Jigsaw Puzzle


This jigsaw puzzle is a gift from my roommate during the Covid-19 lockdown, its meaning is more than itself. It is not only a puzzle game but also a tool to help me adjust my mind and escape from the negative reality. If we look at the history of jigsaw puzzles, they play an important role in society and culture and continue to evolve and affect our lives. 

Before the Covid-19, the jigsaw puzzle only remains in my memory. When I was a primary school student, the Internet is not as popular as it is now, people had fewer online activities. At that time, the jigsaw puzzle was one of the games I played more often for entertainment and killing time. Since then, I haven’t played jigsaw puzzles for many years. Until last year, I began to play the jigsaw puzzle again in coincidence. In 2020, the Covid-19 appeared and became a global pandemic. People have to stay at home to work and study as well as other activities. At the end of 2020, just before the Christmas holiday, the Netherlands began to lockdown. At this period, staying at home alone and having class was all my life. Thanks to my roommate, she gave me a box of puzzles, which made my life different.

The jigsaw puzzle that my roommate gives me is absolutely complex, as it has 1000 small pieces. The puzzle box can only occupy a corner of the table, however, it is a little bit hard to hold by one hand. If finished, the size of the complete puzzle would be 37.5cm * 97cm. The theme of the jigsaw puzzle is an oil painting landscape with bright red flowers and a vast plain. Its main colors are red, brown and orange.

The box of the jigsaw puzzle

Personal Experience: Escape from the Negative Reality and Adjust My Mind

When I stay at home alone and play the jigsaw puzzle, the whole room is silent except for the crispy sound of tuning the puzzle. Playing a puzzle is like solving a visual problem, all my mind is focused on the puzzle. I divide the puzzle into several parts according to colors, then try to connect them with each other. The pieces of the puzzle are so small and light, each of them is so indispensable to the whole picture that can not be ignored. By finding the two right pieces and connecting together, my brain is exercised, even though sometimes I have faced challenges that I can not find the right pieces, this kind of sorting and organizing gives me a sense of control (Marie, 2020).
Concentrating on solving the puzzle and reorganize my mind makes me forget the stressed things I face: the current pandemic, the restricted travel, the online class, etc., only the jigsaw puzzle occupies my head. The jigsaw puzzle provides me an opportunity to escape from the reality and let me stay in my own “world”. In this case, “escape” is not a negative word, it means distracting from the unpleasant reality and finding a more comfortable mood. Even though the city is locked down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, our normal activities have to go on, so I do not spend too much time on the puzzle, rather, I play it only when I feel depressed or anxious that is caused by the current situation, such as the heavy study, bad news of pandemic, or even homesick. Though time passes by during playing the puzzle, I do not think that I waste time, on the contrary, it gives me a chance to escape from the current negative situation and adjust my mind. I feel focused and calm, some negative emotions disappeared from my brain, which also helps me to develop patience and think better.

“What Do Puzzles do to Your Brain?”. A short video by
Brut America. (2020)
History and Multiple Meanings of the Jigsaw Puzzle
The education jigsaw puzzle “Dissected Maps” (1766). BBC

Even though the jigsaw puzzle stays in my memory for just ten years, it has more than 260 years of history and has a huge impact on people and society. The jigsaw puzzle was first produced in London in 1760 (McAdam, 2014). By putting the map on the hardwood and cutting the map into pieces along the geographical boundaries, the “dissected map” forms (McAdam, 2014). The earliest jigsaw puzzle “dissected map” is not a game, rather, it is an education tool for geography teaching. Then, the jigsaw puzzle not only plays a role as an education tool anymore, it gradually becomes a game, just like we play today and becomes popular around the world.

In the history of the jigsaw puzzle, in addition to the role of the game to play for fun, it also plays other roles with social and cultural significance. In the last century, the jigsaw puzzle becomes a way to spread information. Jigsaw puzzles are printed with new inventions such as cars, ships, and airplanes, as well as other trendy items of that period (McAdam, 2000). In 1932, retail stores gave free puzzles printed with advertisements if the customer bought a toothbrush (Williams, 2014), at that time, the jigsaw puzzle played a role in disseminating the advertisement. Later, during the Great Depression in America, as a relatively cheap, time-consuming, and recyclable game for entertainment, jigsaw puzzles were very popular. The decreased incomes made people get away from outside entertainment like restaurants and night clubs and turn to the home amusements like the puzzle (Williams, 2014). At that time, the jigsaw puzzle offered an escape from the troubled times, so does now. Indeed, the jigsaw puzzle is favored by people during Covid-19, it is reported that the sales of puzzles have tripled during the Covid-19 pandemic, the surge in demand is comparable to it during the Great Depression (Miller, 2020).

