If you were to walk into my kitchen on any given day, you would likely find a jigsaw puzzle in progress on the kitchen table. Admittedly I am not the puzzler I once was. In recent years the pieces have gotten fewer in number, and larger in size, but my enthusiasm has never waned.
During the first week of the pandemic, I advised a friend to build jigsaw puzzles. Soon several 1000 piece puzzles were on my porch for her to collect. I had more in reserve and decided to take my own advice. Within the year, I built well over 100 puzzles. My pastime became an obsession!
The assembly of a jigsaw puzzle is a metaphor for problem-solving. A puzzle has a frame and pieces, just as a problem has a boundary and issues. No one approach is better than another. When you solve a problem, you lay out and sort all the facts in front of you. Sometimes I build the border first, but sometimes I tackle the dominant feature. Gradually it all comes together—jigsaw built, problem solved.
Research has shown that building jigsaw puzzles is a good workout for the brain, because it strengthens spacial reasoning and builds short term memory. It can also protect the brain from the effects of aging. Both the retirement homes I visit have puzzle tables in their activity rooms, and many of my completed puzzles end up in their libraries. Sometimes the residents even let me place a piece or two while we visit, with or without words. While building puzzles alone can be rewarding, puzzling with others can be pleasant. Social activity is good for the brain.
Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people I knew were staying home. Programs they had participated in previously were slow to be reactivated. Changes in health status and loss of friends weighed heavily. People were lonely and in need of a fun activity. As I sorted my puzzle library one afternoon, I decided to set up a puzzlers group at St. Paul’s, Caledonia. I ran the idea past my friend, who happily opted in, and we were good to go.
We are a small group, but we enjoy the company of friends and challenge of a tricky puzzle. The group is not limited to members of our congregation, and we welcome friends and neighbours. Perhaps the best outcome is the good-natured teasing and all the laughter we share when we struggle to find a particular piece that goes somewhere and the joy when the ‘lost’ is found. We’ve built dogs and chickens and butterflies, all manner of birds and scenes from all seasons. We all have our pet peeves, like fences, or cows painted in the style of van Gogh! We have learned to discipline ourselves to pack up at the end of the afternoon.
And, every Sunday, during the announcements, I remind the congregation that “the puzzlers will meet on Monday afternoon in the parish hall.”