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Why Puzzles Are Awesome

I’m home for Thanksgiving for a few days, and I’ve rekindled a love for a hobby long forgotten: puzzles.

Puzzles are totally awesome, plain and simple. Aside from being a fun activity to do with friends, puzzles possess other benefits which I shall relay to you now.

Why puzzles are totally awesome:

You’re investing in an experience

First off, when you choose to purchase a puzzle, you’re not paying for a product. You’re paying for the experience of assembling the puzzle. Once you open that box and spew those jagged cardboard squares onto a table in your house, the experience has begun. And while the rest of your life is run by your calendar, puzzle time does not need to be scheduled. It’s a low pressure, but mentally engaging experience.

When you’re sitting at the puzzle table immersed in puzzle land, you’re simultaneously writing a little story. Once the puzzle is done, you’ll look at it and remember that quiet satisfaction of placing the final piece. Or that pesky edge hunk that was stuck in the couch for three days. And how could you forget the time when Grandma slammed down three pieces right in a row like some sort of magical-elderly-puzzle-robot-master. BAM BAM BAM. Nanny owned those wispy clouds. In her post-puzzle interview she noted that the touch of mountain on the edge of the pieces were the key to her speed.

It really does not even matter what the puzzle depicts. A completed puzzle is a reminder that you are the type of person that do what is necessary to solve the problems you face.

Why puzzles are totally awesome:

They remind you to have faith in humanity

The Achilles heel of any puzzle is lack of sufficient resource substitutes. Unlike quilt making, you can’t mix and match puzzle pieces from multiple sets. If you’re missing a piece, you’re puzzle is forever incomplete. An eternally hollow flatlander with a hole in it’s heart.

So inevitably, there will come a time during the solving of a puzzle when frustration turns into outright blame.

‘Well, this damn piece must be missing!’

We don’t want to admit that we’re not skilled enough to find a particular piece, so we slam the competence of the puzzle manufacturer’s Q / A department in a flurry of frustration.

But as I told my family (my fellow puzzle collaborators) over this holiday: “the first rule of puzzles is to have faith in the puzzle makers.” The moment you begin to doubt that the pile of pieces before you in fact does contain the resources you need to accomplish your goal, a host of psychological handicaps start slowing you down. You start to ignore certain areas of the puzzle. You do silly things like waste an hour counting all the pieces. Worst of all, you start complaining and the experience is no longer fun. You have to push away the urge to blame, and instead must have faith that all the pieces are there. I think this reminds us to have faith in the workmanship of others. People can deliver, so have faith that the puzzle makers have.

Why puzzles are totally awesome:

They build self-efficacy!

Self-efficacy is in my opinion the most important cognitive trait to cultivate. It’s your belief in your own ability execute the behaviors needed to attain a particular outcome. High self-efficacy is a building block of a fulfilling life. It affects how much energy you expend pursuing goals, how many times you try and fail, and how likely you are to become a master of any particular skill. According to the guy that researched and coined the term, self-efficacy is built through:

  • Mastery of experiences: performing a task successfully and solving problems in the process.
  • Social modeling: seeing peers overcome similar obstacles to the ones you face.
  • Social persuasion: positive feedback and encouragement from others.
  • Reframing stress: solving problems trains our brains to use stress as a source of motivation instead of paralysis.

Sounds like puzzle building to me. Sure, in the grand scheme of things a puzzle is a pretty trivial challenge. Notwithstanding, solving a puzzle requires a certain level of focus, diligence, and skill. Solving one is a small reminder that you are the type of person that can go into challenging situations and consistently do what is necessary to solve the problems you face.

Why puzzles are totally awesome:

They bring people together to solve problems

You can solve puzzles with as many or as few people as you like. When you involve others in the process of making a puzzle, you are creating a shared memory of addressing a challenge together. Put another way, you get to share the IKEA effect with other people.

That is the type of memory that strengthens a relationship, and potentially could even repair a broken one.


So as we move our way though another holiday season, go ahead and work a puzzle into the activity rotation. Set up a dedicated table in an open space and encourage guests to sit down and help those little craggy picture shards find where they belong.

(thanks Mom!)