Sorting Through Puzzling Terms
Ribbon cut? False fit? Whimsies? Spicy?
If you’re mystified by some of these terms you may have come across in the puzzling world, breathe easy because I’m here to help you decode them and maybe even introduce you to some new ones (I’m not saying I made some of them up, but I’m not not saying it).
Ribbon Cut: You may be imagining a mayor wielding a comically large pair of scissors at a grand opening event, but in the puzzling world, “ribbon cut” refers to a puzzle that is cut into straight horizontal and vertical rows (or ribbons). An alternative term, “grid cut,” is more directly descriptive of this orderly cut. The pieces have an overall square or rectangle shape that are generally the same size.
Random Cut: This cut may be relatable to those of us who had messy rooms growing up (or still do). The pieces do not line up in a grid and may have more variation in shape and size – but the puzzle swears it knows where everything is, Mom! Puzzlers have pretty strong opinions about this cut. Some love it and some hate it. Don’t sweat it, Random Cut – you do you.
Connectors are the parts of the puzzle pieces that interlock together. Interestingly, there isn’t a widely accepted set of terms for these. Puzzlers use many different names:
• Knobs & Holes (my preferred terms)
• Ins & Outs (or Innies & Outies if you’re adorable)
• Keys & Locks
• Male & Female (am I the only one who cringes at this one?)
• Tabs & Blanks
• Loops & Sockets
• Pegs & Slots
And sometimes people mix and match (e.g. tabs & holes). This is like the puzzling world’s equivalent of “soda” vs. “pop” vs. “Coke” vs. “fizzy drink” vs. “tonic”.
3. PIECE SHAPES
This is where things really start to descend into anarchy. Although most ribbon cut puzzles have the same six standard shapes, they do not have universally agreed upon names. Those shapes are:
• 0 knobs, 4 holes
• 1 knob, 3 holes
• 2 knobs on opposite sides, 2 holes on opposite sides
• 2 knobs on adjacent sides, 2 holes on adjacent sides
• 3 knobs, 1 hole
• 4 knobs, 0 holes
2 x 2 or 2 Tab or Standard: These are the most common terms for the third piece on this list (2 knobs opposite, 2 holes opposite), but again, there is not a single universally accepted term. I like 2x2 for the short character count when I have to type my communication.
Castle: A super charming term I’ve heard used for the 3-knob piece.
Gemini: First seen in vintage Springbok puzzles with a random cut, this is a small, narrow piece that has a flat top and bottom, and a knob on the left and right. It can fit in with the edge piece crowd or the interior piece clique – peak Gemini, amiright? You can find these in newer puzzles by Springbok, Le Puzz, Cra-Z-Art, and maybe a few others.
Whimsies: Pieces that are cut into the shape of an object (butterfly, heart, car, etc.). Usually found in wooden puzzles, there are some cardboard puzzles that include them as well. They are often designed to match the theme of the overall puzzle image. The name is so appropriate because these are so flippin’ fun and delightful.
Piece Parts: When you get into names for specific parts of an individual puzzle piece, it’s truly a free-for-all. A few terms I’ve heard and/or use are: corner, angel wing, spade, and scalpel.
4. PUZZLE TYPES & VARIATIONS
Irregular Edge / Border: Some puzzles, especially wooden ones, do not have a straight/flat edge or border. Some purposely make them look like interior pieces to make you tear your hair out (e.g. Impossibles puzzles), and some are decorative because puzzlers like thoughtful details.
Shaped Puzzle: A puzzle with a border that is shaped like an object rather than a standard rectangle, square, or circle. For example, it may be shaped like a dog, a lighthouse, a basket of flowers, etc. As if puzzles weren’t already fun enough!
Puzzle Puzzle: 1) A puzzle of a puzzle or that includes a puzzle in the image, also known as a meta puzzle or puzzleception. 2) When your puzzles become a puzzle as you try to configure them in the most optimal way to fit in your existing storage space so you don’t look like an out of control hoarder.
Photo above: Joyce from @joyce.puzzles in front of her puzzle shelf
5. PUZZLE PEOPLE
Dissectologist: A person who enjoys assembling puzzles. The preferred term to use when trying to convince others (and yourself) that what you do is more important than doing puzzles all day. Alternate terms include puzzle nerd and puzzle addict.
Puzzle Dealer: A person or organization that supplies puzzles to support a puzzle addict’s habit.
Puzzle Mule: A person who traffics puzzles from a puzzle dealer to the user. (“I swear these aren’t all my puzzles – I’m just the puzzle mule!”)
