Most Difficult Jigsaw Puzzles

This page is devoted to comments from the community about difficult jigsaw puzzles - and what makes them difficult.
Any comments can be directed to our mail center .
Thanks, Jim McW

·the most difficult jigsaw -- Many puzzles have claimed to be the most difficult. The puzzle designers work hard to stay one step ahead of the puzzlers! They have made puzzles of one solid color, puzzles with extra pieces. puzzles with pieces all one shape but having only one correct solution, puzzles cut along color lines, and many other tricks.

from Nancy Ballhagen of MISSOURIPUZZLE.COM--13 April 2002:
Two of the hardest puzzles we ever did were the Springbok "Glorious Glass" and one by Hoyle called "Diamond in the Rough" ( It was all loose diamonds with 1 piece of coal in it, and there was just nothing to relate to in the picture. )

from Jim McW--13 April 2002:
We have never been tempted by the REALLY difficult puzzles (several thousand pieces, or all one color, etc. ). Our own most difficult puzzles would include:
Polperro Harbour
"Polperro Harbour"
, by VICTORYTM which had many straight-edge pieces, but its edges were "scalloped". It also had been cut along color lines.
, by SUNSOUTTM This one doesn't look, at 550 pieces, to be that difficult, but the colors in each gecko change from piece to piece, making it much harder than expected.
Thanks, Jim McW

from "An Old Collector"--17 April 2002:
Hi Jim
Most Difficult. This is subjective, but one of the hardest I have found would fit inside the palm of my hand but takes approx. 10 hours to make with a challenge time of 8+. This is a triple deck puzzle made in South Africa of Pencil Cedar by Courtney Classic, Pinetown, South Africa.
Hope this will be of interest and help,
"An Old Collector"

from "RB Puzzles"--4 August 2002:
I've only met one puzzle that I could not finish, it's made by Falcon and called "The Shortening Winters Day is Near a Close" - 1000 pcs. The colors are all muted browns, yellows, oranges and greys, and of course snce it's a Falcon all the pieces seem to interchange. Thanks Falcon! Maybe I'll give it a try again someday.

from "anonymous"--10 May 2003:
When is a puzzle so difficult that it becomes boring? I suspect many jigsaw buffs have come up against this. The ultimate in difficulty is probably a black sheet divided into identical pieces, with identical sides perhaps numbered on the back from one to infinity, not difficult to devise but virtually unsolvable, and hopelessly boring.
So what makes the ideal jigsaw puzzle ?
I suspect that the range of difficulty and subject matter is the reason that they have survived so long and are as popular today as ever. So there is no such thing as an ideal jigsaw - only a range so vast that everyone can find their own ideal.

[988]from "AH"-24 April 2003:

I'm a post-graduate student at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. As part of the year's work I have a research project - the automatic solution of jigsaw puzzles by computer.

Thus far computer puzzle solvers are not very capable: the largest puzzle solved to date is a 204 piece puzzle (but, it only took 20 minutes, for comparison a 100 piece puzzle took 3 minutes). People have been trying to solve this problem since the 1960's. Some non-scienticts suggest that we shouldn't be trying to solve this problem as it 'defeats the purpose of puzzle building' - But, puzzle solving is a very interesting problem and impacts on a number of problems within computer science, specifically artificial intelligence, computer vision, image analysis, pattern matching, it also delves into computational theory. What makes puzzle solving especially intruiging is that it has been proven to be an NP-complete problem (as pieces are added the computational complexity increases rapidly - a 500 piece puzzle is not just 10 times harder than a 50 piece puzzle).

Most computer algorithms solve 'apictorial' puzzles - by analogy a puzzle that is of a single color - most computer solvers also place strict limitations on the shapes of pieces.

As an aside to my main research I am interested in attempting to develop some means of classifying puzzles by difficulty. Thus far it seems that the picture has the most impact, followed by number of pieces, and cutting style (color-line, etc.)... I have seen some references to 'what makes a puzzle difficult', but there doesn't seem to be much consensus or directed discussion. When a puzzle is produced it is normally targeted at a subject audience (by age, for example) - is this done completely subjectively, or is there some mechanism in place?

I would be most grateful if you could perhaps pose these question to some of your puzzlers, or point me towards more information on the topic.

