I’m not talking about a new device or game, I’m talking puzzles. Compelling, artful, mind-stretching puzzles.
During the winter months my grandparents kept a puzzle going on a table near their front window. It had hundreds of tiny pieces, far too many for a small child’s ability, but I noticed the quiet pull it exerted on people. My older sister would wander past and pause to tease one into place. My father would linger a few minutes in peaceful reverie with his father-in-law as he worked on it. My mother and her mother would sit there with coffee after dinner. When I stood nearby I got advice that’s helped me solve problems far more vexing than a jigsaw, like “Find the edges first,” and “Sometimes you need to step back to see the whole picture,” and “Don’t try to force a piece if it doesn’t fit right away.”
We typically view puzzles as an early childhood essential. But when kids don’t see older siblings or adults doing puzzles, their initial eagerness tends to fade. That doesn’t have to happen. Puzzles are awesome exercise for the brain. Working on them activates both right and left hemispheres, increases concentration, promotes spatial learning and reasoning, even helps us to feel more centered. Those benefits don’t fade as we get older and may even ward off dementia later in life.
To build a puzzle habit in your family, you need high quality and artistically interesting puzzles. Basically, you need Artifact Puzzles. This artisinal puzzle company is based in Seattle. They use environmentally-friendly materials and produce each puzzle in the U.S. The wooden pieces are a quarter inch thick, laser cut with precision that is pleasing to the hand and eye. Some of the pieces are called “whimsy” because they’re amusingly shaped to evoke the puzzle’s theme. For example the steampunkish Tom Kidd Dunne Estates puzzle includes pieces shaped like keys, animals and vehicles, while The Kraken puzzle includes pieces shaped like sea creatures and coral.
The art used is detailed and fascinating, spanning from centuries-old paintings to works by today’s well-known illustrators. These puzzles, most packed in their own wooden boxes, are legacy items. You’ll put them together over and over for the pleasure, and still have them when grandchildren come along. If you lose a piece, just send a photo of the completed puzzle to Artifact Puzzle and they’ll do their best to remake the missing piece for you, free of charge.
There are lots of ways to make this brain workout a new tradition in your life. Bring out a puzzle to work together on long winter evenings. Try sitting around a puzzle when friends come over for drinks and munchies. Use a puzzle as an ice breaker at a meeting. Work a puzzle on your own, noticing if your kids express interest (or sneak back to add pieces when you’re not looking). See how relaxing with a family member over a puzzle creates a companionable way to enjoy each other’s company. And don’t worry about working a harder puzzle with elementary-aged children, simply make it a collaborative effort.
My daughter never gave up our family’s puzzling tradition. She’s a young adult now, but enjoys working puzzles as she listens to recorded books or science podcasts. I’m eyeing the many Artifact Puzzle choices as I consider which one to get her this Christmas. I’m thinking the Dragon Mountain puzzle or the aptly named Gift Arrives puzzle. It doesn’t matter which really, I know she’ll love it.
GeekMom received a sample to help prepare this review.