Pandemic Pushes Puzzle to the Forefront

Judy puts the pieces together

This article 1st appeared in Booming Encore

My wife’s fascination with putting puzzles together has always been somewhat puzzling to me. I simply don’t have the patience for such a time-consuming activity.

However, Judy obviously isn’t the only person currently using puzzles as a big piece of their pandemic-forced homebound entertainment.

Judging by sales, jigsaw puzzles are proving welcome relief for individuals and families all over America and sales are skyrocketing.

Brian Way, the owner of Puzzle Warehouse, the largest distributor of puzzles in the country, reports business is up 2,000% compared to this time last year.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Way told CBS News. “As you look down the aisle, we’ve got people getting orders off the shelves to ship out.

Amazon reported in April that “adult jigsaw puzzle” was the 8th most searched term on its website. In fact, at different times this spring, Amazon, as well as Target and Walmart, were sold out of all but the most expensive puzzles.

But that hasn’t deterred determined puzzle put-togetherers. Unable to purchase new puzzles, they took to exchanging puzzles with other avid enthusiasts. For example, Judy has put together a few puzzles belonging to our apartment complex neighbor Mark, who is an administrator with the National Parks Service and possesses a large collection of puzzles depicting scenes of natural beauty and wildlife.

Others have come up with novel technological ways to satisfy their puzzle itch. Hannah Boehm told NBC 7 News in San Diego that she uses the Next Door app and other social media to arrange puzzle swaps. She will leave a puzzle on her doorstep and someone will take it and leave a different puzzle in its place. Boehm says that process allows both parties to maintain recommended social distancing, adding that she always wipes down the boxes and puzzle pieces before she starts working on her new project.

The jigsaw puzzle itself has a long history. The origins of the puzzles go back to the 1760s when European mapmakers pasted maps onto wood and cut them into small pieces. John Spilsbury, an engraver and mapmaker, is credited with inventing the first jigsaw puzzle in 1767.

Initially, puzzles were considered for play and learning for children only, but puzzles for adults emerged around 1900, and by 1908 a full-blown craze was in progress in the United States much like that of today. 

Adult puzzles range from relatively easy (a few pieces) to extremely challenging (1,000 pieces or more).  While Judy tackles her puzzling task alone, our daughter-in-law Shannon, who is currently with our son Michael and our 2 grandchildren Audrey and Owen on a one-year stay in Australia, convinces her family members to join her in the fun.

Or at least that is the plan. Shannon recently got a complex Harry Potter-themed puzzle for Audrey, who is a huge Harry Potter fan. But Audrey moved on to other things, leaving Shannon to complete the complex puzzle.  She said about a third of the 1,000-piece puzzle was black/navy or dark brown making it difficult to determine which pieces went where.

But my daughter-in-law is nothing if not determined. “It’s torture, but I can’t quit now,” she said. And she didn’t. As you can see, the puzzle was no match for her. Despite the arduousness, the fact of Shannon’s determination certainly didn’t surprise her mother, Sue Sullivan. “You always did like a challenge,” Sue wrote on her daughter’s Facebook page.

Meanwhile, back here in America, Judy discovered a fix for her puzzle addiction. A local gift shop in our underground run by a Taiwanese owner has puzzles for sale. And Judy has already gotten so many there that the owner says she can look at the catalog and she’ll order special puzzles for her.

Man, if this stay-at-home lockdown continues, I guess I will just have to come out of retirement and get a job to support my wife’s puzzling puzzle habit. Can anybody out there solve the puzzle of where to find a high-pay, no-work job in a pandemic and an economic depression?

One thought on “Pandemic Pushes Puzzle to the Forefront

  1. Dave, the key is not patience. It’s easy to step away from the table whenever needed and come back later. The key is strategy. Any puzzle can be satisfying with the appropriate strategy for the particular pic in front of you. Give it a go. Do you have another bench or table, as it looks like Judy has monopolised that one.

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