Puzzle popularity surges as coronavirus crisis continues

Global Business

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School Librarian Debra Hughes still teaches online these days, but admittedly has a lot more time to devote to an activity she’s done since she was a child – jigsaw puzzles.

“In a way it makes me calm and keeps my mind off the pandemic that’s going on right now,” said Hughes. “So I find it just a way to get away from the news and what’s going on in the world and I can just concentrate on something small.”

On social media, veterans and novices alike are posting their jigsaw puzzle accomplishments, including celebrities like talk show host Ellen DeGeneres who in an Instagram video told followers “I’m the kind of person that when I say I’m going to do something, I do it.”

In Oakland, California, the doors at Dr. Comics and Mr. Games are closed, but curbside pickups are still available.

We watched as a customer thanked owner Michael Pandolfo for handing her a 1,000-piece puzzle.

He responded by enthusiastically saying, “Thanks for the support!”

I asked Pandolfo how much his jigsaw puzzle sales had gone up.

“Oh, 300 or 400 percent,” said Pandolfo. “They are looking for something to do and a puzzle is a great way to not only chew up some time, but it’s kind of an interactive process people that people are really into.”

Dr. Comics and Mr. Games says new comics have been extremely difficult to get because major publishers have had to halt shipments. That’s why at this store, puzzles have now risen to number one.

On this day, Pandolfo was having trouble filling the puzzle shelves because an expected shipment had not arrived.

“It’s definitely starting to tax the shipping and logistics companies,” said Pandolfo. “And a lot of the manufacturers because they have stuff made in China or overseas that has been impacted by the virus over there, we’re starting to feel it here now.”

Fortunately, just as we were leaving, the UPS deliveryman arrived bringing in a shipment of around 100 puzzles.

Staff breathed a collective sigh of relief.

For Sam Chi and his son Elliott, they also can’t get their hands on puzzles fast enough.

”We actually have been shopping for more puzzles and I spent probably a good hour or so on the internet just looking at places that sell puzzles and everything’s been sold out,” said Chi.

The solution has been to exchange puzzles with relatives and even dig out puzzles from decades ago.

The one they were working on together was E.T. the Extra-terrestrial.

It’s 30 years old.

“It’s fun, and it’s better than just doing it by yourself,” said Elliott. (No relation to the main character in the movie)

With two sisters, Sam used to spend a lot of time playing alone. And that included puzzles.

“I remember growing up doing a puzzle because I didn’t have anybody to play with,” said Chi. “But it’s great now I could be doing the puzzle with him, because now we are spending time together. And he’s not on his own doing it. It’s a bonding thing.”

Chi is also happy his son is playing with a low-tech form of entertainment that keeps him away from an over stimulating electronic screen.

For Hughes, there’s also something special about this more traditional challenge.

“You can look back and go oh my gosh I put all those pieces in there,” said Hughes. “It’s just a tangible thing that’s more rewarding than a game which is somewhere out in the cloud and you do it and accomplish it, but you don’t have a physical reminder of what it was that you did.”

Perhaps a physical reminder of a time where things don’t seem to fall in place and can only be figured out piece by piece.