We are all familiar with comfort food. How about a comfort game?

It takes a table about 42 inches square and 30 inches high. There should be good light, natural or artificial. A few straight back chairs are OK to have but not necessary. The cost for equipment, one time per “game”, is between 10 and 40 dollars, but it is usually closer to the lower number. One or up to three can play comfortably at a time, but for the duration of an individual game an unlimited number can join. The game has no time limit. It can last days or weeks and requires tens of hours. Participants can remain active in a session that lasts from minutes to hours. There are no prizes beyond satisfaction from the game itself and there are no winners per se. The game is enjoyed by 48% of the population, men slightly more than women, and younger adults more than seniors.

If you guessed jigsaw puzzling you are correct! There are over 60 million puzzles sold each year in the U.S. Each can have from 50 pieces to as many as 2,000. Puzzles with 500 or more pieces would be considered in the adult category. Many families complete these puzzles on a regular basis such as once a month. In some homes there is always or nearly always a puzzle in progress.

That half of the population that never or rarely engages in jigsaw puzzling may have observed others play in a public place. Two places that commonly attract puzzlers are cruise ships and resorts featuring a variety of activities designed for a more relaxed stay. I have seen both, but another popular place for puzzling is in a senior living community. In the common area serving selected residential units, a table and puzzle in various stages of completion are seen. One is set up in the lobby outside my apartment.

The table is usually topped with a partially finished puzzle in progress, including a scatter of loose pieces, and usually the box has a picture showing what the finished product will look like. Some purists prefer completing a puzzle without looking at the picture, but all those I have observed at the task have it available. I am told it is a big help, and the few times I have tried to add a piece or two it certainly was.

There are no rules for starting a puzzle group. Once the location has been established the rest is easy. Someone obtains a puzzle and places the 500 or so pieces on a suitable table with each piece flat but in no order. They are never heaped in a pile.

To get things started some helpful person or “brave soul” begins the process. In most cases this means assembling the edges of the puzzle, the four sides. Each of these pieces will be truncated (have one side flat) making them easily identifiable. One clue: the four sides can be complete but not fit together because the unassembled pieces in the middle take up more space. As a novice I worked for 15 minutes looking in vain for pieces with flat sides to fill the gaps in the four borders before I understood this. The real puzzlers no doubt have many more bits of wisdom.

The puzzles in the lobby outside my apartment are usually completed in about a week. My guess is that more than a dozen people have a go at each one. Some are dedicated regulars who may spend a few hours a week and others are casual observers who may add just a piece or two.

Working a jigsaw puzzle has been called “a great way to stay creative and engaged in your leisure time”. It has been said to strengthen visual memory and enhance concentration. It can help with attention to detail, ability to strategize, and problem solving. Hard science devotees may not agree, but some of these conclusions make sense and are worth repeating.

If you have access to an active puzzling table, go for it. If not, consider starting one. Even if you aren’t a great puzzler, it is a good way to meet new friends.

I asked several people why they worked at completing puzzles. Nobody provided a clear answer, but the best I heard was “I can forget everything else for the moment and concentrate on where the next piece fits”.

By Savvy Senior

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1 thought on “What Is This Game?

  1. I, too, love jigsaw puzzles – too much in fact. I’m a compulsive puzzle solver. I’m in a Senior center where there’s always a puzzle in progress. I avoid it like a plague. Once I get near the end, I can’t stop. I work to solve the puzzle staying up to the wee hours. I’ve given up jigsaw puzzle for sleep – blessed sleep.

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