became popular. People were unemployed and depressed, as you are during a Depression. They took to jigsaws to keep their minds off their misery and grumbling, empty tummies. Unemployed men started making jigsaws themselves, by cutting pictures into pieces with treadle saws, called jigsaws. They could sell or loan out the finished puzzles for more than the raw materials and saw cost.
Types of Jigsaws
Jigsaws then, over the years, came in all shapes and sizes and piece numbers. The most popular is the 1000-piece format but some die hard addicts go for larger piece numbers. They just take longer and you need a bigger table. The Guinness World Record is a jigsaw of 40,000 pieces.
The most popular shape is the rectangle, but I have square, round and even amorphous edgeless puzzles and once had a 3D one of the Titanic, but my young son put it in the bath, and it sank.
Over the years, there have been crazes for scenic scenes, movie scenes, book covers, ships, flowers, babies, even frogs. Whatever you can take a photo of now, you can make a puzzle from. There are even online ones now. The only thing the modern age can’t do, is make the jigsaw assemble itself. It is still a slow process, a waste of time, or maybe not? Maybe it is a great way to relax and it definitely is food for the brain, just as book reading is.
Sorry, gotta go. It’s Christmas and someone just gave me a Christmas scene puzzle. Must get started. Have a good one yourself! Merry Christmas!
Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash