WRITER | JEANINE MATLOW
PHOTO | CATHCING FIREFLIES
When Michiganders hunker down for yet another winter, indoor activities ramp up and many people find themselves enjoying a good old-fashioned pastime – jigsaw puzzles. As a mind exercise that stimulates creativity and improves short-term memory and problem-solving skills, puzzles come with many mind-boosting perks. Fitting the pieces into place and seeing the big picture come to life is also satisfying fun for all ages.
Just ask April McCrumb, owner of Catching Fireflies, a whimsical gift gallery with locations in Berkley, Ann Arbor, Rochester and online at catchingfireflies.com. “We sold countless puzzles prior to the pandemic like the Michigan-themed ones that are always popular for gifting and going Up North and kids puzzles,” she says.
Since 2020, puzzles have stayed in high demand. “There is such a hunger for them now, we buy puzzles by the dozens and we’ve expanded the genres to include collages of popular movies and TV shows and pop culture and pets,” McCrumb says, adding that scenic selections such as succulents, are also trending. “Puzzles definitely remain a strong category. Since the pandemic, there has been a rebirth and a love for puzzles.”
Companies have expanded their offerings with sweet themes like cats and dogs. “People love their furry friends,” McCrumb says. At her stores, local images also seem to resonate with people. Popular picks include Mackinac Island, Michigan beaches and beer.
Seasonal themes appeal to many, especially retro styles featuring Peanuts characters or Santa Claus. “People love nostalgia, like a puzzle with an old-time festive environment,” she says.
Jigsaw puzzles make the perfect gift for everyone on your list. “Puzzles are great for family events. They can bring grandma and the grandkids together,” McCrumb says. “That way, they have activities and a nice project to work on when they have some downtime during the holidays.”
Greeting card puzzles can make great stocking stuffers that are fun for little ones who might also like scratch-and-sniff and glow-in-the-dark varieties. Jigsaw puzzles with unique features can also surprise and delight, like a unicorn puzzle that includes a unicorn-shaped piece.
Other kid-friendly options include smaller varieties that are sized to fit the trays on planes and trains to entertain young minds on long trips. “It’s a good strategy that also slows them down,” McCrumb, who has a daughter in third grade, says. “She’s always asking what’s next. Having 200 channels on TV to choose from at any time is not helpful for problem-solving. Puzzles help kids think about things and connect them to others. If they get frustrated, they have to work through that.”
While 1,000-piece puzzles seem to be the standard size, people do seek out those with 500 pieces or fewer. “They can be good for the socially awkward person who wants to be part of the group,” she says. They can also be a good exercise for those with dementia.
McCrumb says you can check out puzzles from local libraries. For those who prefer to buy their own, she suggests, “After you’ve conquered a puzzle, you can pass it on to a friend or start a puzzle group.”
In the end, they can become your go-to pursuit at any time of year. “We sell more puzzles in the colder months because people are trapped inside more, but they can also be an option for a rainy day during a vacation when you can’t go to the beach,” she says.
For diehard puzzle fans who like to keep the fun coming, there are plenty of ways to store them, from felt mats that keep all your pieces in place to sturdy boards with drawers. Check out sites like bitsandpieces.com for multiple options. Seasoned pros looking for a challenge can go to magicpuzzlecompany.com for varieties that feature original art and a magical puzzle-shifting surprise at the end. With choices like these, winter will be over before you know it.