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Monday, September 14, 2015


In between reading a good book, a thriller or mystery (just finished “The Night Manger” by John Le Carre, which is being made into a early 2016 mini-series), I love to do jig saw puzzles.   I also love the crossword puzzle’s by Merl Reagle in the Los Angeles Times.

I digress.  Topic today is jigsaw puzzles.

My first experience with jigsaw puzzles goes back to when I was a city parks recreation aide in charge of a playground for a summer.  Many days, especially those hot San Diego August sols when the kids and their families were off at the beach or on vacation, I’d be left to entertain a handful of playground regulars and/or myself.

One of the board game diversions we had fun with was an invention of mine. On one of those long folding cafeteria tables we placed two Monopoly game boards at each end.

We’d link the two with a brand new curvy street we drew with crayons.  We’d make squares the same size as the game and invent our own destinations.    The only way you could land on our improvised street was to land on the real board’s “jail” square.  We spent hours inventing places along our made up “route 66.”

But, for that enterprise you needed a handful of players.  When left alone sometimes for an entire afternoon, I put together jigsaw puzzles.  Looking back I guess you could call me a paid professional puzzle guy at 19 years.

Flash forward a lifetime and I’ve rediscovered jigsaw puzzles.  I’m amazed at the variety of puzzles available at game stores, online, WalMart, Costco, Walgreen’s even flea markets.  I thought time would have contributed to the demise of jigsaw puzzle.  Not so.  Today, topics run from Playboy magazine (Aquarius) covers to Pope Francis (Zazzle) and almost everything in between.

Many of us have found jigsaw puzzles a needed diversion from the computer and baseball games on the tube.  Plus, I’m sure the puzzle lobby in Washington DC will insist puzzles are a great way to keep your memory in shape.

For those new to jigsaws or those thinking about starting the pastime, I suggest starting on the 500 piece sets.   I find a 500 just the right size for the kitchen table.   I use a cardboard backing so I can lift my “in progress” puzzle back to my home office when I’m not working at it.  And, smaller puzzles usually translates into larger puzzle pieces.  A boost for those blind arthritics in the audience.
My preference in puzzles falls into travel or history categories.
Suggest the Route 66 “Nostalgia” puzzle by Kate Ward Thacker of Buffalo Games, Inc. Other favorites are two by Jeff Dowdle of Dowdle Folk Art puzzles.  He’s created to local puzzles for “San Diego” or “La Jolla Cove.” Both of Jeff’s jigsaws are entertaining at 500 pieces.

The 1000 piece puzzles are usually smaller pieces and take up an entire kitchen table.  USA made Eurographics produces a WWII puzzle of Allied Aircraft bombers.  Presently, I’m working on a thousand piece “Classic novel covers” by White Mountain puzzles.

The Brits make excellent puzzles.  I found Gibson’s 1500 piece “double” puzzle of London’s Waterloo station “before and after the war totally fascinating

The 2000 piece puzzles take much longer to complete which isn’t a problem, but the bigger size calls for a bigger table.  I find myself on the dining room table after adding three leaves. Don’t start a 2K puzzle a week before Thanksgiving or any time when you need the dining room table.

Puzzles are among life’s little pleasures.  They’re a challenge to solve and add a sense of satisfaction when completed.

Reason for the good feeling one gets when wrapping up a tough jigsaw comes from research by The MacArthur Study.  Many articles on the benefits of jigsaw puzzles on the Internet quote that study.  MacArthur is a research network based in Virginia.

Here’s a quote from  “...Studies, like the notable MacArthur study, have shown that keeping the mind active with jigsaw puzzles and other mind-flexing activities can actually lead to a longer life expectancy, a better quality of life, and reduce our chances of developing certain types of mental illness, including memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s Disease (by an amazing third)...”

My beloved late mother was overwhelmed with dementia after 75.  She watched her diet and weight but seldom exercised nor did she do jig saw or crossword puzzles.

I’ve been at jigsaws for about two years. At first, my wife would bring me home puzzles because she noticed how much fun I had solving them.   Soon, she took over the role of finding all the “border” pieces and connecting them.  When she finished I took over and completed the interior of the puzzle.

It won’t be long before we’ll be doing his and her puzzles at the same time.
Did I say it helps to have a compulsive nature?—By Thomas Shess, Editor and Founder of Pillar to Post Daily Online Magazine.

Jigsaw Puzzles – Benefits to Psychological Development
(Published by: The UK's Mental Health Guide, Sat, May 18, 2013)

The simplicity of jigsaw puzzles is deceptive. While the concept is very straightforward – find the pieces and fix them together – there is a surprising level of mental activity required to carry out the steps needed to complete a puzzle. Psychological studies have identified a number of thought processes that are required to undertake what is in fact a complex process of identifying shapes and images and relating them to an overall pattern. More importantly, solving jigsaw puzzles is a great work out for the brain and can actually have therapeutic benefits. These benefits include:

Problem Solving Skills. Resolving the shapes and coloured patterns that make up the overall pictures, including the revolving of the pieces, relates to the kind of basic problem solving evolution has equipped us to deal with on a subconscious level. Our ancestors relied on the ability to recognise shapes and patterns in world around them and spot potential predators and hazards as a key to survival. Completing a jigsaw puzzle taps in to the same fundamental processes, but in a calm and controlled environment.

Enhances Self Evaluation. Trying to see how pieces fit and re-assessing where they might go when they don’t fit is a good exercise in checking and re-evaluating choices. Each piece can only go in to one place so there is none of the compromising and trading-off that takes place in so many other aspects of modern life. This forces the player to constantly re-evaluate their decisions, and teaches patience with the process as it is an integral part of the game.

Improves Learning Abilities. The more a person plays jigsaw puzzles, the better they get at recognising shape, form and colour and the quicker they become. This is a basic learning structure that then passes in to other aspects of their lives. In effect the brain is like a muscle, and the more it works, the stronger it becomes.

Helps With Overall Perception and Understanding. Learning to assemble an overall image from partial pieces when only part of the image is in place, is a skill that translates in to many areas of life. Often, only a certain amount of information about a situation is available and being able to make judgements and draw conclusions is a fundamental practice in coping successfully with the world around us.

Fulfillment. Our modern lives can often seem a whirlwind of activity where we constantly move from one activity to the next without seeming to draw breath. Completing a jigsaw puzzle provides a tonic to this hectic pace, where a period of quiet problem solving ends with the satisfaction of seeing the finished puzzle. This reduces stress and provides a feeling of well-being.

Dementia Treatment. Dementia patients are suffering from a disease where the brain tissue is deteriorating and the functions that reside in those areas are lost. All of the above benefits amount to a workout for the brain, causing the brain cells to work hard. This type of mental activity slows down the onset of dementia by keeping more parts of the brain active for longer.

This level of cognitive complexity does much to explain why so many people are happy to spend hours at a time working on jigsaw puzzles. What seems one of the simplest of activities is in fact an extremely absorbing and therapeutic brain exercise with many hidden benefits. Playing physical puzzles or jigsaw puzzles online is a beneficial activity for kids and adults alike.

Jigsaw puzzles made me a better recreation leader than I thought.  Who knew?

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