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When Jigsaw Puzzles Bring Us Together!

Bill Gates makes sure he brings one along on his vacations, parents put them out to keep their kids entertained, friends gather around for quality time, and the stressed young adult brain finds a bit of calm in their pieces. But what is it about jigsaw puzzles that make us love them so much? And where did they even come from?!

Commandeer an entire table, dump the pieces out, find the corners, sort the colors, and then piece the picture together. We all have our own techniques for tackling a puzzle, and rightly so! This exhilarating activity has been around for centuries. And when we look back at its history, the whole picture truly starts to come together as to why they’re seeing a huge comeback right now!

Image: Young child putting together a jigsaw puzzle shaped like a penguin

Source: Pixabay

“In a time of deep global uncertainty, what better way to bring order out of chaos than fitting one piece into another over and over and over again?” — Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR

As many families are pulled together under one roof once again, and most of us are spending a lot more of our time inside because of COVID-19, the puzzle markets have skyrocketed. But what is it about this timeless activity that’s bringing us together around the table for hours?

For me, I find my thrills in the search and find; scouring the entire table for that one piece, and then—aha!—uncovering it and gently putting it in its place with a satisfying snap.

David Corcoran, the science editor at The Times explains to NPR’s Neal Conan that this “aha!” moment or “insight where something just seems to pop into your brain” is easier to find when you’re in a playful frame of mind. “That mindset can help you ‘spot connections or see things in the background that you might not otherwise pick up if you were feeling sober or serious.’” And of course, the more that you find that “aha” moment, the more playful you’re going to feel.

But it goes beyond just feeling good about yourself, puzzling provides a multitude of health benefits, from Alzheimer’s and dementia prevention to enhanced spacial skills!

So, if you’ve thought about putting together a puzzle in the past few months—or if you have fond memories of completing them as I do—you’ll love hearing how this nostalgic activity had its start! And the curious event in history when jigsaws saw their biggest boom yet.

Here’s the fantastic Mo Rocca on the history and popularity of jigsaw puzzles with the wonderful CBS Sunday Morning crew!

Explore more wonderful stories from around the world with CBS Sunday Morning! They never fail to surprise me.

If you’d like to see how some people go about making their jigsaw puzzles—from using jigsaws, to die cuts, to lasers—check out this article from Mental Floss!

Solving it together!

When we’re all focused on solving a problem, it’s amazing what we can do, isn’t it? Can you imagine how many puzzles have been completed by people since the 1760s? How many families have sat around the scattered pieces and made sense of them? Tapping into that joy, experiencing that excitement and gratification together. If we can do this around cardboard or wooden games with a photo of a bunch of llamas on it, what else could we solve?

Puzzles may have had their biggest boom during the Great Depression—bringing jobs and entertainment to millions. But now, we’re turning to these addicting, delightful, frustrating, yet very satisfying pastimes, once again!

The global leader in puzzle making, Ravensburger Games, reported that their sales during the COVID-19 shut down have been up 370% compared to 2019. Their CEO, Filip Francke, told NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro that the reason people are turning to puzzles is that they are searching for a nostalgic escape. “Anything that’s related to feeling cozy or safe, images where you feel that you’re in an environment where you can recognize yourself or dream away to – they’re doing really, really well.”

Why do you think that is? Are we flocking to puzzles just to pass the time, or is there a little more to it?

Looking at their timeline, it’s hard for me to believe it’s purely because they’re fun. However confusing the world at large may be—recessions, wars, pandemics, what have you—puzzles give us the ability to create order from chaos right at our kitchen tables. It seems the simple act of putting something together may have the power to lift our spirits, keep our minds sharp, and bring our families together around a common goal. Can you name anything else in your household that does all this?!

So, have you found yourself pecking away at a puzzle recently?

Send me photos! Here’s the one that I recently completed:

Image: Big mama turtle puzzle

Big mama turtle puzzle!

Now that you’re totally jazzed about puzzles and are searching for a beautiful one to put together, check out this video from a dedicated puzzler with 10 expert tips towards a successful puzzling session. I put them to the test for that puzzle and it truly made a difference!

To learn what’s happening behind the scenes of another favorite puzzle, enjoy this article next!

Stay open to new possibilities!

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” —Albert Einstein

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Sam has written and edited hundreds of articles since joining the EWC team in 2016. She writes about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the EWC office, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and procurer of cheeses.




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