A jigsaw puzzle is a tiling puzzle that requires the assembly of numerous small, often oddly shaped, interlocking and tessellating pieces. Each piece has a small part of a picture on it; when complete, a jigsaw puzzle produces a complete picture.
Jigsaw puzzles were originally created by painting a picture on a flat, rectangular piece of wood, and then cutting that picture into small pieces with a jigsaw, hence the name. John Spilsbury, a London mapmaker and engraver, is credited with commercialising jigsaw puzzles around 1760. Jigsaw puzzles have since come to be made primarily on cardboard.
Typical images found on jigsaw puzzles include scenes from nature, buildings, and repetitive designs. Castles and mountains are two traditional subjects. However, any kind of picture can be used to make a jigsaw puzzle; some companies offer to turn personal photographs into puzzles. Completed puzzles can also be attached to a backing with adhesive to be used as artwork.
During recent years a range of jigsaw puzzle accessories including boards, cases, frames and roll-up mats has become available that are designed to assist jigsaw puzzle enthusiasts.
There are also three-dimensional jigsaw puzzles. Many of these are made of wood or styrofoam and require the puzzle to be solved in a certain order; some pieces will not fit in if others are already in place. Also common are puzzle boxes: simple three-dimensional jigsaw puzzles with a small drawer or box in the center for storage.
Another type of jigsaw puzzle, a kind of cross between 2-D and 3-D puzzles, is a puzzle globe. Like a 2-D puzzle, a globe puzzle is often made of cardboard and the assembled pieces form a single layer. Like a 3-D puzzle, the final form is a three-dimensional shape. Most globe puzzles have designs representing spherical shapes such as the Earth, the Moon, and historical globes of the Earth.
There are also computer versions of jigsaw puzzles, which have the advantages of requiring zero clean up as well as no risk of losing any pieces.
Falcon makes a humorous series of jigsaw puzzles which it calls "wasgij" (jigsaw spelled backwards) where the picture on the box is the "audience" of the picture on the puzzle.
Many puzzles are termed "fully interlocking". This means that adjacent pieces are connecting such that if you move one piece horizontally you move all, preserving the connection. Sometimes the connection is tight enough to pick up a solved part holding one piece.
Some fully interlocking puzzles have pieces all of a similar shape, with rounded tabs out on opposite ends, with corresponding blanks cut into the intervening sides to receive the tabs of adjacent pieces. Other fully interlocking puzzles may have tabs and blanks variously arranged on each piece, but they usually have four sides, and the numbers of tabs and blanks thus add up to four. The uniform-shaped fully interlocking puzzles are the most difficult, because the differences in shapes between pieces can be very subtle.
Some puzzles also have pieces with non-interlocking sides that are usually slightly curved in complex curves. These are actually the easiest puzzles to solve, since fewer other pieces are potential candidates for mating.
Most jigsaw puzzles are square, rectangular, or round, and have edge pieces that have one side that is either straight or smoothly curved to create this shape, plus four corner pieces if the puzzle is square or rectangular. Some jigsaw puzzles have edge pieces that are cut just like all the rest of the interlocking pieces, with no smooth edge, to make them more challenging. Other puzzles are designed so the shape of the whole puzzle forms a figure, such as an animal. The edge pieces may vary more in these cases.
Since the earliest days of jigsaw puzzles the manufacturers have constantly endeavoured to create new cutting styles that differentiate their work. Even amongst modern, mass-produced puzzles there is considerable variation in the size, shape and intricacy of individual pieces.
The method of cutting pieces varies from puzzle line to puzzle line. Two puzzles of the same size and series from the same manufacturer usually have exactly the same cut, since the cutting dies are complex and expensive to make and so are used repeatedly from puzzle to puzzle. This enables disparate puzzles to be combined in odd ways. Larger puzzles are commonly cut into two or more sections.
More recently, technology such as computer controlled laser and water-jet cutting machines have been used to give a much wider range of interlocking designs in wood and other materials. These methods however have the undesirable effect of removing a small amount of material giving a loose fit with the adjoining pieces.
Beginning in the 1930s, jigsaw puzzles were cut using large hydraulic presses which now cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The cuts gave a very snug fit, however the cost limited jigsaw puzzle manufacture only to large corporations. Recent roller press design achieve the same effect, at a lower cost.
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