THE ORIGIN OF PUZZLES

THE ORIGIN OF PUZZLES

Where do the puzzles come from? The puzzles come from the maps . Or, to put it another way, the first puzzle was a map. John Spilsbury , a former royal apprentice to the English crown, invented the world’s first world puzzle around 1766. As a cartographer, he mounted one of his maps of Europe on a wooden board and very carefully sawed the edges of each of the kingdoms. The idea was to use it for children to learn geography  When assembling the pieces, the students studied the ties between countries. Entertaining as well as easy. Its occurrence became a fashion and in just two years, Spilsbury had already put puzzles up for sale with the themes that he believed the parents of theEnglish high society : the world, the four continents (at that time only Africa, America, Asia and Europe were known), England and Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Little by little, the theme was diversifying and they were also used to teach mathematical tables, genealogies or scenes from the Bible.

Puzzles remained primarily a pedagogical tool until  1820 when they began to be sold as an adult game as well . They were no longer called “dissections”, which was the original name, and they became known as “whatami” ( What am I?  What am I?). Towards the end of the 19th century , thanks to the invention of the pedal saw, plywood puzzles began to be manufactured and the illustrations were painted or pasted on the front while the areas where the pieces were to be cut were drawn in pencil.

Popularity of adult Puzzles 

Popularity of adult Puzzles
Couple from directly above playing jigsaw puzzle with drinks

Puzzles for adults became very popular at the dawn of the 20th century and quickly became one of the favorite pastimes of the American upper class. From there, his fame spread to Europe. At that time the pieces were made of wood and had to be cut by hand, one by one, so that they snap together; The interlocking system of pieces that we know today did not begin to be used until much later with the advent of cardboard puzzles. At first, the pieces were cut following the contour of the figures and the color lines (for example, the piece was cut exactly where the roof ended and the sky began), which also made it difficult to assemble the puzzle since no clue was provided to the player who, moreover, could lose work for many hours if he accidentally got lost and hit the puzzle. To make it even more complicated, for adults no reference image was includedas if they were made for children. Until the end you did not know what image was hiding the puzzle you were making.

As they were cut piece by piece, their price was very high . They used to cost about $ 5 (the average salary for a worker in 1908 was $ 50 / month) and the only ones who could afford it were the upper class , who used to buy them on Saturday mornings to take them home for the weekend.

The first years of the 20th century brought important innovations that were very well received. The shows figurative works and pieces that fit together as we know them today. This type of pieces made it difficult for the puzzle to be accidentally disassembled and, incidentally, allowed them to have peculiar shapes. “Tricks” were also introduced, such as jagged edges, false corners, and other ways to challenge and confuse puzzle makers .

The golden age of puzzles was lived in the decades of the 20s and 30s. Various themes are already reflected in this period, designed to appeal to all audiences (from sentimental scenes to technological innovations in the world of rail and shipping). At that time, although wood was still the most demanded material, cardboard had already begun to be used for its manufacture. Manufacturers continued to prefer wood because it gave them higher profit margins, but cardboard allowed the working classes to access this form of entertainment as well, and so cardboard puzzle makers began to increase their level of difficulty .

In 1931 , a businessman from Long Island, New York, named Einson-Freeman began using cardboard puzzles for advertising purposes, offering them as a gift for the purchase of a toothbrush. To this was added the appearance of the “puzzle of the week” ( weeklies ) in 1932 right in the middle of the Great Depression. Every week the Consolidated Paper Company released a new puzzle that cost between 10 and 23 cents and could be purchased at newsstands. These weeklies became very popular among the middle and lower classsince they were a cheap form of leisure in a period in which unemployment was pressing. In a depressed society with low purchasing power, the appeal of cardboard puzzles was that many hours of entertainment were purchased for a small fee, and even if one completed the hobby, it could be taken apart and loaned to family and friends. . The puzzle of the week started with a circulation of 12,000 units and in a very short time it went to 100,000 units, selling up to ten million a week. Puzzles became such a popular form of fun in a society that they could no longer go out to the theater or dinner that they were even rented for pennies a day, between 3 or 10 depending on size.

After World War II , the sale of wooden puzzles declined and improvements in dyeing and lithography techniques increased the appeal of those made of cardboard, especially when Springbok introduced reproductions of works of art among the themes of their puzzles. In 1965, for example, many Americans scrambled to complete what was considered the most difficult puzzle ever, a reproduction of Jackson Pollock’s “Convergence”.

Today, puzzles are still providing many hours of fun for a very small price. A challenge to your brain that will also leave you the satisfaction of a job well done. Of course, if you are going to put a puzzle (or several) in your life, we must warn you of what, at the beginning of the 20th century, was known as the inexorable progression of the puzzle addict: it begins as a skeptic who ridicules them for consider them childish, which is followed by the perplexed puzzleor who ignores food while muttering to himself “just one more piece”, and ends up as the triumphant haggard who ends up placing the last piece late in the morning. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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