How do you play jigsaw puzzles? [1st update]

October 20, 2009

I’m searching for possible ways to improve the user experience of Palapeli’s puzzle table. Problem: I do not know which features would help the users. Solution: Ask them (i.e., you).

After all, Palapeli is about replicating in virtuality a game that exists in reality. Everybody who plays a jigsaw puzzle on his PC will automagically try to use the same techniques and tactics which he uses to solve jigsaw puzzles in reality. For example, it is very common to search for edge pieces first.

Do you have other techniques? If yes, please don’t be shy, and leave a comment. I want to map as much as possible of your techniques to convenience features in Palapeli.

Update: A first summary. Most people say that, apart from searching for edges, they’re looking for pieces with similar colors and by level of detail. As one commenter puts it, “it all boils down to divide-and-conquer”.

Also, there has been quite some feedback on the puzzle table. Because quite some stuff occurs multiple times, I find it easier to answer them once here:

  • People are concerned about how zooming is implemented, and how pieces are limited to an certain area. I’m concerned, too. It’s becoming more and more obvious that we need a better solution, and I’ll see what I can do about this.
  • An annoying “feature” of Palapeli is that pieces are spit out randomly at the beginning, and one has to clear a part of the puzzle area to get some space for the actual image. I’ve made a quick hack-style fix for this: The pieces are now distributed only on one half of the puzzle table. A better solution will appear when the zooming stuff improves.
  • Some people would like to change the background texture. That’s possible: Right-click on the puzzle table. As you see, this is extremely non-obvious, I’ll put this interface into the Settings menu very soon.
  • The request for rotating pieces has occurred quite often. I’m generally positive towards it, because it gives a nice and easy way to introduce a difficulty parameter.
  • Some want a preview of the picture. I have a nice idea for this, but this will strongly correlate with some other features which I cannot add before KDE 4.5.

Thanks for your input. I’m currently collecting input from various sides (the kde-games-devel mailing list is also quite active currently), and evaluating possible solutions to your requests.

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16 Responses to “How do you play jigsaw puzzles? [1st update]”


  1. Some other puzzle techniques:
    – Sort pieces by colour
    – Sort pieces by level of detail
    – Locate pieces with certain patterns/fragments that can only occur in a specific part of the puzzle

    It all boils down to divide-and-conquer: Identify a subset of the puzzle that can be solved on its own, then connect the solution to the larger context. Repeat until finished.

  2. Stefan Says:

    Sometimes I sort by colour/texture, sometimes I sort by shape, often I do both.

    I find puzzle solving to be a somewhat social activity. Supporting multiple concurrent users is something that I think would be excellent. Pair that with voice-chat, and I think you’d be able to replicate the puzzle solving experience, without the neck-strain.

  3. Mario Fux Says:

    When I puzzle I make cluster of pieces with the same colors or similar once.

  4. Daniel Says:

    I love to play palapeli, but what disturbs me a bit is that I first have to clear a part of the puzzle table to be able to assemble the puzzle, because otherwise I just have no space.
    So the first few minutes I’m just wiping a part of the table – besides searching edge pieces ;). It’d be nice if the were two table parts, one with the distributed pieces and an empty one to instantely start puzzling on.

  5. Christoph Says:

    I used a Windows program on my tablet, moving the pieces with the pen was very intuitive. That program, however, also allowed the pieces to be rotated, and grabbing a piece near the center moved it, and the further away you grabbed it from the center, the more it rotated while moving. That felt very natural. Would be nice if this was possible with Palapeli.

    Also, a customizable background picture would be good. By the way, the shadows really improve the game 🙂 How about statistics? “120 pieces done in 360 second, meaning an average of 3.0 seconds per piece”. Cannot think of anything else right now.

  6. Gobnuts Says:

    I tried Palapeli from the karmic repo (on another machine), so I don’t know what version it is.

    I agree, customizable background would be cool. Not so sure about the rotating thing. That would make it a more realistic game, but also alot harder since you can’t physically pick the pieces up.

    One thing that annoyed me was that there’s no way to move multiple pieces easily. If you have finished a certain amount of the puzzle, you might want to re-arrange your “table” and moving the pieces one by one is annoying. May a “clean up” button would do the trick.
    This is especially true on a small screen (netbook) where one has to scroll alot as it already is,
    Other than that, I dig this game. Keep up the good work!

  7. TheBlackCat Says:

    I’m not sure the state of the program so these may already be implemented.

    Being able to link up bits of a puzzle and then move and rotate them as a group is pretty important to me. It isn’t just the edges, if I see two that match I will link them up.

