It only took a pandemic to bring the humble puzzle back into the cultural zeitgeist. Jigsaw fills a unique void in the COVID-19 household landscape, as it is an activity that can be done by one person or an entire family, and it is neither passive nor requires much effort. space (and unlike a board game, it does not inherently separate a household).
The boom in interest in puzzles has caused puzzle retailers like Barnes & Noble, Ravensburger and even Amazon to sell out completely. It also caused a surge in popularity in previously niche communities, like the subreddit /r/Jigsawpuzzles, which saw a huge boost in engagement and subscribers, according to Subreddit Stats. The subreddit has become the place to develop your puzzle assembly skills and interact with over 22,000 other puzzlers from around the world.
The founder and sole moderator of the subreddit, /u/jigsawwpuzzler, who wished to remain anonymous, has been a puzzler his entire life, using puzzles as a means of mild stimulation and a waste of time. “As I got older, I discovered that making puzzles exercised many useful skills in everyday life,” says /u/jigsawwpuzzler. “At the top of the skill list is patience, followed closely by pattern recognition, organization and spatial visualization. For me, half the fun of building a puzzle is finding the best way to put it together.
For those who haven’t put together a puzzle in a while and find themselves surrounded by boxes of new puzzles, we talked to /u/jigsawwpuzzler about putting the pieces together like a veteran puzzler.
How to build a puzzle like a pro
1. Organize, Attack, Organize, Attack
/u/jigsawwpuzzler’s plan of attack for the organization depends on the puzzle. For photo puzzles, they will orient the pieces so that all the photographs face the same direction. For non-picture puzzles, separate the edge pieces from everything else. Once these pieces are sorted, /u/jigsawwpuzzler will sort the easily identifiable pieces – a color, shape, or object that stands out – which will then become their starting section.
A puzzler posted a picture of their completed puzzle with no edges and four extra pieces (which we don’t recommend for beginners). Although the puzzle is a photo, it is almost impossible to orient all the pieces in the same position. What you would want to do in this situation is sort your pieces into three piles: tees, golf balls, and grass. The time spent on organization saves you a lot of time assembling the parts.
2. Don’t be obsessed with one piece
Sure, your starting section seemed like the easiest place to start, but don’t get too attached to that area of the puzzle. “I try to build as much of a certain section as possible relatively quickly, then move on to what I think is the next most identifiable section,” says /u/jigsawwpuzzler. “As I go from section to section, pieces from other sections will naturally start to appear.” Things change and easy can quickly become difficult. Getting caught up in a particular section of a puzzle can be detrimental to completing it. In other words, if you get stuck, move on and come back later.
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3. Consider lighting (and avoid glass tables)
An understated way to complete a puzzle is to vary the ink on the puzzle. Good lighting will illuminate the texture of the ink on each piece, making it easy to discern the correct orientation of the piece. This may not apply to all puzzles, but take a look at any piece of the puzzle and you may notice that the ink appears to be flowing in one direction. Either way, good lighting will be your friend as you squint at the hundreds or thousands of pieces that stand between you and pure puzzle bliss. If you’re extra weird, be sure to assemble on a surface that contrasts with the puzzle. You’ll see many puzzles on the subreddit and Instagram built on white tables (or with white butcher paper on the table) for this reason.
Relax, it’s just a puzzle
One of the best post submissions in /r/Jigsawpuzzles is a time-lapse video of a 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle made up of 5,000 colors. The video is 35 seconds long; actual completion time was 35 hours and 29 minutes.
“Some puzzles you’ll go through, but as you increase the number of pieces and the complexity of the picture, some may take months or even years,” explains /u/jigsawwpuzzler. If you’re frustrated with how long it takes to complete a puzzle, just know that every correct pair of pieces comes with its own little win. And each of those little wins will be that much sweeter when you fill in the last room, no matter how long it takes.
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