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Jigsaw puzzles consist of an assembly of small tiles which are designed to be fitted together in order to create an image or structure. Flat puzzles usually turn into replicas of photographs or paintings when they are completed, and three dimensional jigsaw puzzles can be used to create replicas of famous buildings, boxes, or unusual shapes. The puzzles can be made more challenging with large numbers of unusually shaped pieces, or less difficult with fewer, larger pieces. In addition to serving as educational tools for children, these puzzles are also very popular with adults.
The first jigsaw puzzle appears to have been constructed in 1762, by John Spilbury, a British mapmaker. Spilbury conceived of the idea of cutting maps up into pieces to assist children in learning geography. These early puzzles were cut along the borders of continents and nations, and would have been hard to put together, since no clues were provided by transitional pieces with multiple color elements. These puzzles were also prone to catastrophe, since the pieces did not interlock.
In the late 1800s, manufacturers of jigsaw puzzles were still hand sawing them, but they had started to develop more interesting shapes, and in the early 1900s, puzzle making companies figured out how to make dies. A die is a piece of sharp metal set into a firm backing so that when it is pressed into a puzzle, the metal cuts out a shape. Dies standardized the puzzle making process, making jigsaw puzzles much cheaper. This period also saw the introduction of interlocking pieces.
In the United States, the popularity of the puzzles surged during the 1930s. The Great Depression meant that many more people were bored at home, and puzzles helped to fill the hours. Cardboard began to be the backing material of choice for the puzzles, rather than more expensive and difficult to cut wooden backings. Some companies gave jigsaw puzzles away to frequent customers, and libraries allowed patrons to check out jigsaw puzzles to work on at home.
The majority of modern jigsaw puzzles are made with interlocking puzzle pieces. This pieces have knobs which can snap into corresponding holes, ensuring that a solved portion of the puzzle stays together. Some puzzles also incorporate pieces with smooth edges, or pieces in strange shapes like starbursts which fit together with other unusual shapes to create a complete puzzle. Jigsaw puzzles can be made in any shape, and are sometimes also printed on both sides, to make solving them more challenging.
When purchasing puzzles for very young children, find a specially designed children's puzzle. These are usually designed with extra large pieces so that infants and toddlers cannot choke on the pieces if they try to eat them. Bigger children can work on more conventional puzzles, but you may want to consider a puzzle with fewer pieces, so that the child is not frustrated. Adults, it is presumed, do not eat their puzzles, and enjoy frustrating themselves with jigsaw puzzles which can potentially have thousands of pieces.