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Saved by Dissections. The Popularity of Jigsaw Puzzles in Times of Calm and of Crisis. Are Librarians Dissectologists and What Might We Learn from the Bigger Picture?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 December 2020


In the 1760s a newly qualified apprentice to the King's Geographer hit upon the idea of cutting up maps for children to assemble as a geographical teaching aid. Dissected maps remain popular to this day in their evolved form as jigsaw puzzles. This article, written by Alison Million during the Covid-19 lockdown when jigsaws have exploded in popularity, looks at their history and at research projects which have established their cognitive benefits or have used them as an inexpensive non-digital tool. By considering papers written on librarians’ thinking styles and on personality it seeks to establish with the help of a short survey whether parallels might exist between the cognitive skillsets of the jigsaw puzzler and those of the librarian.

Lockdown & Challenges for the Legal Information World
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by British and Irish Association of Law Librarians

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1 Unless otherwise indicated the historical facts in “Spilsbury's Invention” should be credited to: Hannas, Linda The English Jigsaw Puzzle 1760–1890. (Wayland (Publishers) Ltd. 1972).

2 Gay, John (1716) Trivia: or, The Art of Walking the Streets of London.

3 Hannas, Linda (1972) op. cit. 12.

4 Ibid. 18.

5 Ibid. 19.

6 The British Library, ‘Jigsaw Puzzle Map’ accessed 17 July 2020.

7 Ibid. Shelfmark: Maps 188.v.12.

8 John Spilsbury died on April 3 1769. His birthdate in 1739 is not known.

9 Tyler, Tom British Jigsaw Puzzles of the 20th Century (Richard Dennis 1997) 10.

10 Ibid. 10.

11 Hannas, Linda The English Jigsaw Puzzle 1760–1890. (Wayland (Publishers) Ltd. 1972).

12 Tyler, Tom British Jigsaw Puzzles of the 20th Century (Richard Dennis 1997).

13 Hannas, Linda op. cit. 28–35.

14 Tugba Sabanoglu, 14 July 2020 (Statista) ‘Unit sales of puzzles manufactured in the United Kingdom (UK) from 2008 to 2019’ https://www/ accessed 20 July 2020.

15 Sam Dean, ‘How jigsaw puzzles became the latest warriors in the battle against digital’ (The Telegraph, 26 March 2017) accessed 1 June 2020.

16 Office for National Statistics ‘Consumer price inflation basket of goods and services: 2017’ Release date 14 March 2017.

17 https://gibsonsgames/ “Even The Queen is a fan of Gibsons jigsaws!” accessed 1 June 2000.

18 Elizabeth Sainsbury, Farrer & Co LLP, ‘Interview with Kate Gibson, Gibsons Games’ (Insight, 27 January 2020) accessed 21 May 2020.

19 Hinds, Rebecca ‘The 1 Item Bill Gates Almost Always Brings Along When Going on Vacation’ (Inc., Feb 22 2018) accessed 20 July 2020.

20 Tyler, Tim op. cit. 41 and confirmed by e-mail to the author 17 July 2020.

21 In: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed. 1991. Micropaedia Volume 6 Jigsaw puzzle.

22 Tracey Bryce, ‘Online stores say Scots sales of jigsaws are surging during coronavirus lockdown’ The Sunday Post (Dundee, April 28 2020) accessed 11 May 2020.

23 accessed July 20 2020.

24 Kristin Schwab, ‘Puzzle sales are peaking during COVID-19 quarantine’ (Marketplace, April 10 2020) accessed 18 May 2020.

25 Richard Godwin, ‘Picking up the pieces: the great jigsaw revival’ The Guardian May 17 2020.

26 Margaret Drabble, ‘One piece at a time: how jigsaws can get you through any crisis’ The Daily Telegraph April 25 2020 4–5.

27 Drabble, Margaret The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws (Atlantic Books 2009) 117.

28 See reference to Jacques M. Chevalier Half-Brain Fables and Figs in Paradise in Bosman, Renée A Librarians and Left-Handedness: A Speculative Exploration A Master's Paper for the MS in LS Degree. April, 2004 14 & 16. 37 pages.

