The Complete Guide to Jigsaw Puzzle Terminology

A light-hearted reference guide describing the terminology used in assembling jigsaw puzzles.

Each of the terms came to mind while assembling jigsaw puzzles. Most are common terms you'll recognize, but they have been given new meanings relating to jigsaw puzzles.

Some will make you smile, some will get you thinking, and some will have you rolling your eyes.

Peter Christensen

Laying Out the Puzzle

Parade Grounds

The area of the table where the puzzle is being assembled.


The collection of pieces that have not yet been assembled.

Pre-Assembly Area is a politically correct term used in place of Stockyard by vegans and members of PETA.


Sliding pieces together and pushing them into the Stockyard.


Herding the pieces in a thinned-out Stockyard into a tighter group.

The obvious advantage of this practice is that with the pieces closer together they will be easier to scan. However, it may also be argued that with the pieces closer together it will be easier to miss the piece you are looking for.

A panel discussion titled A Statistical Analysis of the Benefits of Rounding-Up has been proposed for the annual Jigsaw Puzzle International Convention to be held in Germany, May 2023.

(click on image for convention info)

Cow Tipping

Turning the upside-down pieces right side up.

Natural Selection

Setting aside the edge pieces.


When laying out the puzzle you find all of the edge pieces.

A Bogey is when you find all but one of the edge pieces; Double Bogey for two, and so on.


The other side of the puzzle table.

Finding Pieces


Looking for particular pieces.


When you normally scan horizontally, but try scanning vertically after failing to find a particular piece; or vice versa.

Cross-Hatching is a variation of the term Double-Crossing, popular with artists and illustrators. Cross-hatching refers to the drawing of an intersecting series of parallel lines.

Cross-Thatching is a regional variation of the term Cross-Hatching, popular in the British Isles. In roofing, cross-thatching is a method of laying the foundation of a thatch roof.

Paint Chip

Just as you would use a paint chip to find the right color, you can take a piece from an assembled puzzle and hold it over the loose pieces as you scan them to aid in finding a matching piece.


Sorting pieces by color, shape, or any other distinguishing characteristic that makes one piece different from the others.


Saving pieces of an area or object that you aren't currently working on in piles for future use


Similar to Piling, except that the pieces are carefully stacked pancake-style in stacks often reaching great heights.

A pile or stack that is concealing pieces that belong to an area you are currently working on is called an Infringement.


When you remove a piece that didn't belong in a pile or stack.

Selective Vision

We use selective hearing when we talk with someone in a noisy crowd or someone asks us to take out the trash; we use selective vision scanning for puzzle pieces. We pass right over the most obvious pieces when we aren't looking for them, then they jump out at us when we are.

Gold Strike

When you are looking for a piece of a certain color or pattern and you find a number of them in close proximity.

Hole in One

When you are looking for a piece of a certain color or pattern and there are many to choose from, and the first one you pick fits.


Spotting a piece that you don't want at the time, you convince yourself that you will remember where it is when you want it later.


Picking out random pieces to assemble rather than working on a particular area of the puzzle.

Most Wanted List

A mental list of pieces you looked for and couldn't find. You've moved on, but keep the list in the back of your mind as you continue to work on the puzzle.

Doubting Thomas

You, when you're starting to think the piece you're looking for was missing when you opened the box, or your dog ate it.

Lost and Found

Amelia Earhart

A piece that went missing, and you're determined to keep looking till you find it.

Missing Link

An edge piece missed when setting out the puzzle, which ended up with all the other pieces. These are most often pieces that didn't need to be turned upright in setting up the puzzle.


A piece that stuck to your hand or arm when leaning over the puzzle table.

Hiding in Plain Sight

A piece that's sitting on top of an assembled area of the puzzle that you don't know is there and keep passing over.

Stooping to a New Low

Bending down so that your eyes are level with the table to look for pieces Hiding in Plain Sight.

Lost Child

When picking up a piece you were looking for, you grab the wrong one. After looking away you realize your mistake and frantically look back trying to remember where you last visited.