Thank you,

I'm not sure that I or many of our community will be able to help with the mathematical side of this question, but we do have some opinions about what makes a puzzle difficult! As you say, the pictorial content can make a puzzle more or less difficult, and the number of pieces is an obvious factor in difficulty. Many people find puzzles more difficult if the pieces are all very similar in shape, less difficult if there is great variety in shape. Color-cutting makes a puzzle more difficult. There is a great variety of other "tricks" which the puzzle maker can introduce to increase difficulty: extra pieces; irregular or unusual borders; double-sided; double-sided with the same image on both sides, but rotated! What are some other aspects of difficulty, folks?
Jim McW
from Keith--28 April 2003:
Hi A.H.
Fascinating ! I wish you well.
The progress of the dissected educational toy into challenge puzzle has provoked quite a bit of discussion among the collectors of older puzzles. The early puzzles were of hand-cut wood and by studying the methods people used to assemble them, then introducing deceptive devices to upset these methods became a game between the cutter and the assembler.
So the first objective was to assemble the straight edges of the borders, it is in fact very difficult to assemble a puzzle made up of straight edged pieces, think of the well known plain small square puzzle that has been a classic for hundreds of years and goes back well before dissected puzzles. The corner pieces if cut at an angle can also be disguised, this was taken even further and edges had V pieces introduced making it difficult to link up the borders and straight pieces added to the centre area to further confuse. Then straight borders were eliminated at first with wavy lines then simply followed the shape of a cut out figure. Now that has gone one step on with areas of the centre being cut out in the most challenging of todays puzzles.
Shapes were made identical at first by stack cutting areas of the puzzle together so that certain shapes became identical, this was taken to the ultimate with cardboard press cut puzzles having all pieces identical in shape, usually interlocking, in fact pushfit puzzles are usually more difficult than interlocking.
Colour was at first divided into areas of similar shade the easy pieces being the divide between contrasting colours, cutting between these divides ( colour line cutting) in some cases does make for a degree difficulty but may not always succeed. I happen to find dark colours harder to assemble than light, I am not sure how common this is but for sure light is a factor. Some puzzles were double sided this could be a factor depending on how well the reverse sides are matched, some modern puzzles have the same picture on the reverse.
I almost certainly have left some important factors out and have ignored number of pieces firstly because it is a mathematical factor and many very small puzzles with quite few pieces can be much more of a challenge. This may give you something to think about, I am sure some cutters will think of other factors, I wish you success with your project and hope we get to know your conclusions.
from Nancy Ballhagen--29 April 2003:
Hi Jim,
I read the letter from So. Africa. For me the most difficult thing is pieces shaped the same, and monotonous colors such as blue skies, lots of tree branches, leaves and that kind of thing. To give you an idea of what I consider difficult, we did the Springbok stained glass puzzle and it took 2 or 3 weeks, we actually put it away once to make room for Thanksgiving dinner, and didn't get it out again for a couple of years. Another one was by Hoyle called Diamond in the Rough, it was one raw piece of coal, and the rest was hundreds of sparkling diamonds, I thought it would be fun and pretty, but sure wouldn't want to do it again. It is hanging in the "museum ceiling gallery" of our puzzle store. I know some people like to do puzzles as a challenge and the harder the better, I like to do puzzles for fun and have a nice picture when finished. My husband works mostly by piece shape and he doesn't seem to care too much about the picture unless it is one he really doesn't like. He is very good at it. Number one son Mitch likes photo cityscapes mostly but will work at almost anything and is very good, I think he uses the shape of pieces mostly.
Number 2 son Richard (RBPuzzles) is also very good and I think works mostly by shape of pieces also. He also will do most anything. I bought him a hand cut puzzle made of masonite the first time I went to a AGPC convention in Bloomington, In. I think I paid $5.00 for it on the auction they had. The pieces were less than 1/2 inch and there must have been at least 1000 or maybe 2000. The pieces were almost all alike with a little knob then a v shape then another knob, not really interlocking. Richard said it took a while but he finally got it done. We are working on one now called "The Blue Staircase Maze" it is all very small staircases with little doorways, rounded sort of like Southwest, and some people walking up or down the stairs. There are a few potted plants and in many of the doorways and windows are lights otherwise it is all blue. We used to carry it in the store (it was made by Golden) and always thought it would be fun, not so. It has been on the table for more than a month and we have worked on it only 2 or 3 times.
I hope this gave you an idea on what puzzles we think are difficult.
from LA--1 May 2003:
I've been mucking about with some older Springboks lately that I think are good examples of really tough puzzles... and of course Springbok pieces are not quadrangular, which makes them tougher:
Flat Banana"FLAT BANANA" - all the same shade of yellow
About a Million Marbles"ABOUT A MILLION MARBLES"
Equivocation IIEQUIVOCATION ii

I've also included a picture of a puzzle from Buffalo Games billed as "The World's Most Difficult Jigsaw". ("400 pieces; feels like 4,000").
Devil's Dilemma"Devil's Dilemma"
It was designed by the former president of Tuco puzzles... It is two-sided, identical on both sides, with one side rotated 90 degrees... What makes it more difficult than other puzzles of its type is that, with most two-sided puzzles, you can tell by feel which side is which.... but these pieces are cut in an alternating fashion, with the horizontal cut with one side up and the vertical cut with the other side up.

