One piece at a time – Fionnuala Ward on jigsaw puzzles

The crucial factors when choosing a jigsaw puzzle

“I hadn’t planned on finishing off the jigsaw on the day I did, but one hour seeped into another.” Photograph: Getty Images

I’ve rediscovered jigsaws after an extended break. A very extended break. A break that stretches right back to my childhood days.

I’m not sure what prompted me to make the initial purchase but I was in a shop, killing time when I spotted the display. A friend is an avid jigsaw-fan, however, and that must have planted a seed. She bought one online during Covid when the global demand for jigsaws exceeded that for canned goods. She wasn’t happy with the picture she was committed to completing but set too nonetheless and got it done in well, jig-time.

Standing in front of that display, I realised from the off that there are two crucial factors when choosing a jigsaw.

One is the size. I plumped for 1,000 pieces, best described as the goldilocks approach – 500 being on the cautious side and 2,000 landing very firmly on its delusional equivalent.


And then there’s the image, the picture that is going to dominate evenings for any number of weeks.

Kittens didn’t make the cut. Nor did a chocolate box picture of a country cottage complete with rambling roses.

And as for that iconic representation of a giant wave with Mount Fuji in the background?

Not a chance. So much blue. So much white. I knew I’d bail within days, possibly hours. Added to which, there was a very good chance it would leave me scarred for life.

But then I saw it. An image devoted to Agatha Christie with props and scenes from her most famous stories. Lots of different objects in lots of different colours. Tricky to be sure but with easily delineated sections which meant I had a chance.

The golden rule of jigsaws is, of course, to start with the edges and take it from there. But it didn’t take long to realise that as often as not those scenes and props revealed themselves only when all of the relevant pieces came together. It could take two or three to expose a rope or seven or eight a side-lamp.

And sometimes pieces were just downright elusive as was the case of the piece with the paws of the black Doberman, beside the sofa, which I pretty much despaired of ever finding.

And then I did.

Of course, I was hooked almost immediately although for me the key element in the whole process was a podcast in the background. Those voices helped to focus the mind and make the endeavour oddly grounding.

Visitors were likewise smitten. My sister was gathering her things to depart when I insisted she contribute at least one or two pieces. Within minutes she had commandeered a section involving a newspaper and was rifling through pieces to find those final words from its headline.

And my 12-year-old nephew as good as rolled up his sleeves. He focused his energies on the strangely patterned rug that went all the way from one side to the other. And succeeded. Although, he discovered two pieces en route that I had inserted while employing the time-honoured I-am-making-this-piece-fit-in-here-because-it-should-fit-in-here approach. “When you run your fingers over what you’ve done, it should be smooth,” he explained, not unreasonably and more than a little concerned.

I hadn’t planned on finishing off the jigsaw on the day I did but one hour seeped into another and I became determined to wrestle those trees, with their ridiculously shaded leaves, into submission. It was just after 3pm when the deed was done and it was then I decided it was time to change out of my pyjamas and rejoin the real world.

Delighted with myself, I took photos of the finished product and sent them near and far and there it sat for four or five days.

Until I broke it up.

The primary school I work in is keen to have a jigsaw at reception. Pupils, staff and visitors alike could work on it while hanging around or just passing through. It’s a lovely idea and a request was put in for my own jigsaw. Maybe it would be suitable?

Possibly not, given that hidden throughout are poison and knives, an axe and a revolver. But there are other options out there.

Mind you, the image of a large grey owl I discovered when returning to make another jigsaw purchase is probably not one of them. So much grey. Nor is the image of the large brown hare on the same shelf. So much brown.

But an appropriate picture will, no doubt, be found even if sadly it turns out to be those kittens.

In the meantime, I’m onto jigsaw number two. It’s a little more convoluted than the first, with lots of tiny figures doing lots of tiny things, but it’s slowly taking shape.

Four podcasts down with countless more to go.