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Unwritten Rules of Jigsaw Puzzles (A Guest Blog Post)

This is a guest blog post from puzzle investor Timothy Wright: 

In my review of the double-sided August Macke Farbige puzzleI wrote, “For the modest price, the fun and frustration, you want this small puzzle in your private collection. Most Artifact puzzles are amenable to sharing the experience with a friend; this one may be the exception. With half the pieces always wrong side up I suspect if I shared my puzzle table with an alter ego and someone was constantly turning the pieces over, one of us might get hurt. I’ll share this puzzle with the nicest, most loving couple I know. They never argue, and I’ll report any incidental carnage.”

Well here's my update on that: my best friends did recently start this puzzle together, but didn't realize it was double-sided - each one assumed that the other had laid out and turned over all the puzzle pieces as a courtesy for them.

They had trouble finding everything they needed on just one side, and in the end they reasoned it would be better for each of them to work on their own puzzle rather than ever chafe one another. So one of them just started another puzzle; a kind of a territorial solution, as opposed to a delegation solution. They are still very happy. Drama was entirely averted!

Some say the real test of any relationship is a riding a tandem bicycle together. Much worse than ballroom dancing; on a tandem bicycle all activities must be coordinated by the captain who sits in the front seat, who steers and gears, and has the final word on all activities. It may sound unfair and who would want the rear seat with very limited view, except the saving first rule of tandem bicycles is when anything goes wrong it is always the captain’s fault. The second rule is: “See above rule” and there is no third rule. It works out the captain may have the last word but he also must be a very clear communicator and a darn good listener.

One could do their doctoral thesis on couples working on jigsaw puzzle together. Some couples will not ever share a jigsaw puzzle, it is too personal. My dental hygienist told me that as she started sorting out all the edge pieces her husband corrected her - in his puzzle rule book sorting out the edges first amounted to cheating. My solution to her marital tiff was to recommend “Mechanical Griffin”.

Since all couples are unique, and since all Artifact puzzles are unique,  I’d like to hear your special “Artifact Puzzles Couple Stories.” Do you and your partner share the same set of unwritten rules? Does your partner hog all the choice pieces? Does your best bud finish all but the very last piece, and let you have that satisfaction? I’ll theorize that sharing puzzles need not be a war zone but could be a theater of kindness and deference. It’s just a theory, I could be wrong.

I did a web search for "unwritten rules of jigsaw puzzles," and my query actually came up as suggestion as I typed it. Silly me, if it were on the internet it would not be unwritten would it? Is it the one and only place the www is literal?

So undeterred I searched “Jigsaw Etiquette” only to learn that there is a jigsaw puzzle named “Etiquette”. Silly me, not what I was looking for. Did I just wake up in a room full of lawyers?

I have concluded that if we want a list of “Unwritten Rules of Jigsaw Puzzles” we must write our own - you can post your suggestions for jigsaw puzzle etiquette or couples-puzzling stories in the comments below, or email them to

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  • N. Joy on

    1. Come to an agreement how you will sort the puzzle (by colors, designs, edge pieces).
    2. Choose what section you want to work on (some like to do a section together and others prefer separate sections). I prefer to work on a section independently with input from the other puzzlers.
    3. When sorting, either sort all at once if you have to room, take turns looking for the pieces in your section. or sort with everyone’s sections in mind.
    4. Do not work on someone’s else’s part of the puzzle without their permission, unless you are collaborating on a section. Putting together a puzzle should be a team effort, but if you swoop in and take over what some else is doing, it can ruin the joy of doing the puzzle and finding those difficult pieces.
    5. Be aware of differing abilities. For instance, my 5 yr old can completely a 100 piece puzzle mostly independently, but when working on a larger puzzle we give her a small section with a few easier pieces for her to manage. Puzzling should be a joyful/rewarding experience, but if it is too difficult for someone they may end up frustrated instead.

  • Carol Brouillet on

    I love doing jigsaw puzzles, all by myself, or with other people. I am very happy to share them, but I think that you have to be sensitive to the abilities of whoever is doing the puzzle with you. If you are on an equal footing, then each person can work on whatever they want to work on, but if someone is not very good at puzzles, or is challenged by Alzheimers, or a complete novice at puzzles, then it makes sense to allow them to do the easiest parts, while I work on the harder sections, and even then, they might need a bit of assistance, so that they don’t get frustrated.

    When I was seeking good puzzlers to help me in the fastest puzzle contest, I was surprised to discover that some people were offended by the very idea of doing a jigsaw puzzle “competitively” and felt that puzzling should be a more relaxing Zenlike experience.

    I actually gave up with trying to find friends to participate in the contest, and ended up just doing the competition with family, and we divided the puzzle into colored sections, more or less, which worked, but usually they will let me do most of the puzzles by myself, and maybe add a piece or two, just to show that they, too can outsmart those diabolical puzzle designers, and figure these puzzles out.

    When I do puzzles with someone who really enjoys them as much as I do, we are most likely to each do our own puzzle separately, but enjoy one another’s company at the same time. It also depends on whether you are doing a puzzle for the very first time, or whether you are doing one that you have done more than once. We have friends who did an 8,000 piece puzzle, a family effort which took many months. Under some circumstances, if you want to/have to finish a puzzle quickly, all help is greatly appreciated!

  • Anne Brown on

    I’m with a group of three other friends. We bought a puzzle carrier together and a couple of our first wooden jigsaws together. Now we each tend to buy what we like then when we are ready for a new one we all bring what we’ve got and vote on what to do next. We let one of us do all the edges when they are straight and easy because she has a harder time puzzling than the rest of us. Generally we each start on a different area at the beginning. We mostly have worked harmoniously but did have one issue because one of us never looks at the picture and two of us like to look at the picture on the box as we go along even though we don’t have to. So one of us kept saying that the “only way” to puzzle was to never look at the box. The discussion over that ended amicably with the one of us coming to understand that we could all allow for different ways of doing things.

  • Hronir Jones on

    I like to work on the same part of the puzzle that the other person is working on, I think it’s more fun and cooperative that way, but one person I puzzled with got quite frustrated with me for that!

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