• What's the difference between rompecabezas and pasatiempo in the context of a puzzle which you write on? (e.g. Word Search, Suduko, Maze etc).
  • Can the words be used interchangeably?
  • When would you use one word over the other?

Research I have done:


SpanishDict primarily defines rompecabezas as a jigsaw puzzle. However, it does provide a colloquial meaning of something complicated in the sense of a puzzling concept. Neither of these seem to fit directly with Word Search, Suduko, Maze etc, although I guess there would be overlap.

SpanishDict primarily defines pasatiempo as a hobby or past time. But it also provides a meaning of games in a newspaper, which perfectly fits with Word Search, Suduko, Maze etc.

So on the basis of this, I would say that pasatiempo is more for newspaper-style puzzles (e.g.Word Search, Suduko, Maze etc). Where as rompecabezas is more for physical puzzles such as jigsaw.

Word Reference

Word Reference is similar to SpanishDict. Rompecabezas is defined as jigsaw puzzle or something complicated. Pasatiempo is defined only as hobby. Unlike Spanish Dict, the other meaning is not given.

So this would again suggest that rompecabezas is more for physical puzzles (e.g. jigsaw), where as pasatiempo is more suited to hobbies.


On Amazon there are several books Word Search Books such as Sopa De Letras En Español, Sopa de Letras: 101 Rompecabezas, Supremo Sopa de Letras. All of these use the word rompecabezas for puzzle, which seems to be the norm on Amazon. I can only find one book that uses pasatiempo.

This seems to be the opposite of SpanishDict and Word Reference. It's very confusing!


Are the words interchangeable? For example, if I wanted to say The puzzles all follow the classic word search format.. Would rompecabezas and pasatiempo be interchangeable?


Los pasatiempos siguen el formato clásico de sopa de Letras.
Los rompecabezas siguen el formato clásico de sopa de Letras.

Using one word over the other

What about using `pasatiempos` dual meaning of puzzle and hobby. E.g. `Puzzle book 1: hobbies`. If I said `Pasatiempo Libro 1: Pasatiempos e intereses` would it be understood, or would this be a circumstance where only `rompecabezas` could be used?


  • I am a beginner learner to Spanish, so I would appreciate simplified explanations.
  • The questions about Interchangeability and using one over the other, are to assist the understanding of the difference between the two words, so I would appreciate an answer that makes reference to these areas.
  • «rompecabezas» needs to be "puzzling" and you are usually solving something. «Pasatiempos» it is just that "a pass time" but does not need to be difficult or even needs to solve anything (it could be difficult, but doesn't need to be.)
    – DGaleano
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 14:11
  • rompecabezas is a puzzle, of whatever kind. A pasatiempo is something that allows you to pass the time. There is no real noun in English for it but the verb (pass the time) explains it. You pass or kill time by playing a rompecabezas. No, they are not interchangeable at all.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 20:42
  • 1
    Un rompecabeza es un TIPO de pasatiempo. A puzzle lets you pass the time or kill time.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 20:43
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    Lambie, "pastime" is a perfectly useful English term and a literal translation for "pasatiempo." Baseball, for example, used to be called the US's "national pastime." You're right, it has no equivalency with puzzle or any translation of "rompecabeza."
    – cuevero
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 2:09
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    Just for background the Wikipedia entry for "Rompecabezas" focusses almost entirely on jigsaw puzzles. However, it mentions Rubik's cube as a famous example. Here, the mental challenge does not come from fitting the pieces together, as in a jigsaw puzzle. Rather, it comes from the movement restrictions caused by the inner mechanism of the cube itself. es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rompecabezas Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 11:01

1 Answer 1


I think a "pasatiempo" is a broader concept. In a newspaper a "pasatiempo" could be a game such as a crossword (crucigrama), sudoku or word search (sopa de letras) and similar challenges.

You could use "rompecabezas" for such (intellectual) challenges/games. You would be using then the second acception of the word rather than the first one, but I think that pasatiempo would be more correct in this context.


  1. m. Juego que consiste en componer determinada figura combinando cierto número de pedazos de madera o cartón, en cada uno de los cuales hay una parte de la figura.
  1. m. coloq. Problema o acertijo de difícil solución.

As stated in the first description a "rompecabezas" tends to be something like a jigsaw puzzle or other type or puzzle. Probably you could say that a Rubik's cube is a rompecabezas and your pasatiempo (hobby) is solving the rompecabezas (puzzle).

Saying that (solving) crosswords or sudokus is your pasatiempo is perfectly valid. Calling them pasatiempos conveys that there is not much to do with these puzzles (rompecabezas) except for solving them.

As stated, a pasatiempo has a boarder meaning, since not all hobbies (pasatiempos) involve solving puzzles.


  1. m. Actividad de diversión o entretenimiento en que se ocupa un rato de ocio.

You could say that knitting or carpentry is a pasatiempo, but obviously not a rompecabezas (unless you want to convey that there is a particular task that is challenging).

Within your context, "pasatiempo" and "rompecabezas" are pretty interchangeable.

  • Thanks! Does this mean they can be used interchangeably. E.g. Would both Los pasatiempos siguen el formato clásico de sopa de Letras. and Los rompecabezas siguen el formato clásico de sopa de Letras. be correct? Likewise, would Pasatiempo Libro 1: Pasatiempos e intereses be understood as a puzzle book about hobbies?
    – big_smile
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 14:36
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    Yes, I think they are pretty interchangeable and you got it right from your findings in SpanishDict and Wordreference. I don't agree with the first statement, but using one over the other it's just about referring to the hobby or the type of puzzle. I don't think it will matter much one choice over the other because the context will explain that the hobby is solving the puzzles or that this particular set of pasatiempos are rompecabezas (as opposed to other games/challenges. Knitting is a pasatiempo and not a rompecabezas but this distintion wont apply in your context).
    – Diego
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 15:10
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    Her context is that a puzzle allows her to pass the time. Very different.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 21:04
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    Right! A puzzle can be a pastime; most are. A pastime can be a puzzle, but only a few are.
    – cuevero
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 16:30

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