The origin of the puzzles
Where do the puzzles come from? The puzzles come from the maps. Or, put another way, the first puzzle was a map. John Spilsbury , a former apprentice of the royal geographer of the English crown, invented the world’s first puzzle around 1766. As a cartographer, he mounted one of his maps of Europe on a wooden board and saw the edges of each one very carefully. of the kingdoms. The idea was to use it for children to learn geography ; When assembling the pieces, students studied the bonds of union between countries. Entertaining as well as easy. Its occurrence became a fad and in just two years, Spilsbury had already put up puzzles for sale with the themes that he thought 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 diversified and also used to teach mathematical tables, genealogies or scenes from the Bible.
The puzzles remained mostly a pedagogical tool until 1820 when they began to be sold as a game for adults as well . They stopped calling themselves “dissections,” which was the original name, and began to be known as “whatami” ( What am I? What am I?). Towards the end of the 19th century , and thanks to the invention of the pedal saw, plywood puzzles began to be manufactured and the illustrations were painted or glued on the front while the areas through which the pieces were to be cut were drawn in pencil .
The puzzles for adults began to be very popular at the dawn of the twentieth 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 fit by pressure; The interlacing system of the pieces we know today did not begin to be used until much later with the advent of cardboard puzzles. At the beginning, the pieces were cut following the contour of the figures and the lines of the colors (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, in addition, could lose his job for many hours if he got confused and hitting the puzzle unintentionally. To make it even more complicated, no reference image was included for adults as if they were made for children. Until the end you didn’t know what image the puzzle you were doing was hiding.
As they were cut piece by piece, their price was very high . They used to cost about $ 5 (the average salary of a worker in 1908 was $ 50 / month) and the only ones who could afford them were the upper class , who used to buy them on Saturday mornings to take them to their weekend homes.
The first years of the 20th century brought important innovations that were very well received. The figurative works and the pieces that fit together appear as we know them today. This type of pieces made it difficult for the puzzle to be accidentally disassembled and, in passing, allowed them to have peculiar shapes. “Tricks” were also introduced, such as irregular edges, false corners and other ways to challenge and confuse puzzle players .
The golden age of the puzzles was lived in the decades of the 20s and 30s. During this period, varied themes are already designed to attract all audiences (from sentimental scenes to technological innovations of the world of rail and sea transport). 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 left them with higher profit margins, but cardboard allowed the working classes to also access this form of entertainment and, therefore, cardboard puzzle manufacturers began to increase their level of difficulty .
In 1931 , a businessman from Long Island, in New York, named Einson-Freeman began using cardboard puzzles for advertising purposes, offering them as a gift for the purchase of a toothbrush. This was joined by the appearance of the “puzzle of the week” ( weeklies ) in 1932 right in the middle of the Great Depression. Each week the Consolidated Paper Company launched a new puzzle that cost between 10 and 23 cents and could be purchased at kiosks. These weeklies became very popular between the middle and lower class since they supposed a cheap form of recreation in a period in which unemployment was pressing. In a depressed society with low purchasing power, the appeal of cardboard puzzles was that for a small fee many hours of entertainment were bought and, even if one completed the hobby, it could be dismantled and lent to family and friends . The puzzle of the week began with a circulation of 12,000 units and in a very short time it became 100,000 units, selling up to ten million a week. The puzzles became such a popular form of fun in a society that could no longer go out to the theater or to dinner that they even rented for a few cents a day, between 3 or 10 depending on the size,
After World War II , the sale of wooden puzzles declined and improvements in dyeing and lithography techniques increased the attractiveness of those made of cardboard, especially when Springbok introduced reproductions of works of art among the themes of Your puzzles In 1965, for example, many Americans fought to complete what was considered the most difficult puzzle until then, a reproduction of the work “Convergence” by Jackson Pollock.
Jackson Pollock Convergence, 1952
Today, puzzles are still providing many hours of fun for a very small price. A challenge to your brain that will also leave you with 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 puzzle player who ignores the meals 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.