Jigsaw Puzzles Then & Now

Feb 24, 2023

I’ve been doing jigsaw puzzles since I was two or three years old – basically, once I got past the put-everything-in-your-mouth stage of infancy and toddlerhood.

My first puzzles were thick wooden ones where the pieces fit into a pre-cut-out shape and they had a little knob to grasp to help me direct the piece into its proper spot. I soon graduated to the real deal as my mum saw my potential. I was good at discerning shapes and colour nuances and patterns. So, she got me my first real puzzle. One that big kids would do!

Oh, the Nostalgia!

I remember that first puzzle from my mum. The cardboard box had a wonderful photograph of my favourite childhood hero: Roy Rogers sitting on his horse, Trigger. The puzzle pieces were made from heavy cardboard and came loose inside the box. The box also included a sort of tray to fit the pieces into. I can remember to this day how excited I was – I couldn’t wait to sort it all out and put the picture together.

Years later, my mum and I were doing a 1000 piece puzzle together and reminiscing about that first one I’d done when she told me she recalls me completing it in about ten minutes, if that, and that I obviously needed a bigger challenge. Not bad for a little kid!

After that, she bought me and my siblings more elaborate jigsaws and as we got better, so too did the difficulty and number of pieces. Making jigsaws became a family activity as we grew up – there seemed to always be one in various stages of progress on a fold up card table in our living room. Before TV, this and playing card games made up indoor entertainment activities for us all for years.

Traditional Jigsaw Puzzles

Over the years, my interest in doing jigsaws has never faded. Even nowadays if I go on holiday, I always suss out if the cottage or lodge I’m staying at has a well-worn old puzzle box tucked away in a cupboard and set up shop on a vacant table. I find doing them restful and contemplative.

One time, on a return trip from the UK back in the ‘80s, I was fortunate to sail across the Atlantic on the QE2. There, low and behold, was an enormous jigsaw puzzle set up on a vast table in one of the salons. The weather out on deck was foggy, cold and gloomy, so discovering this means of passing some time lit my heart up instantly!

There were a few chairs around it and passengers would stop and place a few pieces and move on or there were those quiet elderly passengers who would spend an hour peacefully plodding along on a section of the picture – happy and content in their own reveries. I too sat down for 30 minutes or more each day over the five-day crossing from Southampton to New York, filling in a small part of the larger picture. I find it’s such a restful activity. I’ll be darned if I can recall what the image was. Some European destination, most likely! An Alpine meadow with a chalet and the Matterhorn in the background, some cows and flowers in the foreground…

Now, I haven’t got a collection of puzzles stored in an old cedar chest like I used to. Downsizing has meant saying goodbye to many cherished items, jigsaws being some of them. There just isn’t room for them anymore, let alone a card table in the corner of my living room, much to my sadness.

Online Jigsaw Puzzles

However, I have discovered online jigsaw puzzle sites which are a close facsimile of the real thing! You can join in and play with an anonymous multiplayer group or set up a family group to make a puzzle together virtually, or simply do one all by yourself.

The multiplayer groups start out calm, and respectful, but sadly become more and more aggressive as a puzzle nears completion – people want to score points for the most pieces placed… bang goes the peacefulness, so I opt to make my own and take what time I like.

Putting together a jigsaw puzzle shouldn’t be stressful nor should it be a competition as far as I’m concerned. I do them for the fun of it.

For some excellent free online puzzle making opportunities visit: Puzzle Garage, or Online Jigsaw Puzzles. The latter site includes a brief history of jigsaw puzzles if you’re interested and also has a neat option whereby you can create your own jigsaw puzzle to do online from a favourite photograph or a piece of your own original artwork. I particularly like this and often use one of my own paintings or a photograph I’ve taken. It’s easy. Just click on the option on the upper right-hand corner that says: ‘Create puzzle’ and follow the instructions. The kids or the grandkids will certainly like this option as well, allowing them to see their own creativity or pictures of themselves and friends perhaps turned into a fun pastime before their very eyes!

One last note. Putting together jigsaw puzzles is also a great way to stay cognitively active and engaged. There are plenty of studies showing that by doing jigsaw puzzles, the activity can help with short-term memory, improve visual-spatial reasoning and enhance problem-solving skills. A wonderful bonus!



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