On Why We Do Jigsaw Puzzles

March 19, 2010 · 1 comment

Humans are hard-wired to solve problems. We are drawn to figure stuff out like flies are to a bedside reading light. This explains the appeal of murder mysteries, and the quest for world peace, and why artists will spend months trying to make a painting read just right.

Just ask any parent of a four-year old, living with the sunrise-to-sunset question of “why?” about everything from the need to flush to the absence of hair on Grampa’s head. They will back me up on this.

Maybe that’s why some of us enjoy jigsaw puzzles so much.


It’s a conundrum in an easily stored box. (Easily stored, that is, if there’s room in the closet behind the spare peanuts. Otherwise, they go under the bed.)

There are a finite number of pieces, which means that you are guaranteed to know when you’re done. After all, isn’t that one of the most vexing mysteries about most of life’s problems… knowing when you’re done fixing them?

Most of us puzzlers start with getting the border in place.


And some jigsaw puzzle manufacturers are as mean as an old badger. I mean, look at that pointy piece in the middle… does that look like an edge piece to you? I had been searching for that sucker for a good part of a Sunday afternoon.

It was such fun when Rick finally figured it out.

Fun, fun, fun.


The really good puzzles have little puzzles within the puzzle. This makes that “aha!” moment of enlightenment sooo satisfying. You know before you even plunk the piece snugly in to place that you “got one.”

I got that one.


There are subtle clues…


… and inside jokes.


And no matter how inscrutable some sections are…*


… others are so obvious you have to chuckle in gratitude for the soft ball.


It’s so satisfying when you start to see the end drawing near.

This is, unless you are afflicted with a family member who thinks it’s hil-ar-i-ous HAHA! to surreptitiously snag a single puzzle piece early in the process and hide it in the pocket of a housecoat until the image is complete, except for that one piece.

They take perverse joy in sauntering by while you’re on your hands and knees under the dining room table, muttering dark words unfit for printing here. They’ll casually flip that final piece on to the table, then innocently pick it up and gaze at it thoughtfully while you emerge topside, red-faced and sweaty. Then the rotter will lean over the puzzle and say, “Hey! I guess this one goes… here. Look at that. Huh.” And disappear into the kitchen to eat the last of the turkey you had been saving for lunch.

Yeah, right. Hilarious. And if it was a border piece, this is grounds for a public lashing with a wet noodle at 40 paces.


Fortunately, we don’t have such a louse in our house.

Do you?

*It’s a whale, about half way down, slightly to the right. You’re welcome.

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