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John Burka and Lynn Levy have always been avid puzzle doers, completing several each winter.
After watching a webinar about COVID-19 and mental health, one of the suggestions was to do something stimulating but fun each day. They knew exactly what to do.
“A jigsaw puzzle fits this slot,” says Burka, who is from New Minas, N.S.
Puzzles stimulate the mind, are fun, can be addictive, and there is a feeling of accomplishment when it's done, he says.
They’re not alone. When Marg and Don Chisholm returned from a trip and had to spend 14 days in quarantine inside their Bedford, N.S., condo, their superintendent left a puzzle at their door since they could go no further than their balcony.
It was their first attempt at a puzzle and they dove right into the 1,000-piece venture, and it soon became an obsession, they say.
“The appeal was getting to the end,” says Marg Chisholm. “It felt really great and our family and friends followed us on social media as to our progress.”
They’ve caught the puzzle bug, she says, and will be doing more, but this time, starting at just 500 pieces.
For Amanda Jaetzold, from Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, doing puzzles has turned into a great family bonding experience. She was never really interested in puzzles, but as social distancing became more common throughout the East Coast provinces, she knew her family would need some entertainment for the weeks ahead and picked up a 1,000-piece puzzle.
At first, she thought it would be just her and her husband doing the puzzles, but it wasn’t long before her teenaged children joined in. Surprisingly, she says, her 14-year-old daughter was very intrigued and probably did half the puzzle herself.
“It's given us some real bonding time with her than we never would have gotten before,” she says. “Besides, I would post our progress everyday sharing with our friends and got lots of responses and ended up talking to friends that I hadn’t spoken with in long while. It’s been nice to reconnect.”
Belinda Manning, who works at Books Galore, a used bookstore in Coldbrook, N.S., says that before the shop closed, they had near-empty shelves of puzzles.
“I have never seen so many puzzles leave,” says Manning.
With all this new and reignited interest in puzzles creating an unprecedented demand for the products - some retailers say they’re seeing 10 times the normal volume - shipping can take a while if it’s available at all. So, some families have set up a COVID puzzle drop system with friends.
Betty Lutz of East Royalty, P.E.I., does puzzle doorstep drop-offs. First, she sanitizes the packaging, but since the puzzles she’s loaned haven’t been used since last winter, she knows they were handled properly.
Rosalynd Kelly of Melvern Square, N.S., posts in a local Facebook group a photo of the puzzle she has just finished, then puts it on a table outside her door for pick up by whomever needs a new puzzle.
According to the World Health Organization, potential transmission of COVID-19 through newsprint or cardboard is extremely low, and if you are asymptomatic and the puzzle comes from an asymptomatic household, the risk is negligent. If you are still concerned, leave the borrowed puzzle untouched for one to three days before opening.
When you do get your puzzle, set up is not always as straightforward as dumping out the pieces on your table, as Rosslyn Gillan, from Kentville, N.S., discovered. After having completed a large section of her new puzzle, she turned around to discover her dog had eaten the entire bottom corner.
It’s not just animals that are a concern. Young children can wreak havoc, as Sara Young of Trout River, N.L., found out.
“My husband and I attempted twice to assemble a 1,000-piece puzzle,” she says. “Both times it got knocked over by our children, aged three and six, so, it’s now back in the box - probably with a few missing pieces.”
There are several ways to prevent this from happening:
- Order a glass table protector (IKEA has one option) to place over the pieces while not in use
- Use heavy plastic poster board - the tri-fold ones used for presentations, cut into three sections, work well - so pieces can be moved off the table when needed.
- Tape cardboard to the edges of your table to contain pieces. Try putting the table on top of empty boxes to make it more ergonomical.
- Fashion a portable puzzle tray using the desk part of an old-fashioned pull-down desk
Whatever method you use, always measure your surface area and compare that to the finished size of the puzzle listed on the box, advises Kathy Legge of Blomidon, N.S., who discovered the 2,000-piece puzzle she started would not fit on her card table.
“So now I am trying to decide if do I do the top only or do the bottom only,” she says. “Looks like sometime in the future, a long table is on my shopping list.”
One way to avoid having puzzle-related issues is to move to online sites and apps.
Lisa Pinch, from Port Williams, N.S., has switched to an app aptly named Jigsaw Puzzle, which provides a free daily puzzle. You can choose how many pieces you want to do, up to 400 pieces, and how much you want to zoom in on your pieces, she says.
“Now I’m doing a puzzle a night online and I have no fingerprints left. I’m hooked and I need glasses,” she jokes.
Berwick, N.S., resident Tom Henley purchased a jigsaw puzzle game from Big Fish Games, which he downloaded onto his computer. Users can select any photo, the shape of the pieces as well as the number of pieces. It even measures the time spent completing the puzzle, he says. A free alternative is the Microsoft Solitaire Collection, which has a puzzle game included.
Another site, Jigsaw Planet, is worth checking out for its Atlantic Canadian connection. Len Wagg from Halifax County, N.S., has been putting his photography online in the form of a jigsaw puzzle.
“I thought it was a great idea to take people's minds of things and lose themselves in the beauty of the Maritimes for a few hours,” he says.
Each day, Wagg goes through his photography to find pictures that look good and tell a bit of a story. So far, his most popular puzzle photos have been of the Sable Island horses and a shot of Cape Split.
“I've been amazed at the comments and response that it has generated. People have reached out to thank me for doing it,” he says. “I think we all have a role to play and if my pictures can cheer people up for a few hours then hopefully I've helped.”
Whether you opt for small or large, online or physical, it’s best to just keep on doing the puzzles. As Megan Smith of Charlottetown, P.E.I., says, “Now I've got nothing but time so I may as well spend it exercising my mind by doing puzzles.”