Puzzband: Short for puzzle husband, a husband of a puzzle addict. Patience and indulgence for a puzzling habit may vary. There is no wife-equivalent term simply because the wordplay doesn’t work. “Puzzle Partner” is nicely alliterative and inclusive beyond the cis-heteronormative binary and can also be applicable to a person you puzzle with who is not a significant other.
6. PUZZLE CHALLENGES (TESTS)
The internet is a never-ending stream of new viral challenges: Ice Bucket Challenge, Tide Pod Challenge, Mannequin Challenge, etc. And the puzzling world has its own set. They are often meant to show off the quality, sturdiness, and tight fit of a puzzle that has been well made, although passing these challenges is not a deal breaker for many puzzlers. Some actually find it fun when they fail (*raises hand*).
Pick Up Challenge: This tests if a puzzle can be picked up off the table and held up while staying intact. Some variations on the simple pick up are the wave/wobble/fan where the puzzle is swayed back and forth, and the flip where the puzzler flips the puzzle over to the reverse side. This is the most commonly known and frequently attempted challenge.
Rotate Challenge: Following a successful pick up, some puzzles can be rotated a full 360 degrees and still hold together. Careful on that second turn as the puzzle can curl and may start to fall apart - eek!
Puzzle Roll Challenge: Here, the puzzle is rolled up into a cylinder. A variation on this is the puzzle tunnel where a photo is taken looking through the rolled up puzzle like peering through a tunnel.
Stand Up Challenge: This involves propping up a puzzle on its bottom edge on a table and seeing if it can successfully stand on its own (you’ll need to curve the puzzle). Bonus points if you tell jokes in front of an audience while doing it.
Toss Challenge: For this challenge, the puzzle goes airborne. This is not for the faint of heart and be warned: this may cause some damage to your puzzle if it goes awry. There is the frisbee version where the puzzle is tossed forward/out like a disc. There is also the vertical or flip version where the puzzle is tossed up into the air from a piece of foam board or similar surface and ideally turns or flips to show a better view of the puzzle. For the sillier and braver, there is the Pizza Toss, which is exactly what it sounds like.
Hammock Challenge: In this challenge, you set your husband’s childhood stuffed bear on top of the puzzle then lift both sides of the puzzle so that it becomes a hammock for the bear. If the puzzle stays intact, the challenge is successful. If this sounds overly specific, it’s because it is – I made it up and I’m the only one who has done this. This is not a thing (yet!).
Blanket Challenge: Using the same bear in the previous challenge, lay the puzzle over it like a blanket and see if the puzzle stays together despite the lumps of the legs pushing through it in spots. This is clearly another one I made up. It’s my new, cool, hip challenge. Spread it around like wildfire. #neverbeenkissed #rufus
Staring Contest: A fool’s errand, here the puzzler engages in a staring contest with a puzzle. Puzzles are the undefeated champion in a 1-game streak against me.
7. PUZZLE CHALLENGES (TRICKINESS)
These are terms related to elements that can add challenge or trickiness (and sometimes frustration) to putting a puzzle together.
False Fit: Sometimes, you place a piece in the puzzle and it seems to fit correctly, but you later realize it’s in the wrong spot. Sneaky little things! Having a lot of false fits in a puzzle can indicate that there isn’t a lot of variation in the piece cuts, and it can be frustrating and difficult to complete the puzzle.
False Edge: Sometimes, interior pieces have a straight edge, so they appear to be edge pieces at first. This is an indication that puzzle manufacturers are sick and like to mess with puzzlers (kidding, love you, please don’t put more false edges in your puzzles, thank you).
Spicy: A term describing a puzzle that is challenging (“This 300 piece was a lot spicier than I expected!”).
Speed Puzzling: Assembling a puzzle as quickly as possible, usually for competition. A way to add stress to an otherwise relaxing activity, you maniacs.
Video above: Speed Puzzling Contest shared by @karenpuzzles
Well, there you have it! Your primer on puzzling terms.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, and new terms and challenges are always emerging. But I hope this helped you sort through some of the more common terms and will make you feel more confident navigating the puzzling world. Have fun out there!
Get to know the Author: Joyce Yoo
Joyce is a puzzle instagrammer and writer. Since she hasn’t yet figured out how to become a paid, full-time puzzler, she is working as a voice actor and career coach. She lives in Las Vegas with her Puzzle Husband with whom she has made several independent films. She believes strongly that grown ups should play, too – not just kids – and her favorite ways to incorporate play into her life are through puzzles, board games, party games, and creative expression (especially with humor infused).