To get even this far, readers have to make great efforts to join the dots.

I encountered this sentence in The Economist. I have looked up the dictionary but still cannot understand the meaning of "join the dots". Could you please help me with that?

The whole paragraph is

The author seems to be suggesting that tacit mass collusion in history’s greatest crime turned Germans, through fear of their own looming retaliatory victimisation, into fanatics. But this grand hypothesis emerges only in fragmented form from these individual accounts. To get even this far, readers have to make great efforts to join the dots. Many will be left yearning for more help from the author.

Source: Fate and furies: How Germans perceived the second world war, The Economist.


4 Answers 4


Once you connect the dots in sequential sequence in a dot-to-dot puzzle, the picture will be revealed.

join the numbers

(Picture by Whitney Waller, CC BY-SA 2.0) Solution:

Two penguins

  • 11
    You might consider explaining how it works... that one should draw straight lines between the dots starting at 1 and moving through consecutively to the last number... 125
    – Catija
    Nov 19, 2015 at 17:13
  • 3
    OK, I really gotta know what the answer is. Anyone care to.. join the dots?
    – Mave
    Nov 20, 2015 at 11:10
  • 1
    And how can I literally join the dots? Or if it isn't meant literally, then I don't see what is the symbolically transfered message of becoming and additional dot in this group of dots. Sorry but this answer just shows me an game for little children but I don't get how that explains the meaning of the phrase in even any way.
    – Zaibis
    Nov 20, 2015 at 11:22
  • 1
    @Zaibis Because the solution (picture) is not clear until you "join the dots". The question is answered by doing that. Until you do the work, it's just gibberish. Nov 20, 2015 at 11:32
  • 2
    To elaborate on this answer (@Zaibis): the picture is supposed to mean something. But you don't know what it is, until you literally join the dots, from 1 till the end. You'll have to do the 'hard' work yourself to get to something usable: i.imgur.com/3SHw7X0.jpg. That's what the text means in the question as well. Readers will have to do a lot of work themselves, and even then, it has them yearning for more help.
    – Mave
    Nov 20, 2015 at 22:21

This essay is a review of the book The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939–1945. The connect the dots puzzle is certainly what this sentence references.

From the Wikipedia article:

In adult discourse the phrase "connect the dots" can be used as a metaphor to illustrate an ability (or inability) to associate one idea with another, to find the "big picture", or salient feature, in a mass of data.

To be more specific what the article is saying is that it's necessary for a reader of the book he's reviewing to have to follow a series of logical leaps to get from the initial statement to the final result. But, as the Economist writer is saying that the author does a poor job of making those leaps between points easy to follow.

Mr Stargardt has come close to writing a ground-breaking book. And yet he falls just short. His method of using letters and diaries of ordinary Germans yields unexpected insights, both into the Germans’ humanity and their turn to barbarism.

In this excerpt, it shows us that the metaphorical "dots" are likely the letters and diaries quoted in the book.


"join the dots" is the British English term, but "connect the dots" is equally used there

"connect the dots" is the US English term

The meaning is "draw conclusions"/"draw the [obvious] inferences". Origin: ~1870s

For graphs of which term is prevalent in which English dialect, plot them with Google NGram Viewer (AmE) and for BrE.

  • I didn't realize the question was years old. But I didn't consider the answers "adequate" A) I've never heard "join the dots" either, but if was clear to me that it was the the same. I assumed the OP hadn't heard either term. Jan 27, 2018 at 1:58
  • 1
    It’s worth noting that an Ngram using British English shows “join the dots” and “connect the dots” are used with very similar frequency.
    – J.R.
    Feb 25, 2018 at 12:20
  • @J.R.: right, but given that "connect the dots" is the US term and has taken off since the 70s, how much of that is authors writing for an international readership, or copying the American trend?
    – smci
    Mar 3, 2018 at 21:37
  • 1
    I just think that linking to both Ngrams is instructive, while linking to only one could be somewhat misleading. What future visitors want to do with the information is up to them.
    – J.R.
    Mar 5, 2018 at 15:13
  • 1
    sounds synonymous with "put two and two together", "put the pieces together", maybe "do the math" and so on.
    – Daniel
    Jun 30, 2018 at 12:33

Have you watched or seen the children's show 'Blue's Clues'? Blue is a dog that leaves clues (3 clues per episode, 1 topic/ idea/ answer). After Steve (Blue's owner) collected the 3 clues he will sit on his thinking chair to analyse the meaning behind Blue's clues. That process, I think, is joining/connecting the dots.

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