Black Hole

A "hole" in a large area of the puzzle that you thought you had completed long ago. You've been baffled that you haven't been able to find a place for the piece that goes in it.

Stray Cat

A piece that doesn't belong to the puzzle you are working on, and you don't know where it does belong.

Island of Misfit Toys

A collection of pieces that you picked up because they looked like they'd be easy to place, but you can't find a home for them.


A piece you can't fit into the area you are working on and eventually realize belongs in another, similar-looking area of the puzzle.

Assembling the Puzzle


Shifting similar-looking pieces around until you find where they fit.


Describes how you feel about the progress you are making when Shapeshifting.

Damn Puzzle

An expression commonly used by a person assembling their first puzzle of greater than 1,000 pieces who becomes frustrated with their slow progress.


When a section of assembled pieces isn't yet anchored to the edge pieces.


When a block of assembled pieces is joined with the edge pieces or with other assembled pieces that are joined with the edge pieces.


A piece that holds the puzzle together where an edge piece is missing.


An emotionally stimulating occasion when two blocks of assembled pieces are joined together.

Mega Merger

A rare occurrence where two very large blocks of assembled pieces are joined together.


Just as when two tectonic plates of the earth's crust push together and one rises over the other, so it is when Marrying two blocks of assembled puzzle pieces. The threat of an Earthquake and tsunamis can be minimized by carefully raising then lowering one block of assembled pieces down to interlock with the other.


When you, or your pet, accidentally disturb the assembled pieces such that the damage needs to be repaired.

Spontaneous Combustion

When you have placed a great number of pieces in the area where they belong, but none connect. Then finally one does, and it leads to another and another until most all connect.

Critical Mass

The state preceding a Spontaneous Combustion, known to frequently have a negative impact on mental and emotional stability.

Chiropractic Adjustment

An adjustment made to the alignment of a partially assembled puzzle so that the pieces fit together properly.


When you go to place a piece and connect it to another loose piece, and find that it connects to not one but two loose pieces already on the table.


Assembling the outer pieces of an area containing similar-looking pieces, like those of a brick wall or green lawn. The outer pieces are easier to identify as they contain a partial image of something on the perimeter, and assembling them first reduces the number of similar-looking pieces belonging to the area being assembled.

Black Ops

Working late into the night with complete disregard for the desire to behave in a sane manner or show consideration for those who are trying to sleep.

Global Positioning System (GPS)

Just as your smartphone or automobile can determine your position based on your location relative to satellites, you can determine the position to place a puzzle piece based on its location relative to the assembled edge pieces.

Flying Blind

Assembling the puzzle without looking at the image on the box.

Palm Reading

When you have so few pieces left that you have to search to find where pieces are missing, it's easier to feel for them with your hand than to look for them. Also used to confirm that areas of the puzzle are complete so that you can set the box on them for easier viewing.


Turning a puzzle board around to work on the top of the puzzle without having to move to the other side of the table.

Random Act of Kindness

You drop a piece and it falls in the exact place in the puzzle where it belongs.


The point at which there are so few pieces left that you no longer need to look at the picture to see where they go. You just look where there are missing pieces in the puzzle, and it's easy to spot where a piece belongs.


Close Call

A piece that you found on the floor before your dog found it.

Dog Food

A piece that your dog ate. Though while it's easy to blame your dog, you can't really be sure where it went!

Loosey Goosey

Describes puzzles that fit so loosely that they come apart when you don't want them to.

Thin Ice describes the worst of the Loosey Goosey. They fall apart when you look at them!

Tighty Whities

Describes puzzles that fit so tightly that you have to push each piece down firmly, and it takes an inordinate amount of time to take them apart without damaging them.


Vast blue skies, huge green lawns, endless walls of brick, piece after piece they all look the same!

Devil's Tail

A piece with a knob hanging on a stem so narrow that you have a "devil of a time" disassembling the puzzle without breaking it off.

Wrong Way

An edge piece, perhaps one you believe to be missing, that has been placed in the assembled edge pieces in the wrong position.


