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”.
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!