Jigsaw Puzzles

I have a cold, I have had it for a few days now, consequently I have been feeling a bit sorry for myself and hibernating to a degree. During my cosy house week I have completed a few jigsaw puzzles, one was a family present off some friends, another an old one out of the cupboard that I’d not attempted before. I’m never really interested in completing a puzzle I have done before for some reason.


I often forget how much I enjoy jigsaw puzzles; creating order out of chaos is very soothing. I go through phases where there is always one on the go, then maybe a year or so in which I forget they exist. My sister and I started the family jigsaw together, this has the potential to be less soothing as our approaches can be quite different depending on the puzzle, fortunately we both appreciate a clear space, no random pieces abandoned in the middle of the puzzle and so we got along merrily.


In my experience there are two main jigsaw solving approaches; depending on the type of puzzle one or the other is more effective. Both naturally start with completing the edges, anyone who doesn’t think this is worthwhile is a bit daft to my way of thinking.

Approach 1, I think of as the classification approach. This I think is the most common approach, and with traditional puzzles likely the most effective. You identify pieces of similar colour, all the red bits, all the green bits, all the sky pieces, then work within the smaller areas leaving the less obvious pieces until the end. For landscapes, portraits, still lifes or anything with clear object of a reasonable scale this is an effective way of solving. However, black and white images, pictures with little colour variation, or conversely lots of colour variation but on a tiny scale this approach falls apart. See the two pictures below, the one on the left you could easily solve by colours it would be impossible to do that for the one on the right.


Approach 2, the every piece approach. This generally is my favourite approach and compliments the type of puzzle I like more than the classification approach. This method insists that every piece you pick up must be placed in the right place. It doesn’t matter what the piece is, what colour it is, what objects are on it whether there is anything placed to connect it to, you simply find it on the image on the box lid and approximate where it will be in the puzzle and then place. This requires you keep a very disciplined puzzle space, you can’t be having stray pieces lying around confusing matters. You may be able to see already that this approach is useful where the classification approach falls down, and conversely may end up being a slower less useful method for some puzzles the classification approach works perfectly well for. A good example of where this approach really worked out well for me was the paperclip puzzle below

There are of course puzzles out there that are designed to be near impossible to solve using any of the standard approaches. Some have no edges, some no colours, or a repeating pattern offset from the puzzle pieces shape. For these other approaches are needed, and in these case I think you need particularly good spacial awareness, perseverance and a large supply of tea.


Out of curiosity I recorded the solving of my last puzzle then created a sped up video of the process (youtube puzzle solving), this was using the classification approach, and you can see the forming of the image in chunks. I don’t currently have a puzzle I would naturally solve using the every piece method but when I do I will record the solving to compare.


I am hoping that the British Jigsaw championship wll be held again this year, and that I will be able to participate (2015 contest link). The jigsaw festival is held in New Market at St. Mary’s and St. Agnes’ church every year in July and the championship is a common feature (2016 festival link).

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