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Published September 15, 2020

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

Having the COVID-19 doldrums? Get a jigsaw puzzle

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

One of the enduring memories of my dad in retirement is him sitting at the picnic table in the backyard of our California home with burgers on the grill.

He would have a bourbon on the rocks at his side, the Dodgers on the radio and a jigsaw puzzle in front of him.

I would watch with admiration as he patiently worked for an hour or two each day to assemble the 500 or 1,000 or 5,000 pieces. He seemed so content. Even after my mother died, he appeared at peace doing puzzles as the sun set.

I never thought that would be me in retirement. I am not blessed with his patience or discipline. Besides, there must be better things to do.

Then, a few weeks ago, my wife brought home a puzzle for me.

I had been whining to her about not having enough to do. Like many of you, my activity options have been severely limited. By the pandemic. By the heat. And, in my case, by paraplegia.

Even during the last eight years in a wheelchair, I have tried to stay busy. But now I was in the doldrums. I was wasting too much of my life watching television news and reading Facebook drivel.

I was desperate for any activity. But a jigsaw puzzle?

I didn’t dive right in. I would work on the 500 pieces when I rolled by the kitchen table in my wheelchair. 15 minutes here. 30 minutes there. Soon, I was hooked.

And, amazingly, my mood improved. And it isn’t just my imagination.

According to neurological experts, puzzling has benefits that might surprise you.

Puzzles can give you and your family a chance to unplug and help wrestle you away from the screens and devices that overload us with information.

Puzzles exercise the left and right sides of your brain. Your left brain is the logical side and works in a linear fashion, while your right brain is creative and intuitive. Need convincing of puzzling’s power? Bill Gates is an avid puzzler and so is actor Hugh Jackman.

Puzzles are an especially effective way of improving short-term memory by reinforcing connections between brain cells. A recent study published by the Archives of Neurology found that elderly people who did puzzles regularly had brain scans comparable to 25-year-olds.

Puzzles are a great stress reliever. I have experienced this first-hand. My blood pressure is lower after working on the puzzle.
I am not alone in discovering the joys of puzzling. Because of its health benefits and the public’s search for things to do during the pandemic, jigsaw puzzling, once a quiet hobby, has gained more attention.

The appeal of jigsaw puzzles during a pandemic isn’t hard to piece together.

“It really takes your focus off of whatever is going on, because you are trying to find that peak of the barn or that piece of the sky or this element of the cloud,” Chris Byrne, a toy industry expert, told NPR.

“It really takes a lot of attention and focus. And that can be very healthy in terms of, I’ll just say, distraction.”

According to the New York Times, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison even referred to jigsaws as essential during the pandemic lock-down and allowed people to leave the house to buy them.

Celebrities and commoners, stuck in their homes, have shown off their puzzles. Ellen DeGeneres recorded her travails with a 4,000-piece puzzle on Instagram.

And the puzzle business is booming. Ceaco, one of the largest producers of jigsaw puzzles, reports it sold more puzzles in one day in the week the pandemic started than it had during the entire Christmas season.

Sales by puzzle-maker Revensburger are up 370 percent year over year.

As for my puzzle on the kitchen table, I would be done by now if it weren’t for my cats.

It is no easy task to work on a puzzle with two cats sitting on the pieces. One of the cats just loves batting the pieces around with his paws.

But I am determined to finish. Like father, like son.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)