© 2024 Connecticut Public

FCC Public Inspection Files:
Public Files Contact · ATSC 3.0 FAQ
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A World In Need Of Peaceful Distraction Spurs A Jigsaw Puzzle Renaissance


We all know you love The Puzzle with Will Shortz. But there is another type of puzzle gaining traction at this time of stay-at-home-ness, the jigsaw puzzle. It has fans from presidents - President Bush is one - to prime ministers, though for different reasons. Here's Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia.


PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON: Our kids are at home now, as are most kids. And Jenny went out yesterday and bought them a whole bunch of jigsaw puzzles. I can assure you, over the next few months, we're going to consider those jigsaw puzzles absolutely essential.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The jigsaw puzzle is clearly having a moment. Toilet paper, step aside. Filip Francke, CEO of Ravensburger Games North America, says his company's sales are up 370% compared to last year.

FILIP FRANCKE: This is not a North America thing. People around the world are turning to puzzles.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Last week, sales of games in Britain, including puzzles, jumped 240%. Francke says people are looking for an escape for a nostalgic pastime.

FRANCKE: Anything that's related to feeling cozy or safe, images where you feel that you're in an environment where you can recognize yourself or dream away to - they're doing really, really well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: These days, there's an amazing array of choices for dissectologists, the name for people who do jigsaw puzzles. There are 3D puzzles, hand-cut, wooden puzzles and the impossibly difficult clear jigsaw puzzle with 144 see-through pieces revealing, well, nothing. And yes. It's sold out. Puzzle pandemonium has taken over. OK - not for everyone.

KELLY CONABOY: My name is Kelly Conaboy. I live in Brooklyn. And I work at The Cut at New York Magazine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Conaboy loathes puzzles - loathes them. In her article in The Cut, she called doing puzzles unpaid labor for no one's benefit.

CONABOY: Well, they just seem like a chore. And I guess, like, even more than a chore, they seem like a punishment. Like, you have to put together these thousand tiny pieces before you can get your reward. Like, oh, my God. Why? Why am I choosing to do this with my time?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nonetheless, their popularity has endured. The last time puzzles rose to such prominence, it was the Great Depression.

ANNE WILLIAMS: Especially in 1932, 1933, which was the worst of the Depression.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Anne Williams - she's an economics professor at Bates College in Maine and the author of "The Jigsaw Puzzle: Piecing Together A History." With unemployment rampant around 25%, people wanted cheap entertainment and a way to make money. Out-of-work Americans bought jigsaws, the machines that cut the cardboard into little pieces, set them up in kitchens or basements and made their own puzzles.

WILLIAMS: Many people would sell them to their neighbors and friends. Or they would rent them out from their homes or through the local drugstore.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Today, most jigsaw puzzles are made of pressed paper board cut out on giant presses at high rates of speed, feeding a demand created by much of the world hunkering down with their families until it's safe to come out. For those who do love puzzles - and we know not everyone does - in a time of deep global uncertainty, what better way to bring order out of chaos than fitting one piece into another over and over again?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.

Stand up for civility

This news story is funded in large part by Connecticut Public’s Members — listeners, viewers, and readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

We hope their support inspires you to donate so that we can continue telling stories that inform, educate, and inspire you and your neighbors. As a community-supported public media service, Connecticut Public has relied on donor support for more than 50 years.

Your donation today will allow us to continue this work on your behalf. Give today at any amount and join the 50,000 members who are building a better—and more civil—Connecticut to live, work, and play.