29 Fissler, Patrick in an e-mail to the author on 16 June 2020.

30 Fissler, Patrick ‘What puzzles do to your brain’ (Brut UK) accessed 16 June 2020.

31 Fissler, Patrick et al., ‘Jigsaw Puzzling Taps Multiple Cognitive Abilities and Is a Potential Protective Factor for Cognitive Aging’ 1 October 2018 accessed 15 June 2020.

32 Brown, Rhonda Douglas Neuroscience of Mathematical Cognitive Development: From Infancy Through Emerging Adulthood (Springer, 2018) Chapter 8 Buening, Jonathan and Brown, Rhonda Brown on Visuospatial Cognition 79–96

33 Fissler, Patrick et al., ‘Jigsaw Puzzles As Cognitive Enrichment (PACE) - the effect of solving jigsaw puzzles on global visuospatial cognition in adults 50 years of age and older: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial’ 6 September 2017 accessed 15 June 2020.

34 Johnson, Hilary and Hyde, Joanne ‘Towards Modeling Individual and Collaborative Construction of Jigsaws Using Task Knowledge Structures (TKS)’ ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, Vol 10, No 4, December 2003, Pages 339–387, 339.

35 I have been unable to locate any update on Johnson & Hyde's 2003 research regarding the development of computer software as mentioned.

36 Johnson, Hilary and Hyde, Joanne op. cit. 324–3.

37 Ibid. 346.

38 Ibid. 350.

39 Ibid. 371.

40 Ibid. 351.

41 Griffith, Peter and Smith, Pete, ‘LawSync: collaboration in actionLIM 13(4) 236239 p238CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

42 Rebecca Jones, ‘Core Competencies Wherever We Go’ The Law Librarian Vol 29 No 1 March 1998 28–29.

43 Carlett Spike, ‘The Story behind the puzzles in UD's Morris Library’ (UD Daily, 29 May 2019) accessed 20 July 2020.

44 I am grateful to Kate Faulkner, Legal Research Librarian at Squire Law Library and her colleagues for imparting this information, 30 June 2020.

45 Sanesco Health (Sanesco Blog 25 January 2017) ‘The Benefits of Jigsaw Puzzles’ accessed 20 July 2020.

46 Jonathan Kay, ‘Jonathan Kay: Everything I know in life I learned from doing jigsaw puzzles’ (National Post, June 26 2013) accessed 05 June 2020.

47 Bosman, Renée A, Librarians and Left-Handedness: A Speculative Exploration A Master's Paper for the MS is LS Degree. April, 2004

48 Ibid. 21.

49 Golian, Linda Marie Thinking Style Preferences Among Academic Librarians: Practical Tips for Effective Work Relationships ACRL Ninth National Conference April 8–11 1999 1–8 accessed 20 July 2020.

50 Ibid. 2.

51 Ibid. 4.

52 Ibid. 3.

53 Bosman, Renée A op. cit. 30.

54 Ibid. 19.

55 Ibid. 21.

56 British & Irish Association of Law Librarians Professional Skills Framework, 2016

57 Bosman, Renée A op. cit. 28.

58 Heye, Dennie Characteristics of the successful 21st century Information Professional (Chandos Publishing 2006).

59 Bano, Shoha; Mehraj, Midhat; and Rehman, Ikhlaq ur Librarians and their distinctive personality traits in the 21st century digital era (2019). Library Philosophy and Practice (e-journal). 2604 1–13.

60 Ibid. 8.

61 Ibid. 10.

62 Scott & Spencer Psychology: A Contemporary Introduction (Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1998).

63 Izyan Hayati Binti Ishak, Jaslyn Yeap Wen Xin, Allveanna Loimin, Lein Teck Wei, Hans Jeffry Bin Shapan Chakbarty ‘The Effect of Jigsaw Puzzles Compared to Colouring on Brain Cognitive Function Among Medical Student’ Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities Vol 7 No 2 2020 78–90, 88.

64 Ibid 89.

65 The British Jigsaw Puzzle Library accessed 20 July 2020