Correcting a Wrong Way, often resulting in a feeling of euphoria.


A piece that, when you finally find it after an exhaustive search, doesn't look like you thought it would.


When the edge of a piece coincidentally follows a change in color so that the adjoining piece is of a different color, often leading to a Misnomer.

"If it looks like a duck..."

"If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck."

A piece you pick up because you recognize it as part of an object or area in the puzzle, but you can't see where it goes. You decide it must go somewhere else, only to later find that it went right where you first thought it did.

Thumb Drive

A piece that doesn't quite fit until you flip it around 180 degrees, and sometimes more than once!


A piece that has a distinct appearance, and yet you can't find where it goes so you set it aside knowing it will "come back" later.

Hidden Treasure

Pieces that belong in areas of the puzzle that are obscured in the image on the box by text or graphics.

Northern Lights

Reflections on the surface of puzzle pieces that make them difficult to see.

Double Trouble

A piece doesn't fall out of the die in the manufacturing process, resulting in a puzzle with a missing piece. But it falls out in the manufacturing of the next puzzle, resulting in a puzzle with a duplicate piece.

Man Overboard

A piece that has fallen off the puzzle table.

Lemming Leap

When you accidentally knock a number of pieces off the table.


Lower back or neck strain resulting from leaning over the puzzle table.

The Games People Play

Puzzle Support Animal

A dog, cat, or other species who provide unquestioning support as you assemble puzzles for long hours and late nights while humans only ridicule.


You, when you aren't following your rules for assembling puzzles.


One who doesn't follow any rules for assembling puzzles.


Pieces found interlocked when setting out the puzzle. Purists consider accepting Temptations highly inappropriate and immediately separate the pieces.

Happy Wanderer

Those in the habit of working intently on one area of the puzzle, but when they keep seeing pieces belonging to another area they are happy to switch to that area.

Members of the Puzzle Club of the Department of Mathematics, North Forkwich University, prefer the term Going Off on a Tangent.

Fleeting Glance

When you find a piece and you know where it goes, you only glance as you place it. You have already moved on to find the next piece, and only when you complete a section of the puzzle do you stop to admire your work.

Just Five More Minutes!

A catch-all phrase used in response to those summoning you away form the puzzle table, frequently issued in conjunction with a hand signal thrust in the direction of those guilty of the offense.

Last Call

You pick up a few more pieces, promising yourself they will be the last as you need to tend to other business or get to bed.

And so it goes with one Last Call after another until you finally achieve a Final Call, i.e., a successful Last Call.

Curtain Call

Your puzzle is complete, and you enjoy the tactile sensation of running your fingers across its surface.

An Encore is any Curtain Call other than the first.


At a traditional family gathering, everyone is working on a puzzle together. The puzzle is almost complete, and someone secretly holds a single piece so they can be the one to place the last piece and complete the puzzle.

Comfort Food

An old puzzle that brings you the comfort of a good friend.


Puzzle Dust

It comes in the box. Some puzzles come with none, some come with a lot, and some are "the gift that keeps on giving."

The easiest way to remove Puzzle Dust is to run the puzzle through a colander a couple handfuls at a time.

Siamese Twins

Two pieces that were not cut out properly in the manufacturing process. Almost always the pieces are fully cut on the image side, but remain joined on the back side.

Cat Tail

A knob that has been bent upward and won't lie flat no matter how long and hard you press on it.

Those who only do a puzzle once may not realize the damage that is done by folding a puzzle to break it up.

A Cat Tail can be repaired by lightly but thoroughly dampening the knob with water and pressing the piece flat overnight between paper towels to absorb the moisture.

Split End

A knob where the surface of the puzzle has separated from the backing.

A Split End can be repaired by applying a light coating of white glue to both sides of the split with a toothpick and pressing the piece flat. Remove any excess glue that oozes out.

Dog Bone

A piece that fell on the floor and was chewed on by your dog.

A Dog Bone can sometimes be repaired by lightly dampening the piece with water, molding it back into shape, and pressing it flat overnight between paper towels to absorb the moisture.