A Brief History of Puzzles: Unlocking the Mystery

History of Puzzles (4)

Do you love puzzles? If so, you’ve come to the right place! Puzzles have been an essential part of human history, providing entertainment, education, and challenge for people of all ages. This article takes a look at the origin of puzzles and how the history of puzzles has evolved — from ancient times to the present.

We’ll explore riddles and labyrinths long ago, the first ever jigsaw puzzle created by John Spilsbury in 1760, the popular die-cut cardboard puzzles of yesteryear, and even Archimedes’ geometric dissection puzzle from 200 BC.

Discover the stories behind these classic puzzles and how they became popular cultural phenomena—all while learning interesting tidbits along the way! So if you’re ready to take a peek into the world of puzzles, then let’s get started!

Ancient Puzzles – A Closer Look

History of Puzzles - Tangram

Puzzles have been around for thousands of years and it’s hard to say who invented puzzles. The earliest known example of puzzles dates back to ancient Egypt. This puzzle, known as the “Egyptian Puzzle” or “The Sphinx,” consisted of a square with different pieces that had to be rearranged to form a complete picture.

Locking puzzles were prevalent in 200 B.C. Rome. Examples of these Roman locking puzzles include secret compartment rings, lockets, and wooden puzzles. Locking puzzles had hidden compartments activated by levers and clasps. These locking puzzles were important because they were used to secure valuable items and secrets.

Other ancient puzzle types include tangrams, which originated in China during the Song Dynasty. Tangrams involved using seven pieces to create different shapes. Another type of puzzle is the dissection puzzle, which was popular in ancient Greece and Rome.

Video: A Brief History of Puzzles

Medieval and Renaissance Puzzles

History of Puzzles - Maze

During the medieval and Renaissance periods, puzzles became popular among royalty and the wealthy. Cryptograms, which involved decoding secret messages, and maze puzzles, which involved finding the correct path through a complex maze, were popular during this time.

Folding puzzles, which involved folding a sheet of paper to create a specific shape or design, also became popular during the Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci was known to be a fan of folding puzzles, and he even included a few in his notebooks.

Puzzles of The 18th and 19th Centuries

History of Puzzles - jigsaw puzzle

During the 18th and 19th centuries, jigsaw puzzles and mechanical puzzles became popular. Jigsaw puzzles, invented in 1767, involved cutting a picture into small pieces and reassembling it, while mechanical puzzles were three-dimensional puzzles that involved moving parts.

John Spilsbury is credited with inventing the first jigsaw puzzle, which was initially designed as an educational toy for children. It all started when John Spilsbury, a British cartographer and map engraver, cut out a map of Europe into pieces for schoolchildren. The pieces weren’t interlocking yet, but it was the very first jigsaw puzzle.

As jigsaw puzzles evolved jigsaw puzzles they featured irregularly shaped pieces that all fit together to create a full image. This was a totally new and unique form of entertainment that people had never seen before, and that’s why they caught on.

In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, jigsaw puzzles were used as family entertainment that could be done over and over again and passed on to others. It was during this time that jigsaw puzzles became a popular cultural phenomenon.

Modern Puzzles

History of Puzzles - Rubiks Cube

In the 20th century, puzzles continued to evolve and new types of puzzles were invented. Crossword puzzles, invented in 1913, quickly became popular, and the use of technology allowed for the creation of new puzzle types, such as Sudoku.

The Rubik’s Cube, invented in 1974, became one of the most popular puzzles of all time, and escape rooms, a type of puzzle game where players solve puzzles to escape a themed room, have become increasingly popular in recent years.

Puzzle Collecting

History of Puzzles - Houdini
Harry and Beatrice Houdini

Throughout history, people have been collecting puzzles, and this hobby continues to be popular today. Notable puzzle collectors throughout history include Queen Elizabeth II, who is known to be a fan of jigsaw puzzles, and the famous magician Harry Houdini, who was a fan of mechanical puzzles.

Today, puzzle collecting has become more specialized, with collectors seeking out rare and unique puzzles. Puzzle conventions and competitions have also become popular, allowing puzzle enthusiasts to gather and share their passion.


Here are some commonly asked questions about puzzle history and their answers.

When were jigsaw puzzles invented?

History of Puzzles - Jigsaw Puzzle

The first jigsaw puzzles were believed to be created in the 18th century in England, during the Age of Enlightenment. These early puzzles were made of wood and were called “dissected puzzles,” as they were cut into pieces that needed to be put back together.

What were some popular types of puzzles in the 20th century?

History of Puzzles - crossword puzzle

In the 20th century, jigsaw puzzles became a popular form of entertainment. Other types of puzzles, such as crossword puzzles and Sudoku, also gained popularity during this time.

How have puzzles evolved over time?

Puzzles have evolved greatly over time, with new technologies and materials being used to create puzzles. Today, there are many types of puzzles available, including 3D puzzles, digital puzzles, and even virtual reality puzzles.

Additional Reading


Puzzles have played a significant role in human history, providing entertainment, education, and challenge for people of all ages. From ancient times to the present day, puzzles have evolved, and new types of puzzles have been invented, but the basic concept remains the same. Whether you prefer jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, or escape rooms, the joy of solving a puzzle is a timeless pleasure that will continue to captivate us for generations to come.

Thank you for reading, A Brief History of Puzzles. Do you have a favorite puzzle type? Please comment below.

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