Photo: Supplied

Why the jigsaw puzzle is 2020’s greatest stress buster

Rebecca Wadey writes for Ensemble on the meditative pre-bed puzzle routine that has helped her through a messed-up year. 

My obsession with jigsaw puzzles started innocently enough, as most obsessions do. Initially it was a means to get off social media, and the inane scrolling one does discreetly while their family are watching yet another series of Brooklyn 99.

Of course, I could’ve spent the time folding washing or something similarly useful. But I’m nothing if not a realist. Besides, my husband had bought an old diner booth from the set of Ash vs Evil Dead and its firmly upright back and lip-edged table were crying out for a puzzle. So, I obliged. And I’ve never looked back.

It’s the place I best like to start my day, with a cup of matcha tea (I sneak down early, before the household wakes) and where I like to finish once the rest of the family are in bed.

We used to have a pet Pekin duck (RIP Gumboot) who lived with the chickens. After the chooks put themselves to bed each night she would sit outside the coop in quiet contemplation. It was her “that’s right, I’m not one of them” time. As the only woman in a household of boys I feel this way about my quiet pre-bed puzzle routine. It’s a reclaiming of my feminine energy.

Photos: Supplied

In the beginning of my puzzling career I encouraged my children to help me. Now I don’t want their grubby mitts anywhere near me when I’m in the zone (also the fights over the last piece became very intense and glaringly unfair as it’s obvious the last piece of the puzzle should ALWAYS belong to me).

The right puzzle speaks to me like poetry, an active meditation. I’ve never played the piano but sometimes, as my hands work their magic almost autonomous from my brain, I imagine myself as a concert pianist.

Puzzles also work as a tremendous metaphor for life. Some, like a 1,500-piece puzzle of a marble statue, have almost broken me. But they’ve taught me to break up what can seem an overwhelming problem into lots of smaller, manageable ones.

Methodically solving individual problems allows you to eventually see the big picture. With puzzles, and this is the part my children don’t get, you have to put in the mahi before you can claim the glory (my kids will watch me spend hours sorting pieces into colours and then grouping them by shape, before they just swoop in and carelessly place them).

Most importantly, puzzling has taught me never to give up and that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.

Sadly, not all puzzles are created equal. Well-meaning friends often gift me a puzzle and I obligingly begin it only to be filled quickly with regret. The pieces don’t click effortlessly together, you find yourself second guessing a placement or, even worse, when you try and remove an incorrect piece the edge of the knob peels up.

By far the best puzzle brand is Clementoni. Sure, they aren’t perfect (there was that time I had a puzzle with a missing piece) but the technology is far superior to anything else on the market.

Addendum: Don’t come at me with suggestions of a Wasgij. While I appreciate the craftship is good with these and they require an interesting discipline to complete, half the beauty of puzzling is in the aesthetics. And there’s nothing soothing about bright colours and bulbous cartoon faces.



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