The Jigsaw Puzzle – Ultimate Family Time

I’ll have to admit it – I’m a gamer. Well, maybe I’m not a “gamer” in the typical sense, with a headset and a gamer mouse that looks like an electronic oven mitt. No, my chosen kingdom does not use Ctl-X to jump, or endless running through interminable hallways. My kingdom is in pieces. Jigsaw puzzle pieces.


Jigsaw puzzles must be a universal language. Growing up, we had a foreign exchange student living with us for a while. We could sit for an hour every evening working a jigsaw puzzle, and never say a word. She was a teenager, and I was about 10. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand her accent, and she couldn’t understand mine. We still shared the victory of discovering that one link that joins 200 pieces on one side to 300 on the other. It taught me to notice the nuances of shading, and that there are, indeed, many colors that work together to create a whole image.

Now, we always have a puzzle on the table. Guests to the house were drawn to it like moths to a flame. Even people who don’t like puzzles can’t resist trying it out, and often can claim the victory of fitting a random chip of color into an incomplete panorama. They can’t deny the sense of accomplishment they feel when the picture suddenly makes sense – all because they made sense of one chunk of cardboard.


Our whole family will play free online jigsaw puzzles. Even when I was a kid, Mom and Dad would sit for a while, Mom taking time off from chores, and Dad from his workshop. My 12 year old sister would pause occasionally, and victoriously fit one or two pieces in place before floating off to her room to listen to 45s. We still laugh about an aunt who couldn’t see very well, who would pound the pieces to make them fit.

Today, it’s my husband who rolls his eyes every time I buy a new puzzle. The engineer in him can’t resist, but the colorblind part of him can’t master the pieces. He’s the “edge man”.

When visiting my newly married daughter last weekend, these two “old fogeys” sat with this young couple and some equally wet-behind-the-ears recent college grads, and worked jigsaw puzzles for hours after dinner. As we left, I realized that we had just spend the evening with four 20-somethings, and never once felt like they wanted us to leave so they could go “have fun”.

Brain Power

Social psychologists have discovered that working jigsaw puzzles is one of the few activities that actually uses both sides of the brain. The left hemisphere of the brain controls the right side, and has to do with logical thought and ordering data. The right hemisphere controls the left side of the body, and processes impressions and ideas.

Working puzzles utilizes both parts of the brain, using your logic and ability to sequence in combination with intuition. These studies have shown that there is constant communication between both sides of the brain while you are working a puzzle. You may be looking for a certain shape with a line the=rough the middle – a left brain activity. But, at the same time, the pieces may be turned sideways, and appear to be the wrong shade. The right brain intuitively recognizes the fit, and voila! You have a fit!

In fact, people who work jigsaw puzzles are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Part of this is due to the healthy mental challenges presented, and part of it is because of the social interaction engendered by working puzzles. Some studies even show that “puzzlers” have longer life spans, and deal with stress better.

Chemically speaking, working puzzles can give you a “high”. The brain manufactures dopamine when it is learning something or forming a memory. Dopamine production reaches a peak when you’re working a jigsaw puzzle.


Us old folks are not the only ones who benefit from working puzzles. Children grow almost exponentially when encouraged to work age-appropriate puzzles. Their attention spans increase, as does their ability to stay in one place. The exercise of working both sides of the brain increases their number sense in math and their comprehension in reading. Working jigsaw puzzles also helps nervous or insecure children to become more calm as they focus on the task at hand. They also benefit tremendously from the side-by-side play of working with others.

So, yes, if you enjoy working jigsaw puzzles, you are, indeed, a gamer. Wear the label with pride, you puzzling person, you!

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How Jigsaw Puzzles Can Help Alzheimer’s Patients

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia that interferes with memory, thinking, and behaviour. The disease worsens over time and become severe enough to interfere with daily life, and finally leads to death as body functions fail.   This particular kind of dementia accounts for 50 to 80 percent of cases.

What if, however, there was a way to slow the loss of cognition so significantly that those patients who develop Alzheimer’s have additional years with their friends and loved ones?

The answer may lay in the realm of neuroplasticity and jigsaw puzzles.

Brain Training

Scientists think it is possible for the brain to grow new connections when exposed to different challenges.  This is called neuroplasticity.  A great starting place to provide more challenge in daily life is by doing free online jigsaw puzzles, or the classic cardboard type. In addition to being fun, jigsaw puzzles are great for brain training.

In terms of preventing Alzheimer’s disease, it is not challenging enough for people simply to go through daily routines ‘as usual’. Without stimulating the mind, over time people are at risk for the degenerative effects of Alzheimer’s which culminate in overall, irreversible brain damage and finally death.  A far better solution is to challenge the brain through different activities so that synapses, like muscles that get regular exercise, fire more effectively even when not in use.  With a more active firing rate,  the advancement of Alzheimer’s symptoms slow, and what symptoms there are become less apparent.  Brain research studies have illustrated that daily brain training like that of jigsaw puzzles can reduce the chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 50%. Brain training is a gamble worth taking as the individual has everything to win and nothing to lose.  Jigsaw puzzles are an easy and viable method of brain training, as they require a diverse set of cognitive tools.

