Jigsaw puzzles are a fun and relatively inexpensive hobby that are also good for your brain! Jigsaw puzzles build great spatial reasoning and logic skills. They make a wonderful family activity, especially on long winter nights.

In order to put puzzles together faster and with less frustration, there are a number of tricks you can use. Here are some tips:

Getting Started
The first thing you should do when you open up the puzzle and spread it out on the table or other flat surface is to turn every single piece over so the picture side is facing upward.

This sounds tedious, and it is, but believe me, it will make putting the puzzle together much easier!

While you’re turning pieces over, start sorting them.

ALL edge pieces should be set aside into a separate pile and it is a good idea to begin sorting interior pieces into smaller piles based on what section of the puzzle they appear to be from. For example, if you’re doing a puzzle with some mountains that have a house in the foreground, a sample group of piles might look something like this:

  • every single edge piece you can find (don’t worry if you miss a few – they’ll turn up later)
  • pieces with house on them
  • pieces with other bits of foreground on them (grass? trees? garden?)
  • pieces with mountain on them
  • pieces with sky on them (sometimes separated further into blue and cloudy)
  • My family usually starts a puzzle with about 4-6 rough groupings of pieces.

Putting Together the Puzzle
Once you’ve got the pieces separated out into a few piles, you can start assembling the puzzle.

It’s best to start with the border, because that defines the space you’ll be working in. Again, don’t fret if you’re missing a couple pieces. They’ll turn up soon enough.

Next, start working through your other piles. (If you’re doing the puzzle with family or friends, it’s a good idea to assign one pile per 1-2 people.) We usually start with the easy stuff to avoid getting frustrated early on and giving up. In the example mountain scene above, the easy stuff is likely to be the house and foreground.

For most people, color is the easiest way to find matching pieces, but also pay careful attention to lines and other patterns on the puzzle piece. Sometimes the color is right, but its on the wrong side of the piece to work, or there’s the edge of a wall or window or bush or something that shouldn’t be in the piece you’re looking for.

Another important thing to pay attention to is the shape of the piece. Jigsaw puzzle pieces come in six basic shapes, ranging from zero “knobs” and four “holes” to four knobs and zero holes, and all permutations in between. The more experienced you are, the more easily you’ll be able to tell at a glance if an individual piece has the slightest chance of fitting where you want it to go.

In fact, as the puzzle progresses into the harder sections, many experienced puzzle users start dividing pieces into small piles with similar colors, patterns, AND shapes. So, all blue sky pieces with 2 holes and 2 knobs go together in one pile, all blue sky pieces with 3 knobs and 1 hole go together in another, etc. That way, if you have a hard to find puzzle piece and you know it has at least 2 knobs, you can easily ignore every piece from the 4 hole and 3 hole piles without wasting your time sorting through them or testing them.

One Last Tip
Like I said, jigsaw puzzles make great family activities.

In the interest of family harmony, however, it’s very important to be sure that you spread the jigsaw puzzle out on a table or other flat surface big enough that nobody is bumping heads trying to put it together, and nobody is blocking anybody else’s light! If you don’t have a table big enough, consider investing in a puzzle mat.

Also try to make sure that nobody hogs the box with the picture of the completed puzzle.