Solving puzzles is a great way to spend time, connect with family or friends and improve your cognitive health.
And while the task at hand is simple, many people find themselves at a frustrating impasse halfway through the process. If this has happened to you, you may be wondering how to overcome the difficulty and persevere. The good news? Experts say there are many ways to get back on track. Read on to learn seven clever tips for solving puzzles, so you can finally master the toughest designs and keep your mind sharp in the process.
1. Get closer to the picture
Before you start and throughout your puzzle process, you should use the image on the box as a reference, advises Steve Vickers, co-founder of puzzle company Bay of Clouds. This can help you recognize patterns and sort your pieces with a clearer context for what goes where. “Your puzzle game plan should be derived from the image itself. Catching the small details early on can make assembling the puzzle easier,” he notes.
2. Create a protected space
DeDe Bailey, designer and founder of The Puzzle Table, says that having a well-lit, designated space for puzzles will reduce frustration and lost pieces. “Nothing is worse than trying to solve a puzzle without enough space to spread out the pieces that are being sorted,” says Bailey. “Having enough space for the puzzle frame as well as extra space for the pieces makes the experience easier when you’re working on a puzzle. The more pieces you can see, the easier it is to find pieces.” Bailey adds that children and pets are the most common culprits behind lost puzzle pieces, so she recommends covering your puzzle whenever you’re not working on it.
3. Use a puzzle board
Using a puzzle board can also help prevent missing pieces and disorganization, explains Elena Essex, founder of Elena Essex Puzzles. “We always prefer to use a specialized puzzle board, with felt laying boards included, rather than smaller trays or dishes you might have around the house, as it means you can see all the puzzle pieces face up and they aren’t knocked over or turned upside down,” she said. “Our first puzzle on a puzzle tray was a game-changer; we’ll never go back!”
4. Sort your pieces by color and design
Next, you’ll want to organize the pieces. “This may seem like a no-brainer, but there are tricks to make sorting your pieces even more efficient, speeding up the whole puzzle-solving process,” says Vickers. The puzzle expert suggests starting by turning all the pieces over so you can see the details before sorting them by color, pattern and design features. “You can arrange them in rows and columns or proceed piece by piece as you take them out of the box,” he says. “If you’re aiming to complete a puzzle quickly, you’ll want to sort your pieces from the start. With a 1000-piece adult puzzle, there will be lots of exciting details that add a layer of challenge, but that’s why you need to be super observant to avoid wasting time,” Vickers adds.
5. Build the frame first
You can then proceed to identify all the edge and corner pieces, which will be flat on one or both sides. “This helps you build the classic “frame”, which usually makes the rest child’s play! If the box provides the dimensions of the puzzle, use this information to help you understand what the edge looks like and speed up the process,” explains Vickers.
6. Tackle one section at a time
Another key strategy for solving puzzles is to focus on one section at a time, starting with the most identifiable images and building out from there. “With your border set and pieces sorted, you can start building from the border to fill in different sections. If the puzzle has well-defined sections, it may be quicker to build each small image in order,” Vickers suggests. “Start with pieces or images that appear, such as those with text or faces. Once you’ve completed these sections, you can place them where they belong in the border, then fill in the background.”
7. Keep the fun alive
Puzzles can either be a relaxing pastime or a source of frustration, depending on your approach. “Regardless of whether you’re aiming for a world record or simply testing your limits, trying to finish a puzzle quickly can sometimes lead to puzzle fatigue,” explains Vickers. “Listen to your favorite tunes, podcasts or audiobooks to keep the momentum going (but don’t forget to choose your playlist before you start getting confused!).” Jodi Jill, a professional puzzle creator and founder of National Puzzle Day, says taking breaks will help your momentum. “If I’m stumped, I use my five-minute rule. I step away for five minutes and do something else, completely unrelated to my puzzle, then come back. This new look gives me a leg up on finding overlooked pieces. Otherwise, it would have been five minutes of frustration,” she declared.
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