    Also, having a thumbnail of the finished picture would be useful, since I know a lot of people use the puzzle box as a reference. Users can then put pieces with certain colors in piles in the general area that those colors appear in the final version.

    I have, on occasion, flipped over the pieces so you only see the shapes. This can be useful for complicated pictures where the colors can act as a distraction. Being able to flip over the puzzle so you just see uniformly gray or cardboard-textured pieces would be the realistic way to do this. The other option would be to either just turn of the picture entirely, or to greatly reduce the contrast and saturation so you still get some of the picture but it is less intense. There could even be a slider I guess to change the contrast and saturation (together) to whatever you wish.

    Having a “cheat” mode, where you see a washed-out version of the final picture as the background of the puzzle would be useful.

    Also, I know this is not having to do with methods to solve puzzles, but are you going to have options for additional piece shapes besides the normal jigsaw puzzle shapes? For instance non-square edges (perhaps rectangle or hexagon), flat shapes with no interlocking pieces (so just regular squares or hexagons for instance) so you can only use the picture and not the puzzle shape, or more unusual and complicated interlocking bits?

  8. Tobias Says:

    In real-life, I create larger cluster of parts inside of the border pieces without knowing where they are actually located in the final puzzle. Later, I move the larger clusters to their right position, as soon as I know their position.

  9. KlavKalashj Says:

    I think some work could be done with the layout table. Right now, there is very much space not used (I can not move pieces here) when in fullscreen. The pieces is sometimes very small, and if I zoom I have to move all the pieces or scroll all the time. I’m sorry for the bad explanation, I hope you understand 😛

  10. YoYo Says:

    On the “strategy” side, I can think only of sorting the pieces based on colors and assembling the “frame” first…

    What bothers me most with palapeli is that I have to clean up a part of the “workspace” to have a clean place to start assembling the puzzle…

    Another annoying UI thing is scrollwheel behavior. I am used to scroll around pages, images,… (both vertical and horizontal) with touchpad / trackpoint and to zoom with some modifier (ctrl) pressed… Its a bit annoying when some apps do it differently… (well, i’m affraid this “scrollwheel zooms without modifier” trend is going to be more and more widespread ;( )

    And it would be very nice to be able to select and drag multiple pieces at a time.. when I’m placing them roughly relatively to each other and moving them around…

  11. xvello Says:

    What I find annoying in palapeli is that random pieces are always in the way. I tend to keep them on the side of the table, while palapeli throws pieces in the middle, where I’m building the puzzle.

    I’d love a feature to “sweep” the pieces rapidly to clear space on the table. The best would be to have pieces colliding, so that I can sweep little pieces with big ones while moving them in the right place.


  12. perhaps you could make the edge pieces glow faintly and briefly (or let the brightness and duration vary with difficulty) when the proper key is pressed (spacebar? right-ctrl?). If this can be done infinitely it could make things trivial, so it might be good to limit the number of times this can be done based on difficulty.

    I’ve not given it a go yet, but I’m looking forward to trying it out. Will it emulate real-life puzzles in that some pieces will be flipped over, and almost all will need some rotation?


  13. perhaps you could make the edge pieces glow faintly and briefly (or let the brightness and duration vary with difficulty) when the proper key is pressed (spacebar? right-ctrl?). If this can be done infinitely it could make things trivial, so it might be good to limit the number of times this can be done based on difficulty.

    I’ve not given it a go yet, but I’m looking forward to trying it out. Will it emulate real-life puzzles in that some pieces will be flipped over, and almost all will need some rotation?
    Sorry, forgot to add great post! Can’t wait to see your next post!

  14. Duncan Says:

    I’m a social puzzler too. I have fond memories of spending an evening with the family, growing up, doing 500-2500 pc puzzles. Of course, especially for a kid, that sometimes involved a bit of what many might call “cheating”… but on a 1000 pc plus puzzle, anything that works is fair game!

    With that in mind…

    1) I’ll second the net-play or similar idea… definitely with voice chat, tho that’s likely a longer term feature idea.

    2) Rotating pieces would be great, but see #3 below about making it not quite so difficult.

    3) Someone above mentioned turning over the pieces. Once they can be rotated, if that could be done with a second, much less detailed “texture” on the back… basically a “grain”… The idea is that by observing the grain, one can reduce the orientation possibilities from four to two by simply rotating the pieces so the grain lines up all the same way.

    4) With such large puzzles, often the work area wasn’t large enough to put all the pieces out at once, at least until the puzzle was half assembled or more. We’d dump out a pile and sort thru them, often sorting edge pieces first, maybe sorting something else out that was clearly differentiated such as sky (with the land/sky edge pieces sorted as well) at the same time. Anything that didn’t fit the couple narrow categories would go in another pile, to be pulled out again after the edges and whatever were done.

