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With the coronavirus pandemic, millions are under some degree of shelter in place, and while sequestration is serious business, it can also engender some monotony. I’ve been self-isolating in a cabin in the rural Midwest, where I am fortunate to have plenty of space to practice social distancing—as well as the mixed blessing of such weak internet service that it’s impossible to stream Netflix all day. Thus, I’ve reacquainted myself with an old hobby: puzzles. For years, jigsaw puzzles have been a tradition at my family’s holiday gatherings—a low-key experience that we all can share—and I’d occasionally buy them as gifts for friends and family. But amid a hectic schedule, it’s been years since I’ve had time to sit down and complete them myself.
Now in quarantine, I’ve dusted off the stash of puzzles that my family stores at our cabin. While I puzzle, I listen to audiobooks (Audible has an amazing selection), making my way through the list of books I’ve always meant to read but have never gotten around to reading. In a world that feels like it’s falling apart, I’ve found it uniquely calming to work through a puzzle. There’s solace in all these little pieces fitting together just as they should.
Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way: The COVID crisis has sent puzzle sales skyrocketing. Many puzzle manufacturers and sellers, from large brands to independent businesses, have been overwhelmed by the twin pressures of their own shelter-in-place orders and an unprecedented surge in demand, making puzzles tough to procure. So I’ve scoured the internet to recommend a wide variety of puzzles that, at the time of publication at least, were still available to order. Sadly, my list does not include some of the smaller, more artisanal makers that I love, such as Artifact Puzzles, Liberty Puzzles, and Nautilus Puzzles, all of whom make beautiful, laser-cut wood puzzles, and True South Puzzle Company, which specializes in showcasing the work of local artists. These companies have temporarily suspended operations, are currently sold out, or have prioritized resupplying their wholesale partners, but you should check back in with them regularly in case their puzzles become more widely available again anytime soon. They’re worth it!
For the Average Puzzler
For the recreational puzzler, 500- to 1,000-piece puzzles are typically challenging enough to be engaging, and doable enough that you don’t want to flip the table in frustration. I’ve had a great time with these, watching their fanciful and imaginative pictures take form. Hopefully, whether you’re assembling these puzzles on your kitchen counter, dining room table, or living room floor, you’ll feel transported into their worlds, if only for however long they take you to complete.
Challenging and Even More Challenging Puzzles
Some people—like me—find immense satisfaction in solving an unusually challenging puzzle. Sure, I might worry at moments that the seemingly indistinguishable pieces and broad swaths of uniform color might slowly drive me insane (I recently completed an all-white puzzle). With these puzzles, you can’t rely solely on matching patterns—you also need to pay close attention to the precise shape of each individual piece and how it fits with others. These sets require a higher degree of patience and persistence, but completing them pays off in spades, with great beauty and satisfaction to be found in both the process and the finished product.
Works of Art
Most museums and galleries are closed to the public for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean you can’t engage with art from the comfort of your home. May these puzzles, adapted from artistic masterpieces, bring you some inspiration. You might even want to frame one or leave it out on display when you’re done.
With their vibrant colors and distinct patterns, these puzzles are great to do with kids. Younger kids can be tasked with sorting while slightly older siblings can fit pieces together. And the charming and delightful finished products are sure to bring smiles.
Note to parents: Keep Ravensburger puzzles on your radar. While they’re widely sold out at most retailers (the company is working on keeping up with demand but is currently focused on restocking wholesalers), Ravensburger is always a solid bet for kids, offering puzzles with a wide range of fantastical images for a variety of ages.
These puzzles come with a little extra “something.” Whether it’s whimsical pieces, interestingly shaped borders, puzzles within puzzles, or unique themes, they are sure to help pass the time.
One beauty of jigsaw puzzles is that the barrier to entry is so low—all you need is a bit of flat, empty space and some patience—but these pieces of gear can help make the experience a little smoother.
If you’re in the middle of a puzzle but need to quickly clear up some space, a puzzle mat is a huge help. And while piece-sorting trays certainly aren’t necessary, they’re useful for keeping things organized.
For those who still want to tap into that problem-solving part of the brain but would rather curl up with a book than do a jigsaw puzzle, I highly recommend crossword or sudoku puzzles—both for the mental exercise and a break from an electronic screen. My boyfriend and I have a daily ritual of solving the New York Times crossword together. We’ve found it to be a great way to decompress while also expanding our vocabulary and general knowledge base. I prefer these books with spiral binding, which make it easier to lay the pages flat or fold back the front cover.
Although these puzzles may seem like the only thing standing between you and total, crushing boredom, bear in mind that shipping times for nonessential items are a bit longer than usual right now. You can handle it, though—after all, you have the patience of a puzzle enthusiast.
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