Aura of the Digital Jigsaw Puzzle

In addition to building the history and social significance, the jigsaw puzzle itself has been constantly evolving. With the development of technology and production techniques, the material of the jigsaw puzzle has changed from wood to paper and the themes are becoming more and more varied. They have a sense of beauty and some of the intricate puzzles can even be seen as works of art. Today, when the Internet plays an important role, the jigsaw puzzle is also becoming digital.

An online puzzle. Jigsaw planet.

In the online jigsaw puzzle website, many jigsaw puzzles show on the page and are divided into different categories according to themes and pieces. The players are able to select and play anyone they like. There is no doubt, digital puzzles are different from physical ones, they are more like the digital replications of the original jigsaws. As a duplication existing on the screen, it seems that the digital jigsaw puzzle loses the uniqueness and the context, in other words, its aura decays or even eliminates in the duplicate (Benjamin,1936). However, after playing the online jigsaw puzzle, I find that it has created a new sense. The online jigsaw puzzle has made many efforts to close the distance between the player and the jigsaw as well as evoke players’ sensory response, which can contribute to its aura in another way.

On the one hand, the online jigsaw restores the physical jigsaw as much as possible from visual and auditory. On the game page, the screen is like an analog desktop with many puzzle pieces separate on it, the players need to use the mouse to drag pieces and put them together. When two pieces are connected correctly, there will be a small crispy noise indicates that they are putting together just like playing a “real” jigsaw puzzle, it is not far away on the screen. On the other hand, many people have the memory of playing the jigsaw puzzle, playing the online puzzle could evoke those memories and the feeling at that time. The sensation that is close to the past is one key aspect of the aura (Jeffrey,2015). This sensation is not essentially about the physical object itself, but the experience and the things in the past and our connection to them. As for me, the online puzzle reminds me of my childhood as well as the unique experience during the Covid-19 lockdown. Even though the online puzzle can not be touched directly, the memories and the feeling of playing the jigsaw in the past are evoked easily, such as playing the jigsaw to spend time when I was a child, adjusting my mind while playing the jigsaw during the lockdown. In addition, playing the jigsaw puzzle online also provides a way for people to escape from the negative reality as the physical jigsaw does.

In this case, the new sense, in other words, the new aura is generated on the digital object that does not exist before the Internet’s generation. Overall, the digital jigsaw puzzle gives people totally a new way to experience the common puzzle game. They have become discoverable visualizations, permanently available, and Infinitely reproducible (Jeffrey, 2015), and are able to provide a new context and feeling that is similar to the original one. Furthermore, the digital object enables us to “interact” with our life. As a new way to show the physical object, digital visualization and the reproduction of the past scene can add or change the original aura, we can imagine that one day the online puzzle can contribute more digital aura to itself.

From a game from childhood to a tool to adjust my mind and escape from the negative reality, the meaning of the jigsaw puzzle is more than itself. Together with its social and cultural meaning as well as the long history, it is hard to imagine a common object can contribute so many meanings. In the future, the form and the role of the jigsaw puzzle will continue to change overtimes.

The Author

My name is Mengxin Wang, I come from China. Currently, I’m doing my MA at Maastricht University.


Benjamin, W. (1936). The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. Visual Culture: Experiences in Visual Culture, 114-137.

McAdam, D. (October 19, 2000). History of Jigsaw Puzzles. American Jigsaw Puzzle Society. https://web.archive.org/web/20001019002453/http://www.jigsaw-puzzle.org/jigsaw-puzzle-history.html

Miller, Hannah (April 5, 2020). Demand for jigsaw puzzles is surging as coronavirus keeps millions of Americans indoors. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/03/coronavirus-sends-demand-for-jigsaw-puzzles-surging.html

Jeffrey, S. (2015). Challenging heritage visualisation: beauty, aura and democratisation. Open Archaeology 1(1).

Johnstone, M. (February 11, 2020). Doing jigsaw puzzles for stress relief. Puzzle Hour. https://www.puzzlehour.com/2020/02/jigsaw-puzzles-stress-relief.html

Williams, A, D. (August 2, 2014.) Jigsaw Puzzles – A Brief History. MGC’s Custom Made Wooden jigsaw Puzzles and Fine Art. https://www.mgcpuzzles.com/mgcpuzzles/puzzle_history/