I spent my Christmas break literally puzzled.
As part of my usual holiday tradition, I broke out the jigsaw puzzle. A 1,000 piece masterpiece called the Peaceful Cottage – a scene of a tiny horse and carriage going over a stone bridge through a hazy landscape of muted greens and browns and pinks. I started with the sky because, believe it or not, that was the easiest bit.
As I mulled over a piece that looked like a seahorse with two tiny heads, it got me thinking about the popularity of the puzzle. Furthermore, who came up with the idea to cut a photo into tiny pieces and then put it all back together again like Humpty Dumpty out on the wall?
Apparently, it all started with London mapmaker John Spilsbury. In the 1790s, the engraver and cartographer mounted one of his master maps of Europe onto wood and then cut around the countries, using a marquetry saw. He then gave it to children in the local school to help them with their geography education, according to an explanation on the Wentworth Wooden Puzzles website. The puzzle was a popular hit and expanded into other educational images such as farms and religious scenes.
They were called dissected puzzles back then- the name change came in the 1880s with the invention of the jigsaw – but their purpose hasn’t changed much over the centuries.
Although some look at them for pleasure, puzzles still give your brain a tease, whether you’re piecing together cats in the kitchen or a map of the world. I’m sure Mr. Spilsbury would be pleased.
“It’s good for the ol’ noggin, that’s for sure,” a friend said.
Indeed. Puzzles are also a great way to toil away long winter nights. A friend of mine says she uses jigsaw puzzles as a way to avoid screen time. Over the holidays she declared it was a ‘puzzle day’ because it was too icy to ski or hike.
For me, puzzles offer the opportunity to unwind and forget about the world for a while. I can get lost in a puzzle, hunting for that special piece to fill the hole. There’s a great sense of satisfaction that comes from reforming a pile of utter chaos into some semblance of normalcy.
Come to think of it, puzzles are a bit like life: one minute you’re rolling blissfully along and the next you’re dealing with a conundrum, like the cats stealing your puzzle pieces and hiding them under the couch. But once you figure it out, everything – at least for a moment – seems to falls into place.