Keep on puzzling (and thanks, Jim, for the forum)
from "MS"--22 January 2005:
Kodacolor Vicious Circles: I have C Major 9. I don't have a clue how to attack this puzzle. Of course, I got the outer rim done, but after that, I felt helpless...any suggestions?
from "DC"--29 July 2005:
I also have the Kodacolor Vicious Circles, C Major 9. It's just about done. I got the center finished first, which is the obvious blues. Then the outer next rim which will make sense once you start. Then you'll see the next pattern and go in from there... and so on. You'll get it.
from "AB in PA"--29 December 2005:
I think I remember a girlfriend in the 60s receiving a large round puzzle called "Little Red Riding Hood's Hood". It was (as stated) round, solid uniform red on both sides. However it DID have an edge (yeah!), and the pieces mostly interlocked and came in 2 shapes - the 'vertical' ones and 'horizontal' ones. Of course pieces nearer the center were smaller too. Hmm, perhaps not as difficult as it seemed!

So, as an adult now, remembering this, perhaps it wasn't the most difficult ever, but as a teen who could quickly solve puzzles, it surely was a challenge presented to my friend and myself by her parents one Christmas!
"AB in PA"
from "Jim McW"--30 December 2005:
RE: puzzles of one solid color, see Q&A No. 555, Page 40; no. 494, Page 35; no. 41, Page 3. In no. 555, "DW" reports that, 'A 350 piece irregularly shaped "puddle of paint" was made by Synergistics Research Corp., New York, New York 10011. The number of the blue paint is PJ-300. The puzzle also comes in red or yellow. The completed puzzle is approximately 15" by 19".' There is also SPRINGBOK puzzles entitled "Flat Banana" (see just above), 1979, and
Little Red Riding Hood's Hood"Little Red Riding Hood's Hood", 1964 and again in 1969.
"Jim McW"
from "KC"--2 January 2006:
If you want a real challenge, try the butterfly two sided puzzle by Buffalo Games, Inc. 220 James E Casey Dr. Buffalo, Ny 14206
The back side is a quarter turn from the front. It has 529 pieces all the same cut. The horizantal cut is on one side and the verticle cut is on the other side so you can't tell from the cut if the piece is up or down. The finished size is 15" x 15". It reads:
"World's Most Difficult Jugsaw Puzzle"

It was great.
from "LJ"--16 July 2006:
I just wanted to add a suggestion to everyone working on very large puzzles. I'm personally working on a 12,000 piece puzzle of the NYC skyline. With so many pieces, starting out can be difficult. Therefore, I recommend separating the pieces into sections. I separated the pieces into "water," "sky," "bridge," etc. and placed these into labeled ziploc bags before I even began the puzzle. It takes work to go through all the pieces, but with large puzzles it's better to stay organized. Staying organized has helped me a lot.

from "MS"--9 September 2006:
"Worlds most difficult puzzles"
Double sided puzzles are easy to do if you elevate the project on a piece of clear glass and work the puzzle from both sides. In other words, being more intelligent than the puzzle designers.
from "GB"--20 February 2007:
Years ago I bought the Lincoln Photomosaic. I think at least 1000 pieces if not more. Each piece (shades of black, gray, and dirty white) is actually a miniature photograph itself from the civil war era. The whole makes an image of Lincoln. The pieces are very similar in shape also. We got the border only because of the straight edges. Then we got frustrated by lack of progress and were ready to give up. One day I was in an art store in the mall selling cheap poster prints of classic paintings/pictures. What do you know I found the print of the Lincoln photomosaic. It was poster-sized so we simply laid the poster on a large table and constructed the puzzle over the poster as a guide. Still took a few months.
This was the first puzzle I did not want to take apart and put back in the box. It hangs in our house to this day and is quite the conversation piece. Most people just stare, whistle, and tell me I need a life.
from "DA"--2 April 2007:
In the 1980's Eaton or Springbock

Hay in a Needle Stack, 450 pcs. all types of sewing needles dumped in a pile with one or two pieces of wheat.

# 2 yellow pencils, I do not remember the name, yellow pencils in every direction and depth.

Smuzzle Puzzles were great, all the salamander shaped pieces.

All through the 80' we had puzzles going, like a fool, I preserved them onto paper.

I just do not see the quality anymore. Hopefully someone will give me a Stave, just to have the experience.

from Jim McW-- 25 March 2008:

" Hay in a Needle Stack " was a HOYLE IMPOSSIPUZZLE, 1982.
Thanks, Jim McW
from "AP"-- 10 March 2008:
Lots of companies have done many things to make the "most difficult" jigsaw puzzle. Single colours, weird shaped pieces, similar shaped pieces, 2 pictures in a box, pictures on both sides and the list goes on but for me the real art in making a "difficult" puzzle is coming up with a reasonable picture or photograph that in itself is difficult to reconstruct once cut up into standard shaped jigsaw pieces.

I have one puzzle in my collection of a country lane taken in the winter. It features a post and wire fence running along the lane with large (unleafed) trees beside the lane. The colours are shades of whites and black (or grey) although it is a colour picture. The very nature of the picture makes it difficult to put together.

This is what I look for in a puzzle - are there parts of the puzzle that will be a challenge to put together that are an integral part of the picture. Oh, and yes I do have the obligatory single colour, 2 pics in a box, picture on both sides and the multiple images of scattered on a background. . . . .

"AP", Canada

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