A World In Need Of Peaceful Distraction Spurs A Jigsaw Puzzle Renaissance

Apr 5, 2020
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

We all know you love The Puzzle with Will Shortz. But there is another type of puzzle gaining traction at this time of stay-at-home-ness, the jigsaw puzzle. It has fans from presidents - President Bush is one - to prime ministers, though for different reasons. Here's Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia.

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PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON: Our kids are at home now, as are most kids. And Jenny went out yesterday and bought them a whole bunch of jigsaw puzzles. I can assure you, over the next few months, we're going to consider those jigsaw puzzles absolutely essential.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The jigsaw puzzle is clearly having a moment. Toilet paper, step aside. Filip Francke, CEO of Ravensburger Games North America, says his company's sales are up 370% compared to last year.

FILIP FRANCKE: This is not a North America thing. People around the world are turning to puzzles.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Last week, sales of games in Britain, including puzzles, jumped 240%. Francke says people are looking for an escape for a nostalgic pastime.

FRANCKE: 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.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: These days, there's an amazing array of choices for dissectologists, the name for people who do jigsaw puzzles. There are 3D puzzles, hand-cut, wooden puzzles and the impossibly difficult clear jigsaw puzzle with 144 see-through pieces revealing, well, nothing. And yes. It's sold out. Puzzle pandemonium has taken over. OK - not for everyone.

KELLY CONABOY: My name is Kelly Conaboy. I live in Brooklyn. And I work at The Cut at New York Magazine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Conaboy loathes puzzles - loathes them. In her article in The Cut, she called doing puzzles unpaid labor for no one's benefit.

CONABOY: Well, they just seem like a chore. And I guess, like, even more than a chore, they seem like a punishment. Like, you have to put together these thousand tiny pieces before you can get your reward. Like, oh, my God. Why? Why am I choosing to do this with my time?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nonetheless, their popularity has endured. The last time puzzles rose to such prominence, it was the Great Depression.

ANNE WILLIAMS: Especially in 1932, 1933, which was the worst of the Depression.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Anne Williams - she's an economics professor at Bates College in Maine and the author of "The Jigsaw Puzzle: Piecing Together A History." With unemployment rampant around 25%, people wanted cheap entertainment and a way to make money. Out-of-work Americans bought jigsaws, the machines that cut the cardboard into little pieces, set them up in kitchens or basements and made their own puzzles.

WILLIAMS: Many people would sell them to their neighbors and friends. Or they would rent them out from their homes or through the local drugstore.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Today, most jigsaw puzzles are made of pressed paper board cut out on giant presses at high rates of speed, feeding a demand created by much of the world hunkering down with their families until it's safe to come out. For those who do love puzzles - and we know not everyone does - 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 again?

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