COLORADO SPRINGS — When was the last time you put together a jigsaw puzzle? Judging by the numbers, there's a good chance you may have taken the challenge in the last few weeks. Puzzle sales nationwide are up 300%. Companies are struggling to keep up with the demand, but mental health experts say this trend is a good sign.
The age-old hobby seems to have found new life. Families across the nation and here in southern Colorado seem to be rediscovering the puzzle.
"There's an astounding demand," said Cameron Crawford, who runs Petrie's Family Games in Colorado Springs. "We used to have puzzles that we hadn't been able to sell for two to three years. Suddenly they are a hot commodity."
In the COVID-19 and quarantine era, his business is taking safety precautions to protect customers turning to them for comfort.
"I mean we sold 9,000-piece puzzles to people that probably never tried a 500 piece," Crawford said. "I've seen people come in saying I need something harder because I've already gone through five or six puzzles and I need something more in-depth."
When the country locked down, Americans rediscovered their love of puzzles essentially overnight. Factoring in the recent surge, one company says it's selling 20 puzzles per minute in North America so far in 2020.
"Jigsaw puzzles has been something that even talking to insiders in the industry, everybody is astonished that this has become a thing," Crawford said.
Jason Schneider is one of those industry insiders. He says sales are up 300%.
"It's insane, in the past month or so things have just exploded," said Schneider who works for Ceaco, one of the top puzzle manufacturers. "It's humbling to know we have a product that people really want and people need at a time of crisis."
In California, Emily Knell has been puzzling for years. When stay-at-home orders were issued, she thought people could use a distraction.
"I started thinking well I'm a jigsaw puzzle hoarder. I ought to share, but there were so many and I didn't want to do a puzzle exchange. I did want them back," Knell said.
So, she organized hundreds of boxes of her puzzles and put it on the social media site Nextdoor. No rush and no rules, except to keep social distance. Pick one up, drop one off. She'll sanitize on the way out, guests sanitize on the way in. Everyone wins.
"This is a very healthy addiction, it's good for mental health it's what was needed during this lockdown and quarantine and all of that," Knell said.
UCCS researcher and psychology expert Jennifer Roberts says puzzles are providing some key mental health benefits for all ages.
"It makes sense that when we feel like we are out of control having small aspects of our lives that we can control are always helpful," said Roberts. "Puzzles are a great way to stimulate brain activity. You're thinking and you're problem solving and you're planning, all of those are really great cognitive skills."
With major puzzle manufacturers struggling to keep up with demand, Petrie's Family Games, the Colorado Springs neighborhood game shop is doing its best to meet the needs of its neighbors. Crawford says he's finding inspiration in the process.
"I hope that we can keep up with the demand and keep up with the quality," said Crawford. "As long as people are communicating with us, that is my mission is to make sure that I keep bringing in that next step for each one of our customers, that next challenge."
Mental health experts say doing puzzles, or playing board games with family, or even over a video chat can help create endorphins. Those are happy chemicals our brain needs. If you haven't already, they suggest you may want to give one of these puzzles a try.