Assembling a jigsaw puzzle starting at the center

Has anyone ever heard of this? I came across this completely out of context while reading about something else, and it really intrigued me:

I landed in the middle of a delightful conversation between several jigsaw puzzle geeks, who were discussing the center piece topic. (Sadly, I can’t find the site again. Like Atlantis, it seems to have disappeared forever.)

They mentioned a revered puzzle champion who could find the center piece of a 1000-piece puzzle. I was amazed to learn that she’d do this by feel, running her fingers through all the pieces in the box. Then, she’d assemble the puzzle with astounding rapidity— starting at the center.

The site has nothing to do with puzzles; the writer was using this as a metaphor for problem-solving in general, but when I read it I thought how cool that sounded. There were no other details in the article except what I quoted.

I googled a few puzzle-solving strategy sites and found the expected, start with edges/corners, sort by color, but nothing about starting in the center.

Anybody know anything about this?

Unless there’s something unique about this piece, and I don’t think there usually is, the above is bullshit.

Never heard of this. Here’s a page that looks at jigsaw solving strategies and points out more than once that starting from the center is worst way to solve a puzzle. The anecdote in the article was more specifically a metaphor for spiritual intuition, but there’s nothing presented about it being a spiritually derived ability, and I kind of doubt any human can do that as described for typically complex jigsaw puzzles.

Solving a puzzle from the center is doable, it’s just harder. It’s not something you do if you are trying to solve it in the most efficient manner. You’d pick some feature in the middle of the puzzle that’s recognizable and look for pieces that match it. Really, it’s the kind of thing you’d normally do anyway when solving a puzzle except usually you do that after putting the border together.

If you have a Rainman sort of skill in recognizing shapes this strategy might work if you are assembling puzzles cut with identical dies. It’s still common now, but was almost universal twenty years ago for puzzle manufacturers to use the same die design for all of their puzzles of a particular piece count. The reason you wouldn’t start at the edges is because those pieces only have 3 unique sides instead of 4.

Back in the day, I did puzzles in every manner, including spiraling outward from the center. I even did puzzles face-down, as one solid color.

Interesting you should say this. I should have quoted the first paragraph of the discussion above. Here it is:

I recently finished a challenging jigsaw puzzle, a photo of colorful mushrooms. I was intrigued to discover it had a unique piece at the center. In this case, it’s the only piece in the box with two balloon-shaped protrusions.

She said all the pieces were identical except the center one.

Circular puzzles do indeed have uniquely-shaped center pieces, so I think this strategy would work well for them. You find the oddball piece, then find the ones that fit to it. Farther from the center you go, there will be less curvature to individual pieces and you can gauge which “ring” they belong to.

My grandmother had a large jigsaw of the coronation of George VI in 1937. It was claimed on the box that all pieces were unique. There were two larger, central and circular pieces for the complete faces of the King and Queen. Only puzzle I have known where everybody started in the centre and worked outwards.

I find lines to be the most useful for solving a puzzle. This can, for instance, be a telephone wire running across the picture, or a horizon, or a road. Edges are a good starting point because they’re lines, and are better than other lines both because you can see the line even when the piece is face-down, and because (almost) every puzzle has them (well, OK, technically all puzzles have them, but sometimes the edge is irregular).

After I have all of the obvious lines, then I’ll go for distinctive colors or textures. Well, maybe I’ll do distinctive colors or textures first, if they’re distinctive enough. And one of those might happen to be in the middle. If there’s, say, a big orange blob right in the middle, I suppose it’s conceivable that I’d do the middle first.

As for finding that middle piece by feel, based on the puzzle being cut from a known die shape, it occurs to me that that’s not a controlled experiment: Anyone who recognizes the shape of the middle piece of the die has clearly done a great many puzzles before, and is therefore very practiced at all of the skills involved in doing puzzles, and it may well be that practice in general that leads to the astounding speed of solution, not the specific strategy used.

Not disputing you, but this raises an interesting idea.

One could make an ordinary rectangular jigsaw puzzle with one special wrinkle: the exterior edge of each edge piece looks just like the edges of an interior piece: it has an obvious knob or receptacle set into a gently curving or wavy edge surface.

