How to Not Suck at Jigsaw Puzzles, According to an Expert

The creator of one of the internet’s largest puzzle forums has a few tips for completing a puzzle without losing your mind.


It only took a pandemic to bring the humble jigsaw puzzle back into the cultural zeitgeist. The puzzle fills a unique void in the COVID-19 home landscape, as it’s an activity that can be done by a single person or an entire family, and it’s neither passive nor does it require much space (and unlike a board game, it doesn’t inherently drive a household apart).

The boom in interest around puzzles has caused puzzle retailers like Barnes & Noble, Ravensburger and even Amazon to sell out completely. It’s also caused a surge of popularity in previously niche communities, like the subreddit /r/Jigsawpuzzles, which has seen an enormous spike in engagement and subscribers, according to Subreddit Stats. The subreddit has become the place to flex your puzzle-assembly skills and to interact with 22,000-plus other puzzlers around the world.

The subreddit’s founder, and sole moderator, /u/jigsawwpuzzler, who wished to remain anonymous, has been a puzzler their whole life, using puzzles as a means for mild stimulation and time-killing. “As I got older I found that completing jigsaw puzzles exercises a lot of skills that are useful in everyday life,” /u/jigsawwpuzzler says. “At the top of the skills list is patience, closely followed by pattern recognition, organization and spatial visualization. For me, half the fun of building a puzzle is finding the best way to put it together.”

For those who haven’t put together a puzzle in a while and find themselves surrounded by boxes of new puzzles, we talked to /u/jigsawwpuzzler about putting the pieces together like a veteran puzzler.

How to Build a Puzzle Like a Pro

1. Organize, attack, organize, attack

/u/jigsawwpuzzler’s plan of attack for organization depends on the puzzle. For photo puzzles, they will orient the pieces so that all photographs are facing the same direction. For non-photo puzzles, separate edge pieces from everything else. Once those pieces are sorted, /u/jigsawwpuzzler will sort easily identifiable pieces — a color, shape or object that stands out — which will then become they’re starting section.

One puzzler posted a picture of their completed puzzle that had no edge and four extra pieces (which we don’t recommend for beginners). While the puzzle is a photo, it is nearly impossible to orient all the pieces in the same position. What you’d want to do in this situation is sort your pieces into three piles: tees, golf balls and turf. The time that goes into organization saves you a significant amount of time putting the pieces together.

2. Don’t obsess over one piece

Sure, your starting section seemed to be the easiest place to start, but don’t get too attached to that one area of the puzzle. “I try to build as much of a certain section as I can do in a relatively quick manner, and then move on to what I think is the next most identifiable section,” /u/jigsawwpuzzler says. “As I move from section to section, pieces from other sections will naturally start to show up.” Things change and easy can quickly become difficult. Getting caught up with a particular section of a puzzle can be detrimental to completing it. In other words, if you get stuck, move on and come back later.

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3. Consider the lighting (and avoid glass tables)

One inconspicuous way to complete a puzzle is through variations in the puzzle’s ink. Good lighting will illuminate the ink’s texture on each piece, which will make it easy to discern the piece’s correct orientation. This might not apply to all puzzles, but take a glance at a puzzle piece and you might notice how the ink seems to flow in one direction. Regardless, good lighting will be your friend when you’re squinting at the hundreds or thousands of pieces that sit between you and pure puzzle bliss. If you’re extra-weird, make sure you’re assembling on a surface that contrasts with the puzzle. You’ll see many puzzler on the subreddit and Instagram building on white tables (or with white butcher paper on the table) for this reason.

Relax, it’s just a puzzle

One of the top posts submissions in /r/Jigsawpuzzles is a time-lapse video of a 5000-piece puzzle comprised of 5000 colors. The video is 35 seconds; the actual completion time was 35 hours and 29 minutes.

“Some puzzles you will fly through, but as you up the piece count and picture complexity, some may take months or even years to complete,” /u/jigsawwpuzzler says. If you get frustrated with the time it takes to finish a puzzle, just know that each correct piece pairing comes with its own little victory. And each of those small wins will be that much sweeter when you fill in the final piece — no matter how long it takes.

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