5 facts about jigsaw puzzles


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Both brain-teasing and curiously relaxing, a good jigsaw puzzle is still one of the nation's favorite ways to while away a rainy afternoon.

But no matter how many thousand-piece behemoths you've got under your belt, we bet at least a few of these jigsaw facts are news to you. Did you know that the world's largest jigsaw weighs over 40 pounds? Or that they're not made with saws at all? Or that -- if you really want -- you can pay nearly $10,000 for one? Read on.

The largest jigsaw in the world is...pretty darn big.

Meet the world's largest jigsaw puzzle, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Spanning 17 feet and made up of some 32,000 pieces, the Double Retrospect, drawn by artist Keith Haring, is something of a monstrosity. Thanks to its wide swathes of single-color pieces, it's a beast to build, too. Its makers reckon it'll take about 400 hours for the average puzzler to complete.

If you want one for yourself, it'll set you back about $300, although maker Ravensburger will throw in a custom-made luggage cart to sweeten the deal. We suggest you warn your delivery guy, because  it weights over 40 pounds. And make sure you have a hundred square feet of floor space you don't mind donating to your new obsession.

They've only been around for about 250 years.

All too often, the identities of the original inventors of traditional toys and games are lost in the mists of time.

Not so the jigsaw puzzle. As it turns out, they're really not all that old, relatively speaking. John Spilsbury, an English cartographer, made the very first jigsaw puzzle in 1767 when he chopped up a wooden map of Britain and challenged the public to reassemble it. He called it a "dissected puzzle," and it became a popular teaching tool.

They're not made with jigsaws.

When you hear "jigsaw puzzle," you probably think of something made by, well, a saw. Not an unreasonable idea -- and for most of their history, you'd be right. In their early days,  jigsaw puzzles were initially built by painting pictures on large sheets of wood, then using a jigsaw to cut out the pieces.

But time marches on, and these days the vast majority of puzzles aren't made with a saw at all.  Cheaper puzzles are made from cardboard, using a metal die to slice a sheet all in one go, cookie-cutter style. Top-end wooden puzzles use precision laser cutters or high-pressure jets of water to do the hard work.

They struck gold during the Depression.

The golden age of jigsaw puzzles is generally held to be around the 1920s and '30s, thanks to the advent of improved manufacturing technology -- and the Great Depression.

Intricate jigsaws could be mass-produced cheaply for the first time, and there was a wealth of bored, down-on-their-luck children and adults looking for cheap, sustainable ways to pass their time. During the '30s, magazines began giving away puzzles every week. You could even rent them for a few cents in places like restaurants and diners. Now there's a tradition that needs to catch on again.

They can cost thousands.

Thousands? Yep. Some puzzles with celeb connections or museum pieces from the Spilsbury era fetch huge prices. But what's the most expensive, readily available jigsaw puzzle in the world?

Look no further than Vermont-based Stave Puzzles, makers of high-quality, hand-made, custom wooden puzzles. Their top-priced offering is 'Knight at Stavely Castle', a complex, five-layered, 750-piece masterpiece depicting a knight, a castle, a dragon, and a sword buried in a stone. And it can be yours for a mere $8,995 -- although they'll thoughtfully knock off a grand if you order it online.

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