What Am I?
October 1991

“What Am I?” Tambuli, Oct. 1991, 10


“What Am I?”

What can be a circle, a square, a rectangle, a triangle, or just about any other shape possible? What makes a picture of a tree, a horse, a town, or even a clown? What has many pieces, each with its own size, shape, and design? Have you guessed? How about one more clue? What makes a picture when you fit the pieces together? If you guessed a jigsaw puzzle, you’re right.

“What Am I?” was one of the names for the first jigsaw puzzles because all the parts had to fit together correctly before the picture could be identified. Years ago some puzzle makers didn’t print a copy of the finished picture on the puzzle box to help in assembling the puzzle.

The modern jigsaw puzzle was invented in a printer’s shop in London, England, about 1760. These first puzzles were made one at a time from flat pieces of wood with maps drawn on them. The puzzles were used to teach children geography and history, while at the same time providing them with a game to play. As puzzles became more popular, the alphabet, multiplication tables, Bible stories, and accounts of good deeds were printed on the puzzles.

Today, most manufacturers use cardboard instead of wood to make puzzles. Identical puzzles are stacked on top of each other, then cut at the same time. The machine used to cut the various-shaped pieces is called a jigsaw, which is how the name passed from What Am I? to Jigsaw.

Modern jigsaw puzzles use pictures such as nursery rhyme characters, famous works of art, and favorite super heroes. Some manufacturers will even make them from a personal photograph. Puzzles may have fewer than ten pieces or several thousand.

Jigsaw puzzles are so popular in England that people there have started a club. Members trade several thousand different puzzles back and forth among themselves. Many in the club regularly do three or four complicated puzzles in one week.

To make your own jigsaw puzzle, first get a picture. You can use the one on the next page and color it, choose one from a magazine or a poster, or draw and color one of your own. Glue the picture on a piece of cardboard and trim it to the size of the picture. With a pencil, lightly draw squiggly designs across the picture from side to side and from top to bottom. Then cut along the lines. Mix the pieces up and ask a family member or a friend to put your What Am I? together.

Illustrated by Denise Kirby