How to do a Jigsaw Puzzle Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

How to do a Jigsaw Puzzle

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Jigg, an animated jigsaw piece who co-presents the childrens programme 'Jigsaw'.

So you've bought, or been given a jigsaw, but don't know what to do with it? Well, this Entry is here to help!


Before you jump right in to putting pieces together, it's wise to do a bit of preparation. Firstly, what type of jigsaw do you have? Is it just a simple rectangular picture, a 3D model, or a murder mystery one? If your jigsaw will form a rectangular picture when finished, check the dimensions of the finished work on the box, and clear a space large enough on a table or the floor1. If your puzzle is more complicated, it will come with instructions, and maybe even a background story, to read first.

The second stage of preparation is sorting out the pieces. It is recommended that you begin with the edge pieces2, so open the bag of pieces and sort through them to find all the edge pieces. You may find some pieces are already joined together, it's up to you whether you leave these as a head start, or break them apart so you can do the whole puzzle yourself. Once you have all the edge pieces in a pile on their own you're ready to go.

Some of the more tricksy puzzles may not have any edge pieces, in which case you can skip the sorting step, and dive right in to the puzzle.

One important stage of preparation is to keep animals, curious children and other family members who you may not want any help from out of the room you're doing the jigsaw in. Last thing you want is to leave the jigsaw to get a drink, only to come back and find your cat has spread half the pieces around the room, your toddler has eaten all the corners, and your Mum has put the rest of the puzzle together in two seconds flat.

Of course, if the jigsaw you're doing is online, none of this is necessary. Just make sure nobody will close the web page while you're away from the computer.

Putting the Puzzle Together

Hopefully you have at least some pieces of edge that obviously go together because of the picture on them. Put these together, looking at the picture on the box3 to work out which edge you are working on. Some pieces may not be easy to put together looking at the picture alone, and then you may need to look more closely at the lugs and holes in the pieces to work out what goes where, or use trial-and-error until you find the pieces that fit together. If your jigsaw is one of those which just shows a heap of baked beans or jelly beans, it will be much more difficult to put together and isn't recommended for beginners. Trial-and-error is very important for these types of jigsaws, as is careful observation of the size and shape of the pieces and their lugs and holes.

Once you have the edge completed you can begin with the pieces in the centre. Try fitting pieces in to the ones already there or looking at the picture on the box for distinctive parts of the picture. If you can see anything that looks interesting on the pieces you can pick those out to try and put together, and if you don't have a picture to refer to it's useful to leave these pieces outside of the frame made by the edge pieces until you know where they fit in. You could sort the pieces by shape (number of lugs and holes) to make it easier to fit a piece in a hole, if you like.

There are various techniques for filling in the centre, especially if there are vast areas of sky, or any other featureless expanses in the picture. One of these is to find all the pieces that mark the edge of the sky4, any pieces with a bit of sky and a bit of something else on. Fit these together and you'll have a frame to fill with sky. Then look for any variations in the colour of the sky; very rarely will it be all one solid colour. These variations in sky pieces can be matched to those in the frame you've made to help you fit all the pieces in. If all else fails, good old trial-and-error can help, but be careful of pieces that seem to fit together but don't quite.

If it's taking you a while to finish your jigsaw, there are a few ways you can put it away for a while to finish later. One of these would be to put it on a table you can move to the corner of the room, or you can invest in a jigsaw mat or roll which not only provide a good surface for jigsawing on, they also mean you can pick the whole thing up (or roll it up) and put it away when you need your floor/table space for something else.

So You've Finished, Now What?

Well done, you've finished your jigsaw! Now, if it's one with a mystery attached you can solve said mystery, looking up the answer in the instruction leaflet when you think you've got it. If it's a 3D jigsaw you can display it proudly in your lounge for everyone to see. If it's simply a picture puzzle, you can dismantle it and put it back in its box ready for next time you want to put it together, or you can use some jigsaw glue5 to preserve your completed puzzle so you can display it on your wall.

If you have spare pieces left over when you've finished, you've probably got one of those puzzles that add in spare red herring pieces for added fun and confusion. If, however, you have pieces missing, the hunt begins. Under the sofa and against skirting boards are good places to look, as is the vacuum bag if you've cleaned since starting the jigsaw, and are desperate enough to wade through the dust to find the missing piece. If the pieces are gone for good, you can either throw the jigsaw in the bin, or keep it, remembering to write on the box that some pieces are missing to avoid disappointment next time you do the jigsaw.

1If doing the jigsaw on carpet, you may find it difficult to get the pieces to stay together. A hard surface such as a table, wooden floor, or special jigsaw board is best.2If your jigsaw is 3D, begin with the bottom and work upwards.3If there is one - if not, there may be clues in the instructions as to the picture you are putting together.4For 'sky', substitute whatever featureless areas you have.5Available in craft shops.

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