Tips and Tricks for the Jigsaw Puzzler

July 17, 2023 | 

Annette’s Soul Creations was born from my love of travel, capturing experiences with photos, and sharing those experiences with the world. For years I have dreamt of putting those experiences on another love of mine, jigsaw puzzles. While most of my writing will be about anything relating to travel, I need to take a moment and write a bit about jigsaw puzzling. I often come across people asking what the best way to puzzle is. How do you start? How do you deal with just one color? What do you do when you get stuck? While I have not won any speed puzzling contests, yes, they exist, I do have years of puzzling experience and would like to take a moment to share how to get started and what works best for me.

Surface – You need something to puzzle on. Your surface needs to be something flat and large enough for the puzzle size to fit. The dimensions of the puzzle can usually be found on the side or top of the box. My surface is the dining room table when I know guests won’t be coming over soon, or a puzzle board on top of the table, if they are. The puzzle board is movable and allows me to put the puzzle away if unfinished. There are many varieties of puzzle boards available ranging from roll-up mats to velvet boards that tuck behind furniture, spinning boards with drawers, and puzzling tables. In my experience, the roll-up mat is not very effective as the already placed pieces seem to fall apart in the unrolling process, but it is an inexpensive option when just getting started. The puzzle board works well but sometimes the pieces get stuck to the velvet, which is great for keeping the pieces in place, but not so much for sliding pieces when puzzling. I do not have experience with the others I mentioned, as I am limited in available space. My favorite is the nice smooth kitchen table where I can slide the pieces when needed and have space for a nice glass of wine.

Wine – Speaking of wine, one of my favorite things about puzzling is savoring a glass or two of Daou Chardonnay while I play. My husband prefers beer, but whatever your drink of choice, it just seems to make puzzling more fun.

Light – Make sure you have enough light to see your pieces. You’ll need to distinguish between colors, shapes and textures. There can often be a glare on the puzzle from the light above, depending on where that light sits, making it more difficult to see as you place your pieces. Using a table lamp or moving a lamp closer to the table is often a good choice as well as turning on lights in nearby rooms.

Border – Some people dump the pieces on the table, flip them photo side up, pick a piece out of the pile and just go, starting with the interior pieces. If you have that talent, I commend you. Most people, including me, tend to begin with the border or outside, then move to the interior of the puzzle. Unless you are doing a round or oddly shaped puzzle, the border should contain a straight edge. You’ll need to put all the pieces on the table and separate the border from the inside, piece by piece. Don’t worry if you miss some, you’ll find them once you get going. If you feel inclined, you can also sort the inside pieces by color at the same time.

Sorting trays or regular bowls are good containers to use for this. If I am doing a smaller puzzle, either 250 or 500 pieces, I like to turn all the pieces picture side up and place them on the ends of the table so I can see them. I do this to provide space for the border to fit once it is finished and to allow me to see all the pieces for placing.

Separate Color – After the border is put together, if you haven’t already separated the pieces by color, this would be the next step. If you have multi shades of a color, such as a various blue sky or ocean, you can separate the shades of color as well. If you are doing a smaller puzzle and have the pieces laid out on the surface, there is really no need to separate them by color as you can spot the pieces you need.

Put the puzzle together – To put the puzzle together you need to find the appropriate matching loop and socket, combing all the pieces to form the completed picture. Start by choosing a color, shape or subject that interests you from the photo on the box. For example, with my Peacock puzzle, I started with the blue body of the peacock first, as it seemed distinguishable enough to begin with. Important to note, it should be obvious that the pieces fit. Pounding to make the piece fit, despite my husband’s dismay, is not required or generally acceptable.

Lines, texture or distinguishing marks – If the puzzle gets challenging, use lines, texture, circles or patterns of a piece to narrow down the direction it goes. For example, on Peacock, the blue body has a vertical feather texture, making it so the puzzle piece can only go up and down, narrowing possible directions of the positioning from four to two. Similarly, the base of the tail has distinguishing features that can be used, such as darker or lighter coloring of the curved lines, which show the direction for easier placement of the pieces. As for the eyes of the feathers, I used circular colors to guide me in proper placement of the pieces. If these tips don’t work for you, you may need to move to the next suggestion.

Just one color or more challenging – If there is an area with only one color or a more difficult section of the puzzle, it’s time to separate the pieces by type and match them accordingly. I will place each piece type on the table in its own row, starting with one loop, then a piece with two, then three, and so on.

I then look for distinguishing marks, colors or lines. If these are not obvious, I will work each piece one by one, trying to locate its match by focusing on the size of the loop or socket, any other distinguishing mark or by trial and error. This can sometimes feel daunting if you have a lot of pieces, so grab another glass of wine and keep going, as it eventually gets easier as you start placing the pieces together.

Now that you know the basics and have some tips and tricks, it’s time to get that puzzle started. If you are still looking for that perfect puzzle, please visit and see if something strikes your soul. Grab a glass of your preferred beverage and get puzzling. Who knows? Maybe you’ll work your way up to speed puzzling contests! Or, like me, just continue to enjoy the satisfying feeling of slowly putting in that last piece!

Written by Annette Crutchfield

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1 Comment

  1. Brian

    Very cool picture!


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