Meaning ‘bewilder’ or ‘confound’, the word ‘puzzle ‘dates back to the 16th century. Though the art of puzzle making may be even more ancient, it was during this time that the first jigsaw puzzle was made.
In 1767, when both the U.S. and Canada were nothing more than colonies, a European mapmaker named John Spilsbury was working to help children learn geography through play. His creation, known as “Dissected Maps”, was the first of its kind.
1800s, solving jigsaws moved from being just a children’s activity to a pastime for wealthy adults. By the 20th century, mass production allowed puzzles to make their way across the Atlantic. Now, they are household staples.
Benefits of puzzles to players
But are puzzles for play only? Or could it be that they offer cognitive and physical benefits that would make John Spilsbury proud?
It’s true, there are benefits. The biggie: puzzles strengthen the brain. Figur8, a whole child based educational organization, holds the advantages to be sevenfold. In general, puzzle have been proven to:
- enhance visual perception and coordination
- increase memory and critical thinking
- foster creativity and interesting ideas
- strengthen dopamine (“the happy hormone”) production
As author Shelley Webb explains in her article on jigsaw benefits to the brain, puzzles are able to engage the brain and strengthen its ability to retain information based on shapes and colors.
The person completing the puzzle is required to choose pieces that will fit together properly, with the hunt for each piece requiring your brain to memorize what each shape looks like.
This not only reinforces short-term memory but also builds focused eyesight and hand-eye coordination as each piece is placed. The right brain (creative side) is strengthened as the left brain (analytical) works to solve the problem. During this “best of both worlds” activity, pleasure hormones such as dopamine are released as each correct piece is connected.
Emerging puzzle toy trends
In 2016-2017, there was a move towards integrating older toys with newer technology. Though this didn’t necessarily since the classic jigsaws still reign supreme. Still, 2018 may see a change in the types of puzzles that are being purchased by parents.
In 2017, fidget toys were all the rage and it seems as if many toymakers will extend this trend into 2018 with the combining of hands on objects and problem-solving puzzles (think Rubik’s Cube). The great thing? They include all of the traditional benefits while strengthening spatial reasoning as well as logic.
One of the drawbacks of traditional jigsaws is that they have to be completed on a flat space that is wide enough to hold the puzzle until it is completed. For puzzles with lots of pieces, the space challenge is a real one. Many millennial parents are on the go and wouldn’t purchase puzzles for their children because of the inconvenience. This is where travel friendly puzzles are becoming a trend.
Coogam’s Magnetic Travel Tangram Puzzles Book is on Amazon’s toy list for this very reason. The objective of the puzzle is to form a specific shape (given only an outline or silhouette) using all seven pieces, which may not overlap. Because it includes a book and a limited number of magnetic pieces, the toy is easy to keep up with and can be played with anywhere. With 240 different patterns, this travel puzzle includes many different puzzles in one.
Traditional Jigsaw’s with a Twist
Another cutting-edge puzzle trend embraces the traditional concept of a jigsaw and shakes things up a bit with odd shaped pieces.
The Baffler, sold on Amazon, is one such puzzle. As its maker explains, instead of using a recognizable image with, the Baffler’s designs are abstract. Unlike traditional jigsaw’s, each piece is a single color and oddly shaped, requiring the puzzle solver to think “outside of the box” for a solution. But there isn’t just one! Unlike a traditional puzzle, this jigsaw is designed to be solved again and again.
One final trend making waves in puzzle-making is the creation of hybrid puzzles. These toys take traditional puzzle play and combine it with digital pieces or gadgets. This is a fad that is much more likely to last as the technology age continues and children crave technology based gameplay.
One company creating innovative toys related to this particular trend is the creators of Osmo. The Osmo game system is used with an iPad or iPhone and combines digital fun with hands on play. There are lots of different kits including the Hot Wheels one pictures above, the Masterpiece kit that teaches drawing and the Newton which fosters creative problem-solving skills. The real pieces add a puzzle-like feel to game play that helps tune fine motor skills along with cognitive reasoning.
My startup, Play-A-Maze, develops another innovative toy that takes traditional puzzle gameplay to the next level.
Kids will simply place a smartphone into the toy enclosure that consists of moving maze sections made from gears. Inserted smartphone runs an app that generates exciting, interactive puzzle challenges that require players to operate gears to collect points. The toy is a unique blend of traditional puzzle maze and mobile gaming that teaches basic mechanics while developing thinking, problem solving, and cognition skills. But this is not everything! This toy also lets children create their own puzzles to challenge themselves or friends. The possibilities are endless!
Craving to learn more about puzzles and toys? Check out my other articles on LinkedIn.