Puzzled by the popularity of mind games like Sudoku and jigsaw puzzles? You shouldn’t be, especially since they are a great way to unwind, sharpen the memory, and improve concentration. They’re also an inexpensive way to socialize and meet new friends.
However, this was never the intention of John Spilsbury, the British cartographer and engraver who invented the jigsaw puzzle in 1766. When Spilsbury came up with his dissected maps – as jigsaws were called at that time – his sole purpose was to teach geography. Among his students were the children of King George III, the leader of Great Britain and Ireland
The first jigsaw puzzle was actually a world map that Spilsbury attached to a piece of wood. The countries were cut into pieces using a marquetry saw and the jigsaw puzzle was born. To widen his market, Spilsbury created individual puzzles from the different countries on the map. These included Europe, Asia, England, and America. In 1880, puzzles were referred to as “jigsaws” in spite of the fact that fretsaws were used to cut the pieces and jigsaws are an entirely different thing. For some reason, the name “jigsaw” stuck and we still call them that way today.
The early jigsaw puzzles were made of wood and were quite heavy. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that cardboard puzzles entered the scene. However, wood remained as the material of choice for years since manufacturers believed that cardboard puzzles were of low quality and they couldn’t make money from them.
When the Great Depression ravaged the United States, it paved the way for the increasing popularity of jigsaw puzzles. Amidst the economic turmoil and the rising unemployment rate, puzzles provided the people with an inexpensive escape from the hard times. They were a recyclable form of entertainment that everyone could enjoy. It was at this time that jigsaws attracted a wider audience and were played by adults as well.
Today, jigsaw puzzles are made of paperboard and come in many shapes and sizes. From the cumbersome wooden models, jigsaws have evolved into a lighter version that is cheaper and easier to produce. Pieces range from 300 to 40,000 depending on the size of the puzzle. Smaller puzzles for children have fewer pieces.
With the computer age, puzzles have become more accessible and can be assembled anytime using a smart phone or PC.