Jigsaw Puzzles

November 2020. Originally copyrighted and posted in "Type for Life" by the Center for the Applications of Psychological Type, Gainesville, FL. Used with permission.

It seems that jigsaw puzzles are particularly popular now. They are a way to pass the time and can be done by either by ourselves or with others who share our space. We can decide our own schedule in working on them (if we have the room to leave them spread out, that is). We can lose ourselves in them at a time when that is a good thing to do!

Perhaps some of the draw of puzzles simply illustrates the power of the psychological principle of intermittent reinforcement which is the strongest type of reinforcement. We get our rewards inconsistently — not all colors match up nor do all pieces fit together perfectly. But when they do, "ahhh, instant gratification!"

I didn't grow up doing jigsaw puzzles. Perhaps that's why I never did well with those spatial tests. I just couldn't figure out those weird shapes and which ones could fit together.

I do, however, have a group of friends who like to do puzzles when we get together and they have been patient with me. At first, they would gently suggest (they are all Feeling types) things like, "maybe you could find a few pieces with this shade of pink."

Our puzzling led us to exploring what is it about puzzles that makes this a preferred and even cherished activity when we're together. And apparently now many in this world of ours are discovering the same.

If you have yet to see the movie, "Puzzle," and you like jigsaws, you're in for a treat. Among other things, the movie showcases different puzzle styles — those who work with colors and those who work with shapes.

And that has steered me to the question, "Are there type differences in how and why people do puzzles?" It cannot just be that simple "intermittent reinforcement" thing, can it?!

Of course, many people immediately think of Introversion and Extraversion. A puzzle is entertaining when working quietly by oneself in the introverted manner. And groups can converse and do a puzzle in an extraverted mode.

I was shocked when the first puzzle I did with my husband showcased our different styles, especially with the Judging-Perceiving dichotomy. I began by sorting out the edge pieces and beginning the border; as an ESTJ I like some structure to what I do! He, on the other hand in his ENFP style, just jumped right into what looked interesting. He is quite good at those shape things and can easily spot what fits together. Some puzzles don't have edges so his style is particularly helpful there!

I'm not sure which one of us drives more toward finishing the puzzle. I've seen both Judging and Perceiving types mesmerized by the puzzle and the need to finish it.

I wonder for NTs who value competence and like intellectual challenges if completing a puzzle is a good pathway to those encounters. My INTJ friends can seem to tune out the entire world as they concentrate on completing that puzzle.

When I've done puzzles with an ESFJ friend, she is often recalling other puzzles she's done with close family members. It's her way of making an important connection and creating a warm, hospitable atmosphere around the current puzzle. That's a hallmark of SFs!

This world of puzzles both puzzles and fascinates me. And lucky for me I happen to have an expert in the family. My wonderful bonus daughter, Lisa, actually designs the cuts on puzzles as a hobby.

She's an ENFP and she tries to make a puzzle that she would like to do with colors and shapes she enjoys looking at. She found that it's more fun to do a puzzle if the shapes are fun.

She particularly likes designing pieces called "whimsies" that are charming, surprising and delightful. Her first puzzle was of a bizarre Persian fish from the 17th Century Persian Book of Wonders.* And the whimsies she created were very strange but recognizable fish and animals. She also makes a variety of "connectors" to keep things interesting.

Another puzzle she did was based on a Paul Klee painting, "Cat and Bird,"* that included whimsies like two cats, a bird, a fishbowl, a ball of yarn, etc. She likes to make pieces that you might not have noticed or recognized until you put them in the puzzle. She has taught me to look over the puzzle when it's done to see if there are patterns in the cuts. There's that overview (N) that the details (S) lead to.

Lisa has learned that not every image makes for a great puzzle. They are good if there's a lot of detail and action. Your interest is spread across the puzzle, not just one focus point. That also makes it easier to do a puzzle with others! If the puzzle is only interesting for the first few pieces, it's not a good puzzle.

Do you have any observations about type differences among puzzlers? Please share them here. Thanks!

*Check artifactpuzzles.com for these and other wonderful puzzles.