When choosing the perfectly sized table to do your jigsaw puzzle on, work out the area of the completed puzzle and multiply it by 1.73.

People may require a larger table if they like to lay all the pieces out at the start, rather than keeping them in the box or in piles

How large does your table need to be when doing a jigsaw puzzle? The answer is the area of the puzzle when assembled multiplied by 1.73. This creates just enough space for all the pieces to be laid flat without any overlap.

“My husband and I were doing a jigsaw puzzle one day and I just wondered if you could estimate the area that the pieces take up before you put the puzzle together,” says Madeleine Bonsma-Fisher at the University of Toronto in Canada.

To uncover this, Bonsma-Fisher and her husband Kent Bonsma-Fisher, at the National Research Council Canada, turned to mathematics.

Puzzle pieces take on a range of “funky shapes” that are often a bit rectangular or square, says Madeleine Bonsma-Fisher. To get around the variation in shapes, the pair worked on the basis that all the pieces took up the surface area of a square. They then imagined each square sitting inside a circle that touches its corners.

By considering the area around each puzzle piece as a circle, a shape that can be packed in multiple ways, they found that a hexagonal lattice, similar to honeycomb, would mean the pieces could interlock with no overlap. Within each hexagon is one full circle and parts of six circles.

They then found that the area taken up by the unassembled puzzle pieces arranged in the hexagonal pattern would always be the total area of the completed puzzle – calculated by multiplying its length by its width – multiplied by the root of 3, or 1.73.

This also applies to jigsaw puzzle pieces with rectangular shapes, seeing as these would similarly fit within a circle.

While doing a puzzle, some people keep pieces that haven’t yet been used in the box, while others arrange them in piles or lay them on a surface, the latter being Madeleine Bonsma-Fisher’s preferred method. “If you really want to lay all your pieces out flat and be comfortable, your table should be a little over twice as big as your sample puzzle,” she says.

For more such insights, log into www.international-maths-challenge.com.

*Credit for article given to **Chen Ly***