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The Rise and Fall of the Humble Jigsaw Puzzle (and why they're better for us than you think!)

If you’ve already perfected your banana bread recipe or sickened yourself with the stuff by now and your sourdough starter is as much a part of the family as Hamish the hamster; chances are you’ll have already tried your hand at a jigsaw puzzle or two. Or ten. They’re a little bit addictive aren’t they?!

These strange ‘stay at home’ times we keep finding ourselves in means that we are all looking for ways to use our brains, pass the time differently or just be a bit more creative with it than Marie Kondo-ing our pants draw on a Monday. Just us then….

In the past we’ve been so used to racing through life at a hundred miles an hour and taught to think that our day hasn’t been a success unless we’ve achieved a to-do list as long as both of our arms and legs stuck together that it seems that sitting on your bottom and spending the afternoon completing a jigsaw puzzle with a pot of tea takes a little getting used to!


The very first jigsaw puzzle was said to be invented by John Spilsbury around 1760 and was created using something called a marquetry saw. All the way back then they were called ‘dissections’ and were made by mounting maps on sheets of hardwood and cutting natural boundaries. These were then used to teach children geography. Quite clever really!

It wasn’t until 1880 when the first evidence of these puzzles being called ‘jigsaws’ came to be. By now fretsaws were used to carefully cut out each piece. This is a little odd since a fretsaw and a jigsaw are both very different! Cardboard puzzles started to appear during the late 1800’s but weren’t quite as popular.

Wooden jigsaw puzzles of all kinds soared in popularity during The Great Depression of the 1930’s. They were a great recyclable form of entertainment that could be brought out over and over again and passed onto younger generations too. It was also during this time that they evolved to become much more complex and more appealing to adults. They were often given away as product promotions and used in advertising campaigns where people could make up the puzzle to reveal the product being promoted.

The popularity of the jigsaw puzzle only really first started to fall after World War Two because better wages meant that their prices had to be increased.

Over the past few months the demand for jigsaw puzzles has surged and throughout the wobbly and uncertain times we have all found ourselves in, many of us have reached for them once more.

Imagine if all you achieved today was completing a jigsaw puzzle? The busy-bee, 2019 version of ‘You’ might have something to say about that but you can bet that this year {and most of last} that would count as a perfectly respectable way to spend most of a day. If 2020 was all about banana bread and sourdough then 2021 could be the year of the jigsaw puzzle. And if you needed a little more puzzle persuading then there is scientific proof that jigsaw puzzles are actually good for us too.


Mindfulness and relaxation: Extra points if you pop on your favourite relaxing playlist and light your favourite candle! Puzzles demand a lot of thought focus and patience, almost like meditation. Fitting those squillion pieces altogether means our brains release dopamine which positively affects our mood and motivation too. Jog and then a jigsaw anyone…?

Short term memory: The process of scanning through those pieces looking for the exact shape and colour? Turns out that it can help improve short term memory. Who knew?! Maybe that’ll be the last time we lose our keys….

Reduced risk of Dementia and Alzeimers: Studies in Neuroscience have shown that engaging your brain in activities like jigsaw puzzles can actually help lower the risk of these conditions. Any kind of problem-solving activity encourages new brain cell growth and reduces the cell damage that can occur in patients.

Better dexterity: Spending time rifling through all of those shapes and pieces has been shown to actually improve motor skills in all ages. It’s also a great boost to your short-term memory. Where ARE my keys?!?

Less screen time: We all know that too much is bad for us by now. It negatively affects weight, sleeping patterns and even cognitive development. So the less time spent scrolling and the more time spent jigsaw-puzzling is healthier all round!

We’ve upped our puzzle game over the past few months and you can have a nosey HERE if you haven’t seen them already. We’re proud to support some lovely small indie brands and the jigsaw puzzles we’ve chosen to stock come from a women-owned small business and are made with 90% recycled cardboard and printed with soy based inks too making them much more ethical and sustainable – which is important to us.

Even if it’s taken the jolt of a global pandemic to have us all appreciating the little things a lot more and to find new hobbies and ways to pass the time differently, we’re pretty certain that can only be a good thing. Give us another month or so to dig out the crosswords, word searches and spot the difference….


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