For some people, an awesome Friday night doesn’t require more than a glass of wine and a fresh 1,000 piece puzzle. If that describes you, then how would you like to get paid to spend your days putting together puzzles? Sounds pretty sweet, right? The Strong Museum of Play in Rochester (which happens to be one of the country’s coolest museums) is hiring a “puzzle cataloguer” for a full-time, 6-month gig to tackle their massive collection of circa-19th-century puzzles… and it sounds like a pretty interesting position.
The collection consists of 7,500 jigsaw puzzles dating all the way back to the late 1700s. In fact, the museum is home to the world’s first puzzle, a 1766 “dissected map” used to teach geography. Of course, they all don’t exactly have all of their pieces, and unless you’re a puzzle wizard, you won’t have time to complete all of them, so you only have to assemble what you can. The goal is to figure out what the puzzle is depicting, where it came from, when it was made… basically as much information on each as possible. There’s actually a lot we can learn about society and culture from puzzles. For example, here’s the museum’s brief (and incredibly informative) history of the puzzle:
English cartographer John Spilsbury created the first known jigsaw puzzle in the 1760s when he pasted a map to a wooden board and cut around the countries’ borders. Jigsaw puzzles soon became a popular European method to teach geography and history to children of wealthy families. The first American jigsaw puzzles made their appearance during the 1850s, and following the Civil War, people utilized these “dissected pictures” as a source of education and entertainment.
American jigsaw puzzles in the 19th century often depicted maps, children’s stories, and scenes of industrialization in the United States. Publishing companies such as Milton Bradley and McLoughlin Brothers soon joined in the production of children’s games and puzzles. Some puzzle-makers cut costs on their puzzles by using color lithography rather than hand-colored prints, or adhering the pictures to cardboard instead of wood; these measures, along with increased transportation networks, helped to spread the jigsaw puzzle across America.
By 1908, wooden puzzles for adults had caught on. The Pastime Puzzles line at Parker Brothers in Salem, Massachusetts, featured “figure pieces,” or puzzle segments deliberately cut to appear as animals, geometric forms, or household objects. (Pastime Puzzles had such a high demand that Parker Brothers halted game production and devoted its entire factory to puzzle manufacturing in 1909.) Around this time, companies began to produce puzzles with interlocking pieces.
For the next two decades, jigsaw puzzles remained a well-liked hobby, but their status surged once again during the Great Depression as home amusements replaced more costly forms of entertainment. (Some smaller-scale puzzle-makers even rented out puzzles to families by the week, and communities established lending libraries of puzzles.) Yet another boost in puzzle popularity occurred during World War II, when toy-making materials were diverted to the war effort, while cardboard for puzzles remained in abundant supply. –Museum of Play
Qualifications for the job (other than sweet puzzle-solving skills) include a bachelors degree in museum studies, history, humanities or a related field, experience with scanning equipment and experience with museum collections databases. You get some good benefits and pay, and if you can impress the boss, you might land yourself another awesome gig at the museum. Maybe you’ll luck out and get another job reading comic books or playing pinball… you never know, since this is a museum dedicated to play, after all!
The museum is absolutely worth a visit, even if you’re not a puzzle nut. It’s a highly-interactive institution with loads of exhibits for kids and adults alike. Check out the World Video Game Hall of Fame (inductees include everything from Pong to Donkey Kong to World of Warcraft and everything in between), the National Toy Hall of Fame, interactive areas dedicated to all kinds of assorted fun, like dancing, games, and reading, along with a carousel, an aquarium, and looooads more.
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