Both online jigsaw puzzles and cardboard puzzles help to develop the brain’s ability to reason, deduce sequence, analyze, and think logically.  The puzzles also improve hand-eye coordination and working memory.  These are all skills that humans should continue to hone throughout life so that brain connections remain viable.  Both classic and online jigsaw puzzles hone the skills of problem-solving and working memory. Problem solving requires a variable set of skills to aid the brain in coming up with a solution. As a patient compares pieces of the puzzle and determines whether they fit or not, they develop this vital skill.  There are also overall problem solving skills that are required for solving puzzles – where to start the puzzle and how to proceed until completion are two major examples of this type of problem solving.  Working memory skills dovetail with problem-solving ability, for example, if a puzzle piece does not fit, it is set aside for later consideration while the brain retains a memory of the characteristics of that piece in case it becomes needed in the next task.  Over time, the human brain becomes more adept at these tasks, showing that progressive challenges are required so that the brain continues to stay healthy.

Social Interaction

Human beings are not designed to live in isolation. Research shows that the more connected we are with other people, the better our cognition fares. While putting together a cardboard jigsaw puzzle, like those made by Ravensburger, or through a free online jigsaw puzzle, we can share the following with a friend:

Quality time together
An enjoyable activity
A new experience

Jigsaw puzzles easily fulfill all three of these criteria for fun social interaction.  Additionally, having a lengthy conversation with someone while doing a puzzle together really makes the brain rise to the challenge of multitasking which helps keep Alzheimer’s at bay.

Puzzles for Alzheimer’s patients

Jigsaw puzzles have proven to be so beneficial for patients with early and late stage Alzheimer’s disease. To date, there are actually a few manufacturers that make puzzles specifically for patients.  The pieces tend to be larger and fewer (much like a child’s puzzle) though the subject matter is more suited to an adult point of view.  Due to their use in institutional settings, puzzles for the Alzheimer’s market tend to be made of material that is more durable.

Jigsaw puzzles are a great way to train your brain whether you are experiencing cognitive decline, or are proactively deciding to avoid it.  Either way, both online jigsaw puzzles and cardboard puzzles (like those crafted by Ravensburger) provide a compelling activity, fun social experience, or brain challenge all wrapped up together.

Online Gaming – It Really Is Big.

Mature is not always the first word that comes to mind when thinking about online gaming.  Spotty geeks glued in front of a screen for 18 hours a day while attempting to annihilate the larger proportion of an unsuspecting population of extra-terrestrial lizards is a more common perception.  So mature is rarely the first word that springs to mind.

This has to change, however, as the gaming industry has, very successfully, attained the pedestal upon which such a name comfortably sits – it actually is mature.

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The first coin operated games machine appeared in a bar 43 years ago.  The very first was Galaxy Game, developed at Stanford University by Bill Pitts and Hugh Tuck, but only one unit was ever built.  Two months later Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney revealed Computer Space which was released commercially and became the first widely available video game. And the gaming world has not looked back since.

In the early days of the gaming era, playing actually involved the leaving of the house and bedroom, to go to an arcade or bar, and insert a proportion of your income directly into the machine. These electronic dark ages didn’t last too long, however, and the arrival of home computing in the 1980’s forever changed the leisure activities of a significant part of an entire generation.  Games consoles soon followed, becoming ever more sophisticated through the 1990’s when the development of the internet introduced a whole new layer of sophistication that was to become, quite literally, a game changer.

The Naughties saw technology develop at an ever increasing rate, heralding the onset of the online gaming phenomenon which has, to use the word yet again, matured into the sophisticated, high definition, high bandwidth, multi-player lifestyle choice we see today. And the range of games available also shows a depth that many people overlook.  As well as blowing away aliens, you can play free online jigsaw puzzles, build your own personal empires, hone your poker skills, develop your brain power with strategy and puzzle programs, even get fit with the likes of the genuinely interactive games on Nintendo’s Wii.

Computer gaming is now a $93 billion-a year entertainment business, and this figure continues to rise as the new consoles and ways of playing online across a range of devices such as tablets and mobile phones, continue to hit the market.  Some analysts predict it could rise to $115 billion by 2015.

And if those numbers are not enough to impress you, consider the analysis carried out on just 1 game.

There are 11 million or so registered users of the online role-playing fantasy World of Warcraft.  Since the introduction of the game in 2004 they have collectively logged – are you ready for this – around 50 billion hours of game time.  That’s 5.7 million years – longer than the human race has spent evolving as a species.

You don’t get much more mature than that.

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