Which would mean there’s no way to unequivocally identify the edge pieces by shape; it could only be done by matching features of the picture. This would be doubly diabolical if the cover art on the box was trimmed to the traditional rectangle, and so provided no hint about the shape of, or picture on, the last 1/4" or so of the perimeter that contains the exterior knobs and receptacles.

Do you, or anyone, know of any such puzzles actually sold?

I guess you could do this yourself by removing all the edge pieces from the box before you began.

There was a line of puzzles many years ago, I think they were called “Impossibles”? I had one called “Fish and Chips” that was goldfish and computer chips. There were no straight edges, and there were about half a dozen extra pieces that didn’t fit. You had to put it together in small chunks and then figure out how the chunks fit together into larger chunks until the puzzle was finished.

(After I finished it, I took all of the “edge” pieces and put a small dot on the back with a sharpie so I could find them easier next time I did it.)

I’ve seen puzzles where the edges look like just ordinary pieces. In fact, I have a puzzle somewhere that not only has ordinary pieces on the edge, but it also has the picture printed on both sides (and cut from both sides as well, so you can’t use that to distinguish the sides), and the picture on the box isn’t even an exact match for the picture on the puzzle, just representative (a bunch of cows against a white background). I’ve never actually done it, because that’s just diabolical.

I also have a few puzzles where all of the pieces are the same shape (a variant on Escher’s salamanders, except with fatter bodies and shorter limbs to make them turtles instead). The die wasn’t quite perfect, so you can still feel a slight difference when you put the wrong pieces together, but they do still go together. Those weren’t so bad, except that one of them was hot-air balloons, which means a lot of sky.

And come to think of it, you could make a puzzle that was genuinely without edges, by making it toroidal (i.e., the pieces on one edge match up to the pieces on the opposite edge, so you can define any arbitrary point as the “center”).

I’ve been away from puzzles since I was a kid. Clearly there are people who like frustration far more than I.

That first one of cows sounds beastly. I wonder if the design is such that pieces can be used inverted or instead you need to get them all A-side up or all B-side to build the darn thing? Heck, who am I kidding? Of course you need to get them all to the same orientation to succeed. How could it be otherwise? Reminds me of this example of difficulty for difficulties’ sake: Blurred for NSFW profanity, but otherwise unobjectionable.

I did a puzzle once that had a couple of ‘cut outs’ in it. It was a picture of a decaying ruin of an old house, and the ‘windows’ were actual empty spaces. Which made it ridiculously hard to get started, because you had a bunch of ‘extra’ straight-edged pieces to cope with until you figured out the gimmick. I guess they stamped the puzzles out as normal, and had someone pick out and discard out the relatively large spaces that represented the ‘missing glass’ inside the window frames.

I have done a puzzle that is topologically a Klein bottle.(like a donut with a twist.) There is no edge. Once you complete the puzzle you can remove any edge piece and replace it on the far side of the puzzle.

They make several other puzzles with no edge, including one that is like a(n untwisted) donut, and a couple that are projections of a sphere, so there are lots of gaps however you solve it. I own the map of the earth, which is pretty cool to solve. And easier than the galaxy, despite the weirder shape.

Edited to add:
Ooh, the image box works well for this. For some reason the link to the map of the earth doesn’t work, but here’s the “donut”:

Poke around their site for other cool puzzles.
(I have no financial interest in this company, other than owning a couple of their puzzles and hoping they stay in business.)

I shouldn’t be surprised that someone else came up with the idea before I did. But it wouldn’t even have occurred to me to do a Klein bottle.

My partner and I did a 154 piece puzzle at Christmas. It was a stocking stuffer kind of gift. He’s never done puzzles before, and this little one had straight edges in the interior pieces, so a bit of a twist. That was about all our relationship could withstand. He did not enjoy the process, lol.
When I did puzzles with my mom 500 pieces was our sweet spot - enough to be challenging, but not too big for available assembly space. Reading the variations and challenges in this thread makes me realize we are not puzzle masters.

Was there some kind of taboo about cutting the pieces that included the royalty’s faces?