Jigsaw PuzzlesDespite the rise of electronic puzzles and Japanese innovations such as Sudoku, the humble jigsaw puzzle remains one of the most consistently popular puzzles. There's something uniquely satisfying about the physicality of handling the pieces and seeing the picture emerge. Another advantage is that different types of puzzle can be produced for all age groups and abilites, from simple large piece puzzles for kids up to fiendishly difficult varieties you can buy for your worst enemy!
Early JigsawsThe jigsaw puzzle began life in the 18th century as an educational toy for children. The first jigsaws were created in the 1760s by John Spilsbury in London. He took maps of the world, mounted them on hardboard and cut around the shapes of the countries. The idea was that children would learn geography whilst reassembling the puzzle - an idea still used today with many geographic jigsaws in the stores. The earliest known surviving Spilsbury puzzle, indeed the earliest known commercial jigsaw of any kind, is a map of Europe from 1766, currently in the British Museum.
Jigsaw puzzles for adults started to be produced in the early 19th century. These were usually hand cut from wood and were extremely expensive, however they became very popular with the wealthy in society who could afford to buy such luxuries. Unlike jigsaws today, most had simple shaped pieces that didn't interlock, making solving the puzzle much more precarious - one heavy sneeze could send the pieces flying! Interestingly, the puzzles also came without guide pictures. This is a trend that has been revived recently in some extremely difficult puzzles as well as in a modified fashion for specialist variants such as the Falcon Games' Wasgij.
Early puzzles were known as dissections. The name "jigsaw", along with puzzles of the sort we know today, began to appear towards the end of the 19th century and it was Parker Brothers who first introduced the idea of interlocking pieces. The popularity of the jigsaw puzzle continued to rise, reaching a peak during the Depression years when it formed a simple and inexpensive form of entertainment.
Modern JigsawsToday of course you can buy jigsaw puzzles in a huge variety of forms and a huge variety of themes. Although modern themes such as Star Wars, Disney characters and sports personalities have their moments of glory, perennial favourites such as landscapes, trains and - of course - the original map concept continue to enjoy healthy sales. Advances in technology also mean that it is now feasible to have your own custom jigsaw puzzle made from a favourite photograph.
As for form... there really is no limit. 3d jigsaws, globes, online flash jigsaws, deluxe giant jigsaws - there seems to be no end to the ways people can cut up a picture for others to put the pieces back together!