    (4 cont) On the limited space of a monitor this sort of strategy would work wonders, allowing far more pieces in a puzzle without making it entirely unworkable. Ideally there’d be an toggleable option that would sort all the edge pieces out first, automatically, saving one the trouble. Of course that’d have to be an option…

    (4 cont) Allowing people to make various virtual “heaps” of puzzle pieces is important as well, thus allowing the sorting of various pieces as one would on a real puzzle. A space saving implementation would simply allow a user to right-click on the puzzling surface and select create heap here, perhaps with a label. A drop-target representing the heap would then appear at that location. Pieces dragged onto it would disappear, but one could then right-click on the target again and select “dump-heap” or some such, which would then turn the pointer into a bag or the like. Clicking anywhere on the puzzling surface would then center the “dumped” pieces at that spot, probably automatically moving around a puzzle edge, etc.

    5) I liked the “cheat” mode someone proposed as well, with the washed-out picture in the background. This would again be a space-economizer over trying to fit a thumbnail somewhere as well. But again, I’d make both the washed-out background and the thumbnails options, probably checkbox options, so both or neither could be enabled, as desired.

    6) Given that I do come from a “puzzling” family =:^), one of the frustrations I’ve experienced with the computer jigsaw games I’ve seen is that many are far too simple, allowing only maybe a hundred pieces. Perhaps 2500 pc is a bit extreme, but certainly, a 300 pc isn’t, /especially/ if there’s no rotation implemented so the pieces are always the correct orientation. In that case, I expect a 500-1000 pc would be the minimal I’d find challenging. OTOH, if there’s no way to manually rotate implemented, but the pieces are randomly rotated at initialization and remain in that rotation until attached to an additional piece (and two-piece couplets are re-randomly-rotated, it takes a minimum of three to have it lock them in the proper orientation), difficulty would go up, and a 200-300 piece may be rather challenging.

    Some ideas. Hope they help, tho I understand I’m not the one implementing them in actual code and it’s easy to talk, so they won’t likely all appear immediately…. But I’ve been following the palapeli blogs with interest and anticipation! Thanks for the project! =:^)

    • YoYo Says:

      Duncan said:

      (4 cont) Allowing people to make various virtual “heaps” of puzzle pieces is important as well, thus allowing the sorting of various pieces as one would on a real puzzle…

      It might be useful to have multiple “workspaces”, maybe something similar to virtual desktops… You can have either a list of them in a sidebar, or “icons” (or maybe even miniature views so you could roughly see what’s in them…) of the others directly on the current workspace (imagine pictures of boxes or trays[1], you could drob pieces into…)
      Also you could have the option of either just dropping the piece on the icon (dropping it randomly into that workspace) or howering above the icon for a while and than that workspace would become active and you cold place the piece where you want (like drag&drop between maximized windows works: you start dragging, hower above an entry in the taskbar for a while, that window comes to front and you can drop somewhere into it…)

      [1] For me multiple trays, thin plates or anything from which you can easily slide the piecies onto another are just the thing for real-world puzzles 😉

    • mwoehlke Says:

      Once they can be rotated, if that could be done with a second, much less detailed “texture” on the back… basically a “grain”…

      First, keep in mind that slicers need not make neat grids of pieces. In the future I hope to have hexagon-based slicers, and eventually a more realistic slicer where the pieces could be oriented diagonally as well (so, basically, any rotation).

      Second… I feel like this “grain” would be cheating; modern puzzles are made from wood pulp stock (like paperboard). It does have a slight texture, but it is fine particles; there is no grain from which to intuit orientation. (Then again there are a number of votes for ‘cheat’ features, so as long as I can turn it off I guess it is not so bad.)

      Personally, I am disappointed that the engine, as it is currently based on raster graphics, will allow one to determine the orientation of pieces when using a non-right-angle slicer. (Actually, starting with a sufficiently high resolution input image, plus enabling smooth scaling, might make this sufficiently difficult.)

      [O]ne of the frustrations I’ve experienced with the computer jigsaw games I’ve seen is that many are far too simple, allowing only maybe a hundred pieces.

      I don’t believe palapeli has a limit other than ‘what your computer can handle’. I have a 1200-piece I am currently working, and if there is any performance issue at all, I haven’t noticed. The problem at that size is rather the sorting, as has been mentioned several times.

      In [the case there is no rotation], I expect a 500-1000 pc would be the minimal I’d find challenging.

      It depends on the puzzle. Personally I found 225 pieces to be a good challenge when the image I’d sliced was this. But I agree that in general I prefer the 1000-piece range. Luckily, palapeli’s engine handles these quite admirably.


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