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I love jigsaw puzzles, but rarely seem to have the time to do them. Last Christmas I was determined to buy one that the whole family could share and complete over the quieter holiday period. Neither of my teenage boys had shown any interest in jigsaws so far, so my choice of subject was entirely to please myself. I decided to do something about my very poor knowledge of the world and its constituent countries; by buying a jigsaw of the world I would teach myself as well as having fun.
Ravensburger was a name I knew well and trusted to make good quality jigsaws. It is a German company that was founded in 1883, and is renowned for producing good quality games and puzzles since that time.
1000 pieces is just about the right level for me; hard enough to be challenging but not something that takes an impossibly long time to complete. Looking on Amazon for a 1000 piece jigsaw, I was torn between the Ravensburger Portrait of the Earth jigsaw, and the very similar Ravensburger Political World Map puzzle. To my inexperienced eye, they both looked very similar, with each country clearly delineated by different colours and the flags of the world lined up in rows below the map. In the end I opted for the slightly more expensive Portrait of the Earth map, as the countries were a little bigger and easier to see. I paid £10.18 from Amazon, which included free delivery.
The puzzle has a lot of sea area and to some people the vast swathes of light blue with their many identical jigsaw pieces could be off-putting. However this puzzle is made less intimidating by the wording that is all over the sea areas; tectonic plates, oceans, time zones - all of these make the large sea area much easier to sort out and organise.
A series of clocks run along the top and bottom of the jigsaw, indicating the time differences between continents. Degrees run along both sides as well as the top and bottom, indicating the latitude and longitude. In the middle is a colourful map of the world, with each country indicated by the name and a separate colour. Capital cities as well as smaller cities are on every country. The map has been created using the Robinson Projection; a method which is a map projection which shows the entire world at once. It was specifically created in an attempt to find a good compromise to the problem of readily showing the whole globe as a flat image. It has been used since the 1960s and is still used by the National Geographic Society.
The disadvantage of this system is that there is a lot of distortion to the north and south poles, which become stretched out into long lines. To overcome this, two round insets have been put onto the map. The Left hand inset is Antarctica - showing the bottom of the world in it in its entirety. The second inset is the view of the lands at the top of the world, showing the Arctic circle and surrounding lands.
Underneath the map of the world there are rows of flags, all in bright and vibrant colours with the name of the country underneath. The flags are arranged alphabetically into 7 rows and 30 columns, making a total of 210 flags.
~~Design and durability ~~
The puzzle is made from study thick board which Ravensburger claim has been manufactured especially for the company. Instructions on the box also claim that the puzzle is made with hand-crafted cutting tools which create dust free pieces. I can say that their aim is definitely not achieved here, as the box was full of nasty blue dust that flew all over my floor when I opened it up. The puzzle uses Softclick technology, and the pieces certainly fitted together easily, not coming apart too quickly and not to difficult to piece together. I really felt that this was a quality puzzle and after being made up twice the sticking out pieces have not bent or twisted at all - it is still as good as new.
When the puzzle is completed it measures 70 x 50cm, which will probably fit onto a large coffee table. I made mine up on the kitchen table, covering it over with a table cloth every night, as it was too large to fit on my coffee table.
A useful extra is a small leaflet which is a copy of the picture on the lid. This means that if two people are doing the puzzle together, each can have a picture of the finished article for reference. However, the leaflet picture is much smaller than the picture on the lid and was impossible for me to read.
~~Putting it together~~
I opened my puzzle with a lovely sense of anticipation - I was going to have to learn the names and shapes of every country in the world, as well as the seas around them. I started to work my way around the outside edge, but as I did so my entire family started to gather round as if drawn by a magnet. They immediately started what seemed to me to be a rather male game of outdoing each other in geographical knowledge. "Ah yes, Marie Byrd Land - that's obviously down in Antarctica"! Fighting each other to put the each tectonic plate in the correct place, they gradually managed to push me away from the puzzle. Delighted that they were all enjoying the puzzling experience, I decided to leave them to it, and within a couple of hours the three of them had completed it.
The next day I decided to pull the puzzle apart and start again on my own. This time, they were all under strict instructions not to interfere. I did the puzzle very slowly, taking several days to enjoy the experience. Unfortunately I quickly found that I was not reading any of the names of the countries, but I was merely matching colours and shapes, finding the correct piece by visual clues rather than geographical knowledge. This was mainly because the typeface was extremely small. My eyesight is not very good these days, but even with my glasses on and a bright light I had real trouble reading the words on the pieces. Both boys could read every word with ease, but my husband had similar problems to me.
~~Who is this puzzle suitable for?~~
This puzzle is really enjoyable way of teaching children (and adults) about world maps. It is suitable for anybody over the age of about 10. My whole family learnt names of interesting islands, capital cities and much more, just from reading the words on each piece aloud.
I did not gain as much knowledge as I had hoped from making up the puzzle, although it was a really enjoyable experience. This was largely due to my poor eyesight and the tiny print, but I do feel that I have learnt a fair amount about the positioning of countries and sizes of continents.
I would really recommend this puzzle for the whole family. Younger children will probably gain more if they do it with an adult who can read out some of the more complicated names.